“Because I’ve been bleeding from my vagina for almost 30 days now, and it’s no longer possible to hide my pain, fear, or fatigue.”
Lena Dunham has been ‘the sick girl’ for as long as she can remember.
She suffered crippling anxiety since early childhood, obsessive compulsive disorder, mood swings, fatigue and countless other physical ailments.
Not one to shy away from sharing the intimate details of her life, the Girls creator and star has written an essay for Lenny about life as ‘the sick girl’ and how an endometriosis diagnosis made her feel sane again.
Dunham says from the time of her first period, things didn’t feel right.
“The stomachaches began quickly and were more severe than the mild-irritant cramps seemed to be for the blonde women in pink-hued Midol commercials,” she wrote.
“Those might as well have been ads for yogurt or the ocean, that’s how little they conveyed my experience of menstruating.”
The pill and high doses of antidepressants did not help.
“Whatever the cause of the pain and fatigue, I missed 62 English classes in tenth grade and was crowned the grade’s sickest girl,” she says.
Dunham says she tried to shake the label and reinvent herself in college, but it wasn’t long before she was back in the emergency room (this time with a bacterial infection and mononucleosis).
“The mono symptoms faded, but what remained was pure exhaustion, syrupy and unavoidable. All my friends seemed tired too — after all, for many of us, college is one long party with Adderall as the guest of honor — but I knew deep down my version was different. I slept like I’d been clubbed in the head, and the rest of the time I felt a painful heaviness that I accepted as a continuing side effect of my OCD medication. Maybe it was just a side effect of being me.”
She managed to graduate and began to pursue her career, but had one overwhelming fear: “that my body would betray me, hold me back, and prevent me from pursuing a life of substance. That I had no control.”
So moved by all of you who have responded to @lennyletter #8 in which we talk about endometriosis and chronic pain. You all make me feel like part of a very cool club rather than a sad crampy loner. Let’s remember we are in it together and our reproductive organs deserve the same attention as our male counterparts’ ! Let’s keep the dialogue going and never shroud ourselves in secrecy. Shrouds of secrecy are for the birds!!! BTW I found this special picture by googling “glitter uterus”!!!
Dunham said she tried to work through crippling pain during gruelling days on film sets while working with largely male crews.
“Already self-conscious about imposing my vision on a group of men and asking for their help in executing it, I hid my pain as best I could,” she wrote.
“I ignored the messages my body was sending to me in favour of productivity, attempting to prove my resilience.”
It wasn’t until after the first season of Girls, that a specialist diagnosed her with endometriosis.
“I could tell I wasn’t the only woman he had seen through the discovery of her own sanity,” she wrote.
“It’s a sad and beautiful moment when you realize just how much you have let yourself endure.”
A low-dose pill helped, but once a month she would turn up to work unable to move a muscle.
“The feeling of stopping a crew of 100 people from doing their jobs is far more stressful than missing Intro to Greek Drama class at a liberal-arts college, but I felt the same sense of hot shame. The kind of shame you feel as someone with an anxiety disorder that plays tricks on them. The kind of shame you feel as a woman showing weakness.”
Surgery three years later revealed uterine tissue had grown over her abdominal walls and other internal organs.
Dunham says wasn’t keen on having a baby just to improve her medical condition (apparently pregnancy usually helps women with endometriosis), so she now takes monthly injections that stop her body producing estrogen – something that helps, despite its other side effects.
“Endometriosis is not life-threatening. It doesn’t manifest externally very often; the symptoms just look like a pair of sweatpants and a Charlize Theron–in–Monster–level grimace. I know I’m lucky in the grand health scheme, but I also know that I am one of many women who grasp for a sense of consistent well-being, fight against the betrayals of their bodies, and who are often met with skepticism by doctors trained to view painful periods as the lot of women who should learn to grin and bear it.”
Dunham says despite her condition, she wouldn’t change being a woman for anything.
“I would choose to be a woman. Any day, any way, any time. Being a woman is the best thing that ever happened to me. But I also hope for a future in which the pain of teenage girls is fully investigated, taken as seriously as a broken leg. I hope for a world where illness isn’t equated with weakness, where mental-health issues do not discount physical ones, because, guess what, we are complex beings.”
You can read the full post here.
Do you know the symptoms of endometriosis?