Periods are the worst. It’s a pretty universal constant among people with uteruses. Three to seven days out of the month, our insides decide to spring clean with the voracity of a nuclear detonation and the aesthetic of a serial killer. You plug what you can and you clean what you miss, all the while keeping the whole thing to yourself because Jerry in accounting will probably make a sexist joke and Carly will judge you because we don’t talk about such things, Sharon.
Well fuck that. Not only has our collective silence led to half the population not understanding a fucking thing about the biology of the other half (something that goes from hilarious to horrifying when you realise these are overwhelmingly the dudes in positions of power btw) but it’s contributing to a culture that sees people with all the symptoms of serious medical conditions shrugging them off because “lol periods amirite??”.
I should know. I was one of them.
I’ve always had what I’d describe as “bad” periods. Not horrific. Not worrying. Just bad. I’d cramp intensely enough that my concentration was impaired, sleep was near on impossible the first couple of days, and my back – fuck me dead, my back. But whatever, I thought. This was normal.
We’re told from the moment we get them: periods hurt. Get used to it. You take something for the pain and you get on with your day. No use complaining: those without uteruses won’t get it and those with them won’t give a shit because they go through the same thing themselves.
Even when I had to upgrade to Codeine just to function I thought very little of it. I wasn’t the only one of my friends who had to hit the pharmacy hard every month to get by. We swapped iBuprofen and paracetamol between us and we chuckled in unspoken camaraderie because we all knew what we were going through.
Only it turns out, in my case, we didn’t.
Six months ago, I went to the doctor because my period pain was starting to get less periodic and more constant. On top of that, the Codeine I was mainlining was causing hella constipation (as it’s wont to do) and I’d almost passed out from the pain the last few times I’d had to crap during shark week (oh the joy).
Five months and some truly horrific symptomatic progression later, I went in for a laparoscopy – a small-scale surgery intended to diagnose and remove endometriosis growth. My scheduled forty-five minute surgery ended up taking over two and a half hours due to the extent of endometriosis that had to be removed. They pulled chunks bigger than a AA battery out of me, which doesn’t sound like much until it’s fusing your insides together.
What the shit, right? How the hell had things progressed that far without anyone realising something was wrong?
Because everything—the debilitating back aches right up to spending an hour or so in pain on the shower floor, while on the extreme end—is generally considered normal during a period.
It’s not. Fucking. Normal.
When I started talking frankly about my symptoms after my doctor raised the possibility of endometriosis my friends were horrified.
“Yeah, I get cramps but nothing like that.”
“A hot water bottle usually does me.”
I felt like I was on hallucinogens. I’m thirty goddamn years old, I have good friends who I talk very progressively and openly with – how the shit had this not come up??
But that’s just it. We’re taught early that we shouldn’t talk about it, and then even if we learn better, we think we don’t have to because our experience is universal. We nudge each other companionably while we pass around the tampons but we forget to actually talk about the shit we go through, even in safe spaces.
The crux of the matter is this: if we talked as frankly about periods as we do the common cold, I would have been at the doctor a freaking decade ago.
So, I ask, please:
Talk about the cramps, the back ache, the shittiness that you only got three hours sleep last night because you ruined another set of sheets and had to change the bed at four goddamn AM. Listen to your friends and express concern if they’re hitting the opiates just to get through the month. Endometriosis is a fucking nightmare, but it’s far from the most serious thing that can hide behind “period pain”.
The more we talk about it, the more normalised the conversation becomes, the easier it is for us as a whole to notice when something’s not right. Be proud of yourself because uteruses are assholes and you’re absolutely badass for putting up with their shit but learn that you don’t have to do so silently.
Talk. Complain. Bitch to fucking high heaven. Not only is it warranted, it’s healthier for us all in the long run.