Let’s Talk About What We Usually Don’t Talk About

Being a female and an athlete has its ups and downs during every month, one of the things that makes our bodies unique is the fact that we can carry and give birth to another human. Our bodies are made to function as a home to a growing life and that is pretty damn impressive. For most women, once a month include a period of bleeding. Since every body is unique also everything connected to the period is unique as well, how long it lasts, amount of days bleeding, painlevel and how many tampons you’re gonna use.

But what about troubles connected to the period. Everyone knows that having your period sucks, but do you know that estimated 176 million women worldwide suffer from a chronical disease called endometriosis? Endometriosis happens when the things that are supposed to work without interruption don’t. Endometriosis is a condition where tissue similar to the lining of the uterus (the endometrial stroma and glands, which should only be located inside the uterus) is found elsewhere in the body, it is almost like your period is going backwards. Instead of coming out as blood, which it does, it also goes backwards, taking a rollercoaster inside your body with different pit stops.

An illustration of a large amount endometriosis

I have always been very active, I started doing gymnastics at the age of 4 and continued training and competing for many years, I got my first period when I was 13 years old and I hated it from day 1. So little I knew back then that the period and what it was connected to, the endometriosis, would be the most important, and difficult fight in my everyday life. I remember going home from school because I bled so much and the amount of pain was overwhelming. I got the diagnosis through a laparoscopic surgery made with very short notice since I had to go to the emergency because of pain at the age of 19, the doctor who made the surgery found a cyst and other signs pointing towards endometriosis so I was diagnosed with endometriosis.

I could probably write a whole book about my upcoming years with my new “friend” Mrs. Endo but let’s just sum it up like this: pain, blood, treatment with hormones, more pain, more blood and more treatment with hormones. A numerous amount of doctors I have met, with a very varied amount of understanding and sympathy about this condition. “Surprise bleeding”, which has ruined several pairs of underwear and also a 200 dollar bikini (if my husband reads this it was 20 dollar, 20, not 200) and it is not about the fact that these things get ruined. It is about the fact that you have no control of your body, and it makes you feel… Powerless.

Nothing so far has managed to stop my bleedings, or the pain for that matter. I have kept convincing myself that this is just temporary, one day it will stop and I’ll be like any other “normal” person.

I am now becoming 28 years old and if you ask anyone close to me they’d probably describe me as an active, outgoing and dedicated woman to the projects I am getting myself into. I have felt a lot of shame about this condition, to be honest you don’t really feel like stopping in the middle of the street out for lunch with your co-workers and say: ‘Oops! I now started bleeding and this will follow with a lot of pain and I have no idea why, because I was bleeding last week and the week before that so this makes no sense.’

I have never wanted to be labelled as “a sick person” or even worse, blame things I cannot do because I have a disease that some days decide to make my belly, back and legs numb out of pain or make my belly look like I am four months pregnant.

Post surgery picture, second time with laparoscopic surgery.

Numerous hours of googling symptoms, treatments, or just something to realize the frustration of having a body that decides to not work with you, but against. Forcing yourself to go train even though you feel like screaming: ‘Don’t you DARE touch my belly during rolling!’ One year ago I was brought in to the emergency, they put me on a morphine cure and we started all over again with options for treatment. About the same time I decided to look into communities and other females with this condition, and I felt relief and also not so alone anymore.

For the first time I understood there wasn’t going to be a cure for this, there were going to be treatments, treatments that will most likely continue until I become old. Mrs. Endo and I would keep hanging, she had no intention of leaving and I had to accept the fact that she would still be around.

I am convinced that you are able to do anything, life is full of opportunities and I have tried, so far in my life to collect as many of them as possible. During the last year I have accepted that my body can do a lot of amazing stuff and it is capable of performing under any circumstances but not just everyday. Jiu jitsu has given me confidence and believe it or not but if I train moderate while in pain it usually relieves some of the pain. I can’t compare myself to others because it will only bring me a lot of frustration and frustration is taking you nowhere. I have found a way and a point of view to accept and adapt but yet keep challenging myself because most likely I am capable of doing a lot more than I believe, just like you are. 

The endometriosis coalition.

Endometriosis, in medical terms? Endometriosis is tissue similar to the lining of the uterus that is found outside the uterus, on other parts of the body. This tissue creates lesions that become inflamed, bleed, and break down causing pain, scar tissue, and inflammation. Even though it’s mostly found in the pelvis, it can also be found on odd places like the bladder, bowels, appendix, diaphragm, and even lungs.

Pain may be felt:

  • before/during/after menstruation
  • during ovulation
  • in the bowel during menstruation
  • when passing urine
  • during or after sexual intercourse
  • in the lower back region

Other symptoms may include:

  • diarrhoea or constipation (in particular in connection with menstruation)
  • abdominal bloating (in particular in connection with menstruation)
  • heavy or irregular bleeding
  • fatigue

The other well known symptom associated with endometriosis is infertility. It is estimated that 30-40% of women with endometriosis are subfertile.

The endometriosis coalition.

There is no known cure for endometriosis. But, there are treatments which can help relieve your symptoms and improve your quality of life. Whereas the cause of endometriosis remains unknown, we do know that the disease is exacerbated by oestrogen. Therefore, hormonal treatments for endometriosis are designed to attempt to temper oestrogen production in a woman’s body. Hormonal therapy is used to suppress the menstrual period to prevent the monthly bleeding.

There are several types of medications that act by shrinking the lining of the uterus and the endometriotic lesions:

  • The oral contraceptive pill
  • Progestins/progesterone
  • GnRH-analogues
  • Danazol
  • Mirena

Hormonal therapies have varying degrees of side effects and, unfortunately, whatever pain relief that is achieved may, for many, be only temporary.

For more information please visit http://endometriosis.org. Also check out https://theendo.co they are doing an amazing job spreading awareness and providing support for other women with endometriosis.

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Johanna Tavares

Johanna Tavares is a purple belt under Renato Tavares de Moraes. She trains under Renato and Eduardo "Teta" Rios, representing Frontline Academy in Oslo. Besides jiu jitsu, Johanna is also a club manager, fitness instructor and CrossFit level 1 trainer. She contributes to the Ladies Only BJJ blog and website also teaching women only jiu jitsu classes at Novus Academy and organizing open mat for all them jiu jitsu ladies in Norway.

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