First of all, you cannot address the misconceptions and facts of having a period without saying that not everyone who has a period is a cis woman – many non-binary people and transgender men can have periods too. In fact, having a uterus (and therefore, a period) is simply a biological function, and many cis women also have conditions which mean they were born without a uterus or just don’t get a period at all.
Either way, there is a whole range of people who undergo the emotional uphill’s and downhills (as well as the physical pain) of periods. And yet, despite such a large group of people going through this on a monthly basis, there is a distinct lack of discussion surrounding the topic: resulting in troves of false information, scaremongering and an overall discomfort whenever anyone hisses a word related to menstruation.
Undoubtedly, this discomfort has had a ripple effect on how we talk about our periods: we continue to limit how we talk about our suffering. And this can have – and is having – detrimental effects on people of all genders.
Sadly, we’ve all heard the “oh, they must be on their period” jibe when expressing any emotion from frustration to anger to sadness, from our peers, parents, friends and partners at some point in our lives – and if they haven’t explicitly said this, we’ve all grown up knowing and being well aware of the fact that our bodily functions can be weaponized against us whenever we feel the (normal, humane) urge to express ourselves.
And so, this creates not only a stigma behind expressing emotions, but a stigma around expressing the very real and very much intense period-emotions – something which can be both detrimental and, at worst, fatal. Yet, we can’t discuss period emotions without discussing what these emotions actually are, and in turn, how they affect our bodies and minds.
The truth of the matter is that we’ve made a terrible distinction between being ‘hormonal’ and being ‘depressed’, and there’s rarely a conversation surrounding what happens when these two emotional areas combine. Yet, for people who suffer from PMDD, or for those who have a pre-diagnosed mental illness, this is a reality for them. In regard to PMDD (that’s Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder), this is a condition which causes – amongst other physical symptoms – the sufferer to experience symptoms akin to a depressive illness during the leadup to their period.
Often, this leadup is prolonged rather than the typical 5-8 days of regular Premenstrual Syndrome (PMS), resulting in a period of depression that is continual, painful and often debilitating. Sound familiar? Well, If you’re surrounded by period-having and discussing people, then the concept of people being depressed, immobile and even suicidal on the leadup to their period isn’t something which seems difficult to grasp.
Yet, its rarely diagnosed, with the current diagnostic rate standing at under 20,000 cases per year. While this is partly due to the condition not being as common as regular PMS, there is certainly another factor: the shame which people feel in going forward to the doctor to discuss their period symptoms.
If period emotions have been the butt of jokes your whole life, or you’ve been dismissed as “just hormonal” for the way you feel by the people you trust, seeing a doctor about the way you feel is going to be daunting, and undoubtedly, this has the potential of stopping people from getting the help – and with people with PMDD being almost three times more likely to be suicidal than the average period-haver, this could have fatal consequences on the mental health of many.
In addition to this, its not just PMDD sufferers who experience mental and physical anguish before and during their periods – whether its those with pre-existing mental disorders struggling in unprecedented ways due to an additional serotonin dive on top of the already-scarce serotonin levels or those who are “mentally healthy,” the effects of periods on the body aren’t anything to sniff at.
Stiff joints, cramps which can reach a similar pain level to a heart attack, bloating which can cause body image issues, a rise in stress levels, heat rashes, low iron which can cause fainting, intense nausea, a decreased sex drive which can cause self-esteem issues, excessive bleeding which causes leaking through clothes and feelings of shame (even though it’s perfectly normal)….and you’d struggle to name someone with a period who doesn’t have between three and all of those symptoms and issues.
Yet, we all are scared to talk about it, and will continue to go to school and work in severe pain, or continue to push ourselves mentally and physically without seeking help even if we need it – all because we’ve been taught that periods and their symptoms should not be seen, or heard or mentioned in a safe, understanding environment.
The first step to changing this? Being honest with ourselves.
While stoicism in the face of adversity may be what is taught to us in our environment which tells us that being emotional is giving in to the stereotypes about emotions and hormones. Yet, in reality, we have to stop downplaying how our natural bodily cycles make us feel, both mentally and physically. Hormones associated with menstruation aren’t light or palatable – they have the ability to change how our brain chemicals work, and how our bodies feel. And the more we keep quiet or refuse to take days off when they’re desperately needed, the more we will underplay our pains – leaving it impossible for medical professionals, our friends and our partners to understand the extent of the effects of menstruation on bodies.
Yet, by opening up the conversation and creating an environment where period pain – both physical and mental – we can open up a space for the people who need it most: and only then, can we hope to see more people coming forward with their issues and knowing that they don’t have to suffer in silence, for fear of being dismissed, anymore.