What started as an inconceivable, awful pain in my lower intestines turned into a diagnosis. A diagnosis that meant I would suffer from two painful diseases that would manifest not just around my “time of the month,” but all month, every month. Despite the excruciating pain and discomfort, I’ve learned how to travel with endometriosis and PCOS. Here’s what I’ve learned and how you too can travel without letting it ruin your holiday. (LADIES ONLY)
I’m not gonna lie, this is an awkward post to write. Any post where the subject revolves around my genitalia and reproductive organs is straight up uncomfortable and vulnerable. I may be The Clumsy Traveler and share a ton of awkward stories, but I’m only human.
However, after many years of experiencing the pain that comes with these two illnesses, I’ve learned how life-ruining they can be. I’ve also learned how many women suffer from these diseases. And while I’m definitely not the spokesperson for all things travel, I think my trials and tribulations with lady trouble while traveling can help some women who feel lost, confused and utterly depressed. If that means sharing my “Endo and PCOS hacks,” I’m willing to awkwardly talk about my vagina on the internet.
If you’d like to learn a little more about my story, feel free to keep reading. But if you’re down to get to the nitty-gritty and learn how the hell you can just get some relief while traveling, scroll on down.
It all started with cramps. Horrible, painful cramps.
I was 21 years old and working as a server at a restaurant. It definitely wasn’t that time of the month, so like any other young girl, I assumed I ate something weird and continued to work.
20 minutes went by and the pain became increasingly worse. I started to panic. Like, get-tunnel-vision-and-hyperventillate panic. It felt like my intestines were being ripped apart from the inside and would come in awful, gut-wrenching waves.
My managers didn’t know what to do and decided to call an ambulance. And like A-holes, the EMTs ferociously made their way through the evening rush, frightening diners that led them to think someone must have eaten something bad. “Great,” I thought in-between my tearful sobs and painful cramps, “I’ve ruined the restaurant.”
An hour later I was in the hospital and on a hell of a lot of morphine. (Side note: I don’t care for morphine as much as I’d thought, but I’m kind of hilarious on it.) The doctor let me know that I had a cyst rupture in my uterus, nothing to be alarmed of, but painful nonetheless.
But it didn’t end there. Months would go by, and I would experience a ruptured cyst every few months, some bringing me to the hospital while others led me to cry in my own home until it stopped. After a handful of ruptured cysts, breakouts and lots of food allergies, my doctor told me I had PCOS, or Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome. PCOS is when small cysts grow on your ovaries as a result of a hormonal imbalance. This imbalance and cysts can cause issues with periods and make it harder to get pregnant.
It wasn’t just the pain that made me miserable. It was knowing I couldn’t do certain things (like volunteer for the Peace Corps) or possibly have children that made me feel like I was cut off from certain joys in life. I could see moments and certain parts of my future slipping away from me. Dramatic? Possibly. But a potential to ruin my life? Definitely.
I decided to retaliate this bullshit. For awhile, I got into a phase of working out, eating healthy and surrounding myself with positivity. And what-do-you-know, I only had one cyst rupture during that wonderful phase of my life.
Kevin and I were in Munich for Oktoberfest and the pain was unbearable. This time it was my time of the month and since PCOS strikes all the time, I thought it was a fluke. But what an awful fluke it was.
I was bedridden for about a day and a half and couldn’t even leave to grab food. Kevin would leave several times a day to get food, water, movies, whatever I barked at him to get me. (Did I mention I was on a rollercoaster ride of emotions too? Because that was fun…)
From then on, each and every period has been unbearable. Think mood swings so drastic, you’d think I was bipolar. Pain so intense, I can’t leave bed for at least 24 hours or I’ll double over on the floor. So much humiliation from “accidents” that I become a shut in for about 2-3 days. For an entire week every month, my life is a miserable wreck.
It occurred to me only recently that it could be endometriosis. Endometriosis is a chronic disease when the tissue that lines the uterus grows in other places like the ovaries, fallopian tubes and the outside of the uterus. The pain comes from it being hard to shed this tissue (since it’s on the wrong place) and makes everything else inflamed. Aside from pain, this can result in infertility and damaging internal organs. It is in fact so serious, you can actually collect disability checks through it (not gonna lie, I’ve thought about it once or twice).
There are a few ways to tell if you have endo, but the most efficient way is through surgery. NO THANKS! I decided to discuss my symptoms to a fertility nurse who confirmed my suspicions. Which left me now with not only PCOS, but endometriosis.
Because of my dedication to traveling and this blog, that means I’m traveling more than ever. But let me tell you: I’m one of the luckier ones. I’m still able to move, travel and live. Some women are so sick and in pain all month-long, that traveling is just not an option. To you women, I can’t imagine what you go through and am here with you and for you.
If you’re like me and have endometriosis and PCOS to the point that you experience pain but not everyday, I think this post can really help you. Traveling with these diseases doesn’t have to stop you from enjoying your amazing vacation that you worked so hard to get. There are ways to have a fulfilling and adventurous life despite these hormonal, painful diseases.
For all of you who decided to read my story, THANK YOU FOR BEING SO PATIENT. Without making you sit through this nonsense any longer, this is how you can comfortably travel with endometriosis and PCOS.
My Travel with Endometriosis and PCOS Hacks:
It’s amazing what a little heat can do. If you’re like me, your pain comes not only in the form of unbearable cramps but lower back pain as well. You can thank the endo for that one.
However, a heating pad will not only soothe your cramps but the very sore lower back too!
I love this particular heating pad because you don’t necessarily need a power adapter (in case you can’t find one or it’s not working). Sometimes, our pain supersedes the convenience of modern technology!
If bringing a heating pad is a huge pain as far as packing goes, bring some Thermacare Heat wraps!
2. Work Out
If my story didn’t make you wanna exit this post, this suggestion probably did.
“Sebrin. I’m in SOOO much pain. I’m definitely not gonna work out.”
I hear you. And on my worst days, I can’t work out even if I’m dying to. I’m not suggesting you work out when you’re in utter pain, but to work out around those horrible days. As someone with horrible back pain, endometriosis doesn’t help it. But I notice that the back pain lessens when I work out regularly.
Movement is what keeps the body alive. So don’t exert yourself on very painful days, but make sure you’re taking care of yourself when you can.
Great workouts for women with endometriosis and PCOS include:
Low impact workouts (pilates, ellipticals, etc.)
3. Prioritize Your Diet
Have you noticed that certain foods actually make you feel better (on and off the endometriosis roller coaster)? Certain foods nourish your body in ways that medicine and exercise just can’t do and it’s important to feed your body these vitamins, especially during those bouts of endo and PCOS.
I understand you want to eat all of the macarons in France. And the Bintangs in Bali are just calling you. But this is where you need to be a grown up and compromise. The trip of your dreams > great food.
If this is simply not cutting it for you, then take it easy. Eat an unhealthy meal, but don’t drink. Or have some sweets and eat lots of salad. You really need to prioritize your health and body first.
So what kind of foods should you be eating? Anything with a lot of Iron, Vitamin B and Omega 3s. Enjoy the following foods before or while traveling:
Green, leafy vegetables
Plain chocolate (without added sugar)
Wild Alaskan salmon
Tree nuts and seeds
Extra virgin cold-pressed olive oil
You also want to avoid foods that increase your estrogen. That means no sugar and no soy!
When I say ‘try herbal remedies,’ I’m not talking about chamomile tea. I’m talking about ancient, studied, potent herbs that actually help you and your pain.
Herbs, like ginseng or sage, have been shown to greatly impact physical and emotional ailments. This is especially true for female issues like endometriosis and PCOS. I take medicinal mushrooms and herbs frequently and I’ve noticed that my symptoms have lessened greatly since my first experience with endo almost 2 years ago.
When it comes to traveling with herbs, make sure they are in a labeled container so they don’t think you’re smuggling shrooms across the border.
Some amazing herbal remedies for endometriosis and PCOS include:
This chocolate is actually life-saving for any woman on her period! I used to work for this company and this is where I first learned the power of adaptogenic herbs. The raw chocolate works as a vascular dialator, helping the herbs get through your body faster. It’s AMAZING!
5. Treat Yo’ Self
I heard this one from a friend who experiences awful periods. Your cycle puts a lot of stress on you. Not just emotionally, but physically. Shedding your uteran wall does a lot of damage even if it is natural. Add endometriosis and PCOS and you’ve got a lot of stress happening inside of you.
If you treat yourself the week before your period, symptoms will lessen significantly, even if it is just emotionally. So get those cheap, Chinese massages. Treat yourself to a mani-pedi. Eat a treat once in a while! The more you can relax before the storm, the more likely it will be downgraded from a thunderstorm to a light rain.
6. Drink As Much Water As Humanly Possible
The only thing that will aid your pain, cells and body in general is lots of hydration and energy. The kind of energy and hydration that comes with lots of water.
If you’re in a location that has limited access to water, bring a water bottle with a filter or filter tablets to clean your water. You should basically never be without this liquid gold when you’re experiencing this kind of pain.
7. Pack Back-Up Panties, Tampons and Menstrual Cups
One of the incredible joys of endometriosis is the amount of bleeding you’ll be doing. Hooray! This happened to me on my bus ride from Berlin to Munich. It was my first experience with endo and I had, let’s just call it an “accident” on the six-hour bus ride. I WAS MORTIFIED.
Accidents like this would often keep me from enjoying certain activities like hiking, biking or even going outside. Don’t let this situation ruin your trip (or your clothes)!
I’m a huge fan of the Diva Cup paired with Thinx panties. You will literally never have an accident ever again. If you do tampons, make sure you’re taking care of your lady flower with organic and unbleached tampons. The less chemicals down there, the better!
8. Bring All of the Pain Relievers
I suggest this point last, but it’s actually really important. The pain of endo and PCOS is no small kick in the stomach. It’s not like period cramps and it’s not like a bad stomach ache. It completely ruins your day (even your life if symptoms are that bad). So you probably know that Advil and Tylenol alone may not cut it.
Go to your doctor and let them know the situation. I’m not telling you to get a bunch of pain relievers like some oxy-addict. But I am telling you that you should never have to suffer through this pain because you’re too afraid to tell your doctor. Tell your doctor about your travel plans, how often the pain is and how severe it is. Never feel shame. Never feel embarrassed. (Hello? I’m putting this out there on the internet for you ladies!)
Then bring all of these meds on your trip. To get past security, make sure they’re all in the appropriately labeled bottles and even have a copy of a doctor’s note just in case.
9. Try Crystal Healing
Okay, I know this remedy is a little out there. As you know, I’m really into metaphysical energy especially since my chat with Colleen of Style Rituals. I have no medical proof this helps, but doesn’t my word count for a lil’ somethin’?
Any crystal that makes you feel better is great! But if you’re looking for specific stones that can help with the cramps and pain that come with hormone influxes, cysts or inflammation, these will definitely help:
I often use hematite for grounding, amethyst for strength and blocking negative feelings, moonstone to channel feminine energy and jasper to help fight cramps. But it never hurts to have more pretty crystals!