How society has been dismissing period pain.

I thought my periods were a nightmare until my friend narrated her period story to me!

I was having a brain-fart when I first sat down to write this article because my indecisive ass could not fixate on one story to share. Exasperated, I texted my friends and asked them if they had any period stories that they would like to share. “Nada” one replied, “nothing interesting, just the regular menace”, said the other. What followed was a satirical conversation revolving around the pain and suffering one has to endure during menstruation, and the frustration of pretending to have it all under control and keep going like it is no big deal.

When I asked again, one of them finally begins to tell me about the one time when she almost collapsed. She skeptically asks me, “but I don’t know if that’s worth anything, is that okay for you?”.

Her story left me speechless. It almost broke my heart to find out that she thought her pain was so mundane that it was something not even worth sharing. This is the story she casually narrated to me –
“Well, I did have this one experience back when I was in school. It was the first day of my periods and we were having some special assembly. My stomach was on fire. I have experienced terrible cramps, but the pain I endured that day was like nothing I had ever felt before. It was like the kind of pain that makes you want to howl and cry in agony. I tried to keep myself together, but then my vision started getting blurry right after. The feeling was quite similar to when you use your phone a lot and then, when you suddenly get up from bed, for a minute you can’t see anything. The world fades away and all of a sudden, your eyes see nothing but complete darkness, and the space between your eyes hurts. When that happens, I usually lie down and close my eyes. But since we were in the middle of our school assembly, I couldn’t possibly do that. I mean, can you imagine the chaos that would have created? I tried to endure it but with my vision getting blurrier by the minute and my head and stomach hurting simultaneously, I just couldn’t take it after a while. It was only then, when I started feeling puckish, that I dashed out of the assembly. As I made my way to the washroom, I could slowly feel losing grasp of my eyesight. Everything was turning dark and I knew I was going to collapse if I didn’t make it there in time. By the time I reached the washroom, I was blinded and couldn’t see a thing. I traced the walls with my hands to navigate my way into one of the stalls and finally, sat down with my head against the wall. Usually, it feels better to lie down but since the washrooms were dirty, I decided against it and managed. I vomited, sat back down, and after gathered myself together after a few mintes. Then I put some water on my face and left.”
“Oh my god! What happened after?”

“Oh, nothing. I told my teacher and she asked me to rest. I went to the medical room and slept the remaining day off. I didn’t have to attend any of the classes, I was really happy!” she replied merrily.

Her story made me realize how as a society we are so de-sensitized towards menstrual pain. We are expected to pull through – never let anyone get a hint of what’s going on inside.

For privileged menstruators like me, we may at least have the option to take the day off and voice our demands for menstrual leaves. But for the oppressed, their plight is graver and deeper – because they don’t even have the liberty to make a choice.

In 2016, an article published by Quartz quoted a doctor who said that period cramps are “almost as bad as having a heart attack”. For menstruators who have suffered through the worst of cramps, this comparison will not come as a shock.

Despite this misery being a monthly affair, the bias against women in the medical field persists. This medical bias involves attributing a woman’s pain to ‘hysteria’, or ‘it is all in your mind.’ This attitude has manifested itself in the form of a lack of research about women’s health.

Over-the-counter drugs still don’t effectively treat the pain borne by a lot of menstruators. Millions of women suffer through endometriosis, a painful menstrual disorder, yet, the definite cause for it is unknown – with no universally effective treatment available. Everything works on a ‘trial and error’ basis.

Society has been dismissing menstrual pain since time immemorial. And menstruators have internalized that de-sensitivity towards their plight.

We can take a stand by vigorously advocating for more research around menstrual pain and disorders. We can take a stand by fighting for menstrual leaves for every stratum of society. Menstruation is a global public health issue – we need to give it the attention that it deserves in this society.

|| By Ipshita Gogoi and Priyanka Gulati ||

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