Sheri Gidney is the curate for St Andrew’s Barnt Green and St Michael’s Cofton Hackett and is helping establish a new congregation called Foundry.
Sheri lives with an often-misdiagnosed condition known as endometriosis, which for many women means having to endure unrelenting pain.
A recent New York Times article reveals that endometriosis sufferers frequently come up against a culture of disbelief. “They are often told their pain is caused by stress. Over time, fear of being seen as whiny or weak led some young women to underreport their pain, making it even harder to get treatment.”
We asked Sheri about life with an at-times debilitating condition.
When did you first experience endometriosis symptoms?
I first knew I had symptoms when my daughter, who is now 17, was about 6 weeks old. It was diagnosed 3 or 4 years later. At its worst, which was probably about 10 years ago, there would be days when I couldn’t leave the house because I was in too much pain. I was on medication then.
Dave, my husband, would be doing all the hoovering and all of the stuff as well as working a full-time job, because I literally couldn’t.
How has your everyday life had to change?
I’ve lived with it for so long. I know what triggers the endometriosis. For example, exercise triggers it, so other than walking you won’t find me doing anything else. Around church you won’t find me lifting any heavy chairs or tables. I will always ask somebody to help.
I used to run, but I had to stop. When my daughter was younger we’d go round somewhere like Warwick Castle, which has loads of steps, and I would have to stay at the bottom.
There are certain times in the month where I might vomit, like you would with morning sickness and those are signs that my body is tired, and I need to take more care.
I need a good nine hours sleep a night. If I’m not getting that I need to factor that into my plans. I can be in a lot of pain, have a high temperature. It can give me a woolly head as well. I’m on no medication now other than very strong paracetamol when I need it.
Positively, if I can feel those symptoms are evident, that can help me to cut back on what I’m doing and remind me that I’m not invincible, and I’m not Jesus Christ and I can’t do everything, nor should I, and to ask other people for support.
What’s the primary thing you wish people understood about endometriosis?
Quite often people haven’t heard of endometriosis, they might have heard of the term but don’t know what it means. Some may know it’s something to do with women but not much else. Many women haven’t heard of it. Everybody who has endometriosis, the symptoms are different for them, so just because my symptoms present themselves in one way, it doesn’t mean another woman’s symptoms are going to present in the same way.
Of course, we will listen and welcome everybody’s advice, but we’ve been seen by quite a few doctors and consultants and often they’re still left scratching their heads. We have a condition. It’s real and we’ve figured out how to manage it. We are quite able to function normally but do help us if we ask. I’m happy asking people for help, and I’m happy saying to people ‘no, I can’t do this’.
What do you enjoy about your job?
I really enjoy everything about my job, apart from building the PowerPoint for a Sunday morning. I particularly love connecting with the community through pastoral conversations, through baptisms or weddings, or funeral ministry. I find it a real privilege to walk alongside people at those moments.
I also enjoy helping people grow in their understanding who they’ve been created to be. That could be walking alongside a teenager or young adult as they lead a service. It could be somebody doing the Alpha course with us and just exploring with them what faith looks like to them near the beginning of the course and then having another conversation with them towards the end.
What do you find most challenging about your job?
One of the challenges is knowing how best to spend my time when there are so many opportunities.
Quite a lot of my role is out there with people, so I need to make sure I’ve got enough time in my week to rebuild. Helpfully that’s done through sermon prep and reading.
I don’t wear a big badge saying, ‘I’ve got endometriosis – take care of me please’. I choose to reveal that information when it’s needed and if it’s needed. And also depending on whether I think the person sitting in front of me can deal with that information at that time.
I try to be vulnerable when I preach, about not having life all sorted.
What’s the greatest lesson you’ve learned during this season of your life?
I am a do-er, not a be-er, and the endometriosis has taught me how to be, and has helped me to re-evaluate life a little and to see that being is just as important as doing. And that helps me care for the whole person that I am.
Find out more about endometriosis: