Endometriosis Awareness Month – Dealing With Endo At University

Sarah Harris

I was a few days in to my second year of my undergraduate degree when I started, what I now refer to as the ‘period of hell’. For as long as I can remember, I’ve suffered from heavy and painful periods. So much so that my childhood was filled with sick days and doctor’s appointments. But I was always met with the same response – “it’s all in your head”.

But back in 2016, when the ‘period of hell’ began, I didn’t expect it to still be going on six weeks later. When I finally got tired of not being able to attend lectures and going through 2 sanitary pads an hour, I demanded that my GP do something about it. One week later, after a quick ultrasound, I was told I had endometriosis.

Endometriosis is a gynaecological condition in which the lining of your uterus starts to grow in other places in your body (such as your ovaries, bowels, bladder etc.). One in ten women suffer from the disease, but there still seems to be a lack of understanding and awareness surrounding the condition.

I didn’t realise at the time, what a significant impact the diagnosis would have on my university life. Given that my endometriosis seemed to be fairly treatable at the time of diagnosis, I was put on the pill and told to carry on with my normal life.

But I couldn’t. For almost 6 months, I continued to bleed and face chronic pain. My next ultrasound showed that my condition had advanced so significantly that my organs had started to stick together.

I hadn’t attended lectures in weeks, and I could barely muster up
the energy to complete the coursework. I knew that I couldn’t carry on this way and thankfully, I was fortunate enough to be able to seek out treatment privately.

After having my first surgery, less than a year after my diagnosis, I was told by my doctor that I would need another, more complex surgery in a few months. My education was still my priority and therefore, I made a plan with my doctor to control my symptoms and carry on with my education.

The constant battle with my wellbeing took a significant impact on not just my physical health but also my mental health and my university life

It’s not to say I didn’t struggle. Every few days, my body would surprise me with a flare up. The constant battle with my wellbeing took a significant impact on not just my physical health but also my mental health and my university life.

I couldn’t live the stereotypical university life I had envisioned. Instead of nights out, it was nights in with my hot water bottle. Instead of attending
lectures, it was catching up at 3am after my body had recovered.

Instead of studying in the library with my friends, it was studying in my bed whilst simultaneously taking hourly painkillers. Everyone says your years as an undergraduate are the best of your life, but for me, it seemed to be the opposite.

In 2018, after a few months of being ill, hospitalised and having 2 major surgeries, I realised I needed to take a year out to allow my body to completely recover and heal from everything it had been through.

I was still adamant on completing my education and knowing how difficult final years are meant to be, I knew I had to find a way to cope. The thing about endometriosis and chronic illnesses in general, are they are so complex and unique to every single sufferer.

What works for someone else, may not necessarily work for you. Therefore, it’s important to take the time to truly understand your body. I learnt that my body didn’t respond well to over exertion. That meant, if I had gone on a night out, I was bound to feel unwell the next day.

After a year out, I finally went back to university to complete my undergraduate degree and a year later, I had graduated with a 2:1 and began my master’s degree at the University of Nottingham.

Even now, I still struggle with my health and my education. Just a few weeks ago, during peak exam season, I found myself having to take days out of my busy study schedule to heal from a ruptured ovarian cyst.

If you, like me, struggle with endometriosis or any other chronic illness, I would highly recommend making the university aware

Thankfully, the university is accommodating and understanding of students living with chronic illnesses and had put a support plan in place for me in the first few weeks of the course.

If you, like me, struggle with endometriosis or any other chronic illness, I would highly recommend making the university aware. Whether it be through your personal tutor, course leader or the disability support team, it’s so useful to have a plan in place instead of having to file for extenuating circumstances at the last minute.

As well as this, remember that as important as your education is, your health should come first. If you need to take some time off to recover, that’s okay.

I always felt guilty about taking longer to complete my undergraduate degree but realising that my circumstances were completely different to the majority of students allowed me to feel proud of my achievements when I did eventually complete my degree.

Dealing with a chronic illness whilst completing a degree isn’t easy and just the fact that you made it here and that you’re trying is good enough.

Sarah Harris 

Featured image courtesy of  Anthony Tran via Unsplash. Image license found hereNo changes were made to this image. 

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