Why My Period Is Not Just Menstruation

I have always been intimidated by womanhood.


From an early age I began to physically develop. At age 5 I learned I had precocious puberty. I had breasts and begun growing body hair when I was only in Kindergarten. After seeing several doctors and with the advice of my endocrinologist, my mother decided to put me on Lupron Depot injections.


Essentially, with the help of these shots, I was experiencing chemically induced menopause until age 13. When I went off this medication I immediately had my first period.


Menstruation, for me was a marker of this cross-over to womanhood. All my life I had felt that womanhood and my body’s insistence to claim it was what was wrong with me. I didn't trust my body. I didn't trust this monthly process. I was terrified. As a result, I developed an eating disorder which halted my menstrual cycle for years.


Two years ago, in treatment for my eating disorder, I started having my period again. I felt confused and disgusted by what was happening to me. I had a strong set of belief systems and an immense amount of shame about this time of the month. I still felt, on some level, that menstruation set me apart from my peers and was my body’s own rebellion.


I remember at age 13 hiding tampons in my backpack and taking used pads outside to the trash so I could hide it from my family. I regressed into a similar fear of people knowing what my body was capable of. Not only was I feeling constant shame about trusting that my body would do the right thing, I started having other symptoms.


I noticed that each month two days before my cycle I would wake up in a panic. I always blamed it on stress, but over time I noticed the trend. Two days before I would start bleeding I’d be unable to eat, in bed with nausea, and have several panic attacks in one day. After consulting my doctors I was diagnosed with PMDD. The hormone fluctuation was causing a biochemical imbalance.


I decided to try different medications to alleviate symptoms. For me, this option didn’t work out. Instead of decreasing my anxiety I started feeling panicky daily. My nerves were on edge. With advice from my psychiatrist I decided to stop taking the medications. I continued having panic attacks two days before my period, but now I know to expect it. I prepare myself in a different way. I make sure that my schedule is open and have relaxing activities on the ready. Regardless of how prepared I am, the hormone fluctuations can spiral me into depression and anxiety so quickly.


Some months I get debilitating migraines, vomit, and cry uncontrollably. It’s frustrating to feel invalidated by a society that assumes people who menstruate complain too much about “Aunt Flo.” I don’t believe any individual is using it as an excuse for a break, though we all deserve one!


For me, understanding my body and how I am impacted by hormone levels each month has taught me to be patient with myself and extend some self compassion. In addition, I’ve learned to be kinder to other people who menstruate. Many of us have learned to unwrap our tampons and pads quietly in public so people don’t know it’s “our time of the month.” We’ve found euphemisms for our periods to avoid using anatomical language and sugar-coat the fact that our uterus is shedding and we are bleeding out of our vaginas.


I know I am guilty of changing my language to avoid offending others. Our bodies, and their natural behaviors shouldn’t be offensive. Yet, we learn from a young age that menstrual blood is “dirty.” In school we are taught about our cycles separate from male bodied people. We are taught how to properly dispose of our menstrual products. They are even referred to as feminine hygiene products. I have seen people resort to self check-out at the store to avoid making awkward eye contact with the clerk.


Many of us dance an intricate and shameful dance each month. It will take a lot of unprogramming for me to be comfortable and trusting of this part of my life. Though I logically know that my experiences are valid and natural, a part of me is still afraid of womanhood, my body and menstruation.


I am not one to make New Year’s resolutions, but this year I vow to challenge my beliefs about my body and to lessen my shame around menstruation. So here’s my truth; I bleed, I cramp, and I get moody. Maybe you do too.