I got my first period at sixteen and it was a sucker punch to my uterus. By the time my second period rolled around, unfairly close to the first one, my mom took me to the doctor. Informing him of my two-period history, he prescribed me the birth control pill. I was told it would help regulate my seemingly irregular period and minimize those heinous cramps ‘all women’ suffer. Throughout high-school and university I continued to experience bouts of pain, some spells would land me in the hospital. I’d be discharged and told there was nothing wrong — just cramps. I soon learned not only to conceal my pain but to stop acknowledging it all together after an emergency room doctor questioned my ability to handle stress as a woman in her twenties successfully. It became clear my pain didn’t matter. I fell silent until the pain grew too loud.
When I graduated from university in 2005, I began working for the prestigious Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF). For two-and-half-years, I helped organize private dinners and events for the donors of the Bell Lightbox Capital Campaign. I was quickly launched into Toronto’s fine dining scene — a scene I’ve come to recognize was instrumental for my love of classic French flavours. My young and untrained palate was transformed and spoiled through these treasured experiences. Starting with one of the cheesiest and richest: Soupe à L’Oignon Gratinée, followed by the fragrant bouquet of earthy aromas escaping from a cassoulet, created by the still admired Le Seléct Bistro. The same bistro where popular Viceland Chef Matty Matheson worked before opening trendy Parts & Labor. I also was lucky enough to experience the rich and silky crème-brûlee from Bistro 990 before their French countryside décor doors closed in 2012.
In 2008, I moved to New York City to continue my career in film and television production. Being a dual citizen, living in New York had always been my goal but while living in Brooklyn my entire life deteriorated. Sharp, searing, intense waves of pain rippled throughout my pelvis. I grabbed my lower left side as I buckled to my knees. My uterus felt as though it was slowly being shaved thin using the electric meat slicer you see at the deli. By early 2010, two years after I moved to New York, I was forced to move back home becoming a fixture on my parent’s suburban couch. My twenty-six-year-old reflection had become twisted, weathered and exhausted from the pain. I watched life continue around me, without me, while the doctors scrambled to find a cause for my illness. Something which had been overlooked and misdiagnosed for years.
I was referred to multiple specialists, my body subjected to invasive tests, elimination diets and a plethora of medications for close to a year. Finally, after laparoscopic exploratory surgery in August 2010, I was diagnosed with stage two endometriosis. At the time, I was armed only with the definition of “a condition resulting from the appearance of endometrial tissue outside the uterus and causing pelvic pain.” Dissatisfied, I decided to learn as much as I possibly could about this seemingly unknown disease, even though it strikes an estimated 1 in 10 women. Through research, online forums and my own trials and errors, I began to see a trend in reducing the pain through diet. Meat and dairy were the first to go, quickly followed by gluten and soy. At first, it was quite an adjustment, not due to the elimination but due to the lack of vegan protein options which did not contain gluten or soy. This challenge awoke my culinary passion for creating healthy endo-friendly-plant-based meals while taking into consideration my friends/family who do not share the same intolerances.
As I rebuild myself, I find old interests are quickly evolving into new passions. My belly grumbles with every memory of the rich flavours I experienced during my TIFF years. When I remember New York, I think back on the nights and meals from Mercer Kitchen and The Spotted Pig. My personal reconstruction has navigated me to reconnect with my affection for French cooking. I’ve recently begun thumbing through my Julia Child cookbooks and re-watching countless hours of her cooking series. I was charmed by something Julia said while preparing the sugar syrup for her Gateau in a Cage “…if you’re going to have a sense of fear of failure, you’re just never going to learn how to cook. Because cooking is well, lots of it is, one failure after another and that’s how you finally learn.” Not only accurate in cooking, but Julia’s words also apply to my plight with endometriosis.
Through years of anguish and being cast aside as my debilitating pain has been questioned, I’ve come to realize much of my life has been based on other people’s opinions of my pain. Endometriosis and its lack of knowledge, including in most medical professionals, has hindered me from reaching my full potential. I’ve had to learn to rebuild myself to be stronger, for everything I did, I did in pain.
Originally published at http://theherbivorekitchen.ca on August 15, 2018.