First things first: this story has a happy ending. It could have, so easily, gone the other way. I am lucky.
It started with vertigo.
No, back up. Three years ago? No. Eight years ago? No.
More like twenty nine years ago: March 1987.
Or: when I got my first period.
When people who menstruate talk about their cycles, they tend to do so in hushed voices and behind closed doors. We need to talk about this openly. Menstruation is a basic biological function. When I was growing up–things may be different now, but I doubt it–I learned about menstruation not in a health class but from a curriculum provided to my school by Kotex. The girls stayed in the classroom while the boys were taken to the gym–presumably for showing of the video about boners that we also got to watch. But I bet the boys didn’t get a pink pamphlet about that “time of the month” and how you might feel a little sick, but it’s normal and you should just push right through it. While wearing white pants and frolicking in a field of flowers on or a beach. No discussion at all about cramps, gastrointestinal issues, mood swings, or any of the other pain that often comes along with menstruation. Just exhortations that ultimately serve to minimize the potential impact of menstruation on your life and that make you feel like a freak when your experience isn’t like the one described in the pamphlet or video. Oh, and Judy Blume’s Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret.
If you have painful periods, doctors will often recommend high doses of ibuprofen for those who can take NSAIDS and if you’re lucky, you might get a prescription for something stronger. But you probably won’t. Oh, and if you take too many different kinds of over the counter painkillers in a futile attempt to make the pain stop so you can concentrate, you may end up vomiting blood and going to the ER where you’ll be subjected to a humiliating exam and lecture by the (male) doctor on duty. The fact that you were in so much pain that you felt that you needed to take ibuprofen, acetaminophen, and aspirin over the course of about four hours will never come up. You will never tell another doctor about your extreme pain and when it subsides after you take birth control pills for a few years, you will be so grateful. And you will have learned your lesson–you only mention your difficult periods one other time to a doctor and when you do, she tells you it’s normal. And you believe her.
There is an appalling lack of research into menstrual disorders. Because this is something that mostly women have to deal with and because the medical establishment has been overwhelmingly dominated by men for centuries, it hasn’t been a priority. Menstrual pain interferes with our daily lives and can be a symptom of a more serious condition.
We must talk about it. Our very lives depend on it.
Note: descriptions of medical issues under the cut.