Every twenty eight days for twenty four hours I was bed bound in the fetal position, gripping my abdomen with the same intensity that my menstrual cramps gripped me. The spasms would come in waves, starting slow and low and becoming more and more ferocious in time. The whole of my being, overwhelmed by the pain, would tense up until it trembled.
In the brief moments between the convulsions, I would drag myself to the bathroom, covered in tears and release my nausea into the porcelain toilet. Unable to get myself back to the bed, I would curl up on the cold tiled floor in a futile effort to distract myself from the impending doom. I suffered like this for twenty years.
Every doctor I saw, every health practitioner I visited, would tell me the same thing. That there was no cure for my dysmenorrhea aside from perhaps a hysterectomy or maybe, giving birth. I wasn’t ready for those options. Instead, I tried endless approaches to alleviate the agony, from prescription pills and holistic powders to acupuncture, massage, even minor surgical interventions, but to no avail.
Eventually, my dysmenorrhea would be diagnosed as endometriosis, a chronic inflammatory disease in which endometrial-like tissue are found growing outside of the uterus. Endometriosis often results in pelvic pain during menstruation, intercourse and bowel movements, excessive bleeding during or between menstruation, as well as a myriad of other symptoms and issues, such as possible infertility. Unfortunately, endometriosis has become an increasingly common problem among reproductive aged women all around the world, though it remains largely misdiagnosed.
One particularly painful day, I rummaged through my medicine cabinet in search of some ibuprofen, the only thing that provided me with an iota of relief. As I popped open the lid and poured the contents into my hand, out rolled a little nugget of cannabis, an IOU from my brother turned roommate. My body winced in pain.
With nothing to lose, I rolled a small joint, laid down on the couch and inhaled a few puffs. Within moments, the death grip of my cramps began to lessen, the tension slowly fading away. I sunk back into the softness of my sofa and for the first time in years, experienced a deep sense of relief and release that I had forgotten was possible. Then, the unthinkable happened, I faded off to sleep.
From that day forward, I replaced the toxic pain pills in my medicine cabinet with full-spectrum cannabis infused oils, tinctures, capsules and pre-rolled flowers. Cannabis became the go-to treatment for my endometriosis, the most natural, efficient and effective medicine I had ever experienced.
Like clockwork, the pain would come back month-after-month and while cannabis helped me mitigate the symptoms, the symptoms would still arrive. I began to realize that while cannabis was incredibly effective for treating the pain, it wasn’t solving my underlying issues.
With the introspective aid of a few challenging but important conversations with my partner, I began to reflect with more awareness on the state of my endometriosis and what it was trying to teach me. I came to understand that the pain was a signalling from within my body that some facets of my life were deeply off track.
I had been living foul for a number of years. Eating copious amounts of fried, fast foods and sugar laden snacks since my youth, consuming unhealthy amounts of alcohol and cigarettes since my teenage years and living a fairly sedentary adult life. All of these decisions culminated together in the demise of my physical, mental and emotional well-being.
With the visceral knowledge that my menstrual experience could be so much better, I was spurred into action. This marked the beginning of a gradual, but profound wellness transformation in my life that with patience, persistence and perseverance would lead me to where I am today. Profoundly happier, healthier and totally period pain-free.
In lieu of my newfound freedom from pain, I compiled a list of the most important and effective strategies that helped me on my journey towards healing my endometriosis and in turn, enhancing every aspect of my life.
Attitude & Awareness. I had become so used to the patterning of the monthly menstrual pain that I had begrudgingly accepted it as “the way it was” – that periods meant pain and that was that. Until one day, my partner helped me reflect by asking me, “Do you believe that you can heal from your endometriosis?” I was taken aback by what I felt was an accusatory question but came to realize that I only felt triggered because truthfully, the answer had become, “No, I didn’t believe that I could heal my endometriosis.”
With the awareness that I had lost hope for myself, I was able to reframe the fixed narrative that I created around my menses and start fresh. Believing that I could and would heal my menstrual pain was the building block towards a new reality. I put my newfound attitude and awareness to work and used it to visualize what it would feel like to be free of the pain and discomfort of my period.
Breathwork. Being balled up in the fetal position makes it incredibly hard to breathe deeply into the belly, but I now know that it is one of the most powerful tools for calming myself down and helping to coax the spasms into a gentler rhythm. During the worst of the cramping, I found that focusing on ‘breathing into the pain’ allowed me to relax my body and ease the severity of the cramping while helping my brain fixate on something besides the pain.
Cannabis. Cannabis was instrumental in helping me mitigate the painful symptoms that came along with my monthly menses. It also encouraged me to begin reframing the pain and understanding it as a guiding force to a better life.
I found that smoking, vaping and dabbing provided the most immediate relief while tinctures, oils or edibles were slower to take effect, but would ultimately last longer and seemed to target my pelvic pain even more effectively.
Eventually, I was introduced to vaginal suppositories which I absolutely love, especially for days when it isn’t conducive to be high. They feel like a warm blanket coating my pelvis and the pain alleviation is second to none.
Diet. This was one of the most important tools of all, not just for my menstrual pain but for the enhancement of my life in general. By diet, I mean my day-to-day nutritional intake, with the understanding that what I consume today affects the me of tomorrow, next week and next month.
It has been a gradual transition, but adopting a whole foods diet has been instrumental for my all around health and well-being and continues to surprise me with upgrades to my energy, mental health and clarity.
I try to keep it simple and focus on eating quality plants and animals such as rainbow colored fruits and vegetables, locally sourced meat and eggs, fresh fish and seafood, beans and legumes, nuts and seeds, raw chocolate and plenty of water. I choose to indulge once in a while, but I know that if I ‘treat myself’ too much, it won’t treat me very well come my next cycle. It’s a foolproof gauge of how I’ve been living.
The worst culprits for increasing my menstrual pain and decreasing my mental health are: refined carbohydrates and sugar laden foods, (ice cream, pastries, potato chips, beer, sodas and candy) caffeine, (coffee, energy drinks) especially right before or on the first day of menses, inflammatory foods, which for me are (sugar, wheat, dairy and refined carbohydrates).
At times it felt like I was ‘giving up’ some of the foods I had grown to love, but the truth was they were actually holding me back from feeling, thinking and living my best.
Exercise. Our bodies are meant to move, so my previously sedentary lifestyle was in no way helping me to feel my best or be my best. Now that I know the profound impact that movement has on my mental health and overall well-being, it’s become a non-negotiable daily practice for me to get outside and get moving. Even just a short walk can turn my day around.
Since I was initially exercise averse, I found that disguising ‘exercise’ in adventure was a great way to keep myself enthusiastic about getting out of the house. I can’t stress enough how getting more exercise made my body, mind and soul infinitely better. The more moved, the better I felt and eventually, I fell deeply in love with the process.
Daily movement is extremely beneficial in alleviating menstrual pain. Motion is lotion. There was a time when I couldn’t even imagine moving off the couch during the first day of my period, but cannabis was a major factor in helping me mitigate the pain long enough to get up and get moving.
Fasting. Intermittent fasting was also instrumental in leading me to a pain-free period. Prior to introducing IF to my life, I was snacking at all hours of the day and night and often, consuming unhealthy foods and beverages. Containing my eating to an 8 – 10 hour window helped me dial in the nutrition and set some guidelines around consumption.
Not snacking late at night naturally removed a lot of cramp-inducing foods like pop, potato chips and ice cream from my life and in return, I would wake up feeling well rested and revitalized. I could use that morning energy to go for a walk, bike ride or run, making my movement practice stronger and increasing the likelihood that I would make better food choices throughout the day.
Gratitude. It can be challenging to be grateful for our suffering. The pain I was receiving during my menses was a signal from my body that I needed to change my life and listening to that signal was one of the greatest gifts I have given myself. It serves as a constant reminder for me to try my best to reframe things that seem negative in the moment.
Practicing gratitude didn’t come naturally to me, so sitting down for five minutes every day to jot down a few sentences of things I am grateful for was a good starting point. The magical fact that I have been born into this world to experience the wild mysteries of life has certainly been something to celebrate.