Ripping the Bandaid

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Modern day society is queen of the band-aid approach. For nearly every single ailment, there’s a magic pill in a bottle that claims to “fix” us. You name it, there’s likely an easy escape from our pain.

Pain. A simple four-letter word that carries so much weight and complexity. A word that can’t be described, but only felt very deeply. Physically, mentally and emotionally. Personally, I have always considered myself to be pain tolerant. And whenever I do encounter any painful symptoms, I usually opt out of the quick fix medications and just let it take its course naturally. Building up my tolerance, as some might say. Stubborn? Perhaps. But thankfully, I have never broken a bone in my body or endured painful surgeries or procedures, therefore the occasional headache or joint/muscle pain seems manageable. However over the past year, I've experienced a very different kind of pain that pressure tested my relationship with the bandaid approach.

Around this exact time last year, some very intense and uncomfortable symptoms started to affect my daily routine to the point of essentially consuming my life. The red flag began waving when I was having to leave yoga mid-class because I was hit with intense waves of nausea. I couldn’t even drink my morning coffee because it made me feel so nauseous. Then, it was the painful “pulling” sensations in my lower abdomen that felt like a ring of fire that wrapped around to my lower back. As I monitored it more closely over time, I was able to pinpoint that these symptoms were intensifying just before my period. Why does that word have to be so taboo, by the way? Cramping and lower back pain were typical predators during that time of the month, but I was concerned with how intense the symptoms were, and how quickly they had escalated.

Rushing myself to urgent care the night before an interview, I waited for hours to be told that I probably had a urinary tract infection and was given pain medication. I called bullshit, but kept my thoughts to myself and knew that I would continue trying to work through it until I could see a specialist.

Over time, this vicious cycle became my new normal every month. Amazing things were happening around me: accepting a new job, which meant a move that would bring me back to Richmond, but I was fighting intensely through pain on the inside. What was wrong with me? I supposed I would just keep on.

This past spring, I was on a plane heading to NYC when the nausea and crippling pain kicked into high gear. Shit, here we go. The exact words I remember saying to myself as I closed my eyes, trying to breathe through it. I went through all of the what if questions in my mind knowing that I wouldn't have immediate access to medical attention if I needed it. That, or maybe I would just have an anxiety attack right then and there. But, such is the irony of life. At that moment, the pilot announced that we were unable to take-off and would need to return to the gate. That was it. That was my sign. It was time that I stopped trying to fight this pain on my own and seek help. Real help. Because it's okay to ask for help.

Immediately, I went to the hospital trying to seek answers. I was underwhelmed and told to see a gynecologist for further evaluation. I had blood tests and pelvic ultrasounds to rule out cysts. The word endometriosis was thrown around, which my symptoms nearly identically aligned with. Unless I wanted to endure laparoscopic surgery to find out if that was the root cause, I was encouraged to go back on birth control. Years before, I went off of it due to some adverse side effects that it caused, and here I was being prescribed the pill to “heal” my symptoms. Ah, right. The bandaid approach. A mask that would only disguise the more deeply rooted issues that were ripping me apart inside.

While waiting to hear back about test results, I remained in the fetal position for pretty much a week straight, hardly leaving my bed. I used the time to research like hell everything that I could about endometriosis and related women’s health issues. Well that of course only created additional stress that contributed to worsening pain. I remember running to the bathroom during one of my episodic nausea pangs, staring at myself in the mirror with tears streaming down my face and yelling at the top of my lungs: what the fuck is wrong with me? Sounds so dramatic now, but that moment will forever be so vivid in my mind. I admit, I was scared to death.

So I slept, and slept, and slept. I craved sleep. It was my safe place, because it was the only time that I didn’t consciously feel pain. I was canceling trips, flaking on friends, becoming quite the introvert. The whole situation was so uncomfortable and awkward to talk about, and I hated how much it started to feel like just an excuse. Who wants to listen to me talk about “my pains” all the time? I would get nervous about being in social situations, fearing that the pain and nausea would hit without a moment's notice. Those two metaphoric boxing gloves that were jamming into my lower abdomen were isolating me from my sweet friends, family and the world around me. But, this was my situation and damnit if I wasn’t going to do whatever I could to get to the root of it.

I have since stayed true to my gut and inner guide, making the conscious decision to pursue a holistic approach to my own healing. It is with acupuncture, adjustments to my lifestyle, embracing mindfulness and being very much in tune with what my body truly needs that has created some pretty amazing shifts.

My acupuncturist, Maegan Hodge of Centered Acupuncture here in Richmond, has truly been my saving grace. She recognized that my symptoms were rare and genuinely told me that she wanted to help me get to the root of this. I am so thankful to have found her and have spent the past 6+ months working with her on a weekly basis to target and treat my symptoms. I logged my pain and reported back each week, making note of any triggers that may reveal patterns. She would adjust weekly treatments as needed, and I cannot believe how far I have come. My periods are getting better. My pain has improved drastically. And while to this day I still do not know the exact root cause, perhaps it is endometriosis, her pinpointed treatment has worked wonders. So thank you, Maegan. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

Ladies, it’s time to speak up and speak out about women’s health issues. Yes, celebrities like Lena Denham and Padma Lakshmi have, but we hold the power just as much as they do. I hope that my story is just one of the millions that are shared, to help build awareness about these taboo women’s health issues. We must begin to put ourselves and our health first, saying farewell to the band-aid approach in favor of a more holistic lifestyle so that we can get to the root of our issues to find strength and healing, naturally.

In my experience, I’ve found that my pain has been disguised as a gift and a catalyst to build awareness so that others may speak up and embrace their own healing process as well.

We are resilient human beings and deserve our own health and happiness, living free from pain and making our own conscious decisions as opposed to someone prescribing us quick fixes that mask the deeper issues. Too many of us are fighting quietly, but women's health issues are no joke and deserve much more attention.

Thank you to my sweet readers for allowing me to be vulnerable. I have been holding on to this for months and months, and felt compelled to finally share it. My journey is not over, rather it’s a constant work in progress and I look forward to sharing even more of it with you. And for all of you going through similar situations. I am here for you and I support you. You are not alone.

xx, Allison