Editor's note: The following contains mentions of suicide.
Meet Hannah Kiviranta. Hannah is a photographer residing in Toronto, Canada. And for the last 15 years, Hannah has suffered from cyclical pelvic pain. Despite being told countless times by doctors and specialists that she was fine, Hannah's condition continued to progress to the point of experiencing severe daily pain. Hannah told BuzzFeed that she was straight-up told by one specialist in Toronto: “You don't have endometriosis."
In September 2020, after over 15 years of suffering, Hannah went through a laparoscopic surgery that finally determined she did, in fact, have endometriosis — a painful condition that impacts 1 in 10 people born with a uterus.
Hannah told BuzzFeed, "I lost all autonomy of my own body. I couldn’t shower on my own, I couldn’t walk to the bathroom, I couldn’t eat, and I would faint and vomit from the pain I was in. I spent more time lying on my bathroom floor some days than I spent sleeping in bed. I cried every single day. I was given injections that sent my body into a chemical menopause. I once had a menstrual period that was 45 days long."
She continued, "I was glued to my heating pad, consuming opioid painkillers on a regular basis, along with a cocktail of hormone therapies, antidepressants, nerve blockers, muscle relaxers, anti-inflammatories, and a million different supplements and herbal remedies. All of this while being told by specialists that my condition wasn’t severe. I was suicidal because of the pain I was in and the lack of support I was receiving."
Unfortunately, Hannah's experience in not being believed about her pain relating to endometriosis is not at all uncommon. On average, it takes about seven years for women to receive a diagnosis for endometriosis. And this number is even higher for Black women or women of color.
"This disease has taken over my entire life. I was repeatedly told for years that I wasn’t experiencing the pain and suffering that I kept vocalizing. The mental anguish and turbulence that I went through was just as severe as the physical pain itself. The only thing that helped me along the way was photographing my journey."
Hannah continued, "I am a photographer, and my nature is to document everything around me kind of all the time. I never took these photographs with the intention of creating such an intimate look into this part of my life, and I absolutely had no intention of sharing them with anyone, ever. My husband was the first person to see the series, and I only showed this to him about a week before I shared it publicly."
"I went from shooting weddings that were 10 hours long, to not being able to stand for five minutes while my kettle was boiling. I had slowly come to terms with losing a lot of my independence (needing help showering, not being able to take my dog for a walk, not being able to stand and cook), but it was devastating not being able to photograph things and do work that I genuinely, passionately love to do. I didn’t know who I was anymore — I was just a body that was in pain all the time."
Hannah's images are incredibly powerful, and they help tell a story that so many of us who live with this disease understand. Ultimately, Hannah hopes to make the invisible part of this illness visible in some way, telling BuzzFeed, "I hope that people are able to see parts of themselves in my work. I hope that I was able to make an invisible illness become visible in some way. I hope that people suffering feel less alone, knowing that someone so far away from them is fighting the same battle. I also hope that people who aren’t suffering can have more compassion for disabled and chronically ill folks."
"I feel ugly [in the crying pictures], and I hate looking at them. But you know what? Endometriosis is ugly; it’s taboo; it’s so misrepresented, misdiagnosed, and misunderstood. It’s important for everyone suffering to share their experiences, and I truly believe that chronically ill and disabled people have the strongest voices."
"For the longest time I hated my body because of all the things it took away from me, everything it prevented me from experiencing, and how much pain it gave me. After the last few years of being in more pain than I think most people would endure in their lives, I have so much love and compassion for my body because of what it has been able to tolerate."
From all of us who suffer — oftentimes in silence — thank you, Hannah, for sharing such an intimate piece of your work with us.
The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is 1-800-273-8255. Other international suicide helplines can be found at befrienders.org. The Trevor Project, which provides help and suicide-prevention resources for LGBTQ youth, is 1-866-488-7386. You can also text TALK to 741741 for free, anonymous 24/7 crisis support in the US and UK from the Crisis Text Line.