Home and Away’s Sophie Dillman is really outspoken about having the chronic condition endometriosis, but it hasn’t always been this way.
In fact, she tells Yahoo Lifestyle that she was ‘petrified’ that she’d lose her job on the soap due to her endometriosis symptoms, before learning how supportive the cast and crew were.
Endometriosis is a condition where tissue similar to the lining of your uterus grows elsewhere, and it can cause ‘excruciating pain’ and ‘debilitating circumstances’.
According to John Hopkins Medicine, endometriosis tissue is usually found in the pelvic area, but can appear in other parts of the body such as the intestines and bladder.
The Home and Away actress was first diagnosed with endometriosis ten years ago, but it’s likely she’s been dealing with it for many years beforehand. After experiencing extremely painful periods, often causing fainting and vomiting spells, she finally got her life-changing diagnosis in her mid-20s.
‘I was freaking out’
One of the symptoms of the chronic illness that the star deals with is a swollen stomach, which can make her look bloated or bigger than usual.
When faced with Hollywood beauty ideals and extra scrutiny that come with working as an actress, she admits that she thought Home and Away might fire her.
“When it first started happening I was freaking out because, not that Home and Away has ever put any pressure on anyone to look a certain way, body image-wise, and they feel really strongly about that — but you put pressure on yourself,” she explains.
“I was petrified that I was going to lose my job because I couldn’t stick to a beauty ideal, and I struggled to fit that beauty ideal at the best of times, let alone when I’m swollen.”
The soap’s producers are advocates for putting health first, so Sophie quickly realised that everybody was really supportive. Instead of treating it as something taboo or negative, the crew found ways to put Sophie at ease.
“They’re fantastic. I’m allowed to wear a towel whenever I feel uncomfortable. Or they’ll change the way that the scene works, so I don’t have to be in a bikini.
“That just makes it that little bit easier to go on set and do your job when you’re in pain and you’re self-conscious.”
‘Everyone knows that hot water bottle is mine’
The star gushes about how much the cast and crew take care of her when she needs a bit of extra comfort. While it was ‘awkward’ to bring up endometriosis at the beginning, since it’s not a disease that is widely acknowledged, it has become second nature to her workmates.
“Everyone knows that hot water bottle is mine and they’ll hand it to me in between [takes] if I’m sore. Everyone will get me a chair if I’ve been standing up too long,” she says.
The wardrobe department has even worked closely with the star to try and find outfits that will allow for swelling, and still make Sophie feel stylish and confident.
Sophie has undergone three or four surgeries for endometriosis so far, and the disease is something that she will have to live with forever.
Home and Away is known for shooting at an extremely fast pace, and former actors have referred to it as a ‘machine’.
The star says the producers of the soap will juggle their hectic schedules to allow for her to undergo surgeries, tests, or give her time off when she’s having severe pain. While it seems like this should be normal, people with chronic illnesses aren’t always given concessions in the workplace.
One of the reasons the actress is so passionate about spreading awareness around endometriosis and chronic illnesses is that she wants to get rid of any stigma or taboo surrounding it.
“I really hope and have heard that there are other companies getting on board with that sort of help,” Sophie says sincerely. “But I really hope that continues, because it’s so, so helpful.”
‘Chronic illness isn’t sexy’
While chronic illnesses such as endometriosis have a huge impact on people physically, Sophie also points out that physical symptoms can have a ‘mental toll’ as well.
Sufferers are often told that their issue is simply in their heads, or that they just need to ‘suck it up’. According to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, once a patient experiences onset symptoms, it takes an average of seven years before they receive an official diagnosis. This period of uncertainty can create a heightened feeling of anxiety.
“There was a long period of time where every day I was in pain, and I thought, ‘Am I weak for being in pain? Am I a sook?’,” she recalls.
“When you go to a doctor and they say, ‘No, it’s just a period, this is just what you have to live with.’ That’s infuriating and heartbreaking, and scary,” she says sadly.
Once patients receive the actual diagnosis, it’s partly a relief because they can start treatments, but it’s also a misfortune.
“Nothing about chronic illness is sexy, because there’s no endpoint, you’re managing it forever. So that can be really tough to handle, and it can lead to lots of sleepless nights and anxiety,” Sophie admits.
Part of the star's job is to be in the public eye, actively participating in publicity photoshoots and videos. It benefits not only Summer Bay, but her own personal brand as well.
As someone with endometriosis, she’s open about why these seemingly normal job requirements can be horrific for sufferers.
“If I have a photoshoot, I get stressed. That normally triggers pain, and then I get swollen,” she explains.
“And then I’m doing this photoshoot when I’m swollen and in pain, that can be really scary.”
‘Social media is a gift, and a curse’
Five years on Australia’s number one drama has given Sophie a large platform on social media, with over 285,000 followers on Instagram.
Following in the steps of Demi Lovato and Lili Reinhart, she has avoided using her platform to portray a glamorous, aspirational and perfect life. Instead, she’s actively trying to spark conversation about things that matter to her.
She tells us that it’s so ‘important’ to use your platform for good, which is why she’s so open.
“I think social media is a gift because we do get to see stuff like this, but it’s also a curse because you don’t necessarily get to see the reality of life…the ins and outs of people who have illnesses or disabilities,” she starts.
“The more we see it, the more it gets normalised, the more people do reach out to help. The more people aren’t as scared to reach out or put their hand up and say, ‘Yes, I’m suffering’.
“And that means we’ll be able to create infrastructure and support networks around that to give them a better quality of life. And really, that’s all we want.”
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