I’ve returned from a doctors appointment, early afternoon. And the same feeling comes as I leave the doors. A feeling of disappointment, a feeling of not being taken seriously and a feeling of being generally ignorant about my own body.
I’d booked this particular appointment after coming to the point after years of struggling with my menstrual cycle, to struggle no more. I’ve been on and off the pill since I was 17, my most recent break really being for a couple of years. I’d made a point of making sure I was contraceptive clear before I was running this years marathon. I wanted to know exactly when I was going to bleed so I could manage it, but as always, the side effects for me proved too much. I’d gone into the doctors today to explain how my periods take up most of my life. How, for more than 2 weeks of the month, I’m either preparing to bleed or in recovery. The week before I am drained and ravenous, heavy and find it hard to move. The week on, I’m usually debilitated for a few days, at least one where I am in constant pain, and struggle to move, and of course not to mention bouts of heavy bleeding. Then the week after, I’m recovering, trying to re-balance again, trying to summon the energy to get back to ‘normal’ trying to stabilize my food intake. And the whole process gives me a week or so off before it starts again and I am bloody exhausted.
I went into the doctors to try and get it resolved. I’m getting to an age where my ability to conceive is going to maybe be important in a few years time, and frankly I can’t take it anymore. As I sit down and explain my symptoms, as I tell tales of how even in 30 degree heat I have to sit in the bath because I’m shaking, I’m told that it’s probably just normal, and that’s “just the way it is for some people!”
Of course it is, and as women we have varying difficulties and problems with it. But I’d go as far to say that my periods are debilitating. I dread them. I can’t handle them, I’m only one small person and my body feels like its at war with itself.
I had to ask three times, to begin tests for something more serious. And I know I’m not the first person to have my periods ‘brushed under the rug’ so to speak. As women, yes we accept we bleed monthly, but if we experience severe symptoms its safe to assume that something is wrong. If, you need to poop, as many of us do, and you experience severe symptoms with that, its safe to assume that’s something is wrong, and usually, it would be dealt with much more quickly so why am I being spoken to as if I’m causing undue stress to the health system when I enter with a health problem? Why is it I’m expected to just ‘deal’ with it, and ‘that’s the way it is’ when essentially its becoming increasingly obvious my body is not able to handle the stress caused on it.
I was patient. I listened, and agreed that obviously it varies for some people, and of course that’s ‘just the way it is’. I had to keep saying ‘but what if.. perhaps… it might just be…’ and coax my medical professional into giving me a blood test to rule out 1, Anemia, 2, Thyroid problems, and 3. Polycystic ovaries. I came out feeling triumphant because I hadn’t just given up, gone home, curled up in a ball and waited sobbing for aunt flow to visit again next month, but frustrated that I felt I had been completely undermined and made out as ‘dramatic’. I don’t think its dramatic, when you have to stop in the street and scream in pain sometimes because your body essentially is going through contractions multiple times in a month to then try and seek help. I don’t think its dramatic that I have a stock of codeine on hand, in my cupboard to numb the pain for two whole days as I feel weak, and unstable, and unable to work. I don’t think its bloody dramatic to seek medical advice for a debilitating problem that I should just ‘deal’ with because its ‘part of being a woman’. Well, so is oppression and you don’t see me lying down taking that likely either. This isn’t just my problem, and I know there are other women out there as well, all of us rolling around in pain for weeks of the month having no idea what’s normal, what’s stable, how much pain we ‘should’ be in. I’ve been through my period of shame, where I don’t talk about it because it makes me feel abnormal, yeah, too right its abnormal, so it’s high time it was fixed. There is a stereotype, developed to help women not talk about this, than men are swooning and fainting at the idea of women just running around bleeding all over themselves with no control, that ‘us feminists’ just moan about our periods, that somehow its graphic, or something we should just deal with on our own. Well I’m tired of that. I’m tired of feeling isolated, and debilitated and disgusting, I want to talk about it, so the next time I am rolling around in pain, I have some idea of what is perhaps ‘normal’-
There is an expectation for us to munch down contraception and just deal with the side effects, the pill not only affects our reproductive organs, but also our minds. This particular incident is one of many, one of at least 15 times of visiting the doctors, trying to come off the pill, and being told to just try something else, trying the implant and bleeding nearly every day for 6 months, changing the pill with no real idea of what my body needs resulting in imbalanced hormones, increased amount of pain, and not to mention to rigmarole that my mental state goes through as my body tries to reboot, repeat, and retake whatever it is they decide I should have. Again, I’m choosing to go contraceptive free until I have a clear understanding of exactly which one to take, it’s a bit past trial and error at the age of 27 where the effects are proving to be too much. Doctors hand over contraceptive as a cheap solution, not offering alternatives to what could be a serious problem. Liberated to chose when we conceive, yes, liberated to have the freedom to ask what’s happening underneath it, apparently not. Its easy to forget that actually, still, even within the medical profession we are not as liberated and listened to as we’d hope- theses difficulties for me are nothing in comparison to the women that still don’t even have access to contraceptive, where it is still illegal for an abortion, or are forced into marriages and pregnancies against their will. My story is a diluted version that we are still battling against our right to our bodies, to be listened to and not just told it’s expected. We may be a few decades from Victorian England, the days of hysteria and our wombs climbing into our ears. Retrospect in 20 years time might tell us and give us more of an idea of the damaging chemicals that are being given to us, for the price of our silence and compliance.
And the next time someone tells me it’s just ‘all part of being a woman’ I’ll tell them so is not being taken seriously, and get back to my bloody point.