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I Almost Lost My Life During My Battle With Endometriosis

Women's Health

My earliest symptoms were heavy cycles. I would bleed so much, it would make me pass out.


I was 19 when I had my first myomectomy and 23 when I had the second.

My periods were so intense, that I tried every birth control possible to control the bleeding. When I was put on Depo, I bled for 6 months straight. Nothing worked and I felt hopeless.

I didn't find out I had endometriosis until I was 26, but the news hadn't come from a doctor. My symptoms were familiar to a close friend's who urged me to have a full examination. It wasn't until I was in my mid-twenties that I was diagnosed with a condition that I now know affects nearly 5 million women every year, and I didn't even know it. That condition is called endometriosis and is prevalent amongst black women.

Endometriosis affects me every day and causes pain even when I'm not menstruating. And when I am menstruating, I have to wear pulls ups when my cycle comes on because the bleeding is so heavy. If I'm scheduled to do something and my cycle comes on, that's a wrap. I have to cancel.

With endo, I have to schedule my entire life around my period.

For years, I have been bed-bound for 7 days a month, 12 months a year because the pain is unbearable. So far, I've had three blood transfusions and often need iron to replace what I lose during my cycle. Almost a year ago, I had a blood transfusion and had a near death reaction. My eyes turned yellow. I couldn't swallow and was hospitalized for days. The days I wake up pale and find it hard to breathe are signs that it's time for another trip to the hospital.

My diagnosis has taken a toll on me mentally, physically, and emotionally. To the women who have have battled with this ruthless condition: I understand your pain. I know it's frustrating, but please don't not give up. Your story matters. Your life matters.

Courtesy of Rachel Borders

Most people don't know that endometriosis has stages just like cancer. I started to share my story and bring awareness because there are so many women are suffering in silence and depressed, some of which have even committed suicide. It's a lot to deal with mentally.

To manage my pain, I pray A LOT. I believe God is going to heal me. There are a lot of women suffering alone. I suffered for years without me or my doctor being aware that endometriosis was a possible cause of my symptoms. I've learned not to dwell on the past, but to make it my mission to make more women aware in the future.

Here are three tips that I have for women that are currently struggling with endometriosis:

Avoid Surgery

Courtesy of Rachel Borders

A hysterectomy will NOT cure endometriosis. A hysterectomy causes so many side effects. I had two myomectomies to remove fibroids and endometriosis grew in the lining of my surgical scar. When my cycle comes on, I still feel swelling and pain along my surgical scars.

Skip Birth Control and Try Holistic Healing

When women complain to their doctors about their menstrual pain, the first suggestion that we hear is to try birth control. I can promise you that it will only put a band-aid on your condition, and has the potential to make things worse. Don't keep trying birth controls because the hormones make the fibroids grow. Try acupuncture and holistic remedies instead.

Change Your Diet

Change your diet and change your life. Fast food isn't great for your reproductive system and dairy products only make things worse. To ease the symptoms of endometriosis, try to avoid consuming fast food, sugar, or dairy products. They will make fibroids grow.

I'm currently trying holistic ways to heal my endometriosis. I was on a regimen by Dr. Wallach that included all-natural hormonal supplements for a few months, and they helped me a lot. My cycles were way lighter and I didn't experience as much pain.

10% of black women battle with the debilitating effects of endometriosis, but with a healthy diet and the right resources, we can still win the war

I turned 30 in April, and it has been four years since I was diagnosed. I cut my hair off because years of birth control made it thin, and I am now reclaiming the time my condition tried so desperately to steal from me. I decided that endometriosis would no longer run me. Every day is an effort to take my power back, and I sure look good doing it.

- As told to Taylor Honore

Featured image courtesy of Rachel Borders

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You may not know her by Elisabeth Ovesen – writer and host of the love, sex and relationships advice podcast Asking for a Friend. But you definitely know her other alter ego, Karrine Steffans, the New York Times best-selling author who lit up the literary and entertainment world when she released what she called a “tell some” memoir, Confessions of a Video Vixen.

Her 2005 barn-burning book gave an inside look at the seemingly glamorous world of being a video vixen in the ‘90s and early 2000s, and exposed the industry’s culture of abuse, intimidation, and misogyny years before the Me Too Movement hit the mainstream. Her follow-up books, The Vixen Diaries (2007) and The Vixen Manual: How To Find, Seduce And Keep The Man You Want (2009) all topped the New York Times best-seller list. After a long social media break, she's back. xoNecole caught up with Ovesen about the impact of her groundbreaking book, what life is like for her now, and why she was never “before her time”– everyone else was just late to the revolution.

xoNecole: Tell me about your new podcast Asking for a Friend with Elisabeth Ovesen and how that came about.

Elisabeth Ovesen: I have a friend who is over [at Blavity] and he just asked me if I wanted to do something with him. And that's just kinda how it happened. It wasn't like some big master plan. Somebody over there was like, “Hey, we need content. We want to do this podcast. Can you do it?” And I was like, “Sure.” And that's that. That was around the holidays and so we started working on it.

xoNecole: Your life and work seem incredibly different from when you first broke out on the scene. Can you talk a bit about the change in your career and how your life is now?

EO: Not that different. I mean my life is very different, of course, but my work isn't really that different. My life is different, of course, because I'm 43. My career started when I was in my 20s, so we're looking at almost 20 years since the beginning of my career. So, naturally life has changed a lot since then.

I don’t think my career has changed a whole lot – not as far as my writing is concerned, and my stream of consciousness with my writing, and my concerns and the subject matter hasn’t changed much. I've always written about interpersonal relationships, sexual shame, male ego fragility, respectability politics – things like that. I always put myself in the center of that to make those points, which I think were greatly missed when I first started writing. I think that society has changed quite a bit. People are more aware. People tell me a lot that I have always been “before my time.” I was writing about things before other people were talking about that; I was concerned about things before my generation seemed to be concerned about things. I wasn't “before my time.” I think it just seems that way to people who are late to the revolution, you know what I mean?

I retired from publishing in 2015, which was always the plan to do 10 years and retire. I was retired from my pen name and just from the business in general in 2015, I could focus on my business, my education and other things, my family. I came back to writing in 2020 over at Medium. The same friend that got me into the podcast, actually as the vice president of content over at Medium and was like, “Hey, we need some content.” I guess I’m his go-to content creator.

xoNecole: Can you expound on why you went back to your birth name versus your stage name?

EO: No, it was nothing to expound upon. I mean, writers have pen names. That’s like asking Diddy, why did he go by Sean? I didn't go back. I've always used that. Nobody was paying attention. I've never not been myself. Karrine Steffans wrote a certain kind of book for a certain kind of audience. She was invented for the urban audience, particularly. She was never meant to live more than 10 years. I have other pen names as well. I write under several names. So, the other ones are just nobody's business right now. Different pen names write different things. And Elisabeth isn’t my real name either. So you'll never know who I really am and you’ll never know what my real name is, because part of being a writer is, for me at least, keeping some sort of anonymity. Anything I do in entertainment is going to amass quite a bit because who I am as a person in my private life isn't the same a lot of times as who I am publicly.

xoNecole: I want to go back to when you published Confessions of a Video Vixen. We are now in this time where people are reevaluating how the media mistreated women in the spotlight in the 2000s, namely women like Britney Spears. So I’d be interested to hear how you feel about that period of your life and how you were treated by the media?

EO: What I said earlier. I think that much of society has evolved quite a bit. When you look back at that time, it was actually shocking how old-fashioned the thinking still was. How women were still treated and how they're still treated now. I mean, it hasn't changed completely. I think that especially for the audience, I think it was shocking for them to see a woman – a woman of color – not be sexually ashamed.

I hate being like other people. I don't want to do what anyone else is doing. I can't conform. I will not conform. I think in 2005 when Confessions was published, that attitude, especially about sex, was very upsetting. Number one, it was upsetting to the men, especially within urban and hip-hop culture, which is built on misogyny and thrives off of it to this day. And the women who protect these men, I think, you know, addressing a demographic that is rooted in trauma that is rooted in sexual shame, trauma, slavery of all kinds, including slavery of the mind – I think it triggered a lot of people to see a Black woman be free in this way.

I think it said a lot about the people who were upset by it. And then there were some in “crossover media,” a lot of white folks were upset too, not gonna lie. But to see it from Black women – Tyra Banks was really upset [when she interviewed me about Confessions in 2005]. Oprah wasn't mad [when she interviewed me]. As long as Oprah wasn’t mad, I was good. I didn't care what anybody else had to say. Oprah was amazing. So, watching Black women defend men, and Black women who had a platform, defend the sexual blackmailing of men: “If you don't do this with me, you won't get this job”; “If you don't do this in my trailer, you're going to have to leave the set”– these are things that I dealt with.

I just happened to be the kind of woman who, because I was a single mother raising my child all by myself and never got any help at all – which I still don't. Like, I'm 24 in college – not a cheap college either – one of the best colleges in the country, and I'm still taking care of him all by myself as a 21-year-old, 20-year-old, young, single mother with no family and no support – I wasn’t about to say no to something that could help me feed my son for a month or two or three.

xoNecole: We are in this post-Me Too climate where women in Hollywood have come forward to talk about the powerful men who have abused them. In the music industry in particular, it seems nearly impossible for any substantive change or movement to take place within music. It's only now after three decades of allegations that R. Kelly has finally been convicted and other men like Russell Simmons continue to roam free despite the multiple allegations against him. Why do you think it's hard for the music industry to face its reckoning?

EO: That's not the music industry, that's urban music. That’s just Black folks who make music and nobody cares about that. That's the thing; nobody cares...Nobody cares. It's not the music industry. It's just an "urban" thing. And when I say "urban," I say that in quotations. Literally, it’s a Black thing, where nobody gives a shit what Black people do to Black people. And Russell didn't go on unchecked, he just had enough money to keep it quiet. But you know, anytime you're dealing with Black women being disrespected, especially by Black men, nobody gives a shit.

And Black people don't police themselves so it doesn't matter. Why should anybody care? And Black women don't care. They'll buy an R. Kelly album right now. They’ll stream that shit right now. They don’t care. So, nobody cares. Nobody cares. And if you're not going to police yourself, then nobody's ever going to care.

xoNecole: Do you have any regrets about anything you wrote or perhaps something you may have omitted?

EO: Absolutely not. No. There's nothing that I wish I would've gone back and said to myself, no. I don’t think at 20-something years old, I'm supposed to understand every little thing. I don't think the 20-something-year-old woman is supposed to understand the world and know exactly what she's doing. I think that one of my biggest regrets, which isn't my regret, but a regret, is that I didn't have better parents. Because a 20-something only knows what she knows based on what she’s seen and what she’s been taught and what she’s told. I had shitty parents and a horrible family. Just terrible. These people had no business having children. None of them. And a lot of our families are like that. And we may pass down those familial curses.

*This interview has been edited and condensed

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Feature image courtesy of Elisabeth Ovesen

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