Yesterday I had to cancel plans because of my womb. It was far from being the first time and definitely won’t be the last, because for over 25 years, my hormones have acted as little jailers, caging my body in their agonising, bloody, prison.
I’ve never NOT had a problem with my hormones… I started my periods late at nearly 16. I gave birth to my first and only child age 17 & shortly afterwards I was diagnosed with Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome which led to years of trying countless ways of managing the symptoms with varying degrees of success.
A few years ago, during a very heavy period, I was feeling a bit sorry for myself and also feeling a bit like I was always moaning about something health related or another. And it suddenly occurred to me that almost EVERY health problem I’ve had – both physical and mental – can be attributed to my fucked up hormones or the treatment I’ve been prescribed.
Like the depression and anxiety I’ve experienced since I was a teenager, which has included a panic disorder, agoraphobia and led to suicide attempts. From my mid 20’s on, I’ve managed my mental health well and the last time I needed time off work for mental health related reasons was so long ago I can’t remember. Which is all good, BUT the hormone related fluctuations in mood will never go away and there are times when my PMT magnifies every crumb of anxiety and depression that will forever be lurking in the background waiting to take centre stage again.
People (by which I mostly mean ‘men’) tend to dismiss PMT as some kind of dramatic women’s issue that makes life hard for the people around them once a month. It’s used as a reason to minimise or dismiss women’s valid feelings, a big joke, with ‘long suffering’ boyfriends and husbands rolling their eyes in solidarity with one another. For at least one week in every month, many women are reduced to the perceived symptoms of their menstrual cycle and that’s just really fucking shoddy!
The impact of hormone fluctuations on mood is real and isn’t funny for women who genuinely feel low, anxious, irritable, unconfident, tired, bloated & unmotivated. We have to carry on with life, work and relationships feeling like this – and we DO. Why would anyone who cares for a girl or a woman that experiences PMT not want to be kinder, more tolerant and compassionate during that time?
The emotional rollercoaster caused by my hormones is a ride that I’ve learned how to navigate in some ways -like, I know that there are times I need to be alone to just…be. (That’s the best way I can describe it!) Times when I know that being around people any more than absolutely necessary is too much. And how do you explain that to people who want to make plans? How do you explain that to colleagues who have watched you being positive & motivated all day?
So, then comes the guilt which, when added to the anxiety and the low mood, becomes exasperation at the whole situation and then it’s hello snappy, irritable, tearful twat! And all this is just a starter, the main course has yet to be served…
THE PERIOD. Over the years I’ve gone several months without a period at all, and I’ve gone several months that feel like one constant, epic period. The older I’ve got, the longer the periods. And here are the ingredients….
Pain. The cramps of ‘period pain’ are basically caused by the womb contracting, like it does when a woman is in labour. It really hurts, and although the hot water bottle is a cliché, it can be the only thing that offers a tiny bit of relief. Unfortunately, holding a hot water bottle to your abdomen is something that you can only really do at home. So we tend to fill up on painkillers and just power through, which is quite tiring.
Throwing up. Sometimes, accompanying the excruciating cramps there’s throwing up. I don’t understand why, although I’m sure there’s a reasonable explanation. I do know that it’s horrible and when it happens, there’s no going anywhere.
Bleeding. Well, yeah, obviously… it’s a period! But I’m not talking about bleeding here. I’m talking about BLEEEEEEEDING. I kid you not, I have flooded so badly that my bathroom floor has needed to be MOPPED. I’ve ruined clothes & bedding. I’ve always got a stash of sanitary towels in my bag, car and desk drawer. I have ‘period’ towels on top of which I put a puppy training pad to soak up the crappy few hours of sleep I get when I’m BLEEEEEEEEDING. I avoid any unnecessary journeys, I can’t go out socially, I can’t wear light clothes, climbing stairs can be challenging, and even getting in/out of the car is risky because of the whole ‘wide step’ motion!
Clots. For me, it’s completely expected that I will ‘birth’ a fair few clots during a period. My husband doesn’t bat an eyelid when I let him know I’m off to “birth”. They’re big bastards too, the size of a…. I’m going to say, gerbil. My womb helpfully contracts for a good few hours to help them on their way, which is nice. And usually, the clot itself is followed by a river of blood, which if I’m lucky will happen on a toilet. Otherwise….look out bed / chair / car / clothes / floor.
Fatigue. Maybe due to the hormone fluctuations, heavy bleeding, anaemia… who knows? But it’s real and it totally impacts on pretty much everything. Every drop of energy needs to be saved for things like work – because, well, money is a necessary evil. There’s no energy left for anything else, and even talking feels a bit much sometimes.
Migraines. I’m absolutely convinced that the migraines I suffer from were triggered by the various synthetic hormones that have been pumped into my body over the years. There is a clear connection between periods and migraines for me, and as well as being excruciatingly painful, they’re debilitating as fuck.
Acne. Again, definitely hormone related. Also painful (hello boils) and hideous.
So that’s the period itself. Not all women will have the same experience as me, but I guarantee that the things I’m describing are far from uncommon. And as if all that isn’t enough, there’s more.
It’s expensive – I’m lucky in that I can buy decent sanitary towels. I have literally spent thousands of pounds on these ‘luxurious’ items in my life so far and if ever I needed motivation to hang on to my job, being afforded the dignity of buying a half decent sanitary towel is up there with keeping a roof over my head!
I’m killing the environment – See above. Yes, I know I could theoretically use washable pads and I’m aware of such things as moon cups and sponges, but honestly, anyone who knows the reality of flooding and clotting will tell you that these are not really options when there’s always ultra with wings….
It’s made a liar out of me – Nowadays I have the luxury of being a boss lady with a woman MD above me, who I would never need to lie to if I couldn’t be in work. This hasn’t always been the case though, and in past jobs I have felt like I had no choice other than to lie about needing time off. Because women are generally not believed when periods are the cause of sickness & the options have literally been lie or tell the truth and have everyone think you’re lying….
It kills the romance – I mean, bedroom shenanigans with the things mentioned above? Enough said, I think!
It’s undignified – Sitting on puppy pads in the car; laying towels on the bed to sleep on; flooding in a public loo and having to clean up with just tissue; leaking on other people’s furniture; gasping in public when cramps hit you unexpectedly; the many scans, smears and internal examinations; being somewhere without a sanitary bin and having to put the used pads in your bag until you can dispose of them; Taking pants off IN the bath for a shower, and putting freshly prepped sanitary towelled pants on as soon as the shower is turned off while still stood in the bath; Using incontinence pads; spending at least an hour every day plucking my face (thanks to PCOS).
The whole situation is just a huge part of my life and a huge part of life for many other women like me, and here is my frustration – why are menstrual / hormonal disorders not taken more seriously? From an overall health perspective alone, it would make sense to research causes and treatment so that women could be less depressed, less tired, less self-conscious & more able to exercise consistently (because yes exercise is good for women having a ‘normal’ period, but almost impossible when it’s anything more).
It just seems so shitty that the ‘solutions’ offered by the medical profession almost always involve prescribing synthetic hormones which often not only make things worse, but can have pretty serious side effects. My own experience of ‘treatments’ have included various types of contraceptive pill, some high doses of the hormones that make up ‘diannette’ (Following which I started experiencing the migraines referred to earlier) Tranexamic acid, mefenamic acid, IUD’s, vitamin B6 & B12. Then there’s the treatments for PCOS including several different types of long term antibiotic for acne, topical acne treatments, roaccutane and laser hair removal. All things that mask the symptoms without considering the cause.
Is it not really taken seriously because we’re women? Like many exclusively ‘female problems’, the general attitude seems to be that we should just be getting on with it, and we’re usually offered a load of examples of how women have been doing this for centuries without whining like we do these days. To which I say shut the fuck up and don’t even get me started on the history of maternal mortality, women being labelled witches or believed to be hysterical and institutionalised.
Really though – we’re talking about something that significantly affects the lives of over half the world’s population and yet it’s shrouded in stigma and shame. This has to change, and while we’re waiting, how about we stop making light of the whole subject and start giving a shit about what many women experience just by existing. Stop dismissing women’s feelings based on their ‘time of the month’ – have a bit of empathy and understanding. Teach children about periods – girls AND boys and do whatever we can to help girls & women who don’t have access to sanitary protection by donating pads and tampons to food banks and homelessness projects. (I’ve chucked some links below.)
And also, watch this awesome woman:
Told you she was awesome! Was I right or was I right? 🙂