I have been meaning to write something about my experience of powerlifting while having endometriosis for a while now. When I first started lifting “seriously” (i.e competing & stuff) I Googled endlessly for posts by other sufferers who lift, and didn’t really find much. I wasn’t so much after “cures”, but experiences, you know? To know I wasn’t alone.
So while I’m not a great writer and I’m pretty crap at writing nice tied-up blog posts which make sense, I will have a go at writing something here; in case someone else Googles & can’t find anything.
I don’t really have any answers, though – and obviously I am not a doctor. But this is how I have coped/cope with being a powerlifter with a chronic condition.
[It goes without saying that this post discusses menstruation, so if you find that kind of thing gross, move right along!]
I first started getting endometriosis-like symptoms (dysmenorrhea) when I was about 12.5, and finally diagnosed a few months before my fifteenth birthday. Usually women wait years & years for a diagnosis, because endometriosis is a difficult one to diagnose (and also probably because of patriarchal bullshit in the medical system) but I got “lucky” – as it were – because everyone in my family with a uterus also has endometriosis.
I was put on the pill at 14, which helped to the extent that I could go to school normally (more or less), but at 23 I took myself off it because I felt the hormones didn’t agree with me mentally. I’d tried I think 5-6 formulations in that time, so it wasn’t that I hadn’t persisted. Sadly I know now that my depression & anxiety probably weren’t due to the pill, I’m just wired that way – but I wasn’t to know at the time.
Instead I went on to a regime of antifibrinolytics (tranexamic acid) and NSAIDs (mefenamic acid) which helped initially. It was a lot of pills to take – the mefenamic acild had to be started before my period began, which I couldn’t always predict; I took one pill four times a day and the other three times, which made for a lot of confusion; and if I missed a single dose of either medicine I could potentially end up unable to speak for the pain.
I was on this regime when I started lifting, although the signs were there that it was starting to fail. I suffered from a lot of flooding; plus the other symptoms endometriosis can give you (nausea, bleeding during ovulation, fatigue etc) were worsening. I started lifting when I was 32, and by the time I was 34ish I was pretty much bleeding all month round.
Because I hadn’t started exercising before I was diagnosed with endometriosis, or before I started with my drug regime, I had no idea what lifting without either would be like. There’s no denying that for the first couple of years I was lifting, my progress was slow. I very, very rarely skipped gym sessions because I was unwell, but I do remember being at the gym and feeling so, so tired, in pain, and most importantly violently nauseated (reverse hyperextensions in particular made me feel terribly sick).
Most annoyingly, for me, was that when I started competing it always seemed like competitions would be scheduled when I was having my period. Although to be fair, by this point I was more-or-less having my period all month round *shrug*. But honestly, there are few things worse than having to pop loads of pills in order to compete, then worry about the horrors of flooding when you’re wearing a singlet in front of a hundred people.
When I was 34 I’d finally had enough of the bleeding and the flooding. I asked for a referral back to a gynaecologist to see what the heck was going on. Because of the nature of endometriosis, you can only really “see” what’s happening via laparoscopies (and to a certain extend ultrasounds); I’d had laparoscopies at 15, 24 & 27 at this point, so I wasn’t too phased by the idea of another. I went on to the waiting list to have my fourth laparoscopy; luckily I only had to wait about 3 months.
In the meantime, I was still lifting, and competing; and on the 10th November 2012 I finally – FINALLY – made a 245kg total which qualified me for the 2013 GBPF British. Then at the end of the month I had my laparoscopy, where they excised a bunch of fibroids (which had been causing the almost non-stop bleeding) and gave me – hallelujah! – an endometrial ablation.
In a lot of ways I regret not fighting for the ablation sooner, as it’s made an almost 180° difference to my life. But they’re not usually given to treat endometriosis, and rarely on women without children; so I can sort-of understand why it wasn’t offered to me on a plate. I’m really glad I pushed to get it, though. I had to take a couple of months off lifting to recover, but since then I’ve barely touched painkillers and have ditched the antifibrinolytics entirely. I still get endometriosis symptoms, but no more periods. And I think my lifting has definitely been given a boost: at the 2013 British I only totalled 250kg (10 months after my operation, including the 2 months I had off) but since then my confidence has increased and I’m regularly squatting weights that 34-year-old me would have thought at the limits of my ability.
Is it all down to not having to take the drugs any more, and not feeling so exhausted & nauseated? I don’t think so – obviously a lot of it is down to length of time I’ve been training, nailing technique, no longer being afraid to fail squats etc. But having my symptoms under more control has to be helping.
As I said back at the start of this post, I’m not claiming to know how to cure endometriosis – I just wanted to tell my story, and to say that yes it is possible to lift to a decent level (British standard!) while chronically ill.
I realise there are a whole host of treatments for endometriosis out there which are not medical/surgical in nature. In fact before I had my ablation, I had people on lifting forums telling me to “just” give up sugar or gluten, and I’d feel 100% better. If those things work for those people, then great – but personally getting an ablation, having surgical treatment was right for me. I could have given up sugar or gluten and gone a few months more, before finding out it worked or hadn’t; however for me, having day surgery, 3 days off work and a couple of months of taking it easy was the better option.