My life in Periods…Part One

DAWN O'PORTER : 08 JULY 2010
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Not very long ago I suffered a severe personal injustice – I got my period whilst on a night out. I was not wearing any knickers (trying to be sexy), I was wearing a white dress, and I was a twenty minute walk away from a shop. It was the epitome of the term ‘Period Drama’.

I was at the party with my boyfriend. It was an industry do and my job for the night was to be on his arm and big him up. I decided not to wear knickers to add an extra glint into his eye, it worked. He was thrilled.

At around 10pm I went for a wee only to discover that I was seconds away from bleeding through my dress. I had no tampons and didn’t know any other women at the party. I asked the two that were in the bathroom with me, but they didn’t have supplies – I had no choice but to leave the party and find a shop. I took the option not to tell my boyfriend as I didn’t want to ruin his night with talk of blood stained thighs. In retrospect, I should have sent him a text.

The shop was so far away. I was gone for an hour in total and by the time I got back I had no idea how I was going to blend back in without anyone noticing. What the hell was I going to say?

Just as I was trying to work it out my boyfriend saw me. Poor thing he had been so worried, soon I was surrounded by his work colleagues, all of whom questioned me of my whereabouts to the point when I had to tell them the truth. I just couldn’t come up with another story good enough to explain why I left the part for an hour.

Mortifying!

Anyway, it got me thinking about periods, odd thing that they are!

Here are my thoughts….

Periods – aren’t they just so weird? For most of my life I have seen them as one of the human races major design faults. Well, that along with being able to over eat and natural childbirth of course.  I am now 31 years old and have been menstruating regularly for around 19 years but still, every month I wonder to myself if I shall ever get used to having periods.

Don’t get me wrong, I do appreciate them. God forbid they should take a break anytime soon. In fact, since getting into a serious relationship they have become more precious than ever. Yet, some months I resent mine coming so much I could cry (I do cry). Getting my period has ruined many a romantic liaison.

For saucy weekends away, long journeys and festivals periods are a right pain in the womb. What Mother Nature should have done is given us a valve and said ‘Right, you have to have at least 11 a year. You are in control, use valve as needed but make them work for you’. Instead pretty much every woman I know has a story to share (just like me) about getting caught short and bleeding through an item of clothing when unable to get to a toilet or find a tampon.

It is hard to remember a time when I didn’t have periods, but I think my first one was when I was about 11. I was in the top class of junior school, and we were about to go on a school trip to London.

The London trip was the most exciting thing about going to Melrose (the all girls junior school of the all girls senior school I went on to). Every year Form 3 got taken away for a week of sight seeing to the big smoke and for us Guernsey girls at Melrose, that sounded like the most exciting thing in the world. So now it was my turn, and I couldn’t wait.

At Melrose our green regulation knickers were compulsory. As I have gotten older this has never gotten easier for me to understand. ‘Why’ I used to ask my mummy ‘Why does wearing my greenies make me more cleverer?’ She couldn’t give an answer.

By the time I had reached the age of eleven I had unfortunately lost my mother to cancer and was now being raised by my Aunty Jane.  Aunty is a very bohemian, very blunt, slightly inappropriate (I got it from her) and earthy women who finds things like periods easy to talk about. As a child I was the exact opposite – I found periods mortifying. So when she told my teacher at he airport that she had noticed some ‘coloured sludge’ while she was washing my greenies, I felt like my dignity fell out of my body – via my pants and hit the floor for all to see. For me it was the equivalent of going on the London trip naked – I felt exposed, humiliated and like my biggest secret had been revealed.

There was no ‘period’ however, just the sludge that time, but Aunty was right that was the beginning – my periods came shortly afterwards, my confidence with the situation, did not.

I don’t know why I found it so hard. Aunty was so open and accessible to me but I couldn’t bring myself to be honest about this one thing. I think also having an older sister who I saw as cool, mature and terrifying didn’t help either. I was so sensitive about it all that the last thing I wanted was for her to tease me. Also I loved my aunty but I hadn’t been living with her for long, I didn’t quite see her as a mother figure yet and that could maybe explain why I found it so hard to open up about it.

Not being able to be open at home did become a huge problem. After my mother died I didn’t cry and get upset like my sister did, I hid all of it. So much so that my body had to find its own way to deal with stress, and it came in the form of mild brain tremors or as I liked to call them ‘mad moments’.

I used to get these mad moments when around lots of people. The best way for me to describe them to you is that moment where you have drunk too much and your head starts to spin. Well, when slightly intimidated, over-whelmed or nervous this would happen to me. My Aunty was the only person I really spoke to about it – there was nothing embarrassing about it, it just scared me and I didn’t understand why it was happening. This mixed with my periods starting was a lot to take on, my body and my mind were changing and I wasn’t in control of any of it.

I remember the mad moments mostly happening around the Sunday lunch table. We’d have lots of people over and half way through lunch I would come over all peculiar and glaze over. Sometimes Aunty would spot it and take me out of the room to bring me back around. I could always sense that she was worried because nothing ever seemed to fluster her calm, but she moved quite quickly on these occasions.

One night at Girl Guides (why I was there I do not know, The girl Guides sucked then and they suck now, not my thing at ALL!) I was about to cycle home when I had one of my funny turns. I told Brown Squirrel (or whatever she was called) and she said ‘I will drive you home, I think you might have epilepsy’.

‘I THINK YOU MIGHT HAVE EPILEPSY??’ Stupid woman! You can imagine what happened next? I RAN into the house screaming ‘I am epileptic, I am epileptic’. My aunty almost fainted and by 10am the next day I was sitting in a doctors surgery with a light shining in my eye.

The doctor agreed, the symptoms were of epilepsy. I was put on pills called Epilam and that was that.

The problem was the pills made my periods really erratic. They had been pretty regular since they started and now they were all over the place. Why was this a problem? Well, I was too embarrassed to tell anyone wasn’t I? This made the mad moments a little worse for a while, as the stress of lying about taking my pills scared me but I couldn’t handle the inconsistency it was causing in my ovaries, so I stopped taking them and lied. I distinctly remember being less scared of a seizure than I was of having to look someone in the eye and talk about periods.

I am not sure of the length of time was that I pretended to keep taking the pills, but I remember another doctors appointment a while later that it was resolved I wasn’t epileptic at all, instead it was my bodies way of coping with distress and the upset of losing my mother. When I heard this I remember shutting myself in my bedroom and trying to make myself cry because I thought that would make me normal, but I couldn’t. I was neither epileptic or able to access emotion so my body gave me the effects of alcoholism by making me momentarily mad and detached, exactly like the effects of being drunk. Luckily this wasn’t a feeling I enjoyed, so despite how much I love drinking socially now, I have never turned to alcohol to cope with my feelings to try and achieve the same level of separation as I used to during my moments of madness.

To be Continued…