Last weekend, as we were getting home from a long day out, my husband asked me to bring his backpack into the house from the car since he was checking the oil in my car. I reminded him that no, I could not lift that heavy thing into the house. He looked at me like I was crazy. ‘Remember Cramps?’ He still looked at me like I was just trying to get out of work (I would have used a better excuse).
A while later I was getting ready for bed and commented that I hadn’t dealt with cramps this bad in a while. He just looked at me like I had transplanted my big toe onto my forehead.
“You’ve been fine all day”.
“Seriously? I was up at 4 am with pain so bad I couldn’t sleep. I’ve been drinking coffee and tea all day because it’s hot liquid and really helps the pain. And eating food every 4 hours to take medicine, and wearing a heating pad on my stomach all day. I’ve been far from fine!!!’
“But you looked fine.”
“I know. I have to. Half my body might be swelling up and the pain worse then some toothaches but I have to keep going. And I’ve been dealing with this for almost 20 years. So I’m used to it.”
Later as I slowed down enough to feel how much I had pushed myself that day and how much my body changes for a few days a month, my husband and I started talking about how I don’t talk about my period.
I’ve always thought of my period as something to hide, as something I should be ashamed of. Especially since I’m part of the percent of women who have extremely painful and debilitating periods.
I’ve held many jobs over the last 12 years where I just had to be okay. There were a few times when I had to leave work early, or explain to my female bosses what was going on. But with time I’ve gotten good at hiding what every female goes through.
Recently at a party I realized that, because I had taken some medicine, I couldn’t drink. That night I told no less then 5 women that, because I had super bad cramps, I took very strong medicine. I didn’t mention this to any men.
My husband and I talked about this. He mentioned that may be more men needed to hear this and needed to be more understanding.
Every few months he and I will have a conversation with a (usually single) friend and the subject of birth control comes up. As we talk about options and personal choices he usually brings up the mans responsibility in birth control which somehow leads to talking about how bitchy and demanding I can be during my period (Hello. Let me punch you in the gut repeatedly!).
Not long ago I was driving home from work and felt the tears coming on. I am not a crier and I don’t do the emotional mood swing thing. So this was a surprise. There was nothing wrong. No one I was mad at, no one had hurt me, there was no reason to cry. But it felt right. It felt like I could just let myself be ‘not okay’ for a little while. My brain knew that in a few days I was expecting my period and that this was most likely just me being emotional. And that was okay. I let myself weep, not bottling or holding back because someone might see or because I had ‘no reason’ to cry.
For the past few days I’ve been wondering what I’m hiding and I think the answer is that to talk about menstrual periods I would have to admit that I’m distinctly different from men. And I don’t like that. I want to be equal. The same. I want to meet that bar that exists only in my mind. The one where I measure up to the men in my life and I’m not weaker.
Because when I’m curled up in the fetal position at 3 am, yelling at my husband to make me hot tea and go to the grocery store and get me ginger ale and take me to the hospital because I am going to DIE… I’m weak. I’m not even able to care for myself. I cannot be super female.
This feels like not being enough. I SHOULD be able to function 100% all the time, no breaks, no down time, no self care. I know that’s a lie. But when I’m in the middle of life, of downing pills and making sure my supply of magical stick-on heating pads (the person who invented those things should be Person of the Year somewhere) never runs out I’m not interested in saying ‘I can’t do this. Please help me’ to either women or men.
My husband has been by my side (getting yelled at almost every month) for over 5 years as I’ve dealt with this. I remember the first time I let him see me in this very vulnerable place. We had been dating for a few months and I knew that he eventually needed to (and I wanted him to know) this part of my life. I remember him holding me as I explained the pain and what I had found to help it.
Before this it was my mom getting up for me and bringing me hot tea in the middle of the night. There was a year I decided not to consume any caffeine or medicine (prescription or over the counter). No pain medications of any kind. I look back and can’t imagine how I survived. I did a lot of research into herbal medicine (there were several midnight tramps into the garden for blackberry leaves) and I did a lot of self care. I didn’t push myself to do any thing besides take care of my own pain.
Now, in the craziness of my life, I have found how to survive several days of some of the worst pain in my life, every month. I talk to friends and moms of teen girls, giving advice from years of figuring it out on my own. I wish someone had come along and told me I was normal, that I could be not-okay for a few days, that I could admit I was in pain. This is what I tell 12 and 13 year old girls who are putting on a brave face because we don’t talk about what (almost) every female ever born experiences for most of her life.
‘Dealt with’ and ‘survive’ are words I’ve used to describe my period. I wish I didn’t have to and may be one day I won’t. But as I make a conscience choice to embrace the femaleness of my body, to not feel shame that I can’t be strong all the time, I’m hoping I can start to not hide from people, from women, and from men. And that I can admit when I’m weak, when I’m in pain and when I need help.