Managing Endo with Exercise
By Tash Urselmann
My name is Tash and I am a personal trainer in Ipswich, Queensland. This blog post is about how exercise helps me manage my endometriosis.
Many people ask me how I got into the industry and there are times when I question telling people the whole story. I’ll start with the short version. I learnt how powerful exercise can be for the human body and I love showing that to others while helping them be healthier, more confident, and happier versions of themselves.
The long story is what I would like to share with you. I tried 2 different uni degrees before starting my Fitness Coaching course (the first degree I hated and the second I have deferred as I ended up being diagnosed with Severe Endometriosis just as I was nearing the end of that teaching degree).
When I was diagnosed with endometriosis it came as a very rude shock. I had never heard of endometriosis. My doctors had never mentioned it to me as a possibility for the unexpected, unsettling and consistent pelvic and bowel pains I was experiencing throughout the month. I had had numerous scans before my laparoscopy and found ovarian cysts were growing quite rapidly and hence, had been referred on for laparoscopy to have the cysts drained. When I was informed of the diagnosis post-surgery I googled ‘severe endometriosis’ (yes, I had to learn about it myself, rather than having it explained by the doctors). What I read I didn’t want to read anymore.
I’m sorry….what? (Hint: Dr Google………… don’t do it.)
I was 21 years old. I cried. I cried during my extended stay at the hospital. I cried when I got home. I cried for months following. I recall the times I found myself at home by myself, often when my partner was at work; I would somehow end up laying in our hallway crying hysterically. I found myself asking “why me? What did I do wrong? I’ve always been a healthy, active person – how did this happen?” The support I received from my partner, friends & family was amazing. The support I received from medical professionals sadly was the complete opposite.
“You’re young. You don’t need to worry just yet.”
“There’s plenty of time for babies later on in the future.”
“Stay on the pill; it will help.”
“There’s nothing else we can do; we’ll take you off the outpatient list.”
The recovery from the laparoscopy took time. It was weeks before I started just taking my dog for walks. But I was determined to get back to what I knew had always made me feel better: exercise. That year I became even more active. I started learning new things at the gym. I ran more (boy do I love running!). Exercise releases endorphins and that is just half of it. Soon enough it became less of “why me?” and more of “how lucky am I? My legs still work and my heart still beats!”
I stayed on the Oral Contraceptive Pill (OCP) for approximately 3 more months. I had never used the pill until that time when it was suggested as an effort to try to reduce the growth of the ovarian cysts. It made me feel worse…so much worse. I remember a flare I had at the end of the day just as I was finishing work. I shouldn’t have driven myself home, but I did. I couldn’t bear the thought of waiting for someone to help me and knew I needed to be home with my partner, with my heat packs, with my pain relief medication, in my own bed. On top of the physical effects the OCP had, it had emotional effects. I felt lethargic. I was moody. I didn’t feel like myself.
In hindsight now, I perhaps could have tried a different pill to see if it had less side effects, but it was around that same time in 2015 I was off down to Sydney with my mum for the EndoActive Conference. We had learnt about EndoActive after seeing their story on A Current Affair only 2 days after my diagnosis. I knew I had to learn more about the condition. The trip down and the tickets to the conference were one of the best investments I have made. My mum and I learned so many things about endometriosis that day and it was then I decided to stop the pill and try some more natural alternatives instead.
I soon started a gluten-free diet and taking magnesium + fish oil supplements daily. I turned to acupuncture too to manage the pain. The regular exercise kept up and soon I began feeling relatively well.
I was working full time that year after deferring my final year of uni. I didn’t want to be doing placements and internships, stressing over assignments and stretching myself thin when I was unsure how the year would play out. Would I be going back for another surgery? Would I be able to manage the pain myself? I needed sick leave to back me up if it came to that. So working full weeks and balancing an exercise training program, plus family time and all the rest of ‘life’ was tight. My workouts became short and moderately intense so that I could benefit the most from them in a less amount of time. Ever since, these types of sessions have been the ones I prefer – simple, yet effective!
The following year I made the decision to start my Fitness Coaching course. After 12 months I was qualified and had learnt so many more things about exercise. In my time since, I have spent time reading about possible connections between endometriosis and exercise. Sadly, there is not very much thorough research on this topic but there are some theories that link the hormonal effects of exercise to management of the condition. Still even to this day, I believe the biggest influence exercise has had (for me) has been a mental change. Yes, I have endometriosis. But yes, I am indeed lucky. I might wake up with some aches and pains but I wake up. I smile every day. I am strong. And I have been made stronger by endometriosis.
When I first learnt about the condition it was all so negative. Barely anything positive is written about it. When you’re on medication whether it be pain relief or hormonal to manage the symptoms you’re not usually yourself. It’s hard to see any light. I was there and I found it hard to pull myself up. It was not a nice place to be. I owe it to my partner, family and friends for how I bounced back; and I hope that I never feel like that again. I wish so much that no woman is made to feel like that from endometriosis. I believe we must stop thinking about endometriosis as a ‘chronic illness with no cure’ but perhaps a ‘chronic condition with chance of management & remission’.
I had another laparoscopy at the beginning of 2017 for excision of my endometriosis. My specialist booked the room for ‘4 hours worst-case scenario’ which he said would leave enough time to tidy up after my procedure ready for the next patient to use the theatre room. Instead, I was operated on for 5 hours. It took 3 surgeons. They spent 3 hours alone removing a ‘potato-sized’ mass from against my bowel. They found lesions on my diaphragm too. I owe it to exercise for helping me feel ‘alive’ up until that surgery, which I waited 2 years for from time of diagnosis. I owe it to exercise for how well and efficiently I have recovered since that mammoth surgery which left me in hospital for a number of days following.
I’m not saying every day is easy but I am saying that exercise makes the hard times better. I definitely suffer from less pain these days but the serious risk of subfertility/infertility plays on my mind month after month. Not only do my periods make me feel moody and cause pain but they are a frequent reminder that endometriosis has caused some plumbing issues and that there may be more battles in the future.
However, I truly believe endometriosis makes the strong women even stronger.
“Endometriosis” - just look at it; the word itself spells out positives.
“End” – yes, there is one, soon.
“Oh” – oh shit, I can actually do this.
“Me” – I was picked to take on this battle.
“Trio” – you, me & us, all in it together.
“Sis” - #endosisters
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