women

Brave to the Bone – for The Big Smoke

Brave to the Bone – for The Big Smoke

Here’s a little piece I wrote for a new publication out of Sydney, The Big Smoke…

From The New Yorker

From The New Yorker

A Killer Rack

I was chatting with a mate a while back about my desire to change careers, and she asked me if I felt I was an expert in anything.

“I dunno” I replied offhand. “Probably boobs.”

We laughed, because everyone knows Boob Men don’t come much bigger than me. What can I say? I’ve never been any different. All I know is that any time a decent set of boobs appears in front of me, I lose the ability to speak. I’m like a rugby league player trying to string a sentence together.

Lately though, boobs have been messing with a close friend of mine and they’re starting to lose their appeal. They’ve tried this before with other friends, even succeeded on two occasions in taking great women I knew. But this time I’ve been a little closer to the action, and it’s highlighted to me how little I understood of breasts at all.

I suspect some of us girls are a bit blasé about breast cancer. We are bombarded with ‘breast cancer’ messages and campaigns almost to the point of being desensitized by it all. We know to check our breasts and we know the risk factors from lifestyle choices. Sure it can kill us, but the statistics are on our side, and most of us know at least one woman who’s been diagnosed, had a lumpectomy and a round of treatment and come out of it the other side with little to show for it other than a new hairstyle.

Well, yes. Except, no. Big NO.

Breast cancer is horrible. It is a hideous, nasty, insidious disease that attacks us at the very core of our being, not only because of the importance we place on our breasts, but because our bosom is also where our heart is, where so much emotion is stored and felt – as though our chests needed any more pressure placed on them. For all the feminist ranting about the over-sexualisation of breasts, the truth is that our boobs are more than just utilitarian objects designed to feed babies.

We are destined to have a dysfunctional relationship with our breasts. From the minute our chests begin to fill out, or even more awkwardly don’t, they are an undeniable sign of our burgeoning sexuality that is visible to the rest of the world. We are judged on them, and judge ourselves on them, from the minute they appear. The other things that come with puberty, like pubic hair and menstruation aren’t readily available for viewing (well, you’d hope not), but our breasts? We have no control over them. They force us to confront our body’s development in comparison to our peers, and often they’re the cause of some pretty soul destroying taunts as we negotiate adolescence. Some of us are lucky enough to get through it all and end up happy with what we’ve got mammary-wise. Some of us get there via push up bras and cosmetic surgery. Some of us never learn to love our breasts at all. And for an increasing number of us, we wade through all that only to have our breasts betray us and develop life threatening tumours anyway.

It’s a lonely journey, cancer. Much as she has many people there for her, no one is really there with my friend. I don’t know exactly how bad the post-surgical pain was, although her tears gave me some idea; I didn’t know exactly how rattled she was by the diagnosis, although I could sense it in her text messages and emails and every black-humoured remark. I didn’t know how scared she was of what the future held, although I could guess. I was scared for her too. And I may have been alongside her in the hospital for part of it, but only one of us was the patient.

I sat in a scanning room in Nuclear Medicine, arguably the grimmest part of any hospital, while she had radioactive fluid injected into her nipple by a doctor she’d met only minutes before, the same doctor who was at pains to make sure it was okay I be in the room lest I get a nipple flash – as though there’s something awkward about a friend seeing your boobs, but not a bunch of medical staff. The room, at once high tech and 1960s retro, was a bit like the set of The Thunderbirds. The off-grey walls and floors and harsh lighting only added to the alienation. I watched her being slid into the PET scanner, manoeuvred and bossed around by staff who go through it too many times a day, saw them tape her breasts and draw guides for the surgeon on her skin in Nikko pen. I kept wanting to say “you know that’s a person there, right?” as they joked amongst themselves and worked out where to put the markings. It was all I could do not to reach out and grab her hand, give her some form of human contact amongst all the science fiction.

And yet I saw some of the sweetest moments of humanity in that hospital too. Fleeting connections between strangers that made all the difference to both of them – whether between the staff and patients, patients and their visitors, or between the patients themselves. There is an immediate level of intimacy created when people are brought together through illness. Maybe it’s just because someone else knows how bad the hospital food is, but it’s a connection nonetheless.

The fatalist in me says that breasts are just breasts – who cares if they go? And actually, I do believe that. Having a killer rack suddenly takes on a whole new meaning when there’s a Grade 3 malignant tumour nestled in your cleavage. If they’re out to kill you, then get rid of them. It’s not like your personality is stored in your mammary glands.

But I still have my breasts intact, and I don’t know what it’s like to mourn their loss. Another patient, full of good intentions, said that it’s better to be safe than sorry. She was right, of course, but my friend’s response “I’m both” was gut-wrenching.  It doesn’t matter how many times a woman is told she’s sexy, there’s a part of her that fears being undesirable. So imagine the psyche of a woman battling the combined effects of chemotherapy – the disappearance of distinguishing features like eyebrows, eyelashes and hair; the nosebleeds, blistered skin, lethargy, nausea, weight gain (or loss depending on the person) – along with the crippling depression that is both a symptom and a result of treatment, and whose scars across her chest continue to pull and hurt and send phantom pains shooting from the nerve endings where her nipples used to be. Can you imagine the strength it takes just to get out of bed some days, let alone out the front door? Seeing someone who oozes self-confidence be so vulnerable is heartbreaking. This should not be happening to her.

And yet, why not her? That’s the nature of this stupid thing. It doesn’t give a shit that she’s fought enough already to be here. Cancer is completely indiscriminate in its selection process. It’s never cared about any of the people I know who’ve answered that knock on life’s door.

I simply can’t fathom how anyone copes with being told they have cancer. It’s terrifying enough as a friend to hear words like tumour, mastectomy and chemotherapy. To be able to remain a functioning member of society when you are at your most fragile; when control of your life has been taken from you and put in the hands of a stranger now known as your oncologist; when dealing with the shock and fear and disbelief at how quickly life exploded has turned your brain to mush and left you unsure of every decision you make; when you can deal with it all with humour; when you can maintain some semblance of life despite all that, and when you can come out the other end never once having asked “why me?” while knowing there’s still so much ahead to get through…well frankly, that’s where my words run out.

And so, my love affair with breasts has hit a rocky patch. I still think they’re lovely, but I now view them the way I view a potentially dangerous dog. I’m happy to play with them, but I expect them to attack.

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Unavailable Tampon Syndrome

It’s two days before my period is due and as usual my mood is hanging somewhere between moderately frustrated and thoroughly homicidal. This month however it’s not PMT that’s the cause of my irritation, but another lesser known disorder called Unavailable Tampon Syndrome, or UTS. Most of you won’t have heard of it because…well…I just made it up, but the seriousness of the condition should not be underestimated.

UTS occurs when the only pharmacy you’ve found within a 20km radius that sells the only tampons you can use decides not to stock them any longer. Some lucky women may never suffer this affliction, and others may only have to confront it once or twice in their life, but if you’re anything like me you come to anticipate it on a monthly basis along with all the other joys of menstruation.

In my case UTS is caused by the increasing difficulty in finding stockists of Tampax Super Plus tampons (and yes I know that just gave you more information about my menstrual cycle than you were hoping for, but I promise whatever you’re imagining isn’t as bad as the reality often is. I hope that makes you feel better). For the last three years I’ve been UTS free as my local pharmacy has always had a supply of Tampax Super Plus on hand, sitting on the shelf gathering dust until I trundle in with my abnormal uterine bleeding every four weeks.  

It had been going so well. Where the supermarkets and corner stores had failed me, I could always rely on this one chemist to carry them. Once a month, as soon as my tits began to feel like watermelons, I’d duck in for my usual 30 pack of Nurofen Plus and two boxes of Super Plus. I’d go home, drug up, plug up and spend the next four days contemplating a hysterectomy. Too easy.

Yesterday all that changed. Standing in the feminine hygiene aisle desperately scanning the shelves, I felt myself relapsing. There were regular tampons, super tampons and light tampons (pfft, who uses those?!) There were organic cotton, fluro wrapped and easy twist open tampons. There were even slim ones, which I guess is good if the other styles make you look fat. But nowhere to be seen were the Tampax Super Plus tampons. Even worse, there wasn’t a space on the shelf where they should have been.  I knew where this was leading. Unavailable Tampon Syndrome.

Obviously my stunned expression was noted by the staff, because I was soon asked if I needed help. “Where are the Tampax Super Plus?” I asked in a way that I hoped disguised my alarm. “Oh, they’ve been discontinued by the manufacturer” said the guy serving me, a gay boy I know socially but not well enough for us to be totally relaxed discussing heavy periods. He was no doubt wishing he’d taken more notice of where I was standing when he offered his assistance, and desperate to cease discussing sanitary protection immediately. Clocking my look of disbelief, he followed up with “that’s solid information.” He was trying to act like he cared, but the curled lip and backwards step he took upon realising he was discussing things of a menstrual nature betrayed him, and I’m pretty sure as soon as I left he was texting all his friends about how close he came to actually having to deal with a period. Apparently there are some aspects of being a woman that even the campest man just doesn’t want to embrace. When he asked why I couldn’t just use the Super tampons I decided it was easier to leave than go in to the finer details of my flow with him, and frankly I was ready to suffocate him with a packet of overnight pads anyhow.  

In a total flap, I went home and panic bought $157.00 worth of tampons online from the only website I could find that had them in stock, and paid an additional $20.00 for urgent delivery. I know this seems like over reacting but panic buying before disasters is human nature, and trust me when I say that the 2011 Brisbane floods have nothing on the sort of flooding that can occur from my beaver dam. Eventually I contacted Proctor & Gamble to ask them for clarification, and received a reply assuring me that Tampax Super Plus were most definitely still being manufactured. I bloody well knew it.

I am not trying to be difficult, but to have to beg pharmacies to stock something that is essential is annoying at best. To be lied to about why they’re not stocking them is downright insulting. I don’t choose to buy Tampax Super Plus tampons because I get off on buying the biggest, most expensive tampon available; I have a medical condition that requires them. Of course I’d prefer to use the pretty little bullet shaped ones everyone stocks because they’re compact and easily hidden and come in bright colours, and I can buy the fucking things everywhere including petrol stations. Unfortunately, that is not how my body works.

I understand that Super Plus tampons will never be the bestselling item in the Tampax range, not every gal can be lucky enough to experience the sheer joy of a heavy period. But that doesn’t mean the women who require them cease to exist. And the most frustrating part of all of this isn’t the fact that they are so hard to buy. It is that on almost every occasion where I’ve enquired whether a pharmacy stocks them, a female assistant has said to me she would buy them too but she didn’t know they existed. It makes me wonder just how well Super Plus tampons would sell if women knew they were an option. Perhaps it’s time for the chemists of Australia to consider that a full range of tampons is slightly more important than a full range of Revlon nail polish?

As for the guy who told me they’d been discontinued? I can’t wait to drop a Tampax Super Plus in his drink next time I see him out. Just wait until he sees how much liquid those suckers can hold!

 

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Bank of Kingsland

Today, as with most days in the week, I went to the bank. While waiting for the teller to finish with the man ahead of me (who appeared to be depositing his life savings in five cent pieces), I mindlessly flicked through the brochures on display. Internet banking, business lending, business banking, advice on self-managed super funds, student loans, credit cards, home loans – all the services you’d expect from a bank. Nothing unusual…except…hang on a minute. What’s with all the dudes?

BOQ’s latest range of brochures. Or should that be Bro-chures?

Yep, every brochure they produce features a man.

Actually, I’m lying. There is a brochure aimed at women. It was the one where she needed help paying her bills, probably because (and I am using my context clues here) it’s the middle of the day and she’s at home in her gym gear instead of in the CBD wearing her best pinstripe skirt and jacket.

“If only I hadn’t spent all my money on makeup and high heels”…

While the brochures with a focus on growth, education and business all capture positive imagery of men actively seeking to get ahead in life (even the student is wearing a business shirt for christ’s sake), the one pamphlet relating to assistance in the event of financial hardship features a woman, and very clearly sends a message that the average female struggles to grasp money matters and can’t control her spending.

In fairness, they do make some attempt at bringing women in to the business banking arena with their brochure on Cashflow Finance, but it seems a pretty poor attempt at inclusion, given she has a person I assume is meant to be her husband standing next to her.

“Thank goodness my husband is here to help me make sense of all this information!”

At one point, I did think the BOQ was attempting to join the 21st century by showing a lesbian couple applying for a home loan. But on closer inspection, they turned out to be just a couple of employees, doing what female employees of banks do best i.e. nothing.

The heady world of banking – coffee, gossip & lots of smiling.

Now, I’m by no means a staunch Women’s Liberationist. If women in developed countries haven’t worked out they have more choices in life these days, then I honestly struggle to empathise. But the BOQ is sending a subliminal message to us all about how little they value women in an oddly blatant way. They are to subtle what Hitler was to race relations.

Individually, none of these brochures are objectionable. It’s only when they are seen en masse that they become problematic, and my bank’s motives questionable. Well, the motives of my bank are always questionable, but did they really need to go and give me another reason to dislike them?

The Bank of Queensland is a financial Boy’s Own manual, and their marketing towards women is at best a token effort. For someone like me, a businesswoman who is rarely home and never goes to the gym (not because I don’t have time but because gyms are horrible sweat boxes full of walking egos), there is only one way to read it – in their eyes, I’m a rarity and therefore not worth marketing to. It’s funny really, because I’m often one of several women in the queue at the bank, and they don’t ever appear to be lining up for any reason other than to deposit money. They carry company sized banking books with lots of pages, indicating they do this quite regularly, and some of them even wear proper business suits. Like men, you know?

Then again, maybe I’m making way too much of it. Maybe the BOQ didn’t mean for it to be taken that way at all, and fully understand how important women are. Benefit of the doubt, etcetera. So I grabbed one of their Customer Service brochures with the intention of contacting them regarding my concerns, thinking perhaps all they needed was to have it pointed out to them.

“Let’s talk about your problems, man to man.”

Then again, maybe not. They’d probably only put my concerns down to a particularly nasty bout of PreMenstrual Tension anyway..

Notorious

Vamp. Tramp. Temptress. Seductress. Tart. Trollop. Words that conjure up such wickedness, such evil, such sensuous manipulation of men!

In what is primarily still a man’s world, where things are seen and documented from a male point of view, the worst villains are always women. Sure, there have been some seriously devilish men, but the best of the worst are always the women. Just ask the happy folks at Disneyland. In a recent poll of the “Best of the Worst” villains, three of the top five characters were women. It seems even the kids are picking up on just how vindictive women can be…

In our culture, women are portrayed as either angels or monsters – never anything in between. Yet even the angels among us are assumed to have a repressed manic energy. “Hell hath no fury as a woman scorned” and all that. Women are expected to go mad at some stage in their lives – it’s just a matter of when.

Why? Is it really all Eve’s fault for believing that dastardly serpent? Was Adam so peeved with his woman for denying him a life spent lazing around in Eden eating mangoes, that he felt obliged to teach every man after him never to trust a woman?

Or was it Adam’s mythological first wife, Lilith? She liked it on top, but he wanted to make love missionary style so he told her to bugger off. Given that most men would be content with sex in any position, was Adam perhaps a repressed homosexual? That’s it! No wonder the Catholics have exerted so much energy repressing women and bolstering the position of men. The last thing they would want made public is that the father of mankind is a raving poofter!

Then there was Pandora and her irresistible box of evil little voices. Her curiosity didn’t just kill the cat; it damned mankind for all eternity.

It is a theme that runs consistently through history, from ancient mythology to present day. Women stuffed up by taking the initiative, and refusing to wait for a man. Interestingly, the very characteristics that make these women a target are the same personality traits admired in men – aggression, courage, strength, independence and dominance.

Of course, as the feminists have been pointing out for the past 40 years, we’ve historically only ever heard the bloke’s side of the story. Maybe both Eve and Pandora were sick of languishing with the limp wristed other halves, and desperate for a bit of excitement. Who knows? Lilith certainly wasn’t going to hang around, sexually frustrated and subservient to her husband’s urges. The world’s first feminist, was our Lilith. Germaine Greer in full flight was never a patch on Lil, who screamed and cursed Adam for banishing her from Eden, and spawned evil little babies to harass her ex husband.

We will never really know what caused women to obtain such a violently unattractive reputation, although perhaps Freud went some way to explaining the problem all men face, when he admitted that for all his psychoanalysis, he never could work out the intricacies of the feminine psyche. I suspect a lot of the mystery surrounding women relates to men’s view of ‘that time of the moth’, and their utter bemusement at the mood swings, cravings, obsessions and trauma that females go through every month. Part of the expectation that women eventually go troppo must surely come from generations of men watching their mothers’ journey through the wonderful world of menopause, without actually understanding what the poor woman was enduring. This thinking, by association, must culminate in long lasting cultural references to the Mother-in- Law figure.

What we do know is that the motif of the dangerous woman remains current in our culture and shows no sign of abating. Within society, we don’t ever anoint a queen of ‘nice’ (well, we have Miss Universe but no one in their right mind takes that seriously), yet we always have a reigning queen of all that is conniving, manipulating and obsessively sexual.

In every generation, there is one woman anointed by society, who embodies the archetypical temptress. A mysterious, dark and untouchable fembot, whose only aim in life is to suck the essence out of every man she encounters. These women come primarily from the rank of actress, perhaps as a result of the flamboyant nature of the business and because as a profession it was always seen as only a slight step up from prostitution, although there has been the occasional politician, author and painter.

So what sets these women apart from their peers?

Well, firstly they act as though men’s only use in life is to provide a little light entertainment; they appear to believe that men are an unnecessary appendage in life. This is a woman who we could never envisage living for her family, standing in the kitchen making her husband’s dinner, hanging out the washing, or ducking through the supermarket, a kid on her hip, grabbing toilet paper, sugar and milk. Audrey Hepburn, widely considered one of the most beautiful women to have ever lived, couldn’t have cut it as a vamp. She was too domestic, too devoted a wife and mother, too darn nice. Instead, one imagines a real vamp waking slowly just before lunch, wrapped in satin sheets, hair shining in the late morning sun, her luscious ruby lips calling for a Bloody Mary to get the day rolling. These aren’t the sort of women you wouldn’t take home to meet your mother; they’re the sort of women who wouldn’t want to meet her anyway. Wanton women, who care for nothing other than their own peace of mind, are somehow Succubus incarnate. It is as though women, in forsaking their duty as controller of domesticity and childrearing, are letting down society. The inability to become breathless with excitement at the thought of a new washing machine in which to clean hubby’s clothes is seen as almost deviant in mindset. Indeed, many continue to believe that the family is the very foundation up on which we depend, without it we are ruined. Every woman who consciously chooses to ignore her social responsibility represents one more tear in the moral fibre of society. The “Post War Happy Housewife” must be determined to lose herself in the happiness, and cleanliness, of her family. Any other way of life just isn’t normal.

Secondly, a vamp is nobody’s fool and nobody’s victim. She most certainly does not require rescuing. Marilyn Monroe, the world’s most famous sexpot, doesn’t fit in with these women as she always had a quality about her that seemed fragile. Even in a low cut, figure-hugging sequinned number, all lips and tits and breathless singing, she appeared as though a little girl secretly dressing up in her mother’s clothes. Men yearned to be the one to save her, yet the only thing that could have helped her was a large dose of what a true vamp possesses in truckloads – confidence. Vamps exude self-assuredness. They live to please themselves and are not fazed by outside opinions. They aren’t the sort of women to check themselves when they bend down so that their underwear doesn’t show. Rather, they’d be quite happy if someone did get a flash of their undoubtedly sexy underwear.

Most importantly, these are women who have never apologised for their behaviour, as they frankly don’t see what needs repenting. Where men historically flex their muscles, or those of their troops, women flex their brains and squeeze their opponents by the heart or the testicles – whichever they reach first. What’s more, they get away with it, via a raised eyebrow and a determined pout. There have been some ballsy women throughout history – Queen Victoria, Joan Crawford, Margaret Thatcher, yet they never really got away with being iron fisted. Mostly, they were just written off as uptight bitches who ‘need to get some’.

Why do we bestow on some women an almost reverential form of fame, while others are hard-hearted old bags?

An undeniable part of the allure must their beauty, although it is by no means the only reason. Grace Kelly was a stunning woman, but always seemed to have something ultimately wholesome about her. Jane Fonda almost had what we’re looking for. Barbarella proved beyond doubt what a little sex rocket she could be, but then she went all serious, all activist, all aggression and frustration. Hanoi Jane didn’t exactly exude sex appeal riding in a tank during the Vietnam War, in her camouflage gear and with her hard hat slipping sideways off her head. Not even if the world did know she was pretty gorgeous under all that dirt and dust!

No, it is more than just beauty. It is an awareness of their attributes, combined with a total disregard for their looks, a slightly untouchable quality, a self sacrificing sense of humour, and a twinkle in their eye that indicates there is serious mischief to be made. No matter how bad they are, you can’t help thinking they’d be fun to hang around.

Their effect is measurable on both males and females. Men seem to behold the seductress in morbid fascination – at once repelled and aroused at the thought of a woman proving them redundant, while women are caught between jealousy and admiration. In either case, the world is in awe of the vamp.

So, are these man-eating, praying mantis-like, hyper sexualised, masculinised women all bad? With the media constantly chugging out constructed images of the world, who knows? We do know that their very existence threatens the makeup of society, the way we are conditioned to expect women to behave, and the standing of man and women as equals; with men a little more equal than the women.

Yet the vamp is a necessary evil. We need rebels and rule breakers amongst us to provide the excitement and interest in life. We need them so that we may safely experience danger by living vicariously through the experiences of those daring enough to take a risk, and we need them to measure ourselves against. In short, we need the sinners as much as the saints in order that we may live a little easier within our own mundane lives.

The power she wields over society ensures there will always be women who would relish the opportunity to personify all that is deliciously, hellishly, sensuously alluring, untrustworthy and villainous about women. It is, after all, what sells stilettos and red lipstick – year after year, generation after generation.

International Endometriosis Week

This week is International Endometriosis Week, an issue very close to my heart. Well, actually it’s an issue close to my ovaries, fallopian tubes, uterus, bowel, kidneys and, according to the surgeon’s report, my Pouch of Douglas – whatever the hell that is.

For 13 years I was left to suffer the debilitating symptoms of Endometriosis as the condition went undiagnosed. From the first day of my second ever period, I began a way of living that was entirely based around my very unpredictable menstrual cycle.

Once a month, quite often twice, my entire life was brought to a screeching halt by the arrival of ‘The Period’. Its onset meant at least two days in bed with a migraine headache that no amount of medication would shift (although I never tried general anaesthetic – I suspect that may have worked), and at least three days of pain in my abdomen so intense that it caused nausea, vomiting, cold sweats, shaking, diarrhea and fainting, and required two Panadeine, two Nurofen and half a bottle of red to cope. It was all a bit Elizabeth Taylor, but at least the combination knocked me out for long enough that I could sleep through the worst of it. I then had a week of, and I’ll leave out the graphic details, extremely heavy bleeding which left me tired, anaemic and run down.

The rest of the month was spent getting more and more uptight about its return, whenever that may be. The erratic nature of my menstrual cycle meant I soon learned never to leave home without a large supply of Tampax Superplus, a few Nurofen & Panadeine, extra sanitary pads, and a spare pair of undies. Travelling filled me with angst. If I happened to be away from home, or unable to get home, the whole experience was humiliating for me and confusing for everyone else. How I could go from perfectly fine one minute, to an ashen grey, sweating, shaking, vomiting mess the next, was well beyond most people’s comprehension. Generally the reaction was to suspect me of ‘putting it on’. Once while travelling from Langkawi to Brisbane with a group of work colleagues I barely knew, my period unexpectedly turned up as we flew into Kuala Lumpur’s old airport. I was wearing white linen pants at the time – make your own conclusions there – and was left to sort myself out in a revolting public toilet in a decrepit airport in a primarily Muslim Asian country that didn’t freely sell sanitary protection, all the while experiencing a cold pain so strong it felt like a knife slicing through me. The only toilets available were of the squat variety, with the restroom attendant sporadically sending a burst of water from a fire hose under the stalls to clean the toilets out. Trust me, no one goes to that trouble for attention.

For years I tried doctor after doctor, sent from specialist to gynaecologist and back again, and was referred to many GPs who were apparently “amazing” with women. I was put on five different contraceptive pills, sent for three ultrasounds, given Wild Yam Cream, Evening Primrose Oil, organic tampons, had an operation to widen my hymen, prescribed copious packets of Ponstan, Naprosan, Naprogesic and Voltaren, boxes of Panadeine Forte, had acupuncture, Bowen Therapy and Electromagnetic Therapy, took magnesium supplements, iron tablets, ginger tea, special diets and applied heat packs. It was all a load of rubbish, and culminated in one doctor telling me that the best thing I could do was have a baby as that generally “sorted things out”. I was 15.

Finally, at the age of 26, I found a GP prepared to listen. When I met her, she was the President of the Australian Medical Association, and therefore had a few good contacts. One of them was an Ob/Gyn who was at the time President of both the Australian Federation of Medical Women and Medical Women’s International Association. My point in telling you this, and I do have one, is that this is the standard of doctor I had to find before getting a diagnosis. Within six months of meeting these women, I was essentially clear of the Endometriosis that had been festering inside me and causing me so much distress.

The thing that really irks me is that it took so long to get the correct diagnosis and treatment, and that it took two female doctors at the absolute pinnacle of the Australian medical profession to diagnose something as common as Endometriosis. Most women aren’t as lucky as I was to come across the level of expertise I found. After years of being sent for ultrasounds, I was told that Endometriosis rarely (as in never) shows up on those scans. That the only way to properly diagnose endometriosis is via laparoscopy.

This is pretty mundane stuff as medical problems go. It’s not like I was suffering from some weird African flesh eating virus no one had ever heard of. Endometriosis is a condition that affects approximately one in eight women, roughly the same as the rate of men suffering prostate cancer from what I’ve read. Granted, cancer kills, but quite frankly, so does a fragile mental state, and I most definitely had one of those by the end. Unbeknownst to me, I was also displaying classic symptoms of Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder (PMDD), which is essentially like having an incredibly bad bout of PMT all month. Constantly in a state of high agitation, I was permanently moody, depressive, lacking confidence, lethargic and generally difficult to get along with. I had no sex drive, no motivation and no patience for anyone. My relationships with my family and partner were fractured. I am told it is common for women with Endometriosis to also have PMDD. If only I had known this sooner. Imagine how the people around me must have celebrated this secondary diagnosis – “Thank god they can give the bitch drugs!”

The doctors I spent years going to for help were completely ill-informed and ignorant to either of my conditions, something that only served to drag the whole frustrating experience out and make it even more upsetting. I’m not sure much has changed. And for this reason I say to any woman who suspects her menstrual problems won’t be solved by a cup of tea, a Bex and a good lie down:

Demand your doctor investigate fully. The majority of women have periods that only last a few days, and experience little or no pain. If you deviate from this, demand a laparoscopy. Take control of your health yourself. If you don’t feel you’re being listened to, demand they start paying attention, or change doctors. Just push and push until you feel satisfied that you truly have examined every single aspect of the problem. Your doctor may not take you seriously, that doesn’t mean you don’t have to. The immense feeling of having your life back, of being able to live spontaneously and free of the stress of Endometriosis is worth whatever was required to get you to that point.

And if anyone ever dares say to you, “C’mon love, take a Panadol and get on with it”, give them an uppercut. Actually, give them two.

If you would like more information on Endometriosis, go to http://www.endometriosis.org.au/