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The GW Hatchet


The GW Hatchet

Serving the GW Community since 1904

The GW Hatchet

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Perspective: Chronic period pain is real, and I deserve to be seen

Sometimes, when I’m sitting down in the shower, legs bent and forehead pressed to my knees as I wait for the pain to subside, I think about those tampon commercials where women frolic about because periods are (apparently) so magnificent. Did my body get it wrong, or did society?

Chronic period pain is nothing new for many people who menstruate. But because premenstrual syndrome has become so normalized in society, people tend to forget how agonizing real chronic period pain can be.

My period isn’t normal, and neither is the pain associated with it. Yet I’m constantly told by doctors, family and schoolmates it’s just a part of life I have to deal with. Suffering from chronic period pain that other people invalidate simply because of its association with periods, and in turn women, is exhausting.

When I’m hurting, I don’t have the energy to explain why I’m not just experiencing PMS but rather that I’ve spent seven years coping with chronic period pain. On a “good” day in the middle of my cycle, I take Advil every four hours and spend the better part of my day in sweatpants. On a bad day, even prescription painkillers can’t get me out of bed.

I’ve had debilitating periods since I was 13 years old, when I first started menstruating. When I was 14, I lost enough blood from my period to become medically anemic. But my doctor told me it was relatively normal; the school nurse told me I couldn’t keep missing class; my mom told me to track my pain for another six months and revisit the conversation. So I tried to hide my pain, tired of empty assurances.

But when I was 16, I experienced one of my most painful periods. I excused myself from a school assembly to use the bathroom because it felt like a serrated melon baller was carving up my uterus. I had to beg my mom to stay home from school the next day. She told me I was probably fine; what I was feeling was just normal cramping. People who don’t experience chronic period pain can quickly brush it aside instead of giving us the space to hurt.

But besides the exhaustion from my pain and the need to explain it to my mom, I was relatively fine for the better half of that next morning. Guilt crept into my mind, telling my conscience that I exaggerated my condition for sympathy.

Then, I got up to use the bathroom, and a two-hour torrent of shooting, ripping, agonizing pain hit me once again. I remember being unable to stand, screaming every time the knife of my period carved its mark into me. I alternated between hot and cold flashes, eventually settling on a shower to try to ease my pain. I stripped off my clothes, tried to reach for the shower handle and passed out, hitting my head against the edge of the toilet. I woke up, threw up and crawled into the shower, shaking with shock.

I called my mom three times from the shower, but she was at work and couldn’t pick up. I debated calling an ambulance, but I passed out again inside the shower before I reached a decision. When I came to, I wrapped myself in a towel and fell into a tormented sleep on the bathroom floor.

I went back to school the next day. I didn’t tell my general practitioner about my pain until six months later because I was afraid of medical professionals delegitimizing my pain, as they had before. After all, the practitioner told me it takes “a while” from your first period for your cycle to regulate, so my experiences were probably normal. And because I wasn’t sexually active, the doctor told me I didn’t need to visit a gynecologist unless my pain was very severe.

With the people in my life ceaselessly dictating my level of personal pain, I no longer knew how to describe it to myself. I didn’t seek answers about my pain for the next couple years, embarrassed about appearing overdramatic and exhausted of explaining what I felt was different than mild period cramping.

When I was 18, though, I finally started seeing a gynecologist and began taking generic oral birth control before college to regulate my periods, which was the recommended approach. I was also diagnosed with dysmenorrhea and menorrhagia, the medical terms for painful and heavy menstrual periods.

Granted, the pill shortened my cycle and lessened my bleeding. But I also developed premenstrual dysphoric disorder in response to my new fluctuating hormone levels. Like clockwork, 10 days before my period, I would become increasingly emotionally unstable. Three to four days before my period, I’d experience uncontrollable anxiety, bouts of depression and intrusive thoughts, including suicide ideation. My physical pain was gone, but my emotional pain replaced it.

I decided to stop taking birth control after seven months, despite my gynecologists’ suggestion to try a different type. I am myself once again, in sound mind, but my body is still riddled with physical agony every period. I just live with it now. And I’m still seeking out a complete diagnosis that tells me what might be going wrong inside me.

I’ve been tested for endometriosis through an intravaginal ultrasound. After months of waiting for an appointment, a nurse practitioner almost didn’t conduct the internal ultrasound because she was worried about the discomfort the procedure might cause me. I explained that the entire reason I was sitting on an examination table, my feet in the stirrups like a jockey, was because I wanted answers about my pain. My results were inconclusive.

I’ve considered getting an IUD, since it’s typically supposed to lessen period pain while also serving as a contraceptive, but people tell horror stories about the pain, cramping and bleeding, especially if you have an existing menstrual or uterine condition. It’s a gamble I’m not sure I’m ready to take.

So I remain in pain, its root cause still a question mark. But period pain is still pain, even if society doesn’t take it seriously. And mine is debilitating.

The growing societal acceptance of menstruation is certainly a welcome shift from the past. But the way society understands periods falls flat and disregards the debilitating chronic pain some of us live with. You and I might still be searching for answers, but we owe no one an explanation for what we feel and how we feel it.

Paige Baratta, a sophomore studying political science, is the editorials assistant.

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