From the first day I started my period, I was told how terrible it was gonna be. I was told there would be painful cramps, nausea, headaches, fatigue, and mood swings. It was emphasized that it's gonna be hard, but it was our job as women to push through and act as if nothing was wrong. So when I was 10, laying on the bathroom floor crying about how bad my cramps hurt, I thought, “I need to stop crying. This is normal; it’s supposed to feel like this.” I would repeat this sentence to myself every month of every year for the next 10 years of my life.
When I was younger, the cramps were the worst part. I would tell my mom that it hurt really bad and she would reply, “I know honey. Just go lay on a heating pad.” So I would crawl up to my room and lay on a heating pad on high for hours, finding only the most minimal relief. When I would tell my friends that my cramps hurt really bad, they would respond, “Oh but mine hurt so much worse! I feel like I’m being stabbed!” Mine never felt like that – stabbing - so I discounted the severity of my pain and told them that I’m sorry they hurt. I thought that since my cramps didn't feel like stabbing (as it is so often described to young women) that mine weren’t as bad as others. When my friends asked me how mine felt, I didn't know how to describe it. It wasn't a sharp pain but rather waves of intense pain and pressure. Now I know that it is most easily compared to contractions, but as a child, I didn't know what it was. So I would just simply respond with, “I don't know, it just hurts.” And by saying that, my pain was dismissed.
In middle school, after going through a year's worth of periods already, I finally got the chance to hear more about periods and maybe figure out why mine felt so miserable. Sadly, middle school sex ed was not what I had hoped. We talked about periods for about 20 minutes, and the whole time I was being told what I already knew: painful cramps, nausea, headaches, diarrhea, and fatigue. After class one day, I went up to the sex ed teacher, who was also my gym teacher, and told her about my painful cramps and now terrible headaches. I told her that I couldn't even stand up straight because my midsection hurt so much. She brushed it off by saying it was normal and could be worse. And so, for the second time in my life, I dismissed my own pain and powered through.
When I began 9th grade my mom finally started listening to how horrible I felt when I was on my period and took me to the doctor. We talked about how birth control could help with the bleeding (which was a massive amount in my case) and the cramps. I was so excited about the possible relief that I couldn't wait to start taking them. Unfortunately, the first birth control they put me on made me extremely moody. It got so bad that mom described me as the “three-headed dragon.” It did, however, help with my cramps some, so I kept taking them. However, I did end up getting it changed, which lessened my mood swings and helped with the bleeding. I’ve been taking that type of birth control for four years now, but I've noticed that it isn't as effective as it used to be.
Flash forward to the beginning of freshman year at Clemson. My periods were excruciating. They caused me to faint. I got migraines, and I was nauseous and vomiting. But none of that compared to the pain I was in. Most months, I couldn't even stand. I would curl into a ball on my lofted bed in my dorm and quietly sob. I would have to call out of work or skip class because my period made me incapable of doing anything but cry. It also put me in a depressive state because I felt weak. I thought that all women went through the same things I was feeling, so I felt guilty thinking I wasn't strong enough - that I wasn't a good woman.
It wasn't until my Human Sexual Behavior class here at Clemson that I learned about different abnormalities associated with periods. One stuck out to me more than the others: endometriosis. Endometriosis is a relatively common disorder in which tissue that normally lines the uterus grows outside of the uterus. It causes painful cramps and nausea, along with other hormonal imbalances. I mentioned it to my mom, and she told me that she had endometriosis as well as my aunt (on my dad’s side). It turned out that this disorder ran on both sides of my family. It was so debilitating for my aunt that she got a hysterectomy at the young age of 25. From that moment on, I self-diagnosed myself with endometriosis and was somewhat comforted that I thought I knew what was wrong with me.
Even though I now knew what was wrong with me, my periods were still awful. One night, I woke up at 1 am and ran to the bathroom after feeling nauseous. I sat there for hours, throwing up and crying. That's when I finally decided I needed to see a gynecologist. About two weeks after that, I visited a gynecologist for the first time. I told him about how badly I felt when on my period, that sex was almost too painful to bear, and that I had pain even when I wasn't on my period. He ran some tests and discovered that not only did I have endometriosis but a number of cysts on my ovaries. They gave me numerous medications to prevent further cysts and told me different ways to change my lifestyle to reduce the pain I was constantly in. Even though I was scared about the disorder, I was so relieved to be heard and helped.
"Endometriosis is often characterized by chronic pelvic pain that can impact women's daily activities,” says Dr. Hugh Taylor, Chair of the Department of Obstetrics, Gynecology and Reproductive Sciences, Yale School of Medicine. This quote really hit home for me. The pain I felt every month was unbearable, yet I thought it was normal. I was wrong.
I urge every young woman to avoid brushing off your period pain and see a gynecologist. Endometriosis is very common and can cause significant damage. It is estimated that 1 in every 10 women will be affected by endometriosis. Not only does endometriosis cause severe periods, but it can also cause infertility. If I hadn't gone to the doctor when I had, I might have become unable to be a mother. If you think there is something wrong, go see a doctor! It's better to be safe than sorry.
For more information on endometriosis click here
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