Love, Wellness

I used to hate gym class – especially when I was on my period

I wasn’t always so shameless about my period.

Presented in partnership with  Lunapads.

Now that I’m a grown ass woman, I have very little shame when it comes to my period.

I can ask a bathroom full of women if anyone has a tampon in their purse or a quarter for the machine. I can walk into a room filled with guys and ask where the tampons are, and take pleasure in the squirms and faces this question produces.

But I wasn’t always so shameless about my period.

When I was in school, my period was a source of constant embarrassment. It definitely wasn’t something I talked about, even with my closest friends. The thought of asking anyone for a tampon or even saying the word tampon in front of a boy filled me with dread. I dealt with my periods by myself and I suffered in silence.

My embarrassment was soon compounded by the fact that my periods weren’t “normal.” I would bleed very heavily. I was always nervous about bleeding through my tampon onto my clothes, which is every teenage girl’s worst nightmare. I frequently wadded up toilet paper to use as a makeshift pad.

There were times I even wrapped my underwear in toilet paper and wore them like that for half a school day just because I was too embarrassed to ask for a tampon.

My period was also super unpredictable. I tried tracking my period in my day planner like I’d heard about in health class to predict when it might come, but this wasn’t helpful at all because my period didn’t seem to follow any discernible schedule.

More often than not, my period came every couple of weeks and lasted for almost two weeks at a time.

Because my period was so irregular, I frequently discovered that I had my period in the middle of the school day, sometimes at the very worst time – when I was changing for gym class.

Gym class itself was also a struggle.

Sometimes I would be so overwhelmed by cramps that I could barely stand, let alone run and jump around. I couldn’t wear pads during gym class because they shifted around too much when I moved, so I had to wear tampons, which were sometimes just as problematic. The physical activity often caused me to bleed more heavily and I spent the entire gym class feeling myself bleed through a tampon, praying to God that blood wouldn’t start trickling down my leg.

And sometimes, using a tampon was actually painful.

I remember thinking that there must be a better way to deal with gym class and my period, but I was too embarrassed to ask other girls what they were doing. If I’d been bold enough to ask, I probably would have found out that they were going through the same struggles. There weren’t really any menstrual products designed to deal with periods and physical activity, other than “sports tampons,” which are just regular tampons in different boxes, regardless of what the marketing says.

After high school, I had a difficult relationship with exercise. I would go through spurts of going to the gym all the time and then go months without setting foot on a treadmill. I would get obsessed with an exercise or fitness class, like yoga or pilates, and then get bored with it and stop entirely.

I never found an activity that I could really get in to.

In my early twenties, I went through a really difficult time and essentially crashed and burned. I was having an incredibly hard time managing my emotions, especially my anger. On a whim, I tried a Mixed Martial Arts class and I absolutely fell in love. I began taking classes in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, Muay Thai, and Boxing multiple times a week.

I was in the gym six or seven days a week, literally working my butt off.

During my first year of training, I started to get sick.

I was having awful GI problems, I was nauseous, and I got migraines almost weekly. The weeks leading up to my period were literal hell. The period cramps were intense. Sometimes the pain was so bad that I would vomit.  I would bleed through super tampons within a few hours, and having a tampon in literally hurt my vagina, so I was uncomfortable all the time.

I could barely stay awake, I felt weak all the time, and obviously, my training suffered.

My coaches were amazing and they encouraged me to continue coming to class and just approach the drills at my own pace. I continued to train, but I could barely keep up.

I went to a series of doctors, none of whom could figure out what was wrong with me. My team of doctors tested for everything from Hashimoto’s disease to Chrohn’s to Leukemia. Fortunately, all of those tests came back negative, but we still didn’t have any answers to what was going on.

Frustrated with the lack of results from my doctors, I became “that patient” and began researching my symptoms online. I hit gold when I Googled “period problems and GI symptoms.” All of the results were about a condition called endometriosis. As I continued to research, I found that endometriosis explained almost all of my symptoms.

I’d continued training throughout this whole ordeal, but once I figured out what was going on, my performance significantly improved, and I began training full-time for my first Muay Thai fight.

One of the symptoms that did persist, however, was my discomfort with wearing tampons, especially while I was training. I could constantly feel the tampon in my vagina while I was rolling around on the mats during BJJ or while I was trying to perfect my high kicks in Muay Thai. Sometimes, I would actually feel the tampon shift while I was training and be stuck with a painful vagina for the rest of class.

But I didn’t really have another option.

Obviously, I couldn’t wear pads during class because they’d definitely shift. Plus, pads aren’t exactly discrete while wearing spandex pants, and I wasn’t keen on all the guys in my gym knowing when I was “on the rag.” I thought about trying the DivaCup, but I was concerned that it would be just as uncomfortable as a tampon.

I turned to the internet and found out about  Sport Shorts by Lunapads. They looked like regular gym shorts, but they were actually super absorbent period shorts. The material could absorb up to two tampons worth of blood, which meant that I could skip the tampon during training. I decided to see if they really could solve my exercise-related period problems.

When I got the shorts, I was surprised by how cute and comfortable they were.

The first time I wore them to class I was a little concerned about essentially free bleeding for the entire class, but the shorts were so absorbent that I didn’t even feel damp down there. And best of all, there wasn’t anything shifting around in my vagina while I was practicing the complicated techniques. I didn’t have to think about my period for the entire class.

When I got home, I just tossed the shorts in the wash with the rest of my workout clothes and gear and they were ready to go for class the next day. Now the Sport Shorts are in my gym bag pretty much every day when I have my period.

We need to acknowledge that tampons and pads don’t work for all people, especially super active ones, or those who struggle with reproductive illnesses. Part of the reason we don’t have more versatile menstrual products is that periods are still taboo.

In order to develop menstrual products that really work for women, like the Sport Shorts, we need to talk about periods more and find out what girls and women really need when it comes to their periods.

I wish that the girl I used to be, the one who was too embarrassed to talk about her period, grew up in a world where periods weren’t taboo. I wish she’d had access to better menstrual products that would have made her more comfortable in gym class and everyday life.

I’m glad that girls today have more options than I did back then.

I really hope we can one day get to a place where no girl is embarrassed when she gets her period in gym class.