When Julianne Hough Realized Her Cramps From Hell Were Something More Serious

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Even as women, many of us haven’t heard of endometriosis, a chronic illness that quietly affects one in every 10 women—or we’ve maybe heard the word, but aren’t exactly sure what it is. Although symptoms include debilitating pain during and between periods and while having sex, a lot of women think (or are told by doctors) that it’s totally normal.

For a long time, that’s what dancer, actress, and former Dancing with the Stars judge Julianne Hough thought too. She was in the middle of a DWTS episode in 2008 when she nearly passed out from sharp, stabbing abdominal pains. Her mom, who happened to be in the audience that day, insisted she go to the emergency room, where she was finally diagnosed.

Since then, Hough has been speaking up about what it’s really like to live with endometriosis. By getting her story out, she hopes to help women recognize when menstrual cramps from hell might be indicative of something more serious. We recently got the chance to sit down with Hough for some #realtalk about endometriosis and grab her tips on living with it, talking about it, and approaching physical self-care.

Image: Jazzmine Beaulieu

Feeling like your uterus is trying to kill you isn’t just part of being a woman.

Sure, sometimes being a woman means dealing with the sometimes painful cramps caused by your monthly visit, but don’t just write those off. Hough did, and she almost missed her diagnosis.

“I thought that it was normal. I ignored it because that’s just what you do as a woman, right? When I moved to L.A., I had a roommate who had endometriosis. I would see her hunched over in pain and think, That’s how I feel, but I can’t complain because I don’t have endometriosis. The sad thing is that it’s way more common than we think, yet it takes six to 10 years just to get a proper diagnosis because people think, I’m a tough cookie. I’m fine.”

It’s totally fine to talk (or yell) about endometriosis.

There’s a reason why it’s been dubbed “the secret plague.” Because there’s still a stigma surrounding women’s reproductive health, Hough didn’t immediately jump at the opportunity to go public with her diagnosis. Eventually, though, she saw how sharing her story could help other women understand what they were going through.

“At first, I was sort of quiet about it because I thought, That’s personal female stuff. But then I realized, what’s wrong with talking about real life? I’d have messages from fans saying, ‘I have endometriosis, and nobody is talking about this.’ And… nobody really was!”

Find a place where you can talk (or yell) about it using real human words.

Don’t know much about biology? That’s totally fine. According to Hough, finding some good, down-to-earth resources and a solid support network will do the trick.

“Back when I first looked [endometriosis] up, I had no idea what they were talking about. It was all medical jargon. That’s why meinendo.com is so great; you’re able to read it and actually understand. You can go through certain symptoms and then you can take that [list] to your doctor.

I think that for young women or women who have been dealing with this for a long time, just having a voice or feeling heard—that’s what we really want. Just feeling like you’re not the only one going through this is great.”

Working out can still be a part of your lifestyle.

Julianne HoughImage: Jazzmine Beaulieu For Hough, caring for her body means staying active. Endometriosis doesn’t have to—and shouldn’t—get in the way of that.

“Having self-care and awareness is super important. I realized that if I don’t work out, I’m not my best self. I just feel better in general—my mental health, my spiritual health, my physical health—everything is better when I’m working out. And something just happens: I’m goofy and more fun to be around, and I physically feel free.”

Be transparent with your trainers—and yourself.

Remember, just because you start a workout doesn’t mean you have an obligation to finish it. If you feel like your body is raging against you, it’s probably for a good reason. Being honest with yourself and your workout pals about endometriosis (or any conditions you have) can make it easier to show up without worrying about what other people will think if you have to cut it short.

“Sometimes I’ll be in the middle of the workout and say, ‘Nope, I am going home! I don’t feel good.’ But it’s great because my trainer and my friends in the class know now, so they’re not wondering what happened.

Taking care of your physical health can help you take care of your mental health too.

Whether it’s cranking out an early-morning HIIT workout or spending a few extra minutes (or hours) in Savasana, physical self-care means something different for everyone. Whatever it may be, finding the movements that move you can be great for working through emotional funks too, Hough says.

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“When I’m feeling down, I’ll dance or do something to physically change my state, and then I’m fine. But I think a lot of the time, when we’re sitting down, our minds are active and our bodies are still. So if you could just switch that—and have a still mind and a physically active body—you can have so much more peace and clarity. Knowing that, I go work out when I’m confused or overwhelmed. It’s not a vanity thing, and I don’t know for sure that I’m going to feel better, but knowing that maybe I’ll have some clear thoughts and some happy thoughts… that will be some motivation.”

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