period meme

I remember in Year 5, everyone’s parents got a letter in the post. It was something along the lines of:

“Dear Mr and Mrs Girlwiththafro,

As part of the St Jude the Fields personal development lessons, we will be screening a short video on sexual health and reproduction called “The Facts of Life”. Please return the slip attached to the letter below to indicate whether or not you are happy for your child to attend….”.

My Mum being who she is had already given me her own version of “The Facts of Life” at least a year earlier and so I sat smugly through the video, content in my 10 year old mind that I was EXTREMELY mature and aware. The video to my recollection was a fairly benign animation and I don’t remember much, apart from that I was completely unprepared for the ensuing carnage that puberty would bring.

Things they don’t tell you about periods:

1)It’s more blood than you think.

So we know the average woman doesn’t actually lose that much blood, it’s actually really the lining of your uterus shedding. Who cares? It’s red. We’ve all had that awful feeling of standing up after a lecture, date or dinner party and feeling the sudden gush between your legs as your period  has suddenly decided it’s had a nice break, but now it’s time to get back to work. If you’re lucky, you’re prepared and you’ve got a pad, a tampon, or a mooncup to catch the evidence of the slaughter. If you’re unlucky, you’ve just ruined a pair of Boux Avenue polyester knickers. Again.

2) It can smell.

No, it’s not the back of a meat market, just Anna at the other end of the office isn’t changing her pad as frequently as she should. There’s a distinctive and rather gross smell that can associated with period-ing, especially if you use pads (MOONCUPS GUYS, MOONCUPS). The worst bit about the smell is that really, most of us don’t want everyone to know we’re bleeding. Again. Period smell is like a Honda Civic blaring old school garage music through Lewisham High Street at midday. You can’t miss it.

3) The pain is comparable to childbirth.

I’ve never, and may never give birth, but no one can convince me that the period pain I had in 2008 wasn’t as bad a childbirth. I was literally on the verge of taking a kitchen knife, carving my own uterus out, and then just lying there as I bled to death. It would have been a perfectly reasonable response. No one tells you that there are actual women, women all around us who have eventually had to have their wombs removed because their periods were so heavy and the pain is so bad. Nope, they just say “Isn’t it wonderful, you’re becoming a woman!!!”

4) Your hormones can literally ruin life.

I know women who just before their period, practically sink into depression. I’m not joking – lack of motivation, suicidal ideation, unable to perform normal day to day tasks. Some women go on oral contraception just so that their month isn’t at the mercy of their fluctuating hormones. I used to scoff at women who kept claiming that their PMS was the cause of their once monthly erratic behaviour – but now I’m more sympathetic. Recently I found myself sitting on my bed, eating popcorn, crying hysterically, then as it dawned on me that my period was starting in two days, laughing hysterically. Madness I tell you, madness.

5) You’re expected to just get on with it.

If you think everyone will be sympathetic to the fact that your womb is playing squash in your pelvis, and disintegrating through your vagina, think again. Your new boyfriend will be sympathetic for the first 4 months and then after that, he’ll disinterestedly bring you an Ibuprofen and a hot water bottle and go back to watching the football. Your colleagues at work might well be more caring, but it’s really just luck of the draw. Even if your period pain is worse than Mike Tyson repeatedly biting at your ear, no one is going to take kindly to you taking a day off every.single.month.

6) You can have great periods.

So I’ve spent a few hundred words trashing them, but for some lucky women, it’s possible to actually have great periods. I’ve started trying to be more grateful when my period comes. If you have regular, relatively pain free periods, be thankful! Many women don’t get that chance and it’s probably a sign that you’re healthy and your body is working exactly how it should. In fact, for some women changing their eating habits, losing weight and getting better sleep can actually transform their entire menstrual cycle. So if, you’re having bad periods, don’t give up, see your doctor, do your research, and see if there are things you can do to have a happier period. Every month you’re reminded (not so gently?) of the fact that you can bring new life into the world! Isn’t that kind of amazing? No? Ok.

Have I left anything out? What do they not tell you about periods when you’re younger?

 

period meme

I do like to think of myself as a mostly sane individual with fairly frequent but brief ventures into the land of kooky-quirk. My head does have a tendency to be in the clouds at times, but generally I am level headed enough to blend in with the general population.

Not so for 3 days of the month. For 3 days of the month my emotions are fragile at best and completely erratic and frightening at worst. 1 day out of the month I am one of the lucky women who gets lower abdominal pain that feels like someone is gently, but persistently, digging their nails into my womb. I take 2 Ibuprofen in the morning, and by the afternoon I feel irritable, bloated, but better able to impersonate the non-menstruating version of myself.

I didn’t use to understand women who made a big deal out of periods. Yes, 1 day of mild cramping and 5 days of bleeding but so what? Buy a pad and get over it.

But then one day it started to happen.

And since then, the  odd month out of the year, my hormones and my womb lining decide to see if they can impersonate WWF and my womb literally bounces from side to side inside my pelvis. I know this is technically medically impossible, but I know it happens because I can feel it.

During my time of month, inevitably one of the men in my life – be that father, brother, or the rare significant or non-significant other will pipe up “Are you on your period?”. My Dad, God bless him, says this with genuine concern and fear. He doesn’t understand periods but he believes that they can be horrible, horrible things and I can see the distress in his eyes when I tell him that yes, “it”, is happening to me. “Do you want me to get your Mum?”. I tell him no, I am 25, I will get through this one alone.

Other men say it with a smirk and a twinkle in their eye. “On your period?” they quip, when you snap at them for doing something irritating. These type of men deserve to be temporarily castrated. Why? Because periods for some women are not, as in my case, mild discomfort and mood swings with the occasional bout of bodily terrorism.

For some women, each month brings levels of pain and distress that one would expect with a serious illness. For some women, each month their female organs remind them that until age 52, they are living in a form of purgatory with monthly purges. For some women, their periods are so crippling that they have major surgery to remove their womb to escape them. I’m sorry, but anything that can possibly mean  that you may require major surgery is not to be taken lightly.

So why is it that if I am suffering a level of pain that requires me to take codeine, I still won’t call into work sick? Why is it that male colleagues seem mildly disapproving if I need to sit down for 20 minutes because I am physically unable to walk around? Why is it that women who claim that their periods are actually regularly debilitating them, aren’t taken seriously?

We’ve accepted a “grin and bear it” attitude towards periods that doesn’t reflect the severity of pain that some women experience. Granted, there will always be the shirkers who exaggerate their pain to get out of various things, but my bets are that the majority of women aren’t fakers.

I’m not advocating being over sensitive –  banter between men and women about periods comes with the territory. At the same time, it irritates me when the banter turns into a dismissal of genuine illness. Vomiting, nausea, excruciating abdominal pain and persistent anaemia do fulfil the definition of illness. They aren’t irrelevant just because it happens to be associated with a woman who’s bleeding from her vagina.

So rather dramatically, I urge my fellow uterus havers to not suffer in silence. Period pain is real.

(And on a serious note, if it is that bad – do consider going to your doctor, there might be some underlying cause)

(Also, this was inspired by the woman who ran the marathon without a tampon while on her period. I personally think this was highly unnecessary and unsanitary,  although I do agree that we need less stigma around periods)