This post is rated B for a ‘bit much’ and P for graphic mentions of periods.*
I started menstruating around 13, I’m sure my mum remembers how old I was exactly (though I doubt it, she’s a bit batty since she started the HRT). All I really remember was that I started my first period and my mum let me have the day off school. Brilliant, I was bloody ecstatic. Looking back, perhaps she was expecting it to be worse, or she was being nice because she knew how bad it was going to be when I got older. She too had bad periods until she had a hysterectomy when I was 17 – something she suggests I have almost every month (also, the reason she started HRT). Either way, it wasn’t the first day off school I took because of my period. The pain didn’t really kick in until I was about 16 and when it did, wow, it really kicked in and it’s been steadily crap ever since, regardless of my sex life, my contraceptive choice or whatever else I put into my body (at either end).
Over the past year, however, it seems to have been kicked up a notch, so I give you all the horrible details. Because it’s not just me, I know it’s not just me, but sometimes I feel like no one’s taking it seriously enough. And trust me, it’s serious stuff. And horrible. So we all should suffer together.
1. It’s Not Just Really Bad Period Pain
Dysmenorrhoea is the technical term for period pain, but it’s so much more than that for about 90% of women suffer from period pain. One article in American Family Physician states – “Dysmenorrhea is very common, and it may be severe enough to interfere with daily activities in up to 20 percent of women.” Menstruation comes in many horrible, horrible forms. Okay, and one good one where it’s light and there’s no pain. I have a few of those, from time to time. Where I actually bleed very little and there isn’t much pain and it is the best month ever. Ever. It’s brilliant. Really. But rare. The rest of the time, at best it’s controllable with co-codamol. At worst, well at it’s worse I had to have a doctor come over to my flat and inject me with a painkiller (a really good one) and an anti-sickness drug in the bum because I’d been throwing up all day and suffering the second worst pain of my life (I’ve ranked the top three most painful experiences and two of the three are period related).
Sometimes I can’t even walk – this was quite common when I was a teenager. I would shuffle around the house wrapped in a blanket, bent over the waist because it was the only way I could stand the pain and, well, stand. Sometimes all I can do is rock back and forth and wait for the combination of painkillers to kick in (at it’s worse I’m taking co-codamol and a lot of ibuprofen).
Sometimes it feels like someone has punched me in the uterus, grabbed my fallopian tubes and twisted them around.
Sometimes I physically have to cry out in pain. Like in a film, or when you stub your toe and you cry and swear a lot. Like that, except for over an hour, while rocking back and forth and feeling a bunch of other crappy symptoms.
2. It can make you sick. And give you diarrhoea.
Yeah, so periods are gross for a few reasons other than the fact that you’re bleeding. It completely screws up my stomach – something that starts about a week before I even start bleeding. Most months I get really, really hungry. My appetite just goes into overdrive and I just want to eat all the things. All of them. On top of that, the week before, I can (often but not always) get constipated. Then, once I started my period, everything that went in during the week before comes out. Fast. I actually think this is the worst than the pain sometimes. And then the pain kicks in and I decide that the pain is definitely the worst.
Too random not to include…
Then I throw up the cup of tea and painkillers I just managed to take. A lot of the time it’s just water (or whatever that clear stuff is…man I hope it’s just water), and I’m mostly dry heaving into a toilet (or an empty bin) before collapsing on the floor or returning to the foetal position in my bed on the sofa. Or going back to work.
I used to have Emetophobia when I was a teenager. The fear of throwing up. I would hyperventilate whenever I threw up and it was completely irrational (as many phobias are) and often panicked before throwing up if I could feel it coming. This is not a phobia that has lasted past the age of 17. After a few months of vomiting during every period, I stopped freaking out. Apparently, when it comes to my phobias, aversion therapy is the way to go.
3. It can make you faint.
For me, this is a new one. I’ve fainted a few times in the past. Once I even lost consciousness – I was about 13 we were watching a video in science class about measles and I fainted. When I came to I was in the school sick room (I was lighter back then) and it turned out I had the German measles. I don’t do things by halves.
This bus in fact…
More recently though, as well as having some stomach problems that are not period related (at least I don’t think they are, it’s still a prognosis in progress), I’ve been fainting due to the pain. The pain doesn’t always feel any worse but my body definitely reacts worse. I feel that buzzing in my head, from ear to ear and wrapping around my brain. I feel fuzzy, the buzzing becomes a whooshing noise going in and out and then my vision starts to go. Blurry at first, then grey and then I really need to lie on the floor. I’ve fainted in the bathroom – had to lie on the tiles for a bit, work – had to lie in the hallway upstairs for a bit and once on the T5 bus from Cardigan. I was in pain in Cardigan, and in agony, and then the buzzing, the blurriness, the grey and I was lying down in the seat. When I felt better (i.e not like I was about to pass out) I was in New Quay twenty miles away.
Afterwards, usually, I feel fine. The pain is gone and I don’t feel sick anymore. I’m exhausted though. It happened one evening at home, around seven in the evening and I spent the rest of the evening in bed, half dozing. I may have had dinner there before going to sleep for the night.
4. Sometimes the pain isn’t even the worst thing about it.
This makes more sense if you’ve seen The Shining…
Okay, so to be honest, the pain is the worst thing when there is pain. But pain usually (for me) precedes bleeding. So when there is bleeding there is a lot of fucking bleeding. Okay, so yeah sometimes it’s fine and containable. Most of the time it’s containable but sometimes…hell sometimes it’s like that scene in The Shining when the elevator doors open and all the blood comes out. Sometimes it’s like that. Sometimes it feels like that. Without the opening bit.
I’m starting to think this was a bad analogy now.
Anyway. Sometimes it’s just there, a lot of it when I got to the toilet. Sometimes my body waits until I am on the toilet. Sometimes my body fucks me over and I can feel it. I don’t use tampons – I refuse for a couple of reasons (one being I grew up in the Toxic Shock Syndrome scare of the nineties, the other being that I’m pretty selective about what I shove in my vagina). So I use pads, a lot of them, cause I’m heavy and it’s gross – sometimes it’s red, sometimes it’s brown (what the fuck), sometimes it’s in clots (this was explained to me once but I forget what it means). Even I think it’s gross and it’s coming out of me.
And it gets everywhere. You think it’s gross and horrible and then it’s on your legs, or hands (from wiping) or the bed sheets, your underwear (we have designated pants for periods so we don’t ruin any good pairs – not necessarily cause they are comfy), the toilet seat.
The bathroom floor.
Seriously. I’ve been that heavy. I regularly am. I’m not going to deny it. I’m not overly embarrassed by it. I’m annoyed more than anything, cause then I have to clean it up and I’m already in pain and then dried blood is hard to get out of stuff and it’s hard to soak an entire sheet in cold salt water and in the end you stop caring until you feel better.
In my case, day four.
5. Sometimes it’s a symptom.
The NHS says it gets better as you get older. So far this seems to be bullshit for me, as it seems to be getting worse. Also, it’s supposed to get better after you have a baby, which also sucks because I’m not planning to be pregnant any time soon.
They also say it can be a symptom of something else – pelvic inflammatory disease, endometriosis or fibroids. All horrible things and if I were even older or it was even worse (though, fainting on a bus and needing stronger painkillers than you can buy over the counter seem pretty bad to me) I would head straight to the doctor and say something.
And perhaps I should. I have in the past. Perhaps I’m putting up with something treatable, but that’s part of being a woman right? Bullshit. We’ve found ourselves in this cycle where we’ve in terrible pain, suffering badly once a month (or so), with something everyone tells us is normal, ‘part of being a woman’, part of life and we just shut up and put up. Because we’re expected to shut up and put up. We shouldn’t though. You shouldn’t though. You should go get checked out. Cause if you could have one of the above conditions.
Or you could not. You should go even if not cause you shouldn’t have to shut up and put up. You can get stuff to help. Stuff to help the cramps, the bleeding, the hormones, the pain. The sickness. Maybe not the fainting, but then, without the pain I don’t think there would be the fainting. I too have fallen into the trap of shutting up on occasion. Which is rare for me cause I’ll moan about everything.
You could have a hysterectomy my mum says. Every month. Without fail.
Plus, bleeding out your vagina is not the be-all and end-all of ‘being a woman’. Far from it.
6. It’s different for everyone.
My mum and I seem to have suffered very similarly over the years, according to my memory, my mother and, bless him, my dad (he’s actually always willing to talk about this shit, it doesn’t bother him at all. After all, he was married to my mum for about 17 years). My sister and I are different again, though, oddly not something we talk about. And why not? I don’t know. But she suffers from the pain certainly, in her back. My wife gets cramps and back pain, and down her legs too.
I oddly get pain in my hips some months, a couple of my friends get headaches (I do too. I have one now, it’s definitely period related and on occasion I get migraines). I don’t get the back pain though. Sometimes periods can last three days. Sometimes one. Sometimes ten (argh). Sometimes there’s heavy bleeding and no pain. Sometimes it’s all pain and no bleeding. Sometimes there’s spotting in the middle of your cycle for no real reason what so ever.
It’s affected by stress, anxiety, weight (over and under), smoking, drinking, diet, your ability to exist as a physical human being with this set of reproductive organs.
Your period might be like mine. It might not. There is no normal. I refuse to believe that about a lot of things. Plus some don’t even have periods, at all, for a variety of reasons. You can start at nine, you can start at nineteen. No one should think they started too early or too late. About anything, periods, school, talking, writing, running, sex. You do it when you do it. When you or your body is ready. I’m a firm believer in that. My body was ready at thirteen (possibly).
- To reiterate, bleeding out your vagina is not the be-all and end-all of ‘being a woman’. Far from it.
- We shouldn’t be embarrassed about this. I’m not. Not anymore. Haven’t been in a long time.
- You know those adverts for sanitary products? Who is fucking roller-blading happily on their period. Who is going ‘yay my period is here’. Who are these people??
- For someone who used to self-harm, the whole blood thing is very different when it’s coming out of your vagina as opposed to your arm.
- There is no usual.
- Our bodies are really messed up.
- This has not made me feel much better, physically. Painkillers will.
- We should be talking about this.
- Periods make you good at bowling.
- Tampons and Sanitary towels are not luxury items.
- Painful Periods – NHS Choices
- Painful Menstruation – Net Doctor
- Painful Periods – BUPA
- Toxic Shock Syndrome – NHS Choices
- Heavy periods (Menorrhagia) – NHS Choices
- Dysmenorrhea Clinical Handbook – American Family Physician
*As rated by my lovely wife. I wasn’t going to warn you about anything.