It's Endometriosis Awareness Week which gives me an excuse to write the blog post I've been planning for a while but was nervous to write.
Warning: if you're particularly squeamish or react like a 14 year old boy to the word 'period' then this post probably isn't for you. But you may want to consider reading it anyway if only to help you get over that unfortunate immaturity.
I was a fairly late bloomer when it came to puberty and periods. I remember all of the girls around me getting their period and there I was, blissfully bumbling along with no idea of what was about to happen. When I got my first period, it was like being accepted into a secret club and I felt incredibly grown up. Then the reality sank in. Periods interfere with plans. They are bloody expensive - no pun intended. They make you (even more) aware of your body for two weeks out of every month.
The internet was a fairly new thing when I was young ('in my day all of this was fields...') and I feel like girls nowadays have some incredible resources, like this amazing site. But when I was younger, I mostly kept my concerns and grumbles to myself. I have always had heavy periods but I had no idea that this wasn't the case for everyone. Girls at school talked about the inconvenience of their three day periods with an exasperated sigh and I assumed they were lying. Surely everyone's periods went on for well over a week?
I remember lying in bed at a boyfriend's house not wanting to go to sleep in fear that blood would soak through my tampon, pad, underwear and pyjamas and stain the bedding. My 17 year old brain couldn't imagine anything more horrifying. Actually, my 31 year old brain can't imagine many things more horrifying, even now. I remember my mum being confused as to how I went through a box of pads so quickly and being too embarrassed to say anything and so I told her I lost some at school. I remember the years of standing up at school/uni/work and automatically checking the seat in case I'd leaked onto the chair. I remember the pain that snatched the breath from my throat, had me doubled over in the street, groaning on the tube like a crazy person, unable to focus at work. The nausea. The upset stomach that started days before my period and continued days after.
When I finally went to the doctors, he seemed baffled: 'Why on earth did you wait 15 years to tell anyone?' My answer was simple: 'I had no idea it was so bad'. Which sounds odd until you consider how secretive women still are about periods. I used to tuck a tampon away, hidden in my hand or pocket, trying to minimise the telltale rustling when going to the toilet at work because I didn't want people to know, which is pretty odd when you think about it. If you were changing a dressing on an injury you wouldn't feel the need to hide it - it would be an annoying inconvenience, not a shameful secret.
In private, women talk openly to other women about horrible days spent in bed with a hot water bottle, share embarrassing stories of accidents, panic together when a friend's period is late. No one else ever mentioned the bleeding between periods, the upset stomach, the sickening dragging feeling in my pelvis and groin, the painful sex... and neither did I. I took their silence on the topic to show where the boundary was: we can bond over a bit of pain and some funny/cringey stories but anything else is still taboo. So I kept my mouth shut. How was I meant to know that they weren't mentioning those things because those symptoms weren't normal?
The cloak of silence around a very natural occurrence means that women aren't able to diagnose themselves. So they wait and spend 15 years struggling. Or longer. I'm hoping that by talking about this, it helps someone: if your periods are super heavy, please speak to someone - it might be nothing but a doctor can probably help either way; if your periods are painful, and it's a pain that interferes with your life, then please speak to someone; if you have other symptoms that make your periods a miserable experience, please talk to someone.
This blog was originally posted on my website HERE.