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Kayla Itsines is the Co-Founder of Sweat and Creator of the BBG Training Programs

When I was five, I picked up a basketball for the first time. The love of the sport followed me through childhood and led me to fitness, coaching, and (eventually) personal training.

Even though my body supported me in becoming a fitness trainer, I also often felt like it was failing me. Since getting my first period at the age of 12, I endured severe cramps and heavy bleeding each month. I wondered if this was how everyone felt on their periods but convinced myself it was just my kind of normal.

When I was a teenager, I went to the doctor to raise my concerns about the side effects of my period including breakouts and severe cramping. He mentioned it was likely due to a hormonal imbalance and that my symptoms could be an indication of endometriosis. He explained this is a condition where the tissue lining of your uterus is found on other organs, like your ovaries, fallopian tubes, and intestines, but the only way to confirm a diagnosis was through surgery. After speaking with my parents, I decided against the surgery. Naively, I thought I was tough enough to push through it.

Dealing with success and my symptoms

At 21, I was working hard to establish myself as a personal trainer in my hometown, Adelaide, Australia. I just started my own business venture, running fitness bootcamps in my parents’ backyard. My days were long, and I was up well before the sun. But watching my training sessions fill up with women who left my workouts feeling strong and empowered gave me such a sense of accomplishment. My business just kept growing.

Yet, behind closed doors, every month I still suffered debilitating cramps, nausea, and heavy bleeding. It felt like my periods were getting progressively more painful. What used to be several excruciating but bearable days each month, turned into canceling plans with friends and family and missing work. When my period arrived, all I could do was lie in bed and wait for it to be over.

Desperate to ease the pain, I made an appointment to see another doctor who reiterated I ​might have endometriosis and shared more with me about the condition. I learned that endometrial tissue responds to hormones that regulate your cycle. So when your body prepares for your period, the tissue inside and outside your uterus responds with cramping—which explained the pain I’d been experiencing since puberty.

But there was still some uncertainty because, in order to get a true answer, they would need to make an incision in my abdomen and insert a camera to see what the tissues looked like and take samples to test. I underwent surgery about three weeks after that first appointment and my endometriosis diagnosis was confirmed.

Finding my new identity

I couldn’t stop thinking about what this meant for my future. I was young, fit, and so fortunate to have never had any health problems in my life, so how could this condition now become a part of who I am?

Even though my doctor told me millions of people are affected (1 in 10, according to the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecologists), I felt so alone and overwhelmed. I started searching online for more stories of people going through the same thing as me, but when little turned up I felt even more isolated.

And then there was the recovery: It was slower and more painful than I had expected. I had to rest for six weeks before I could train again—longer than any break I’d taken in years. Because working out and training other people was my job, it was really hard to accept that my entire life was on hold. I had no choice but to let my body take the lead and give it the time it needed to heal.

Sharing my story

In the years following the surgery, I felt much better and even stronger. Living without crippling cramps, nausea, and uncomfortable bloating made my body feel like mine again—working with me, not against me.

In 2015, I launched the Sweat app, and was so ecstatic to see my online fitness platform resonate with so many around the world. But that success blurred the lines between my personal and professional life.

While I like to keep a lot of my home life private, I realized I could use my social media platform to help others with endometriosis feel less alone. I knew that reading someone else’s endometriosis story would have made me feel so much better back when I first received my diagnosis. So later that year, I finally shared a post on Instagram detailing my struggles with the disease in the hopes of helping others feeling isolated by the condition.

I never anticipated the interest my post received. Almost immediately, the comments started rolling in, including a swirl of negative speculation about my fertility. I knew that endometriosis could be linked to infertility. Obviously, that knowledge made me feel a bit insecure about my ability to have kids in the future. That said, my doctor told me they didn’t expect I’d have any problem.

“The comments started rolling in, including a swirl of negative speculation about my fertility.”

So when people on social media began using the comments of my post as a forum to discuss the possibility that I could be infertile, it really affected me and damaged my confidence. I wanted to tell my story so that others would do the same, but that’s not what happened. Instead, sharing my experience invited people to make judgments as to whether I could have children —something I’ve always dreamed about.

As a vulnerable 24-year-old, the only way I could deal was shutting down and vowing never to talk about my health struggles publicly again. The reaction from some people disappointed me, to say the least, but I was able to move forward.

Struggling a second time

Several years later, in 2018, I was over the moon to discover I was pregnant with my daughter, Arna. I really couldn’t believe it, and I remember feeling the most enormous sense of gratitude to my body for supporting me—despite my endometriosis struggles—and giving me the opportunity to become a mother. After shouldering the earlier speculation about my fertility, I was so relieved and thankful.

A post shared by KAYLA ITSINES (@kayla_itsines)

Unfortunately, in the years after having Arna, my endometriosis symptoms returned in full force. Heavy periods, crippling pain, nausea, and (for the first time), painful cysts.

One day last July, I woke up in good spirits, ready for a busy workday. I headed to the gym, my happy place, to film a routine workout with my Sweat team. Suddenly, mid-workout, sharp pains shot through my abdomen, and I fell to the ground, clutching my stomach in the fetal position. Even then I was determined to push through the pain and finish shooting, but I couldn’t stand up. I’m so grateful I had my Sweat team there with me. I don’t know what I would’ve done alone.

“I fell to the ground, clutching my stomach in the fetal position.”

After being rushed to the emergency room, I underwent rounds of tests and ultrasounds and found out multiple cysts formed on my ovaries and one of them had burst. At first, I thought it was just some bad luck, but I learned later those cysts were a symptom of my endometriosis.

Learning to respect my body’s boundaries

After heading home, my doctor advised me to rest up and ease back into light exercise—no high intensity training until I was cleared. That news left me defeated. It felt like a huge personal and professional setback.

In the following months, I tried to prioritize my work, train, be an active mom, and keep up with my family and friends, but when the pain from my endometriosis symptoms struck, I was stuck in bed.

The inability to do all the things wanted, left me with an overwhelming sense of guilt, and I struggled to accept that I didn’t have control over my body—at least for now. My drive to push my physical limits was a key part of me, and I was now had trouble doing a basic ab workout.

After suffering four burst cysts over the next six months, each as excruciating as the first, I went back into surgery in February and discovered that my endometriosis had returned to my uterus and ovaries.

After almost a decade of living with this disease, I wanted to share my experience again here and on social media. The last year has shown me that it’s so important to be real and open about the challenges we all face—life is not perfect.

If you’re facing the same diagnosis, I hope reading this makes you feel hopeful and supported. Please remember to prioritize their health, like I learned to do, and seek help when something doesn’t feel right. No one knows your body better than you.

While the recovery from my most recent surgery has been painful, the whole experience felt like a relief this time. Instead of wondering whether the procedure would shed light on mystery symptoms or hoping that the surgery actually eased my pain, I knew what to expect. It was like my body and I were finally on the same page again, doing what was best for both of us.

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