Yours Hormonally, Bella
The other day at OHNE HQ we had a conversation about our periods (shocking, I know) and how we felt about them. While Leah and Nikki talked about how they’ve come to love their periods since educating themselves on menstruation and learning about their bodies and their needs, some of my coworkers were more indifferent about theirs. I was the only one who announced with vehemence that I fucking hate my period.
When I finally get myself sorted with a new doctor (which I have left an embarrassingly long time to deal with since moving to a new country), I’m going to ask to be tested for Endometriosis. I oscillate between thinking that I’m being a hypochondriac, because I’ve often written about Endometriosis and related conditions for OHNE and clearly must be experiencing Cyberchondria, and thinking that it’s absurd that I haven’t sought out answers already.
Sidenote: this is a (rant-heavy) diary entry and should not be taken as medical advice. This is about my feelings about my chaotic hormones, I’m not trying to tell you what it’s like to live with a condition I have not been diagnosed with. For a researched article about living with Endometriosis you can read OHNE for The Unedit or check out the resources available on Endometriosis UK.
A non-exhaustive list of some of the symptoms I have which fit the description for Endometriosis, a condition for which there is no known cause or cure, are: crazy cramps; unexplained, cramp-like pain between periods; pain in other parts of my body, such as my legs and back; occasional pain during sex; brain fog; lethargy; extreme tiredness; nausea; bouts of depression; irregular periods with blood clots; dark blood loss at the end of a period. While each of my ‘symptoms’ on their own might be manageable, together they form a cacophony of hellfire that I am constantly having to remind myself I do not need to accept.
I never used to hate my period. I used to have it pretty easy: relatively light and just three days long (but often with a surprise reappearance on day five to ruin a nice pair of pants). I rarely had cramps, my PMS symptoms were emotional but rarely physical (I was naive enough to be jealous of my friends whose boobs got bigger every month), and while my cycle wasn’t regular-as-clockwork, I could expect my period to arrive roughly once every 30-32 days.
It began to change about three years ago. Having previously only experienced the odd mild ache in my uterus, I still remember the day I learnt what ‘real’ cramps are. I was visiting my sister at uni and we were supposed to go to a party. I found myself in so much pain I couldn’t stand up. I had never felt anything like it and it scared me. The pain radiated down my thighs and I found myself instinctively crouching on all fours like I was about to give birth. My sister went to the party without me, and my cramps have stuck around, just as bad or worse, ever since. I don’t know how to describe the severity of the pain, but if you know, you know (and I’m sorry). It takes my breath away. It radiates through my whole body, from my legs to my vagina, back, and even up into my ribcage.
My cycle has now shrunk to 25 or 26 days long and my period has now become utterly unpredictable. Two months ago it was heavy non-stop for four days; this month it was light and lasted just two days, followed by a two-day break and then two days of random spotting.
From about day 12 of my 25-ish-day cycle, after oestrogen has peaked and around the time progesterone starts to climb again, my mood crashes like a lead balloon. I can’t focus. Work is a nightmare. I get brain fog so bad I have to read things multiple times, peering at them through squinted eyes as if there is a literal fog between me and my computer screen. I’m despondent and weepy, I get incessant waves of unexplained nausea, and migraines are relentless. I’ll get a compulsive need to lie down, which will result in me curled up sideways on my bed, laptop balanced on a few pillows, fingers still hitting the keyboard at an awkward angle as I desperately try to force myself into productivity.
By the time my cycle comes to an end, my boobs are tender and bigger (decidedly not a good thing, past me), I’m bloated, prone to mood swings, and I have a smattering of hormonal acne, which is something I’ve never had to deal with before (I know, I know, I’m a lucky sod). Then the period rolls around and we start this whole cycle (duh) again.
Let’s do the maths: I effectively have about one week per cycle in which my hormones aren’t acting out, I’m not in pain, or I’m not self-sabotaging my way out of a job. And frankly, that’s not good enough.
I’ll keep you all posted on my journey to find out what the hell is wrong with me. Maybe I need to sort out some hormone imbalances; maybe I have some kind of condition. Maybe it’s nothing at all (though I sincerely suspect not). I’m in the fortunate position of knowing a lot about both menstrual cycles and the medical profession’s tendency to silence and disbelieve women and marginalised bodies, so I’m hopeful that, even with facing biases and taking into account the diagnosis rate for conditions which predominantly affect women or relate to the menstrual cycle (Endometriosis takes between six and ten years to diagnose), I’ll be able to advocate for myself and demand the appropriate testing and treatments. You know, once I get my shit together and sign up to a doctor.
Yours hormonally, Bella
OHNE Content Manager