Just like Normal People, Sally Rooney’s Conversations With Friends opens the door to conversations around mental health, sex and relationships – depicting life as we know it, without all the fanfare and glamour that can sometimes surround difficult topics.
In the BBC adaption, starring Joe Alwyn and Sasha Lane, Frances (played by Alison Oliver) suffers from, and is eventually diagnosed with endometriosis, a condition where tissue cells similar to the lining of the womb are found elsewhere in the body and can lead to severe pain and bleeding, which Frances experiences.
In the UK, around 1.5million people suffer with endometriosis, yet little about it has been portrayed on screen, until now.
In the sixth episode of the highly-anticipated series, Frances is shown to be in agony, shaking and crying before her mum walks in to help her, sees an abnormal amount of blood in her underwear and mistakes her to be suffering a miscarriage, before rushing her to hospital.
Endometriosis can also impact an individual’s mental health, causing them to feel depression or isolation, a symptom which Frances works through with her relationships with Bobbi (Sasha) and Nick (Joe).
Speaking to Metro.co.uk about the representation of endometriosis in Conversations With Friends, Rozie Corbett, head of development at Endometriosis UK, said: ‘Lots of those with endometriosis will recognise the way its symptoms are depicted in Conversations With Friends.
‘And, like Frances, they may remember having no idea what was happening to them – the silence and taboo around endometriosis can be really damaging and mean that those with the disease often feel isolated and confused.’
Rozie added that it is ‘really positive’ that programmes including Conversations With Friends are opening conversations around the condition and menstrual health.
She pointed out that while symptoms vary from person to person, and can reflect Frances’ experience in the show, like having painful periods, other elements of the condition range from chronic pelvic pain to difficulty getting pregnant, and can be ‘severe and debilitating’.
‘Symptoms do not necessarily coincide with periods and can occur at different stages of the menstrual cycle. While some symptoms and experiences might be more common than others, this disease affects everyone differently,’ Rozie stated.
While Frances is diagnosed within a few episodes of the series, covering a span of mere months, and has to deal with an uncomfortable and awkward conversation with a male doctor beforehand, on average in the UK it takes eight years for a diagnosis.
Rozie said: ‘We wish it happened that quickly but on average, it takes eight years to get a diagnosis of the disease in the UK – a shocking figure and one which has not changed in a decade.
‘During this time, there may be multiple visits to doctors where symptoms are not recognised, misdiagnosed or not believed.
‘Endometriosis UK is campaigning to ensure that this long wait can be reduced significantly,’ she said, continuing: ‘It’s also really important to flag that, while in the show we see Frances having an abdominal ultrasound scan and later being told that she has endometriosis, it’s unlikely that this could detect most kinds of the condition and a “normal” scan does not mean that someone doesn’t have endometriosis.’
Rozie pointed out that the only definitive way to get a diagnosis of endometriosis, which as of yet does not have a cure, is by laparoscopy (keyhole surgery) or some internal ultrasound scans and MRIs.
Despite this, Rozie stressed that support surrounding the condition is important – something which Frances struggles with in the series.
‘Even if you don’t have a definitive diagnosis, you should be able to get help dealing with symptoms of suspected endometriosis – for example through Endometriosis UK’s support network.’
Reflecting on the importance of having endometriosis shown in Conversations With Friends, Rozie added: ‘Even if the portrayal of getting a diagnosis of endometriosis wasn’t completely accurate, it’s so positive that this drama is helping end the silence around endometriosis.
‘The taboo and squeamishness around gynaecological conditions and menstrual health means that those with suspected or diagnosed endometriosis symptoms often don’t feel able to get the support they deserve, and means that employers and Government may not understand the issue. We’re so grateful to everyone – whether that’s our wonderful supporters and volunteers, right through to media, broadcasters and novelists – who help end the silence around endometriosis.’
Conversations With Friends is available to watch on BBC iPlayer.