Love Your Body: I don't want to hide the scars that show how I beat my illness
"I felt trapped inside a failing body."
Many women have a complicated relationship with their body, often starting from a very young age when they become aware of what society considers 'normal' and 'attractive'. In a new series, Her meets a selection of Irish women who have transformed their thinking and learned to love their bodies as a result...
For 17 years, ballet was Siobhan Madden's life. Beginning classes at the age of four, Siobhan loved to dance until her declining health meant she no longer could.
"When I got my period at 15 my health started to decline rapidly. I slowly started having to reduce my training. I would dance for a few hours a day, five days a week, and that started to slip away."
With the support of her mum and her GP, Siobhan spent years trying to get a clear diagnosis for what was wrong with her. She says that it was a "frustrating and really disheartening" journey before she found a specialist who was willing to explore all of the possible sources of her near constant pain.
"I had a laundry list of tests, scans and cameras to try to find out what it was."
By the age of 21 Siobhan was so unwell that she had to give up ballet altogether. She found the transformation from fit dancer to invalid deeply stressful. She says that she lost confidence in her body's ability to do simple tasks.
"I didn't know if I would be able to walk when I woke up every morning. My muscles started to waste away because I wasn't using them. I would pass out, and bleed heavily. I didn't trust my body. It failed me on a daily basis.
"Ballet was the one thing I had for me, and my body took away my ability to be in my happy place."
A laparoscopy found endometriosis – an abnormal growth of uterine cells – on a nerve channel in Siobhan's abdomen, which was causing her chronic pain. However, she says she was told there would be no intervention for this unless she decided to have a baby.
Ironically, such was the swelling caused by the condition that Siobhan says she sometimes looked like she was heavily pregnant.
"I hated my body. I felt trapped inside a failing body but my mind was fine. I felt like I was in a sinking ship just waiting for the water to come in and crush me."
Siobhan spent years trying to find out what was wrong with her
For the next three years, Siobhan researched endometriosis care in an effort to find a surgeon who would perform excision surgery. When she finally had that procedure, the doctors discovered another disease.
"It is the lesser-known cousin of endometriosis called adenomyosis. Extra tissue, similar to the lining of your womb, grows inside the muscle walls. Your womb starts to swell and grow, the walls thicken and the muscles get heavier."
The excision surgery also revealed that, sadly, the diseases had irreparably damaged Siobhan's ovaries and womb.
"It meant I would never be able to conceive or carry a baby. Over the next year, I made the difficult decision to have a hysterectomy to improve my quality of life. The surgery was done while I was 24."
Today, 25-year-old Siobhan is finishing a PhD on endometriosis. She estimates that she is 80 percent recovered, though she still experiences swelling.
Siobhan also bears the scars of multiple surgeries on her abdomen. However, for her these are testament to what she's gone through.
"Those scars are battle scars, not something I need to be ashamed of or something I should hide. They are out and proud! I wear crop tops, I wear bikinis. Who cares if people see my tummy? Social norms don't even enter my realm.
"When I was skinny while dancing I would get looks or comments about my weight too. Society is never happy with how a woman looks so just do what you want, as long as it's healthy."
Siobhan makes a distinction between self image and her emotional relationship with her body.
"It's how to love your body when it was your prison for so long. But I'm getting there. I can't say that I love my body but I'm proud of it, of how far I've come."
Siobhan has started doing yoga twice a week. "I never thought I would be able to do it again. I'm hoping with a lot of effort and hard work I'll be able to go back to ballet."
For more information on endometriosis, visit the Endometrisis Association of Ireland's website here.