By LAUREN STEPHENSON

 

Merry Howe is no stranger to pain. Some days the barbed wire wrapped around her insides pulls taunt, some days it burns white-hot, and other times it blesses her with the experience of both. It’s known as endometriosis, or endo for short, and it has played with Merry’s body since she was almost 14.

The medical definition is ‘a condition resulting from the appearance of endometrial tissue outside of the womb causing pelvic pain – especially associated with menstruation,’ which causes a lot of people to think of endo as simply bad period pain. But its effects go much deeper.

“It ruined my life – the life that I used to have,” Merry says. “It has taught me self-doubt, anger, confusion and hopelessness – so many awful things which I still struggle to put into words.” Chronic illnesses are often hard to diagnose, and for the best part of a year Merry was practically bedridden. She had to struggle through the loss of old dreams, friends – even family members to an extent – while dealing with both physical and mental pain. Experiencing self-loathing and anxiety beyond anything she had imagined could ever exist, Merry could easily have let herself give up on ever being happy.

But it was during this time that she found a new passion, one that would become her purpose. “I found a photographer who put emotions, not dissimilar to mine, into his work, and through that he managed to find an even ground with those emotions. That inspired me to pick up a camera for the first time and try this creative outlet for myself.”

Endo girls are often referred to as warriors, battling through an illness no one else can see. Through photography Merry found a way to express not only her fighting spirit, but the pain and fear that tormented her constantly. The pain which once held her captive was beginning to become a source of inspiration. “We all hurt, we all feel pain, and at the end of the day we are all so incredibly, vulnerably human,” she explains. “I am inspired by the knowledge that creatively expressing – both acknowledging and accepting my pain – might help somebody feel more okay about the deepest, darkest parts of themselves.”

Her own inspiration came from genre-breaking band Twenty One Pilots and the creation of their logo. The world has become a far more complex place for teenagers to grow up in, with pressure coming from school, peers, parents and social media. Many teenagers feel they need to be a prodigy, to be someone. But this logo breaks down what has now become the societal norm of ‘purpose’ and transforms it into something more personal.

Lead singer Tyler Joseph explains what purpose means to him: “The meaning of purpose for me is creating something – if it be by writing lyrics, painting a picture, by expressing yourself through photography or music or theatre, or whatever it is. It doesn’t have to be artistic, but if you create something and only you know the meaning of it, that’s the beginning of purpose for you. When you’re in the room by yourself trying to decide whether to stay alive, you can tell yourself, ‘I should probably stay alive because I’m the only one who knows the meaning of that thing.’ So the logo is an encouragement for people to create. That’s what it means.” (From Goodreads)

Merry feels she could potentially come across as dark-minded, but behind the pain is this same message of purpose and hope. Though it has broken her in many ways, endo has taught Merry the important things in life. From a young age we are taught not to judge others by their outward appearance, but Merry never fully understood this until she began suffering from an invisible illness herself. “We are all dealing with things every single day, and we all deserve to be respected and accepted as we process whatever those things may be.” It taught her that life is special, precious, and should be lived to the fullest while we have the ability and chance.

But most of all, Merry says endo taught her the importance of hope. “There is always hope, there is always light – because for either one to exist, we must also have the other.” Fostering this hope by creating helps Merry deal with her own emotions and continue the chain of inspiring others, whether it be making them feel beautiful or producing something in her work which resonates with someone struggling emotionally.

While she is still only 19, Merry hopes to fulfil her goal of influencing people the way Twenty One Pilots has influenced her. “I want to give someone that ‘I’m human and that’s okay’ feeling.” She’s still dealing with the ever-looming stresses of finances and ‘getting a real job’ herself, but somehow she will make a career out of creating and positively influencing people. Merry is an example to people of all ages that we should not let our circumstances inhibit or define us. We can inspire those around us simply by overcoming the everyday challenges we face.

 

For your daily dose of inspiration, check out Merry’s Instagram! @ohmereyann

This article was submitted for The Common Room, a place for all young people to share their views. Got something to say? Everyone’s welcome – click here to contribute.

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