You know, I’ve been at this for a few months, and consensus seems to be that I’m pretty…. ‘Honest.’ Yeah, I get told I’m ‘honest’ a lot. A few people have seemed a bit uncomfortable with the amount that I share, and I’m kind of surprised about that. Really? I didn’t realise I shared *that* much. I certainly find it really difficult to talk about things that I actually am a bit insecure about- I’ve chickened out on pieces about my body image, self loathing and depression, not to mention today’s topic, periods. I think I’ve tried to write this about five times, with varying slants and approaches. Here is my big confessional; everything you ever wanted to know about periods.
I will never get those purple pants back
It was actually 10 years ago that I got my first period. I was 10, which is pretty young. In fairness to younger me, who I often chastise for being a melodramatic, uneasy girl, I took it like a total pro. After the initial shock of my mother explaining it to me, calmly and carefully in our kitchen, eyes darting to the door to make sure my younger brother wasn’t ear wigging, that for the next 40 years, I’d start bleeding for a week, and not to be scared or upset when it started. A few months later, I started getting tummy aches- the very first cramps that have since become the routine of my month.
I do have a distinct memory from the night before it started, getting into bed thinking ‘I reckon it’ll start tonight.’ and sure enough, when I woke up, I felt an unpleasant wetness in my pyjamas, and wriggled my pants down to investigate. The first time you see the stain, it’s quite visceral. It was dark, rich, and had soaked a circular patch into my purple underpants. I stared at it for a minute, feeling a bit dizzy. It was a Friday morning, around 6AM. I was too shy to say ‘I got my period’ to my mother, so I went downstairs in my pyjamas clutching the stained pants in my hand, and showed her.
All in all, it wasn’t too bad. Mam showed me where the pads lived (she’d already explained how they worked so I was a total pro with the wings) and then, after some hesitation gave me the day off school. I sat in my pyjamas watching cartoons eating cereal. I didn’t have any of the later cramps, emotions or unpleasantness that my period would bring along with it. The next I thought about it was the next week, when my granny took my hand as we walked home from school. ‘Your mammy tells me you’ve joined the ranks of womanhood’ she says pointedly.
‘Eh, yeah, I guess I did.’ I reply primly.
My period is not dirty
Girls, can we all stand on our chairs (or in my case, my bed, where I’m typing from) and say out loud ‘Periods are not dirty’? Because they aren’t- not really, they’re a bit messy and can smell, but they’re not infectious or liable to make you ill upon contact with another period-haver. It’s a fallacy I often see- People comparing Menstruation to pooing or weeing. In reality apart from taking place nearby where pooing and weeing occur, periods are nothing like it. Mostly I hear men make this comparison- ‘You’d be grossed out if I talked about having a shit, wouldn’t you?’ This ignores two things-
1-I live with brothers, and therefore hear men talk about poo all the time [So much that I got into the habit of announcing ‘I have to pee’ when in company, which is very embarrassing.] It is so much more common to see jokes about it in media too- There are poop jokes all over TV; when’s the last time you saw a period joke on a kid’s show?
2- There is nothing like a period. Okay, men, let’s get this out of the way. I will never ever know what it’s like to be kicked in the nuts, but I accept it bloody hurts. In the same vein, you won’t ever really know what it’s like to bleed for a week and not die. Menstruation is a common experience, but not a universal one- Some women have them, some don’t, and men never will.
On the whole, I’ve always maintained that the things we use to hide the fact that we’re menstruating are the real dirty things here. On it’s own, period blood is at it’s most offensive, slightly smelly and scary looking (The first time there were clots in mine, I actually had to have a little cry at how horrifying my body was being). But I will attest that the smell of an over flowing bin of disposed soiled sanitary products smells SO MUCH worse. The smell of old sanitary pad is overpoweringly bad. Tampons have the even more horrifying side effect of potentially poisoning you.
The worst thing I ever heard when I was at school
Because I was a bit young donning my menstruation sombrero, I was already having them for a year before we got ‘the talk’ about hygiene when we were in school. Mam had mentioned tampons to me, but didn’t really explain much about them beyond ‘they go in you, and they’re a bit harder to use until you’re older.’ So I didn’t really know anything about them. It was during this talk which included mild mannered things like ‘remember to wipe and freshen up when you’ve had a wee’ I learned about tampons and toxic shock syndrome.
Basically it’s the worst fucking buzz ever. Tampons are coated in bleach and then put into hard plastic applicators that you jam into yourself for up to four hours. They dry your vagina out by absorbing the fuck out of everything in there- blood, mucus, general vagina-fluids doing their vagina-fluid job, stopping you being dry. They are COATED in BLEACH. The lady explained how they can’t get ‘lost’ up there (A sincere worry of 12 year old pre-menstrual girls. Actually hell, I was worried about that until I was 16) and in the same breath, cautioned that if left in for too long, You could go into septic shock and be poisoned by your own rancid sanitary product.
I could not deal with this information. I could die? If I forgot about a cotton bud? I have let PLANTS sitting on my desk right next to me wither from lack of water. My Chia pet died because I forgot to replace the water! How can I be expected to remember to remove things! Oh dear god! Basically everything about it scared me so badly that I can’t look at tampons without getting very upset indeed.
I got cramps in my back and I ain’t afraid to show it, show it, show it.
I really, really hate it when people blame my hormones for making me emotional and cranky. Like, again, this is something I don’t think guys generally understand. Maybe I’m totally wrong in saying this but in general guys don’t have to deal with massive shifts in their hormone levels on a monthly (sometimes weekly) basis. It affects all women differently. Everyone has their own crazy unhappy side effects to periods. Mine began to emerge around the age of 14- for the first three years, I was too busy dealing with the irregular pattern and getting used to the sight of blood to really notice anything else, but it started to get bad.
Mam had knowingly never told me that periods can make you moody and irrational, thinking that I’d use it as an excuse to be bitchy. But it came anyway, a horrible wave of anxiety and depression. I’m prone to excess anxiety anyway, and I go on highs and lows all the time, but nothing like the dark places I go to when I’m on the rag. For a while when I was very overweight, the dark days got so bad that I was genuinely worried about some of my thoughts. Adding to this problem was the pain.
Oh my god. I don’t like to think of myself as a mimsy- I soldier on when I feel sick, or at least I try to. It’s hard to describe the pain because I’m so accustomed to the sensation now. Firstly, imagine feeling constipated. Then add a gnawing, constant, hot pain in your lower back. then tense every muscle in your lower body and stomach. That’s sort of what it feels like. To be frank for a moment, period cramps are basically the uterus contracting and pushing out the old lining, and it fucking hurts. Other women I know vomit, and others just get weepy or angry, but those are my things. I get anxious, sore and deeply depressed.
I live tweet my Codeine high
The pains got so severe that basic paracetamol wasn’t helping at all, so we went to the chemist for something a bit more specialist. We were pointed in the direction of feminex, a pink-boxed painkiller designed to get at cramps. Does anyone else find the packaging of ‘woman pain killers’ in pink boxes a bit brilliant? I love the campy neon pink of panadol woman, gender norms be dammed. That’s what box I want my meds to come in. Anyway, Feminex is a fucking trip- Codeine, caffeine and the stern advice not to become addicted.
I was like a fairy. It took the pain away, but also left me with a nervous, drunken high. My heart was racing from the caffeine and my head was light from codeine. I wrote some amusingly out there facebook posts, tweeted my hysteria and then crashed, sleeping for 15 hours. I did the same basic routine every time I had a bad period. I still have the box of Feminex somewhere, but I stick to Panadol woman now. I get a bit too happy on Feminex. It’s a trip.
The absolute worst thing I ever learned was that the best natural painkiller for cramps is in fact orgasm. It completely un-clenches tensed muscles and gives you a rush of happy hormones. I will never, ever forgive the universe for designing me with the ability to remove this pain by doing the one thing I really don’t feel like doing at that time.
I am sorry I am so obsessed with my period you guys
And so considering this- that it’s a monthly source of pain both emotional and physical- I hope it’s easier to understand why I go on about it so much. I mean, all the effort that goes into concealing it is ludicrous. Jokes about menstruation are still considered really far out unless they’re jokes about women being all irrational and weepy on their periods, which I point out kind of dis empowers them. You never see jokes about menstrual blood, or cramps, really. People still bristle unhappily when periods are mentioned, even in passing.
I try to be really super delicate when I talk about them- well, not here, but in company. In company, I call it ‘lady pains’, trying to avoid even the mention of the C word. It can’t be a thing of horror for me anymore. It never has been, really. Since the age of 11, I haven’t the luxury of being grossed out. I, like a good deal of women, just have to get on with it. I have to get on with the maintenance and the smells and the countless pairs of nice pants ruined by bloodstains that never really wash out, no matter how much cold water you rinse with.
So that’s the deal. If I have to live the next 30 years bleeding once a week, I’m allowed crack jokes about it. It’s my little way of taking control and agency over myself. It’s uncomfortable and at times difficult to keep in line, but it’s my body. I’m genuinely sorry if that makes people uncomfortable, or if it’s being too honest. So yes, ladies. Everyone up on their chair/bed/ottoman
‘We all got periods, yo!’ Say loud n’ proud.
Niamh ‘I bleed out my vagina and y’all gotta deal with that’ Keoghan