“Oh, but it’s just period pain, it can’t be that bad.”
If I had a dollar for the number of times I’ve heard that sentence, I would be a rich woman. Unfortunately, that is not the case, I currently have $3 dollars to my name, and yes, it is that bad.
Why is there this strange universal assumption that because so many people experience terrible period pain, it must somehow not be “that bad”?
The conversation in regards to menstruation isn’t just surrounding women – it involves those that are nonbinary, intersex, genderqueer and trans*. And the idea that, because so many go through it, it is normal and therefore doesn’t warrant concern is just ridiculous.
Let me paint a picture for you: I walk into the office, looking particularly terrible.
Period pain is something I am far too familiar with. It has punctuated my life since I was 16 years old. And mind you, these were not easy-going commas, they were hard, painful full stops (that sometimes lasted up to 12 miserable days).
Let me paint a picture for you: I walk into the office, looking particularly terrible. My hair is a mess, I’m extra pale, with some decent rings under my eyes – there’s no doubt that I am unwell.
Naturally, I am asked by colleagues, “What’s wrong Erin, you look terrible?”
When I respond, “Oh, I just have really bad cramps today,” I’ve gotten used to just getting a shrug and an “oh shame, man” (and a look of horror, if that friend happens to be a man).
That’s it. No one tells me to see a doctor, to go home or asked If I should be at work today, and I carry on, business as usual.
There are two things very wrong with this picture:
The first being the blatant disregard of my discomfort; even though I can look sick, my pain suddenly becomes irrelevant the moment it becomes “period pain.” As if I am no longer sick but, rather, weak.
The second problem is the fact that I had already internalized all of this by saying “I just have cramps,” as if to say, “it’s not that bad, don’t worry about me.”
This picture is most definitely not unique to me. This is the reality of the millions of people who had the good fortune to be born with a uterus, Fallopian tubes, and ovaries.
And let’s face it, if I had told my coworkers that I had the flu, the response would have been very different.
I’ve been living with endometriosis for the last eight years but I was only diagnosed in the last six months. And that’s only because I am privileged enough to be able to afford exorbitant gynecologist fees.
When you’ve lived with something for long enough, it starts to feel normal.
Not to mention the fact that all four of my previous gynos told me that I was fine. It took all of a few seconds to confirm that the pain I have been living with was, in fact, real and not ‘normal’ at all.
“Why didn’t you see a gyno sooner?” I was asked.
When you’ve lived with something for long enough, it starts to feel normal. “Pain is to be expected,” how often have you heard that?
When was I supposed to make the jump from “this is normal” to “is this normal?”
How was I supposed to know what the symptoms of endometriosis are when all I was taught in sex-ed was how to put a condom on a banana and what an STD looks like?
A man can walk out of a doctor’s office with a prescription for Viagra on a single self-report.
There is almost five times more research done on erectile dysfunction than on female physical pain. The first male contraceptive was taken off the market within three months because it caused weight gain.
I wish we lived in a world that encouraged people to attend to their bodies’ pain signals instead of teaching us to be endurance champions.
I wish we lived in a world that considered a woman’s pain abnormal, instead of telling us that pain is “to be expected.”
There is almost five times more research done on erectile dysfunction than on female physical pain.
The reality is that these aren’t the lessons we learn growing up as people with periods. At the end of the day, period pain is considered so ‘ordinary’ that it is overlooked and ignored. The writing’s on the wall: we are taught constantly to ignore the signals – signals that we are later blamed for not recognizing in the first place.
There’s something really, really wrong with that.