Menstruation: The Incapacitating Pain that ‘Doesn’t Exist’

Feminism Fridays, anyone?

I’m still dithering about picking a theme for Friday posts, I’m thinking about having two and alternating… but until I actually commit to something I’m just going to post what I feel like.

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Menstruation. It’s something that happens to women of a certain age. There are lots of factors that can affect it, and it varies a hell of a lot from person to person. What I want to talk about here is period pain.

This is something that has appeared in the news recently- more specifically, in the world of tennis.

Period pain is something that almost all women experience. It varies a lot from woman to woman, some experience very little and others are almost completely incapacitated by it.

Sadly, I’m one of the latter.

When I first started menstruating I was thirteen and my periods were few and far between- they were also relatively painless. As I got older this started to change, gradually they became more and more painful. The most drastic change came at about 3.00 am on New Years Day 2011.

I woke up suddenly in the early hours, because it was NYD I’d only just gone to sleep and so was a little disoriented. I remember being hit suddenly with the worst pain that I’d ever felt.

It felt as thought someone had taken a red-hot iron band and wrapped it around my womb. Pain usually comes in waves… this didn’t. It was one constant, burning, squeezing pain. I got out of bed and crawled across the landing to the bathroom. I remember feeling very panicked and scared.

I called out for my Mum who came and basically did nothing (tbf, there wasn’t anything she could have done…) the pain started to get worse- I should also point out that for all this time it hadn’t faded, not even for a second- I ended up being violently sick and passing out a couple of times. This went on for around two or three hours before it finally started to fade.

That was the first time that I had an ‘episode’ as I later nick-named them. I was fifteen and I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve them. I think the worst year for them was 2013, but I don’t want to tempt fate by thinking that I’ve seen the back of them.

I’ve had them in the middle of town, in the shower, even in the middle of a dress fitting. They come on suddenly and there’s nothing I can do to stop them or make them any better. I’m usually sick and pass out. They last around an hour. I even needed an ambulance once.

Of course I’ve been to the Doctor about them, they gave me the strongest medication they had- which works great… for my ‘normal’ period pain. It has zero effect on my episodes. Both my Mother and Auntie went through exactly the same thing as me, they grew out of it as they got older- something that (touch wood) seems to be happening to me too.

Having these things has made me really understand the devastating impact of period pain, it’s something that I can’t talk about. I’m a very chilled and open woman, I talk very bluntly about most things… but I can’t talk about my period pain. I’m sure my friends and colleagues must think I have some terrible disease because of my vague descriptions about ‘passing out’ and ‘collapsing’ and ‘being in pain’ when I have to call in sick/cancel plans.

To the rest of the world the pain that I suffer through doesn’t exist, I’m not supposed to talk about it or even mention it… it’s such a stupid thing. We live in the 21st Century, yet we’re still too fragile to hear about ladies menstruating?

To all the women out there who suffer when ‘that time of the month’ rolls around; you’re not alone!

’til next time,

Wren x

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10 thoughts on “Menstruation: The Incapacitating Pain that ‘Doesn’t Exist’

  1. An interesting title, menstruation pain does not exist just like the gender pay gap does not exist and racism is eradicated in the U.S. I have had pain in my life, twice, so bad I could not walk. There I spoke about in a public forum, I am here, I menstruate, get used to it! I hope you find some techniques, medicine or methods to deal with the pain and may it be fleeting in duration.

    • Thank you, it is interesting how we view ourselves as a modern and progressive society yet we haven’t totally eradicated some of the outdated views of the past. Hopefully we can move forward and break down the embarrassment that still surrounds menstruation. Thanks for reading!

  2. I am of an age where I still remember when doctors (male, of course) would tell women they couldn’t be having menstrual pain because there was no such thing. It’s all in your head we were told.

    I never had to call for an ambulance but I had many a time when I would suddenly feel sick, usually in school, and then the pains would come. The only thing that would touch it for me were some oxycontin which my mother had on prescription for some reason. I would take hers.

    As a teen I was told the pain would ease when I became an adult. As an adult I was told it would ease after I had a baby. After 3 babies I’m resigned to having to deal with excrutiating pain with most periods.

    On the plus side, I am going through menopause finally and my periods have spread out to every 60 – 90 days (or longer). But on the negative, there is such a build up after not having a period for 3 months that I end up bleeding more heavily and in more pain for 24 – 48 hours. WHat I really hate now is that the pain isn’t happy just making my gut cramp, I’ve started getting period pains down into both legs.

    Paracetamol (acetaminophen) doesn’t touch this pain, and neither does ibuprofen. But I have found an OTC cocktail of drugs that helps most days. I take 2 paracetamol plus 2 buscopan (an OTC given for irritable bowel syndrome that contains hyoscine) and a double dose of an herbal sleep remedy that contains valerian, hops, and passionflower.

    • My Mother went through the same thing that I’m going through now, she said that the only thing that she could do was take scalding hot baths. I know that my Auntie did the same, my Grandma was clueless and didn’t know what to do. They certainly couldn’t talk about it and never consulted a doctor. For them it only went away when they had kids. I really hope that I don’t have to wait to have children before I experience some relief.
      I know what you mean about the medication, I’ve been prescribed mefenamic acid which works well on ‘normal’ period pain, but just doesn’t touch anything more serious than that. It’s so frustrating.
      Hope that in time your pain starts to settle down.
      Blessings,
      Wren

  3. Menstrual pain isn’t the only female pain that doesn’t exist! I’ve read several articles in the past year about women who have struggled to get proper diagnoses and treatment for vulvodynia and other issues that cause chronic or intense vaginal pain. Throughout my teens, my (male) doctor insisted that my migraines weren’t real, or that I was exaggerating. Oh, also I’ve been advised by women on several occasions that if I want to request tubal ligation before I ever have children, I need to tell my gyno that I intend to live child-free every year for years in advance. Otherwise, I won’t be taken seriously. You know, because women are fickle and can’t make serious decisions about their bodies.

    These are all symptoms to a larger cultural problem. Women are still invisible in so many ways… maybe partly because of the fallacy that WOMEN being EQUAL to MEN means that FEMALES are the SAME as MALES. Clearly not. But we need to talk to solve this problem. We need to talk a lot. And not just among the safe circles of women.

    So, thank you for talking. I hope that you find relief for your pain soon.

    • Thank you! I completely agree with what you’re saying. For me, feminism means being able to make choices about my body. I mean, it’s MY body, if I didn’t want to have children, I should be supported in making that choice- just as they would support a man choosing to have a vasectomy.
      I’m embarrassed that I STILL feel awkward talking to men (and even other women!) about my periods and how much I suffer with them. Of the few people I’ve told, the only ones who believe me are the ones who’ve seen me collapse/be sick. I find myself scrambling for excuses and making up wild stories that I have absolutely no reason to… I’m experiencing something that 50% of the population go through, there’s no shame in that.
      You’re welcome, thank you for your comment!
      Wren x

  4. Thank you for writing this post Wren. Like you I have suffered from debilitating pain at times and just as you have described it has left me vomiting, shaking and on the verge of losing consciousness. I am a strong and fit person, I can run for more than 10 miles without it having much effect, and yet this can really floor me. It is funny how even now, the discourse just isn’t there. Similar to the concept of the complete lack of male contraception options, this is something that is just accepted and ignored by wider society. While I accept that some things should remain private, if you can only offer a mumbling and embarrassed excuse for not coming into school or work when you were legitimately ill, because it just isn’t talked about there is something seriously wrong there.
    Seeing as there is a bit of an open forum here in the comment box, in terms of avoiding pain I find that prevention is better than cure. Myself and other friends have found that caffeine and alcohol can be a huge trigger. I have found that cutting these out or even just cutting down the week before you are due has been a massive help.

    • You’re welcome; I think most women will experience at least one really horrific period at some point in their lives, so it’s even more embarrassing and frustrating that we can’t talk about it! Afterwards I find myself shaking and exhausted, I usually have to take a nap for a couple of hours.
      It’s really awkward with work, I only have so many sick days I can use per year before I start getting into trouble, so I always keep my fingers crossed that my period will hit when I have a day off. As well as that, because I work with food my boss has to know exactly what’s wrong with me… which is incredibly awkward for us both.
      That’s a really interesting tip, I’m not a massive drinker but I’ll give that a try. Personally I think the thing that really influences my cycle is stress. If I’m even mildly stressed it can massively disrupt things or make the pain even worse.
      Thanks for commenting!
      Wren x

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