I’ve lived a lifetime of painful periods. The kind where you're up all night pacing your bedroom, resorting to Lamaze breathing because the pain is just that unbearable. No Midol or Advil could ever touch the intensity of my cramps — abdominal, back, bowel, you name it. And the bleeding? Let’s just say I was the girl in middle school infamous for staining her shorts and hiding the blood with a sweatshirt tied around her waist. Even the most promisingly labeled tampons and pads didn't stand a chance. Nausea and vomiting were as much a part of my monthly ritual as the bleeding, so severe that it mimicked morning sickness.

When my OBGYN brushed off these symptoms as "normal," I was baffled.

Fast forward to collapsing from an ovarian cyst at 16, and the narrative barely shifted. Birth control was the magic pill prescribed to keep my symptoms “normal.”

woman taking birth control

For a while, that pill felt like freedom. It silenced the worst of my symptoms, and life moved forward. I went off the pill to have kids, bracing myself for the worst to return, but it never really did — not to the extremes of my youth, anyway. That is, until I hit 40. Suddenly, I was living a nightmare version of my teenage years, but amplified. I went from a 28-day cycle length with 5-day menses to a 21-day cycle length with 10-day menses. (I was on my period 48% of the year.) My husband would often wake up in the middle of the night to find me writhing in pain. And still, the chorus from my doctors? "This is normal."

Trying to find relief, I cycled through medications, doctors, and even an IUD, which my body outright rejected.

Each dead-end was a blow to my self-determination, leaving me exhausted from fighting to be heard. The breaking point came when my concerns were dismissed as depression or anxiety. When I told my OBGYN that I was 100% certain that I was not having a mental health crisis, she said, “Of course you are. Everyone is. We just survived a pandemic.” Leaving that office, I felt the weight of utter bewilderment and despair (aka gaslighting). I gave up on finding a solution, trading physical pain for a semblance of mental peace.

woman suffering from endo pain

Years passed in this limbo until my condition escalated to an unbearable daily ordeal. My 21/10 cycle changed to every day, everywhere, all at once. After nearly a year of this fresh hell — when my vagina would no longer accept a tampon or menstrual cup — I found a new OBGYN who actually listened. The words, “It sounds like this uterus may need to go,” were the first ray of hope I’d seen in years. Hysterectomy revealed a landscape ravaged by endometriosis, adenomyosis, and fibroids — a vindicating yet infuriating diagnosis after years of being told I was overreacting.

But after the validation came the anger. I couldn’t help but think of all the years I had spent in debilitating pain — attempting to advocate for myself while being dismissed by countless medical professionals — and all of the women like me who may still be desperately searching for answers. 

Endometriosis is common — affecting approximately 200 million people worldwide and occurring in at least 7-15% of women. However, because it takes an average of 7-10 years to be diagnosed (or, in my case, three decades), experts believe this number could be more like 25%. That is potentially one-quarter of the female population, and yet, endometriosis still largely remains shrouded in stigma. This needs to change. 

In 2024, it’s no longer enough to learn about the signs and symptoms of conditions like endometriosis.

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woman meeting with her obgyn to discuss hysterectomy for endometriosis

Medical gaslighting is real, and there are several things we can do to help create change in women’s health:  

  • Demand More from Healthcare Providers: Don't be afraid to seek a second opinion or to question a diagnosis that doesn't feel right. Your health and well-being are paramount. You deserve a healthcare provider who listens and takes your concerns seriously!

  • Advocate for Better Healthcare Policies: Support policies and legislation that aim to improve women's health services and fund research on conditions like endometriosis.

  • Support and Amplify Women's Voices: Whether it's through the Rescripted Community, social media, blogs, or public speaking, share your story and the stories of others dealing with women's health issues. There's strength in numbers, and collective voices can drive change.

  • Donate to and Support Research: Consider donating to organizations like Endometriosis Foundation of America that fund research into endometriosis. Research is crucial for developing better diagnostic tools and treatments.

The lesson of my journey is clear and cruel: Pain is not normal. It is your body screaming, “Something’s wrong!” My story is not just mine but belongs to countless others silenced by a system too ready to dismiss women's pain. It’s time to start listening.

Amy Marshall is the SEO Director at Rescripted.