'Work with your body, not against it': How a mother who was in pain for years with endometriosis turned her life around

191020 Jo Glifford
Jo Gifford spoke out on the day MPs discussed endometriosis, a condition she and more than a million others suffer from in the UK.

By ITV News Multimedia Producer Narbeh Minassian

When mother-of-two Jo Gifford hit rock bottom, she lost friends, lost control of her job and almost lost her life.

Ms Gifford, 44, has lived with endometriosis for 25 years – a condition where tissue, like that of the lining in the womb, starts to grow elsewhere in the body.

But after years of painful struggle with everyday life, she resolved to redesign her career as a content development strategist around her condition and “to work with your body, not against it”.

Now happily arranging her work around her condition and family, Ms Gifford has resolved to use her experiences to offer help and support for the 1.5 million also living with the condition in the UK.

Charity Endometriosis UK estimates one in 10 women nationwide "endure unrelenting pain" every day as a result of the condition.

Ms Gifford was one of those to suffer the extreme effects of endometriosis and said the emotional impact on her has been “profound”.

“Many times in my 20s, I was honestly driven to consider suicide as the pain was so extreme, and I couldn’t see a way to manage it and my life fully,” she told ITV News.

“I was fortunate enough to have twins 11 years ago, and when they were toddlers, managing pain and fatigue and a young family was incredibly difficult.

“I became determined to seek out ways to improve my wellbeing, and to live as well as I can for my children and for myself.”

Jo Gifford with her twin girls.

Ms Gifford has been identifying new and different ways to help for the past eight years.

She promotes regular exercise and take walks daily and yoga classes weekly, which help her feel like she is “achieving” despite the pain.

“Having endometriosis has meant re-learning to live, my way,” she said.

“I redesigned the way I work and live, in order to feel like I am achieving, rather than constantly failing.”

But her current balance came at a price, not helped by the long delay in her diagnosis – it took eight years for her to find out her abdominal pain and fatigue were down to endometriosis.

For years after she first noticed “something wasn’t right” at 19, she was in and out of A&E.

Unable to describe what was causing her pain, she said she was made to “feel like a time-waster, attention seeker or problematic patient”.

A report by MPs on Monday found no improvement has been made in its diagnosis in the past decade.

She added: “Over the years I lost many friendships and relationships, as the side effects of endometriosis and related conditions and fatigue means that I need to be flexible when it comes to planned events and social commitments.

“Often people find this very hard to understand, and there is still a taboo around ‘women conditions’”.

Endometriosis affects 1 in 10 women from puberty to menopause. Credit: PA

Despite the pain and even though she now nears menopause, Ms Gifford says she has taken up snowboarding, paddle boarding and swimming – “I am not going to let anything stop me now”.

She added: “Endometriosis has taught me resilience, empathy, the importance of speaking up for yourself, self-care, and boundaries.

“If people don’t understand or aren’t willing to understand, they are not people to have in your life.

“My partner and my children can tell just from how I stand, or the look on my face what I need, and we are a great team.

“As my daughters now start their own cycles, I hope we are moving towards a world where women can be more heard, and be unafraid to ask for what they need to be well at home, in the workplace, and socially.”

The Samaritans are available 24 hours a day on 116 123 or through their website.

If you are in distress or need some support, the following charities can also help:

  • The Papyrus HopeLineUK is available on 0800 068 4141 and more information can be found on their website

  • CALM is available from 5pm until midnight on 0800 58 58 58 and more information can be found on their website