Bindi Irwin recently shared new details about her road to being diagnosed with endometriosis — and her story will likely resonate hard with the many women who have experienced medical gaslighting.
This isn’t the first time Irwin has opened up about living with endometriosis. In an Instagram post shared a few months ago, she shared that she lived with debilitating symptoms of the condition for 10 years. During that time, Irwin went through countless doctor’s appointments, scans, and tests before she was finally diagnosed.
Bindi Irwin's endometriosis experience is a frustratingly common one
Many, many women seek answers for years before finally being diagnosed with endometriosis — in fact, according to Yale Medicine, women with endometriosis suffer for 10 years on average before securing a diagnosis. Chalk it up, in part at least, to our societal tendency to dismiss women’s experiences and pain.
In those ten-ish years, women spend seeking out answers, they’re going through physical hell.
“I’ve struggled with insurmountable fatigue, pain & nausea. Trying to remain a positive person & hide the pain has been a very long road,” Irwin wrote when she shared the details of her diagnosis. “A doctor told me it was simply something you deal with as a woman & I gave up entirely, trying to function through the pain.”
This is heartbreaking…and heartbreakingly common.
“Every part of my life was getting torn apart because of the pain. To cut a long story short, they found 37 lesions, some very deep & difficult to remove, & a chocolate cyst,” she wrote, and added that after her surgery a doctor asked her, “How did you live with this much pain?”
“Validation for years of pain is indescribable,” Irwin wrote.
That validation is so important, especially in light of recent details Irwin shared regarding her experience, which can only be described as medical gaslighting.
“It’s so hard because you feel like it’s inescapable,” Irwin told PEOPLE. “You don’t know what’s wrong with you, and then when people tell you ‘It’s all in your head’ or ‘you’re hormonal’ or ‘just have a cup of tea, lay down,’ you end up feeling so desperately alone because there’s no answers.
“After years of doctors and various people telling you there’s nothing, you really start to believe it,” she added. “You wind up in this strange space of self-doubt, fear and insecurity. That’s hard to overcome.”
Again, Irwin’s experience is so common…and so dangerous. Women around the world are routinely being dismissed when voicing concerns for their health. In many cases, this leaves them in an endless cycle of pain and suffering. In other cases, it could threaten their lives. I’ll never forget a story I heard of a woman who went to multiple doctors to explain her mysterious, debilitating symptoms only to be dismissed or told to lose weight. Eventually, a doctor discovered she had been living with a cancerous tumor the whole time. There’s also this story from a Rescripted writer, whose pelvic pain was routinely dismissed by doctors. It ended up being linked to an early-stage ovarian tumor.
The weight of having to advocate for ourselves and our bodies is just exhausting. As if the physical realities of womanhood weren’t enough, there’s often a years-long journey of seeking out information independently — because there’s such frequent invalidation from the people who are supposed to guide us.
Of course, there are factors that influence how you’re treated by the medical; community. Women of color typically face even greater invalidation, for example. It’s stark when you consider that someone like Bindi Irwin, a white, wealthy, famous woman with a lot of access, still faced so many hurdles in her quest to address her health concerns. It just goes to show how badly we need more awareness of the health issues women face and a cultural landscape that better addresses these issues.
Obviously, hearing that you have endometriosis or a similar condition can be a really tough pill to swallow, but on the other side of that diagnosis, relief is possible. Irwin spoke about how her life has changed since she was formally diagnosed.
“It’s not like a light switch, but every week I feel like I’m able to do a little bit more,” said Irwin. “Now I wake up in the morning, and I don’t have to take anti-nausea medicine or have my heat pack. Being able to go for a walk with my daughter and not feeling like I have to throw up in the bushes is just wild to me.”
“I feel like I have a second chance at life,” she added. “I feel brand new.”
Zara Hanawalt is a freelance journalist and mom of twins. She's written for outlets like Parents, MarieClaire, Elle, Cosmopolitan, Motherly, and many others. In her (admittedly limited!) free time, she enjoys cooking, reading, trying new restaurants, and traveling with her family.