My period started today. According to my tracker, it’s 6 days early. So that’s fun. I’m feeling all fired up, so I thought I’d vent some frustration about my relationship with menstruation.
I’ve never had a very good relationship with my period. As a teenager I was desperate for it to arrive. For several years I had spotting, but no actual period. My body grew weirdly, like I was tall then short then tall again for my year. Several check ups with doctors assured me the cramping and spotting without real shedding was ‘normal’ (a word I’d grow to hate from medical professionals in years to come). My boobs didn’t really grow much at all, even after my period started – most of what I have came with weight gain. And then there’s the disconnect I developed because my body didn’t grow *right* (by society’s dangerous standards, anyway).
I was the last in my reg class to start bleeding. I felt betrayed by my body yet again for ensuring I couldn’t fit in, couldn’t relate. Until I could. My 16th birthday brought my first period and I was elated at first. But then the pain started. And the 8-16 days of bleeding. Days of tears and cramps so intense they made me woozy, nauseous, vomit. Pain that travelled down my legs, across my back. Pain that I was told was ‘normal’. Pain that I was asked to consider if it was really so bad. Pain that I had to carry on going to school, lectures, work, rehearsals with.
Numerous trips to the GP have ended with little to no conclusions. I was prescribed Rigevidon as a contraceptive and period regulator for moving away to university aged 17, but the sustained impact on my mental health was too much and after 6 years I decided to stop using it and see if it helped me manage or track my mental health better. It did. But the pain, which was sometimes manageable, became much worse. At first it seemed like one in every 3 periods would be a *bad* one. Then it was every second round of bleeding would make me cry. Now it’s every time.
Going back and forth to the GP, I have been referred for 3 ultrasounds in the last 7 years. One doctor thought the pain was indicative of endometriosis, another considered the pain might be linked to cysts, but the scans haven’t shown any abnormalities. One GP patted my knee and cheerfully decided that I “just have strong muscles”. I don’t have to tell you how well that suggestion went down.
I have no answers. Only pain that winds me, makes me cry and churns my stomach. The cycles also seemed to be sporadic, definitely not the 28 days we’re taught is normal. So of course I turned to technology. There’s an app for that. I downloaded Flo and began tracking my mood, flow, sex drive, symptoms and noting other important things that happened each month like illness and stress which could affect my cycle.
Today I noted in Flo that my period had started (despite it being a week early) and was sent a report looking back over my menstruation for the year so far. The app has taught me so much about how periods work, how medical professionals classify a cycle (starting from day 1 of bleeding until the last day before your next bleed), just how many things can affect them and how menstrual health can affect your sex drive. At 25 years old, with 8 years of menstruation experience, I finally feel like I understand my menstruation process a bit better (although I still don’t really get how being on my period brings out the BIGGEST cravings for chocolate cake, salt and vinegar Pringles and 7Up one day, then cucumber and strawberries the next…).
Tracking my period, flow and symptoms has given me a sense of ownership of my own body. It has also restored some confidence in my experiences – I’ve been made to feel like I’m overexaggerating my symptoms (by medical staff, family, friends and colleagues alike). I now have recorded evidence of the irregularity of my bleeding (heavy AF for 7 days to 3 days barely there) and cycle length (35-49 days). I have noted the spike in anxiety and low mood in the days leading up to my period. This month, I sobbed and panicked that my friends didn’t really like me and only put up with me because they felt a sense of obligation. I’ve also noticed that my sex drive spikes while I’m on my period, which apparently is not uncommon (but reproductively unproductive – so naturally I’m calling it an argument for physiological acknowledgement of vulva owners’ pleasure).
My last ultrasound scan’s results were met with a shrug from the GP and a half-hearted blase offer of exploratory surgery with a reminder that my symptoms weren’t *that* severe so it wouldn’t be considered a priority (which of course I’m glad for, but the minimising of my own pain wasn’t exactly neceessary?). With these tracked and annotated symptoms and experiences, I’m hoping to gain a bit more clarity from my current GP (a brilliantly compassionate man who is good at listening and explaining things well – a rare gem, I know).
So much of my life is tied up with menstruation. I can’t pass the menstrual hygiene section in the supermarket without grabbing pads to save me being caught short. Paracetomol packs litter the flat. On days leading up to my period, I have to consciously remind myself that I’m feeling more vulnerable because my body is producing hormones that are messing with me.
And we’ll end the self-indulgent catharting there, I think. Hot water bottles, tea and easy TV are on the cards for the rest of today. This was a very personal blog post of a different sort, but I think it’s important to talk about these things. We learn through community, especially when the institutions consistently offer no answers or education. My menstrual experiences exist within systems that oppress many who menstruate (often for menstruating – consider medical misogyny, workplace discrimination, period poverty, or trans and nonbinary menstruators’ healthcare access for starters).
As I’m continually saying – the personal is political.