‘Have I got diarrhoea? This feels an awful lot like diarrhoea. I mean, I’m yet to ablute, but what’s brewing definitely feels as though it’s headed that way. Oh wait. No. This is… different. It feels as if I’m about to poop myself, but also as if I’m being internally clawed by a maniacal cat. No, this can’t be my IBS flaring up. It just can’t. All I’ve consumed today is Weetabix Mini’s, three cups of tea and four Ripples. Oh, hold up. The maniacal cat has now decided to feast upon my innards. I can basically feel its tiny, but mighty, cat teeth not-so-tentatively nibbling at my womb. I KNOW WHAT’S HAPPENING HERE: my period has arrived! This jolly onslaught is simply my ruby-red reminder. My monthly’s very own way of yelling “HONEY, I’M HOOOOOOME!!'” I am now surfing the crimson wave. Lord help me. May I stay above water and not fall victim to ferocious surf below. Amen.’
This is my inner-dialogue once every month. Every month I mistake menstruation for diarrhoea and every month I consider calling an ambulance after peering down into the toilet bowl to find a strange amalgamation of what can only be described as brown-matter meets red-matter. (As it turns out, there *is* a link between the menstrual cycle and IBS: symptoms of IBS can get worse just before, or during, your period, but no-one quite knows why. Helpful.)
“There’s blood in my poo! What is it Dr Christian said on Embarrassing Bodies about blood in your poo, ma? Oh, there’s no time for Googling! THERE’S BLOOD IN MY POO. MUM, THERE’S BLOODY BLOOD IN MY BLOODY POO!”. My senses kick in pretty swiftly after this tragicomic outburst and I realise it’s just my period.
I say just as though it’s no big deal. No biggie. Just the lining of the uterus mercilessly shedding, leaving an entire gender in varying states of debilitation for around three to seven days. NBD at all. Except, it sort of is a big deal. That blood is the driving force of the universe. The absence of that blood suggests new life. The presence of that blood (usually in our undies, rendering them eternally blood-stained) is, in my world at least, followed by a hearty, relief-filled sigh (because, not pregnant!). All things considered, that blood is bloody incredible; and yet it’s still something shrouded in an unsettling shame.
“Jesus Christ, you on your period?”: the not-so-witty repartee of someone not-so-skilfully reducing your emotional state to the current state of your womb lining, and thus attempting to rob said emotion of all validity. Annoying? Yes. Predictable? Yes. Overused? Yes. Funny? Nope, and not because I don’t have the propensity to poke fun at painful things in order to make them more bearable. It’s just one of those quips that has never been funny; too obvious, too ignorant. In summary: be wittier.
The reality of menstruation for some women is agonising: premenstrual syndrome can kick in around two weeks before your period is due, and brings with it a smorgasbord of physical and psychological symptoms including abdomen pain, nausea, anxiety, weight-gain, loss of libido, tiredness and headaches… the list is exhaustive (and exhausting to read, as someone currently experiencing the latter two symptoms). For an unlucky 5-8% of women, premenstrual dysmorphic disorder is their reality. The description of PMDD reads a lot like a diagnosis of depression; such is the severity of this disorder. Widely under-reported, undiagnosed and not properly understood, even by the professionals. So, yeah, periods can be really fucking painful, sending your hormones helter-skelter with the ability to temporarily batter your mental well-being. Welcome to womanhood, guys!
But what really shits me up is the absence of that blood anywhere else. As the Caitlin Moran has so eloquently pointed out: we see blood everywhere. We see heads chopped off. Bodies mutilated. Stomachs ripped open. Stab wounds. Gun shots. All doused in the red stuff. Pools of it, everywhere! But blood of the menstrual variety? Not so much. How has the dismembering of limbs formed part of our daily discourse, whilst the appearance of the menstrual flow has all but dried up? It’s lunacy and it’s downright disrespectful. Rupi Kaur, a spoken word poet from Toronto, experienced the disequilibrium of this misogynistic madness after uploading an image from her photo-series to Instagram: an image of a woman laying down with period leaking through her pants. What did Instagram do? They removed it. Amidst all the porny, bloody things they allow on their platform, they removed an image of a fully-clothed woman, laying on her bed, with menstrual blood on her trousers. Some hasty petitioning and outrage from horrified supporters ensured the image was re-uploaded and allowed to stay that way; but the fact the image was disallowed in the first place remains. Bonkers, huh?
From a young age, we’re indoctrinated to feel slightly abashed when buying sanitary pads, sheepishly pushing them across the counter and hastily throwing them in the covered confines of a bag. We hide tampons in our fists when dashing to the toilet. We die of embarrassment when our period leaks through our undies and ends up blotting our school skirt or, later in life, our work skirt. And all for what?! If I could turn back time, I’d wear that bloody blotch like a badge of honour; unfazed by the snarky comments and grossed-out looks. The movie version of me would mount the nearest table and stand tall, deploring the haters for condemning my womanhood and being momentously icked-out by the same blood that fuels humankind. I’d probably quote Helen Reddy’s ‘I Am Woman’: ‘I am woman, hear me roar, In numbers too big to ignore… And I’ve been down there on the floor, No one’s ever gonna keep me down again’, and smile smugly as they all deduced that Yes, She Is Right and Wow, What A Great Lyricist She Is (we’re 14 years old at this point, I think I could get away with plagiarising a song from 1971 without fear of reprisal).
It’s a bloody shambles, and it’s about time we rode the crimson wave on our own terms.