“I’ve taken charge of my mood swings.”

Mindfulness has enabled this 35-year-old to stay calm, despite a debilitating endometriosis diagnosis

Source: Web exclusive: May 2008

Karey Bermyn achieved two major health goals in her mid-20s: she lost 50 pounds by swapping her mostly takeout diet for homemade meals, and she quit smoking cold turkey. The trim Calgary-based hospital porter says she never felt better—until she neared 30. Suddenly, she was sideswiped by severe period pain—radiating from her knees to below her rib cage—that would last 10 days of every month. Doctors diagnosed her with endometriosis, a chronic condition where uterine tissue grows outside the uterus. Now 35, Bermyn says the condition will continue to plague her until menopause, although surgery to remove the tissue growth every few years helps. “It’s a constant battle with pain. It’s so disappointing when it starts to come back.”

Given the pain, Bermyn’s entitled to a few off days. But she realized that her severe mood swings—possibly hormonally driven—were taking over her life. “I’m very sensitive and reactive, and I’m a perfectionist,” she explains. “Things have to be just so, and if they’re not, I often cry.” Bermyn knew she had to get a handle on her emotions.

The breaking point

When Bermyn’s five-year relationship with her live-in partner ended last fall, she knew that her moods had played a significant role. “They can flip from one extreme to another in five minutes sometimes,” she says. “That’s hard.” While the break-up was devastating, it was also an eye-opener. “I decided I need to be alone until I can get a grasp on how to look after myself, especially when I am feeling ill.”

The challenge

To rule her moods (while coping with endometriosis) instead of letting them rule her.

The plan

To start regular sessions with a psychologist, and try tools to manage her emotional ups and downs. These include observing her moods from an unattached perspective, and then modifying her actions instead of acting on the emotion (a form of mindfulness-based behaviour modification). Regular workouts at the gym five times a week and meditation help burn off some of the emotional overload of endometriosis, too.

The biggest obstacle

Self control has been the biggest hurdle, she says. “I’m a huge chocolate person, but I need to work out, take care of my body, and make sure that when I start to feel ill, I take the time to put myself back on track. ”

The results

“I don’t react so quickly to things anymore,” Bermyn notes, now that she’s more conscious of her feelings and enjoying time for herself each day, even if it’s just hitting a Chapters to hang out and leaf through the books. “Exercise also really helps. When I feel aggressive, going to the gym makes it way better.” Bermyn has also relished an entirely pain-free six months thanks to a medication prescribed by her doctor, which causes menstrual periods to stop temporarily when it’s taken.

The road ahead

She’s steeling herself for some severe pain and hormonal havoc, because she can only stay on the endometriosis medication for six months at a time. (It increases the risk of osteoporosis). But this time she’s feeling like she’s in control. “I’m hoping for the best,” she says. “It’s about all you can do. Doctors told me this is an uphill battle, and I’m trying to be as mentally and physically prepared as I can be.”

The tips

  • Stop giving more than you have. Offering too much in relationships and at work was fuelling Bermyn’s resentment and mood swings. “I was always trying to do stuff for someone else.” She says she put a “spiritual guard” up to help her make decisions that are right for her.
  • Light a candle and meditate. “I was always running and running,” says Bermyn. “I never took a minute for me, ever.” In addition to meditating, she also takes soothing baths. “My body really thanks me for it.”
  • Communicate your needs. Whenever Bermyn knows she’s heading into a painful or moody period, she lets loved ones know so they can prepare to be supportive and patient.

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