My period is still kicking my goddamn arse from John o’ Groats to Land’s End. Not pain-wise – the regular application of mefenamic acid, then diclofenac and tramadol, then back to mefenamic acid, and now ibuprofen and paracetamol (regime recommended by Kind Lady GP) actually made most days except the first pretty bearable. However, I have been bleeding like a slaughtered ox. It is distressing.
It’s not just that I bleed heavily. I save it up for socially inconvenient moments too. On Saturday, I felt a lot better, and the bleeding was medium-light, and so we went to a party. I spent most of it sitting down drinking tea and necking pain-killers while everyone else got joyously drunk, but I was feeling chipper enough to enjoy it and chat amusingly with the amusing people. And when it came to home-time, I nipped to the loo and changed. Super-plus-extra tampons, because I didn’t quite trust myself. Ha! cried Cute Ute, and within half-an-hour, blood was running down my legs. Of course, I was walking to the station at the time. And we were still over an hour from home. For the sake of fuck. Bacon saved, as it were, insofar as public humiliation goes, by a) wearing a dress and b) loo on train. If there hadn’t been a loo on the train, well, there’d’ve been a scarlet puddle on the train, so there.
And then this evening, Cute Ute pulled the same sodding stunt. Only, I was at home, so there was no social disadvantage to the ensuing mess, and considerably less of it, what with the loo being here rather than a brisk trot down the public street in company away.
And that’s it, isn’t it? Bleeding down your leg in mixed company is just Not Socially The Done Thing. So, on top of the pain, the faintness, the stained clothes, the whole going-home-smelling-like-a-rump-steak enflusterment (I hate other people’s dogs sometimes), there’s the shame. I’m 36. These ‘little accidents’, as my mother used to call them, with seriously metallic irony considering, are part of the hideous embarrassment of being a teenager, learning to anticipate and manage your cycles. These aren’t things that happen to grown women. Until I met the internet, I didn’t know any grown women who suffered awful cramps, or leaked in public, or threw up and passed out. I felt like a freak. Worse than that, I felt ashamed that everyone else seemed to manage their bodies and I still can’t (to go with the whole infertile thing).
I spent my twenties on the pill, and when I was on the pill, I too was one of those proper grown-up ladies. I had cramps, but they were nothing a hot-water-bottle, two ibuprofen and some chocolate couldn’t ease. I bled, and, yes, it was unusual, I suppose, that even on the pill I needed to use The Very Large Tampons, at least at night, but I very rarely found myself, say, throwing up so hard I hurt my ribs because my uterus was trying to compress itself into a black hole, or waddling to a train-station as fast as possible while my thighs slipped and stuck against each other in a manner both horrifying and mortifying.
And then I read a comment piece on period pain, in the Guardian. And the 200+ comments that followed it. Dear God, there are so many of us. So many. And so many of us are being fobbed off or dismissed by medical professionals (ohh, I remember that from my youth. ‘This is all perfectly normal. Lots of girls go through it. You’ll feel much better after you have a baby,’ they said, as my left ovary was millimetre by millimetre torn in half by a cyst that grew to the size of a goddamn grapefruit). So many of us have families and friends who not only don’t get it but are wilfully ignorant and unkind too. (People Are Arseholes, exhibit #372).
I swear, if this happened to men, there’d’ve been a decent set of treatment options available by 1620. They’re prepared to spend bazillions on researching drugs to prevent baldness, after all. Imagine if baldness actually stopped you being able to work, look after your house, wash, eat, walk, talk, for one week out of four? (And I like bald men. Quite a lot of women do. Name me a man who fancies bleeding vomiting weeping women. Or, don’t, as if he does exist I’m sure the perverted bastard should be beaten to a pulp and locked up).
I notice, stat-wise, that when I post graphically about my periods, a large chunk of my readership, eh, averts its eyes and scuttles demurely away. Would that I had that option. Would that all those of us who suffer badly from this ‘natural, healthy’ process had that option.
Would that those who do have the power to help us, doctors, researchers, drug-manufacturers, didn’t have the option to look away. Would that no one ever needed to feel ashamed and freakish right when she most needed help and support. Would that no one ever left a doctor’s office feeling humiliated or hopeless because she was not taken seriously. Would that every single day of work, or house-work, or parenting, lost to dysmenorrhea or menorrhagia or an unholy combination of the two, was tallied in scarlet paint on a sixty-foot billboard in Parliament Square. TMI, indeed. Because, Gentle Readers, by Not Talking About It, we are Not Helping. And the less we talk about it, the less those that can, and should, and ought to be, helping us, even know there’s a problem. And our silence leaves our fellow-sufferers isolated and ashamed. And that can’t possibly be right.