“The following text contains personal information that some readers may find uncomfortable. Persons who wish to know nothing about the female reproductive system, PMS, hormones, herbal remedies, digestion and emotional therapy are encouraged to stop reading now. There’s probably something on TV that’s more interesting anyway.”
I’m assuming anyone still reading is either concerned with their own menstrual cycle, or is just interested in bodies and health, so I’ll continue unashamedly!
Periods are not easy to talk about. Not exactly a subject for small-talk, eh…
“Oh hi Steve, how are you?”
“I’m good Susan, what about you? How’s your period this month?”
Nope. I’m actually quite glad we keep some things to ourselves.
Saying that, nobody should ever have to suffer because they don’t feel they can discuss a problem. I also find it strange that the menstrual cycle should be taboo when it’s such a huge part of every woman’s life. It’s one of the systems in our bodies, same as our hearts beating or our lungs breathing, or our digestive organs processing the food we eat. Even the word ‘menstrual’… uck, it sounds nasty doesn’t it?!
Personally, I think, same as any with any other ‘uncomfortable’ issue, it’s all about finding people who understand what you’re going through, and are willing to listen or maybe share their own experiences. It’s not cool to blurt out your innermost to everyone you pass on the street, but if you tentatively approach the subject with a few friends and gauge their reactions, you’ll work out pretty quickly who you can talk to and who you can’t.
Up until recently, I was so embarrassed about periods and other body issues that I kept everything to myself, even avoided talking to the doctor about it. There’s a part of me that wonders if this denial and self-containment had some part to play in the troubles I had over the years with my reproductive system.
I got my period quite late, at age 14. By the time I went on the pill at 17, things still hadn’t settled down into a normal rhythm. I’d get crippling cramps that left me curled in a ball on my bed. Sometimes it’d be 3 or 4 months between periods. Of course, the pill sorted that out, but then I put on weight, lost my mojo, and when I came off it 3 years later, it took me a year and a half for my periods to go back to something that resembled ‘normal’.
At age 24, during a very stressful time of my life, I had the first SERIOUS pains. Walking back from the supermarket, I felt a stitch-like twinge in my lower stomach. I stopped for a second, thinking it would peak and then ease, but it never did- it just kept building. I could barely walk. I got home and collapsed on my bed, writhing in pain. Nothing would ease it. It felt as if someone had grabbed a handful of internal organs and was giving them chinese burns: twisting and twisting until my stomach was on fire. It eased off slightly after a couple of hours, and I fell asleep- there was nothing else I could do, the whole ordeal was exhausting.
Since then (six years), I have had these pains perhaps 8 more times. Each time I understand them a little better. They almost always come around two weeks into my cycle, and are far worse if I have been suffering from stress in the month before. These days, as soon as I feel the twinge, I take a handful of painkillers and try to fall asleep before it happens- but this can be very inconvenient, particularly if I’m about to leave for something important, like work. Somehow the excuse ‘sorry I’m suffering from period pains’ never quite explains it.
Add to this a small collection of other irregularities: dark hairs that look decidedly less than femenine, a cycle that varies from 28 to 38 days and sometimes skips a month or two, horrible PMS that leaves me feeling tearful for one to two weeks every month… And what did I do about all this?
I never even talked to anyone about it.
It was only when my Aunty was diagnosed with ovarian cancer that I realised talking about it might save my life one day! My Mum mentioned to me that her sister had always suffered with menstrual problems, and I found myself thinking: ‘Does this stuff run in families? Have I got something that might lead to cancer?’ And so I finally gathered all my courage and visited the doctor.
I was so afraid. It seems silly now, but the day I went for my first appointment I had butterflies in my stomach and felt as if I was being led to the gallows. Of course, as soon as I was sat with the doctor (a soft-spoken man not much older than myself) I felt better. How cathartic to finally put words to these physical problems and pains I had struggled with for almost fifteen years!
Skipping to the end: after around a year of visits to the doctors surgery: being told there was nothing really wrong with me, going away thinking “Well that’s good, I’m not that unusual then, I’ll just keep taking the painkillers,” then realising that was crap and I did actually want to do something about it, more trips to see a different doctor and a couple of different nurses, having so much blood drained from my arm I felt like I might deflate, plus a couple of trips to the hospital to have nurses do things to me that I’d previously only ever let my boyfriend do; I finally had some idea of what was actually going on in my body- but still no clue about how to make it better!
At my last doctor’s appointment, I was told I had elevated levels of testoterone and pro-lactin. “So there’s something not quite right there,” was the line she used, while I sat looking attentive but thinking “I could’ve told you that WITHOUT the tests! I was also (luckily for me because I have several friends with these conditions and know how nasty they can be) told I definitely don’t have polycystic ovaries, or endometriosis, but that I do have recurring ovarian cysts that come and go of their own accord.
And with that I was sent on my way, to ponder over my choice: live with it or take a hormonal contraceptive pill for life.
I’ll be honest, I put it all aside after that. I was fed up with thinking about it, and with an actual diagnosis, some part of me felt satisfied. It sounds so illogical to write it, but it was as if everything would be OK now that I knew exactly what the problem was. It had a name, so it could go away.
But of course, it didn’t. It was only when I had the serious pains again recently, while also ill with labyrinthitis, I decided ENOUGH. Surely there is SOMETHING I can do to ease these problems that doesn’t involved being medicated for life?!
And that’s where the point of this blog comes into play.
It struck me how little I knew about my own body. I found myself lying in bed with this pain, thinking “what the hell IS this?” Somewhere inside my pelvis, something was going on that was causing so much pain I couldn’t walk… and I still didn’t have the first clue what. So I got my computer out and began trawling through medical sites, blogs and forums. I was about to allow myself to be convinced I had appendicitis when I read one little sentence:
‘women complaining of a hot appendix are often in fact suffering from an ovarian cyst.’
Aha! The cysts! So I began a search into ovarian cysts and by then I was hooked. So much information, so many people talking about their own experiences. I discovered, to my horror, that a cyst can sometimes twist, taking the ovary and fallopian tube with it. I still wince when I picture it, but that also explains the feeling of having my insides wrung out. And now I can be pretty certain that every time I have these pains, I have a cyst. This also helped me to identify that I get cysts when I am suffering from stress or illness- when my body is run down.
The next thing I stumbled upon was a diet claiming to help prevent cysts. And this got me thinking- would it be possible to EAT myself healthy, without having to rely on medication?
The next time I visited my emotional therapist, I explained that I had been ill, and she got out her big hippy book on ‘what physical symptoms tell you about psycological health’ and read what it suggested ovarian cysts might have to do with my thoughts and feelings. And the answer was ‘blocked creativity’. Oddly enough, I was also suffering from blocked sinuses at the time, which had led to the labyrinthitis (dizziness, loss of balance, migranes, tiredness).
Anyway, the result of all of this was that I made the decision to tackle my problems in a holistic fashion: to basically attack it in every natural way I could think of!
This is the start of a journey where I hope to lessen my discomfort and hopefully even control some of the physical issues like irregular cycles, extra hair, PMS… I’m actually excited to find out what happens over the coming months. And for anyone who is suffering from similar issues, I will be writing about my discoveries in the hope that it might just help other women too. Watch this space!