Foreword: This post may seem a bit “TMI” to some. I wholeheartedly disagree, thank you very much. This prevalent attitude that a woman’s period is something to be hidden and ashamed of and certainly never referred to (other than in jest by middle-school boys and idiotically unsympathetic men) is exactly why women end up in the predicament I faced for several years. The idea that our pain is something to simply be tolerated and never questioned — because, TMI — is exactly why so many women choose to endure pain and suffer in silence; because those conversations, that awareness . . . it’s uncomfortable. I believe we must have these uncomfortable, TMI conversations so that men and women come to a global understanding that there is nothing embarrassing or shameful about a typical bodily function gone horribly awry.
I’ve been afflicted with the woman’s curse since 8th grade, so discomfort is nothing new to me. But three or four years ago, something new began: a quiet, lonely battle for some semblance of normalcy and dignity during my “lady time” each month.
I don’t recall an exact year, or remember the first time She-Satan knocked at my door; instead, I remember experiencing unusually painful cramps that I dismissed as just that — unusual, but a fact of life. It was only after several months of what I believed to be “excessively painful” cramps that I decided to seek the medical opinion of a doctor, primarily due to a curiosity about the sort of inconvenienced annoyance I was battling each month. A friend had mentioned endometriosis in passing during a rare conversation of commiseration, but I’d never heard of the disorder and after a hasty Google search, I still thought I was just being unusually sensitive. I didn’t have most of the symptoms of the disorder, and I really just wanted someone to recognize my pain and give me a prescription that registered a bit stronger than Midol.
My doctor was a woman. Perfect, I thought. She’ll get this. It’s undeniably true that most men just do not comprehend the nature of our monthly beast; and that’s understandable since it’s not something they regularly (or ever) endure. At any rate, I was relieved to have a she-doctor, because I was certain she’d be able to empathize; plus, it made those all-too-awkward intimate checkups slightly less uncomfortable.
She told me I was fat. She looked me in the eye, with her equally-soft belly and age-thickened hips, and told me I needed to lose weight — that was the cause of my increasingly painful periods. Based on my BMI, which was on the higher end of “normal,” this woman — this comrade-in-arms — determined I was fat . . . thus, pain.
I was devastated. It’s no secret that shoddy self esteem has plagued me most of my adolescent and adult life; and in this moment of vulnerability, this woman gave me a shit-tastic piece of medical advice that four other medical professionals have since dismissed with nothing less than a huff of disgust and heartfelt apology for their colleague’s lack of tact and accuracy. Needless to say, I did not return to the physician for the blood work tests she wanted to run; instead, I continued to endure my own personal hell each month. But instead of “just” dealing with physical pain, I was now faced with an emotional barb, too; I began to re-engage in an inner conversation of self-loathing that I’d mostly stifled after high school. If you weren’t such a fatass, your cramps wouldn’t be so bad, I seethed.
Meanwhile, that initial pain which had seemed so bad many months ago evolved into a monster.
Over the course of two more years, my pain every month became stifling — nearly unbearable. In the past year alone, I missed five days of work for severe cramps; luckily, my other “worst days” fell on weekends or vacations. Luckily. Every month, I optimistically hoped for the best, but deep in my gut, expected the worst. I came to dread my cycle — I feared it. For days leading up to my period, I cramped. These were the most normal pangs I would feel for several days. Then came hell.
No position aided — doubled over, rolled in the fetal position, posed on all fours with my rear in the air — there was no physical contortion that would relieve the stabbing, searing pain in my abdomen. Exercise, which so many websites and doctors tout as a “great way to relieve menstrual cramping,” only aggravated the beast. Days before my cycle even began, running just one mile would lead to an hour of cramps that rolled in like furious waves upon the sand before a summer storm. Midol, Aleve, Tylenol, Ibuprofen, Pamprin, Motrin — you name it, I’d tried it, all to no avail. I started popping Oxy and Hydrocodone pills that I had leftover from a kidney stone the previous year; even these prescription drugs could not assuage the raging warfare that was taking place within me. At best, they relaxed me enough to drift into a drugged sleep for a few hours, a welcome respite from days of not sleeping due to pain.
I started blacking out. My body would tense so much during that one week every month, trying to stave off the pain, I’d walk around like a zombie for days afterward — I was physically and emotionally drained. I had to change plans with friends so excursions didn’t coincide with my period. I found myself struggling not to vomit all over my students’ desks, because excessive nausea became a thing, too. I rolled through three heating pads in a year, none of which actually helped with my cramps — but I used them anyway. Call it desperation. At night, Zack became frustrated with my whimpers of pain: there was nothing he could do to help me.
In truth, it felt like I was dying. This wasn’t pain that would hit and then subside within a few hours — it was nonstop, days-long, excruciating agony. It could best be described as: rolling, aching, stabbing, searing, twisting, throbbing, shooting. I no longer wondered what it would feel like to be stabbed with a knife — I was certain I knew.
This infuriating pain led to depression. We’d already had a miscarriage, and now I could chalk this up to another list of my body’s shortcomings: my uterus was staging warfare against my body on a monthly basis. I fantasized about performing surgery on myself, certain that manually ripping the organs from my body would result in less pain than that which I experienced on a regular basis. I screamed sometimes, through hot tears — Why are you doing this to me, God?
So we went to another doctor. We endured multiple tests — sonograms, blood work, pap smears, in-home ovulation predictor kits (which are not cheap, in case you’re wondering), more blood work, and so on. Finally, six months after I had come to this new doctor (who I did like, quite a bit), I told him: I want a hysterectomy. I cannot handle this pain anymore. It’s not worth it to me. This is the moment a doctor finally realized, for the first time, that I was not exaggerating my pain. Maybe there was something more to this case than unusually painful cramps.
For months, I’d been told by countless women that it could be something worse, but it was probably just my “new normal.” They had bad pain sometimes, too. Doctors said more of the same. One physician actually told me, “A 10 to you might be a 5 to someone else.” I briefly considered strangling him with my bare hands.
Now, it seemed, I would finally get help. A doctor finally believed me. Hallelujah!
This post is getting rather long, so for now — to be continued in a later entry.