A young woman who was told the “pain was in her head” ended up having to take antidepressants before finding out she was suffering from a chronic condition.
Chanelle Urquhart began suffering symptoms of endometriosis at the age of eight.
For the next 15 years, she underwent tests for sexually transmitted diseases, pregnancy and had to take prescription painkillers.
The pain was so unbearable she relied on tramadol and morphine every day to combat it but doctors had told her it was "all in her head" after they were unable to decipher what she was suffering from.
She was finally diagnosed with endometriosis at the age of 23 when doctors discovered her womb and ovaries were "stuck together".
Endometriosis occurs when bits of the tissue that lines the uterus grow on other organs such as the ovaries or fallopian tubes, often causing cysts.
Chanelle, who is now 24, has taken the brave decision to undergo chemical menopause to regain her life.
While it was still undiagnosed, on several different visits to the GP Chanelle was told she must be pregnant or have an STI rather than a chronic condition.
"When the tests came back negative they would just fob me off”, said the BioMed student.
"I've had doctors tell me my pain is in my head - that I must have been making it up.
"I thought I was going insane, I thought I was just being over dramatic and every woman has this pain, that I was just being a wimp and couldn't handle it.
WATCH: What is endometriosis?
"I became depressed and ended up on antidepressants."
After asking for a smear test, Chanelle was hopeful until she later found out they had done a chlamydia screening instead, and she eventually became anaemic due to blood loss.
However, Chanelle persevered and was eventually diagnosed with endometriosis – a long-term condition with no cure.
During Chanelle's first surgery to officially diagnose her illness, the doctor was able to see the true extent of her condition.
"I had multiple cysts on both ovaries”, she said. “My ovaries and womb were all stuck together. But the worst he found was on my bowel."
While endometriosis is incurable, there are temporary treatments available, including surgery that can burn off the current endometriosis.
The side effect of the surgery is the endo can grow back and spread further.
Another recommendation is to start a course of Zoladex - injections which start a chemical menopause.
Although the pain was alleviated through the latter treatment, Chanelle experienced suicidal thoughts so the injections had to be stopped.
'You're not alone - you're not going mad'
Now, she is recovering from her latest surgery and hopes the relief from pain will last.
But the student stresses her condition could have been found sooner if there was awareness around the condition.
"I want all the young girls suffering with unexplained pain and heavy periods to know, you're not alone and you're not going mad”, she said.
"Stamp your feet until a doctor listens and keep your head held high. The stigma around this needs to change."
Endometriosis is just one of many gynaecological conditions often kept quiet in daily conversations, for fear of embarrassment or shame.
But as more and more people are coming forward with their own experiences, many are calling for better awareness and education around painful periods and other conditions.
With this awareness, there is hope that more girls and women will seek help - without the veil of unnecessary embarrassment.
The UK government is currently preparing to launch an inquiry into women's experiences with endometriosis, which is one of the UK’s most common gynaecological conditions.
According to leading charity Endometriosis UK, 1.5 million women in the UK are affected by the long-term condition.
Although this condition affects so many, there is a distinct lack of research into this area - leaving many confused and lost when eventually given the diagnosis.
Others who suffer from chronic condition
Shaunagh McClean, 26, first started experiencing symptoms at the age of 14.
Similar to Chanelle’s situation, she says she was told the problem was in her head.
"I was told it was very normal and I was kind of making it worse”, she said. “They were saying it was in my head and so I started believing them."
After her mum underwent a hysterectomy at 46, endometriosis was found on her organs, and that's when Shaunagh said her experiences became clearer.
Last year, she went through her first surgery, which is when she was told her ovaries were stuck to her womb, and has been told she may enter temporary menopause.
"Everything was a bit of a mess”, she said. "There's a constant base level of pain, and it's not just affecting my stomach. I can feel it in my legs.
"I'm still young and haven't had any children, and I know my risk of infertility is a lot higher just from having endo, so I'm worried the menopause will impact more.
"By the time I have it, I'll be 27. I don't really want to go through menopause at that age."
Despite the worries, Shaunagh is willing to try anything to suppress the intense pain.
"I think - at this point - I'm willing to try anything that will make me feel better”, she said, “so, whatever that takes."
American expat Valerie Pate is another woman who has been diagnosed with endometriosis, and has been living with the condition for 25 years.
She has undergone countless surgeries to burn off the endometriosis but the pain is still constant, which she says has impacted greatly on her mental health.
"I've had depression pretty much the same amount of time I've been dealing with endo”, said the 41-year-old.
"I think, not only is it difficult to be in pain all the time, but also it's hormonal and you can get really distraught.
"I've been through a lot with it and I'm kind of exhausted with it all."
In an effort to combat the pain, Valerie went back onto the contraceptive pill earlier this year.
"One of the side effects is depression”, she said.
"My depression spiked so bad over this summer, I was so suicidal.
"I've had to come back off the pill because it was so bad. So now I'm back to the pain."
The symptoms of endometriosis can vary. The main symptoms include:
This week, Valerie started with her first course of menopause injections, which she hopes she will soothe the endometriosis.
Before starting, she says she's found solace in asking for advice in the Facebook support group, Endometriosis Support Hull.
She said: "It's really lovely to log in and see people asking questions that are the same as you, everyone's really nice.
"I've heard on there that a lot of people who have had the injections have still had a long process ahead, so I know I'm not out of the woods yet, and I've probably still got a few surgeries in my future.
"But, for the first time, I'm hopeful that I'm not going to wake up every day in pain."
These three women are hoping, that by coming forward, more awareness and education can take place around not only endometriosis, but other common gynaecological conditions, too.
To learn more, click here.
Helplines and support groups
The NHS Choices website lists the following helplines and support networks for people to talk to.
Sophie Atkinson is a community reporter for Hull Live and the Hull Daily Mail. She is responsible for covering news in the east Hull area.
You can also call her on 01482 315 235 or email [email protected]
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