This post is a continuation in a series on Menstrual Disorders, and is best understood by reading the prior posts.
I wouldn’t feel like I have done this topic justice if I didn’t share my own story, for multiple reasons. First, I know what havoc menstrual disorders (MD) can exert because I have lived with them much of my life. I’m not just writing about a topic I’ve researched, I HAVE LIVED THIS! Second, maybe by me sharing some of my struggle I can embolden someone else to act in a positive way to help theirs. And third and foremost, I want a Mom, Grand-mom, sister, co-worker, BFF, cousin, father, brother, boyfriend, husband or whoever reads this to recognize someone they know and love who is struggling in the same manner as I have and encourage them to seek help. No one has to live with this.
Some of you may be uncomfortable with me sharing so much information, and I get it. You don’t have to read on! As you’ll see there was a day I wouldn’t even share this with my own Mother. But understand that my blatant honesty here is because I am passionate about not only witnessing change in a problem that has been perpetuated too long, but to perhaps being part of what ignites such change.
My struggles began from the get go, as they say. I started my periods when I was roughly 11 years old, which is pretty normal. What wasn’t normal was the pain I had (dysmenorrhea), as well as the heavy bleeding (hypermenorrhea or menorrhagia). I didn’t let on about it because I was so timid and shy (isn’t it shocking how people change? Ha!). I was just too embarrassed to talk about any aspect of the whole construct to anyone. I remember I didn’t even tell my Mom I had started – I was that private. But the severity of my cycle made it hard to keep to myself. Of course it’s impossible to keep such things from a Mom, especially when she does the laundry. It was a regular event for me to soil my pajamas and bed sheets with shocking amounts of blood because no matter how much I got up and how many pads I wore it was never enough. If it happened that a sleepover at a friend’s house came up while I was on my period I simply wouldn’t go. Trips or special event that I couldn’t evade I had to pack an arsenal of supplies and barely slept for fear of messing up the bed or sleeping bag. Years later I learned to fortify the bed with extra folded sheets, towels, anything in an attempt to not soil everything and so I could get some sleep.
The same scenario happened with my clothes. After many times of soiling my outfit at school and wanting to crawl in a hole and die from embarrassment, I finally learned to always wear dark colored clothes and carry spare undergarments and an arsenal of pads with me. Fortunately my school uniform was a dark plaid. Back in those days (~ 1973) there weren’t as may convenient options as there are now, and it wasn’t easy to hide what you were carrying or wearing. Not only did I bleed heavy, but it was also irregular and very unpredictable which caught me by surprise and unprepared at times – not a nice situation as you might imagine. I felt like my life was lived around my period. Symptoms began the week before my period, reached a crescendo the week of, and then still continued the week after. I would have a week of freedom for one week of the month. If you do the math, that’s more days with symptoms than without – a chunk of my life.
There’s no telling how much aspirin I ingested to help with the pain. I knew it was bad for me in such quantity but I couldn’t function otherwise. When Motrin finally become available over the counter in 1984 I thought I’d died and gone to heaven. Unfortunately it has its own issues, but at the time it seemed miraculous. I never went to a physician or other practitioner as it just didn’t seem like an option. Back in those days the only thing I remember going to the doctor for was strep throat. My Mom was a nurse and dealt with most of our ailments. I figured this was just how it was and what everyone else dealt with.
Writing this post is resurfacing all kinds of memories. One is of my Mom giving me a book called “Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret,” by Judy Blume. I’m guessing I was about age 11 or 12, so this would have been around 1973-ish. I always loved reading and to get a book from Mom was not unusual. I have no idea why she chose this book for me or how much she knew about the story line, much less my struggles. Maybe she envisioned this particular one would help me in my circumstances. The fact that she gifted it to me gives me hope, in retrospect, that she knew more of what was going on than I might have realized at the time. The main character, Margaret, was a girl my age who struggled with puberty among other issues. Contrary to the book, I couldn’t relate in any way to all the celebration surrounding Margaret getting her period. If I remember right her parents took her to dinner to commemorate the happy milestone. My reality was altogether different, and I didn’t experience any element to celebrate. I associated this time in my life with pain, embarrassment, and concealing. Interestingly, I only recently learned that this book was pretty controversial and eventually banned from multiple libraries in the 1980’s. I’ll have to ask my Mom if she even knew that when she gave it to me, or maybe the controversy came after she gave it to me. Too funny. Glad she was a trailblazer and counter-cultural!
Another memory I recall was in 1974 at my oldest sister Rene’s wedding to Ted, the first wedding in our family. I was 12 years old at the time, and struggling very much with puberty and menstruation. I remember the dress I wore to the wedding was full length and, of course, homemade. I can’t recall who sewed it – I may have. I do remember the material was white double knit polyester with small embroidered yellow flowers scattered all over it. The big day arrived, and we drove at least an hour to the chapel in Detroit where my sister went to college. I don’t remember exactly how long it was before the wedding, but suffice it to say not much time was left when I discovered I had started my period and I was completely unprepared. I went to my poor Mom, who had enough on her hands already. I recall we walked forever throughout the halls of the Marygrove college trying to find some sanitary products – her in her heels, long dress, and corsage and me in my white dress – bad color choice. We finally found a nun who rescued me with her stash, and Mom was incredibly grateful and relieved. Me too, but I worried the rest of the day in that dress.
The years went by and my problems didn’t seem to abate. I became a running fanatic as it helped my symptoms some. I eventually began yearly gynecology appointments, and at some point it was suggested to me that I try birth control measures to see if hormone regulation would help. Right or wrong, my Catholic upbringing had so instilled in me that birth control was wrong that for years I declined it. I finally conceded, basically worn down by my relentless issues. I tried multiple prescriptions, moving from one product to the next in search of what worked best. While there was some improvement, none of them really made the difference I was hoping for and I continued to ingest Motrin. In the meantime I was happily married to my dream guy, Bill, and life rolled along despite my issues. There were many meals my husband ate alone while I laid on the couch, too nauseated and cramped to even consider joining him. I joke that it was my strategy for staying thin. I appreciate him hanging with me all these years. Thank you and God bless you, Bill!
The end of it all came in a time and manner I did not anticipate – nothing new for my history with menstruation. Around 2013 we were flying home from a trip to Alaska to visit family stationed there. This trip is no small ordeal from Virginia, as it entails multiple legs and a very long day of travel even with the best itinerary. I had meticulously planned and scheduled to make it as painless as possible. So I was pretty aggravated with getting on the plane for the longest leg (~ 7 hours) to find that they had flipped our seats and scrambled us so that Bill was sitting in a window seat which he hates, while I was deposited several rows in front and on the other side from him in the middle seat – the seat I absolutely detest! In a take-it-or-leave-it scenario which does not endear me to airlines, we boarded and got underway. Trying to be a good sport I made conversation with the men on each side of me. About an hour into the flight I felt an overwhelming sense of discomfort, followed by profuse sweating then extreme nausea. I have never been a person subject to air sickness but I was looking for a barf bag, confounded by what was happening to me. The next thing I knew I felt this gush come from me – I mean my crotch. I worked up my courage to put my hand down onto the side of my leg and pull it up, only to realize that I had just completely soaked the seat I was to sit in for the next 6 hours with blood. Wonderful.
I will spare you the details of all that happened from there. When I got home the first thing I did was schedule a gynecological appointment which led to a uterine ablation. I remember the day of the procedure and into the days following the song “Goodbye to You” kept running through my head, I have no idea where this came from but it summed up my situation: I desperately hoped I was kissing my problems goodbye. The procedure absolutely helped with the heavy bleeding, and somewhat diminished the cramping and pain. Eventually menopause set in and further abated most of my remaining MD symptoms, although my other fascial problems that I believe caused the MD persisted. But at least I had some reprieve from the MD, after ~ 40 years of living with it.
So why did I have so much trouble? Why is it so rough for some of us and not others? That’s the million dollar question, but I believe for me it comes back to multiple factors such as hypermobility, hormones, and past traumas and injuries causing fascial dysfunction. I can’t unequivocally connect an instigating event in my life with my MD. This is not unlike a lot of other folks with problems that are “idiopathic,” or the cause is unknown. But the body always has a reason behind every malady – we just may not recognize it or connect it to a cause. I like to point out that we begin falling down from the moment we first stand up. We marvel at the resilience of a little girl who, swinging by her arms from one monkey bar to the next, misses and lands full force on her belly. Yes, that was me and I was pretty small, one of the random memories I have no idea why I recall. It was at St. Anne church where my Mom was doing something and my siblings and I were playing outside while we waited. I hit the ground hard and it was a while before I could breathe, much less stand up. I have no idea what happened after that, but I will say this: it was a trauma to an important area of my body, and maybe had something to do with my troubles later – no way to know.
I hope me sharing my story triggers something in someone somewhere that triggers a girl or woman to reach out for help – the sooner the better. There is MUCH that can be done to help diminish/resolve these problems: Fascial Manipulation, dry needling, education, exercise, lifestyle changes, and more. Unfortunately a lot of people just never hear about these options. Hence the impetus for this website. I really suspect that left unresolved MD can be the first symptom of fascial dysfunction that later plays into difficulties with pregnancy/labor/delivery, urinary incontinence, pelvic organ prolapse, diastasis rectus abdominus, endometriosos, and much more. I wish I would have had these options available to me years ago, but I do now and use them to address my other remaining issues with good results. Don’t go down this path! Learn from my experience, and please don’t suffer with MD when you can change it!
Wishing you health and joy,