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I’m 32 And I Don’t Have A Fucking Clue About Periods

It’s mad isn’t it? My period education consisted of tidbits that included the following:

  • Your cycle is 28 days.
  • It doesn’t hurt.
  • It doesn’t smell.
  • You should lose around a tablespoon of blood throughout your cycle.
  • You might get ovulation pains (but it’s up to you to work out what they are, where they occur and whether you’re actually going to die)
  • You can’t get pregnant if you have sex on your period.
  • You can use sanitary towels or tampons or there are other options but have a chat to your doctor.

So imagine my surprise, at 12 years old, when I called my Mum to come into the downstairs bathroom because there was at least 17 litres of blood in my Tammy Girl knickers (an exaggeration but the teenage mind is a dramatic one). 

periods

I immediately felt dirty, ashamed and not ready to be sexualised. Because a lot of the messages around periods were linked to sex. And being a twin, and seeing her not start hers at exactly the same time as me was really disconcerting.

For, I don’t care to remember how long, I had to ask my Mum to help me change my sanitary towels throughout my period. She suggested tampons but having never had anything penetrate my vagina before, I was confused and scared – and again, the shame/stigma surrounding periods did nothing to quash this irrational thought.

Even now I think it’s absolutely disgusting that people are being encouraged to fill themselves with chemicals and hormones that are linked to devastating side effects FOR CONTRACEPTION PURPOSES as opposed to being informed as to how to manage them naturally (and y’know, just having a partner sticking a johnny on if they want to prevent a pregnancy).

I digress.

My periods were heavy. Changing thick, ‘night time’ towels every hour heavy. And my cramps were heavy too. A heavy, dull ache, for days at a time. 

Sex education in Year 10 first introduced the concept of the pill to me and before break time, rumours swirled round our form classes of who was on the pill because they had a boyfriend and who wasn’t because they were a crippling loser who no one would ever want to touch. Hi, me.

Well those sex ed classes went well because at age 15 I rocked up at my GP, eager to enquire about the pill (to make me seem less painfully single and unattractive to boys my age as possible) and I asked how it could help me manage my periods.

My GP told me I could go onto Microgynon but I should watch my weight because both my Aunties have diabetes. Kewl. Super helpful.

Before long, my periods were down to two days of light spotting, my fluctuating weight had stabilised, but my moods – OH THE MOODS – were off the scale. I was angry, irritable, hateful, snappy, short and equally void of all energy, motivation and happiness. Could it have been related? Who knows? I was told nothing of the side effects of the pill.

After a period (lol) on this particular pill, I began reading articles about a new one to hit the market – Yasmin. It apparently had the lowest amount of hormones possible and could help people that found other pills too harsh.

Suddenly my weight ballooned, my skin was in bits but my mood at least had stabilised – no more anger but a lot of low energy and depression. My periods were still regular and I thought to myself, ‘well you can’t have everything.’

At no point did I consider any other type of contraception – ones that weren’t hormonal in the slightest – because I just didn’t know enough about them. And every subsequent nurse visit resulted in a discussion about my weight as opposed to my period management needs.

I remember very clearly the day I went for my check-up, to get my new Yasmin prescription. I was told that my GP would no longer offer Yasmin and I was handed a slip of paper, for a new tablet I should take every day, that I had no idea about.

I later learned that Yasmin was too expensive compared to the other pills on offer so that’s why certain trusts had begun to dissuade their patients from it. Nice.

I was twenty-seven when I decided to jog the pill on for good. The knowledge that I was pumping something inside my body, something that I had no clue as to the long term effects, terrified me.

This ushered in two years of unstable moods, unstable weight, unstable skin and totally unstable periods. Some were two days and light, others were 7 days of pure, red (and a bit of browny black), hell – but at least I was chemical/hormone free.

I eventually got into a pattern of understanding that the week leading up to my period, I’d feel like I was falling off the edge of the cliff and I’d want to eat everything. The week of my period I’d have equally the most motivation EVER coupled with the least energy ever. And the week after my period I’d be basically frantic. Sexually, emotionally, hungrily frantic.

So there I was. In a quandary of managing my periods chemically but totally terrified of the long term effects OR letting my body dictate WTF it wanted to do each month.

I should note now that I was very lucky to be in the position to have this choice. For many people who suffer horrifically with their periods, going tablet-free is not an option.

So I decided to stay off any form of hormonal contraception. But my cycles are all over the place. From 28 days on the dot to 62 (and 4 pregnancy tests), to 22 to 48 and around and around.

At 32 though, I decided it was really about time I educated myself more on my cycle, periods, methods of management and just work out da fuq is going on with my body.

After a chat with Grace, I bought the book Moon Time by Lucy H. Pearce*. It promised a new understanding of the menstrual cycle with practical insight and I thought this would be a great starting point.

And guess what? At 32, I actually learned something USEFUL about periods.

Like it’s actually more like an eggcup of blood that’s lost (and if it’s much much more, it could be a symptom of something like PCOS or endometriosis).

Like if you’re on (most) pills, the blood you lose each month isn’t a biological period (in that it’s your womb lining loss), it’s a withdrawal bleed caused by the hormones.

That white, creamy, discharge and a feeling of horniness is actually a sign of ovulation (not just because you watched Richard Madden in the Bodyguard) – OK I realise I really should’ve known this.

But the message that struck me the hardest was the section in the book called, ‘What Does It Mean To Be A Woman?’ and the questions encompassed everything I had felt, learned or been taught about periods up until now.

That they should be managed and diminished because they are an inconvenience to our lives, relationships, holidays and need to wear white jeans in summer.

That we are perceived as ‘overly emotional’ due to PMS – which is a biological reaction to hormones in our body – something we cannot help.

People experience periods every month of their lives from around 11 years old to around their mid fifties – yet it’s still taboo.

We must buy scented products to not offend anyone with the smell coming from our vaginas.

We must advertise sanitary products with absolutely no mention or visual of the blood (because it’s shameful and dirty remember).

There has been very little to no research into periods and how we can help those who suffer terribly with their periods (PCOS, Endometritis) other than to put a plaster on it with painkillers.

In fact, it’s reported that doctors have less than one day of training on menstruation in their seven years of qualifying to be a medical professional. Less than a day for something that affects half the population, each month?

So where does that leave me? In a fortunate position that I do not suffer with crippling period complications so that I can make a choice not to use chemicals or hormones in my management of them, sure. 

But it also leaves me in a position where I want to learn more about my body, about menstruation and about my own periods.

I started by reading Moon Time. I’m currently keeping a daily journal to track my thoughts, feelings and biological experiences throughout my cycle to see if I can more easily spot patterns. And I’ve got Sweeting The Pill* on order too.

What do you wish you’d known about periods when you were younger? What are you still unsure about? Is there any part of having periods that you still attach to shame? I’d love to chat about it!

This post contains affiliate links.

And if you fancy a read of an attempt to be amusing post on periods, then click here for this oldie.

 
periods

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