So that’s what they like to say.
For me, what didn’t kill me only made it harder to go on, scraping away at every bit of strength I’ve had, and on occasions, stealing what I never had.
For me, that thing was my period, what most people called proof of femininity.
I remember when my menarche arrived, and I was on an Air France plane, on my way from Amsterdam to Nigeria. I didn’t even know it was my menarche despite the PE lessons teaching me that my puberty would come soon, and I would know when I started bleeding.
I questioned the stain, but I never thought to ask. Not until I was in the guesthouse bathroom in 10 Ikang, a street in the Shell neighbourhood in Port Harcourt. I was only 10, turning 11 that month – and I realised – oh, I was finally growing up.
The subsequent days of starting school in a new country was difficult. I was in pain, I was “improper”, leaking on my bed, feeling discomforted by the new timezone. There was one day where I simply crashed on the couch after school, it was too much to bear. It felt more like I was fainting than taking a nap.
Again, and again, every single month would pass, I would hold onto my middle – wondering if the pain would go away. If rolling in bed, or exercising, or eating well would help. Even taking the paracetamol would only do so much to me.
When I was in high school, I remember taking time off PE because I was in pain. One of the teachers said “when you get married, the pain will go away”.
I remember this one trip to IKEA with my family and for the entire walk, I was whining, whimpering, almost cried, and I felt like a burden for not being able to endure the pain without saying anything about it.
I remember when I once lived with my aunt, and she prepared food to help with the pain, but I could barely even stand for so long, I fell to the floor, and I didn’t have the appetite for the meal she prepared.
I remember falling asleep mid-quiz in college, because the pain was unbearable and by the time I got up from my seat, the chair was stained.
That was the first time I went to see a gynaecologist and all I knew was that something was swollen when he used the ultrasound on me, but I wasn’t sure which part of me was swollen. I was prescribed with pain killers and injections to deal with the pain.
Between college and starting my work life, I took a day off nearly every month because of the pain. Between the cramps and the digestive issues that came about, I was weak, and I continuously felt like a burden when I admitted the paracetamol did not work. An employer brought it up, that I was weak to my feminine tendencies, and I brushed it off – because of course my pain was the same as everybody else’s, it was just too much to me.
When I got married, I started taking birth control and the pain lessened. It was beginning to feel like I had control over my life.
Then I stopped. But because of Covid, working at home made it somewhat bearable. Days I took off had lessened, because at least I could work in the comfort of my own home.
Starting a new job had become a challenge, and I’d taken one day off every month again. Needless to say, I had given up. The doctor asked me why I’d never looked for a professional opinion, and it was the same “I just never thought my pain was more than anybody else’s, I was just being dramatic.”
He suggested laparoscopy, so he could get a better look at my reproductive system. His provisional diagnosis was endometriosis, from what he could see from the sonograph.
I learned then that the ultrasound was never enough to determine what was wrong, it was just enough to see the symptoms – swollen, enlarged uterus and irregular ovary. I agreed, because admittedly, I needed it.
I needed the answers, and I needed time off work. I was not focused, I was not productive. I was crying in my seat due to multiple reasons, thankful that wearing masks had made it somewhat difficult to see for sure that I was crying.
It was on Thursday when it happened. My first surgery, and one I never thought would actually give me an answer. In fact, I was still hoping that through it all I was just being dramatic, that I was just overreactive to my pain and in truth, convinced that my pain tolerance for the monthlies were just less than anybody’s and I was weak.
Before the laparoscopy, the doctor came to my side and said “don’t worry. We’ll find out soon what’s wrong.”
In the morning he came to let me know that it was a form of endometriosis, but one where the cells that developed for the uterine lining would break into the muscular walls. The pain was intense because the muscular walls are naturally where the nerves are. And lastly, that my period backflowed instead of flowing downwards/outwards, thus leaving old blood in my body.
It was comforting to know that at the end of it all, I wasn’t weak.
And it was comforting to know that at the core of it all – there was a reason behind all the complications. That I was not making excuses. That it turns out my body was somehow working against me, or with me, I don’t know. Somehow I’m still around.
Just with adenomyosis, and pelvic congestion syndrome.
This pain, I think, I’ll count it among my invisible scars.