I was 25 years old when I first began to experience truly awful periods.
My stomach would cramp up so severely I’d be doubled over in pain. Nerve pain shot through my legs. My back ached. I often threw up while on my period because the pain was so intense. I couldn’t eat, couldn’t sleep, and couldn’t function.
I had never experienced anything like that in my life. Still, it took more than six months of that level of pain to get an official diagnosis: Stage IV endometriosis.
In the three years that followed, I had five major stomach surgeries. I thought about applying for disability, because the pain was so bad I struggled with getting to work every day.
I dealt with infertility, and two failed in vitro fertilization cycles. I cried. Until I eventually found a specialist who helped me: Dr. Andrew S. Cook, of Vital Health.
The pain I experienced as a result of endometriosis became more manageable after my surgeries with Dr. Cook. Now that I’m five years out from my last surgery with him, though, my periods are starting to get worse again.
This is how I manage the tough days:
I take extremely hot baths — as hot as I can handle — when I’m on my period, usually with Epsom salts. When I’m not in the bath, I wrap my abdomen and back in heating pads.
For me, it’s the hotter the better. The more warmth I’ve got against my skin, the less noticeable the pain is.
Prescription pain relief
I have tried every single prescription pain medication available. For me, celecoxib (Celebrex) has been the best option. It’s not the best at pain relief — I’d have to give that credit to the narcotics and opioids I’ve been prescribed. But it helps to take the edge off without making me feel out of it — which, as a mom and business owner, is crucial for me.
I know a lot of women who say they experience period relief from movement. They jog, or swim, or take their dogs on long walks. This has never been the case for me. The pain is just too much.
For me, when I’m experiencing pain, I’m better off laid up in bed, snuggling with my heating pads. When I’m on my period, I don’t push physical activity.
Staying fit and healthy
While I don’t exercise on my period, I do the rest of the month. How I eat and how much I exercise does seem to make a difference when my period arrives. The months I’m taking care of myself consistently seem to be the months my period is easiest to manage.
Pine bark extract supplement, Pycnogenol
Pine bark extract supplement, also called Pycnogenol, was recommended to me by Dr. Cook. It’s one of the few that has been studied in relation to treating endometriosis.
The study sample was small, and the was completed in 2007, but the results were promising. The researchers found that women who took the supplement had reduced signs of symptoms.
I’ve been taking it daily for seven years now.
Saying no to caffeine
I have attempted the full endometriosis diet on a handful of occasions with mixed results. Caffeine is the one thing I’ve found that truly can make or break me. When I give it up, my periods are easier. I definitely pay for the months when I’m staying up too late and relying on caffeine to get me through.
A lot of my endometriosis pain ends up in my back and hips. It can linger there, even after my periods are over. So for me, getting deep tissue massage between periods can make a difference.
In the state where I live, Alaska, cannabis is legal for personal use. Though cannabis is controversial, and still illegal in the majority of states, I personally feel better about using it than some of the other prescription pain medications I’ve tried over the years. I’ve never liked how “out of it” those medications have made me feel.
Ever since legalization in Alaska, I’ve been experimenting with various medicinal cannabis options. I’ve found mints with 5 milligrams THC plus CBD that I usually “microdose” during my period. For me, this means taking one every four hours or so.
Personally, in my own experience, the combination of prescription pain relief with small amounts of cannabis helps to keep my pain under control without making me feel high. As a mom, especially, that has always been important to me.
Keep in mind that there’s limited research on the potential drug interactions between prescription pain relievers and cannabis — so it may be risky to combine them. You shouldn’t take any medications and cannabis at the same time without talking to your doctor.
Find what works best for you
Over the years, I’ve read about and tried just about every single option for treating endometriosis that I’ve seen out there. I’ve tried acupuncture, pelvic floor therapy, cupping, and taken all of the pills and shots available. I even once spent several months drinking squirrel poop tea — don’t ask.
Some of these things have worked for me, but most have failed miserably. On the flip side, things that have worked for me have failed for others. The key is to find what works for you, and stick with it.
There’s no one size fits all solution to dealing with endometriosis. Not the bad days, and not the disease itself. The only thing you can do is research, talk to your doctor, and try to find what works best for you.
When you need support and help, don’t be afraid to ask for it. Finding out what works for others can be a big help along the way.
Leah Campbell is a writer and editor living in Anchorage, Alaska. A single mother by choice after a serendipitous series of events led to the adoption of her daughter, Leah is also author of the book “Single Infertile Female” and has written extensively on the topics of infertility, adoption, and parenting. You can connect with Leah via Facebook, her website, and Twitter.