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Sophie’s story: “painful periods are not normal”

Sophie, suffered for years with heavy bleeding and severe period pain, before getting diagnosed with endometriosis. Now Sophie is raising awareness through her online platform @theendospectrum.

Photo of a young white woman in black and white in front of many words describing periods such as painful, flooding

Here, Sophie shares her story as part of our “Just a Period” campaign.

I was 16 tuning 17, when I started experiencing the symptoms of endometriosis, as I first got my period. But I did not know that at the time.

Every time I would get my period, the pain was severe, I would bloat, be exhausted and experience food sensitivity.

When I got my period, it was like my body was no longer the same overnight. One minute I looked pregnant because I was so bloated, then a couple of days later it would go.

It was mentally hard to balance this with the struggles of being a young woman settling into a body shape, when my shape was constantly changing.

I started going to the doctors, because I was in agony."

It was painful, physically and mentally.

I found that all aspects of my life were impacted. I was always in pain. It made relationships quite difficult since it became painful to have sex. It felt like my life was coming to an end once a month.

I started going to the doctors, because I was in agony. During the appointment I explained the pain that I was experiencing and was told that it was normal.

But I knew something was wrong. I knew what I was experiencing was not normal. I knew that there was a difference in the pain I was experiencing. I kept looking at my friends and thinking ‘you are not passing out on your period, you are not sick on your period, you are not crying because you are on your period, you are not cancelling plans because you are on your period’.

So I was persistent. I would visit the doctor every other month.

That was five years of my life. Five years of being told I was “dramatic”.

The only treatment that I was offered was the pill. At one point, I was offered a dietician, because they thought that I had IBS. I even had emergency surgery for ovarian cysts, which the doctors’ thought were causing the problems I was experiencing. But the pain was still there, and the cysts grew back.

That was five years of my life. Five years of being told I was “dramatic”. I was eventually diagnosed with endometriosis after an appointment with a GP in university who recognised my symptoms and sent me for a diagnostic laparoscopy.

A big part of my journey since then has been considerations around fertility treatment with endometriosis, and I wish it was spoken about more.

At one point, I was told I needed a hysterectomy. I thought that I'm not going be able to have kids. But it turned out that wasn’t the case - I was speaking to the wrong doctor at the time.

A big part of my journey since then has been considerations around fertility treatment with endometriosis, and I wish it was spoken about more."

When I was 25, I had emergency surgery and just before they put me to sleep, they said that I had to sign a form saying that they could take my ovaries away if they needed to. So, I went into surgery not knowing if I would have my ovaries coming out. I was just very lucky that I had a very skilled surgeon who kept my ovaries in. As soon as I came out of that operation, I was like, am I going to be infertile? They told me that around 50% of people with endometriosis struggle with fertility and this was a higher risk for me because I have cysts and flaring.

So when I was 26, I had my eggs frozen, so I still had options.

Throughout my diagnosis and even now, my endometriosis limits what I do. I love lifting weights, but there is a very small window of the month that I can do that because lifting weights outside of that really hurts.

It socially makes you feel like you are behind a glass wall, because you cannot eat and drink, in the same way your friends can.

At work, I was limited by my endometriosis. The pain meant I could not do the normal 9 – 5 and attend certain work trips.

But now I work for myself running a platform called The Endo Spectrum, and I can work around my endometriosis flares. I love what I do. I get to connect with other people in a similar situation. I love raising awareness of endometriosis, menstrual health and impact that it can have.

It’s empowering to help others navigate their journey. I originally had the wrong type of surgery, but I am now having the correct one, and via my Instagram page - @theendospectrum, I can teach others about the different types of surgeries. It also means I can reassure them that everything will be okay!

It’s empowering to help others navigate their journey."

Looking back at my journey, I wish I had known earlier that painful periods are not normal. As soon as you start having that conversation with yourself about whether you can attend things because of your period, that’s the red flag that something is wrong.

I also wish I had known that you can ask for a different doctor if you don’t feel like they’re taking you seriously.

If I could give my younger self advice, it would be, if you think you have endometriosis, go a see an endometriosis specialist. Advocate for yourself and get that referral, to ensure that you can get the right treatment. 

Sophie Richards, is a women's health ambassador and coach, raising awareness one period at a time! After being diagnosed with endometriosis at the age of 21, Sophie, had already suffered with five years of pain and was misdiagnosed with countless conditions. ‘The Endo Spectrum’, was created to share her journey with endometriosis, and share tips on how she managed the condition. It's a space open for everyone to learn, connect and communicate with others who are going through the same, and learn how to communicate their needs to the world.

Last year, Sophie took part in our first “Just a Period” Instagram Live with our Ambassador Dr Aziza Sesay. Catch up on the IG Live here.

If you can relate to Sophie’s story, you could have a medical condition that needs treatment. Always see your doctor if you have any concerns.

Find more information and advice in our periods information hub.

If you need to access a support service, please visit our helplines and support services page.