The Irrational Period
Sweetie, I would like to talk to you today about periods.
Yes, I will stop spending so much time detailing what goes into and what comes out of my vagina in due course, but this is an article I’ve been brewing for a few months (well, one specific week per month out of those months, at least) and I have finally felt the urge to write it today.
Today is the first day of my period. For those who don’t know or need a refresher, a period refers to a period that usually last about 5-7 days out of a menstrual cycle where the lining of the uterus sheds through the vagina to get rid of an unfertilized egg in those people who have all the relevant uterus-y bits to do so.
I got my first period when I was eleven, in the middle of a school Easter 5K, and I’ve been a pretty regular blood-haver ever since. I never had particularly notable periods until my twenties, and these days, heading towards my thirties (why why oh God why), they’re reasonably predictable: in the week before my due date, my boobs swell and ache, two days before The Big Day I get bloated and nauseous, and the cunt herself arrives pretty much every twenty-eight days or so. I get screeching cramps for the first two days, spend as much time as possible on my back because I’m so dizzy, eat a lot of crisps, and randomnly gush blood on and off till the end of my accurs’d week.
Let me be honest: I’m a notorious bitcher about my period. My periods are not even particularly brutal or heavy, but I will still spend 5-7 hours of each of those 5-7 days whining about having to go through it. I feel it is My Right as a person cursed with the Great Bleed to moan about it as much as possible; if you had to expel the lining of an internal organ through your genitals every month, you wouldn’t be fucking delighted about it either.
But honestly, for a long time, I was very, very reticent about talking about my period at all. Not because of the disgusting factor; no, I’m a huge fan of being as gross as possible, and if the above paragraphs didn’t clue you in, the actual biological functions of a period aren’t something I feel the need to be particularly coy about. I’m shooting blood clots from my pussy a week every month – it’s not pleasant, but it is impressive, and I feel like that should be acknowledged.
But it was more the fear of being seen as this irrational maniac because of my period that led me to shut up about it. Something I didn’t mention in the list of symptoms and side-effects above is the intensity of the emotion that I get in about the week to ten days before my period starts. I generally consider myself a pretty rational person (well, mostly); amongst my friends, I’m known as the one who will handle emotion if presented with it, but who doesn’t quite understand the function of (what I view as) excessive amounts of it.
But I can honestly say that there are times when I have pre-menstrual syndrome (a catch-all term for the changes that happen in the body leading up to a period) that I feel as though I am fully going insane. I start bawling over next to nothing, I am prone to sensory overload at things I can handle the rest of the month, I am more likely to self-harm during this period, my anxiety is significantly worse. It’s not full-blown awful every time, but even when it’s mild, it’s still pretty bloody rubbish. I’m able to acknowledge these feelings as a piece of the PMS puzzle, and not act out on them in any severe way, but that doesn’t mean that I’m not miserable at the time that they’re happening. It feels like I’ve been cut loose from whatever tethers me to my hold on normalcy, and that’s a very discomforting feeling, even if I know where it comes from and that it will pass. I feel bananas. I hate it.
Truth be told, though, what I hate more is knowing that so many people would hear that and see it as an admittance of my own irrationality and untrustworthiness. The notion of the woman (who aren’t the only ones who get periods, but in this myth, they are) who loses her fucking mind in the run-up to her menstrual period is one that has been used to disavow women’s trustworthiness, their skill, their ability, their competency for so long that it makes me want to scream. It ties back in to that deep-seated notion that has run throughout so much of medical and social history, that those people with utereses must be mad because of them. Sally King in Pre-Menstrual Syndrome and the Myth of the Irrational Female describes it better than I ever could: “That is, ‘if ill [in this case, characterized by irrationality and mental illness] health is caused by the womb (in some women), then all women are ill (by virtue of having wombs).’
This pathologizing of women’s emotions is something that I have always been so worried about upholding with my own experiences. I’m happy to talk (read: moan) about my physical symptoms, because those feel quantifiable, factual, but when it comes to the emotional and mental ones, I’m far more reticent. I may be an irrational woman, but I don’t want to be seen as one, because I know it’s all too easy for people to use that not only as an opportunity to dismiss me but other people who deal with the same issues. I don’t want to let the side down by being crazy, you know? I am a person who is not entirely quiet about their strong opinions, and I can’t count the number of times I’ve been hit by an on the rag, love? – esque response as a result of that. The thought of giving someone any ammo to fire that back at me is infuriating, just to think about.
But these symptoms really do make my life difficult, and it’s not for an insignificant portion of it, either. Like I said before, I don’t even have particularly exceptional periods – there are people who have far more extreme emotional and physical symptoms than I do, even before touching on the extremes of something like endometriosis or Pre-Menstrual Dysphoric Disorder. I’m pretty standard-issue when it comes to the Great Bloodening, and I still deal with pretty hefty emotional hits for at least a week out of every month of my fertile adult life.
But to talk about it is to feed in to the idea that people who have periods are irrational and crazy and flighty – that we’re not trustworthy with our own emotions, let alone anything else that might matter. And so, I keep my mouth shut (apart from this extremely long and detailed article, but you get my point), because I don’t want to be used as a point to prove that people who have periods are worthy of dismissal by the very nature of them having periods at all.
I’d love to hear your experiences with this, if you menstruate; how do emotional symptoms present themselves? How do they impact your life, and how open are you about them? What stigma do you think remains around the idea of the “emotional” woman when it comes to periods? Drop your thoughts in the comments, or let me know on social media (in my contact tab above).
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(header image via DW)