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BOOK REVIEW — Endometriosis Awareness Month

Please Read This Leaflet Carefully

by Karen Havelin

Dead Ink Books, 320pp, £11.99

ISBN: 978–1911585541

Pub­lished May 2019

Review by Sarah Edwards

This nov­el is writ­ten from the per­spec­tive of Lau­ra, a young woman with endometrio­sis. It tracks her life back­wards from 2016, as a work­ing moth­er in New York, all the way to 1995, when she was a teenage fig­ure skater liv­ing in Nor­way. We read about Lau­ra devel­op­ing her iden­ti­ty, try­ing to ful­fill her career and trav­el ambi­tions, start­ing (and end­ing) roman­tic rela­tion­ships, and strug­gling with the demands of par­ent­hood. The reverse chronol­o­gy lets us appre­ci­ate how much she achieves and how far she has come, lay­er­ing more insight into her per­son­al his­to­ry and back­ground as it progresses.

Through­out this nar­ra­tive of Laura’s life, the per­vad­ing thread is her strug­gle with endometrio­sis and its impact on her. Descrip­tions of pain and dis­com­fort, which change over dif­fer­ent stages of her life, are con­stant­ly inter­wo­ven. We read about the some­times help­ful, some­times con­fus­ing, some­times dis­tress­ing med­ical appoint­ments which she endures, and the addi­tion­al ther­a­pies and strate­gies, which she tries to imple­ment con­sis­tent­ly, to help her to man­age a ‘nor­mal’ life. We also expe­ri­ence the emo­tion­al tur­moil that this strug­gle takes her through. This ranges from from the relief and hope of a diag­no­sis, to the fear of the pain get­ting worse, to the dis­tress of an inter­ac­tion with an unsym­pa­thet­ic health­care pro­fes­sion­al, and the anger that she has no choice but to live with this long-term health condition.

The sto­ry of Lau­ra opens a win­dow onto the chal­lenges of try­ing to live a full life whilst also liv­ing with the symp­toms of endometrio­sis. It shows us the emo­tion­al, phys­i­cal and cog­ni­tive impact of hav­ing a long-term pain con­di­tion, nor­mal­is­ing how much this strug­gle is present in dai­ly life. We see clear­ly the strug­gle which Lau­ra faces in try­ing to do the ‘aver­age’ things in life, such as hav­ing a long-term rela­tion­ship and work­ing full-time, and how much of a bal­anc­ing act she has dai­ly to ensure that the pain does not flare to unman­age­able lev­els. We also see the impact that it has on her rela­tion­ships, whether fam­i­ly, roman­tic or friends.

At times, the strong descrip­tions of the all-con­sum­ing and debil­i­tat­ing nature of Laura’s pain can make for dif­fi­cult read­ing. In its use of fre­quen­cy to ensure that these descrip­tions are made clear (and that Lau­ra is lis­tened to), the book can feel a lit­tle repet­i­tive. How­ev­er, this also helps us to under­stand how inescapable and ever-present the pain is. We are left admir­ing her strength, deter­mi­na­tion and emo­tion­al resilience. This is a nov­el which gives real insight into the impact which a long-term pain con­di­tion has on all aspects of ‘nor­mal’ life.

Sarah Edwards is a Clin­i­cal Psy­chol­o­gist at the Uni­ver­si­ty Col­lege Lon­don Hos­pi­tals’ Pain Man­age­ment Cen­tre, where she helps to deliv­er self-man­age­ment sup­port to peo­ple with abdomi­no-pelvic pain. She was also a co-author of Pain Con­cern’s Sex and Chron­ic Pain leaflet.