Note to the squeamish: This is going exactly where you think it’s going, so do us both a favor and stop reading. If you continue after this and complain in the comments about how gross it is, I will hunt you down and go all Donita Sparks on you. Well, not right now. But in the near future. God, I hope.
Once, the Professor and I were sitting in her car talking about menstruation and the Professor was all like, "You know what’s good for cramps? Fucking." and I blankly stared at her as if she’d just said, "You know what’s good for cramps? Brlghalbheghts."
"What in the hell are you talking about?" I asked.
I’m not going to take you through the whole conversation, because it wandered, as our conversations have a tendency to do, but I do want to bring you to the salient point. Other than whether we’re late or early or what, I have never had a conversation with any woman I know except my mom about what it’s like to menstruate–What it feels like, what it looks like, etc.
I was thinking about that today because I have felt like utter despondent crap about my life since Friday. (Some of you may recall my ode to beer. Others of you may recall the sad emails.) Last night, I couldn’t sleep, because I felt so anxious, and today, I was just fuming at work–justifiably, but usually, I don’t get pissed off; I just ignore folks.
So, I’ve been waiting, hoping to feel the familiar shifts in my body that say, "No, your life doesn’t suck. It just seems that way because everything in here is out of whack a little earlier than usual." No dice.
But it did get me thinking that my day would be vastly improved if I ducked out of work early and talked about menstruation. And so I did. And so I shall.
A Brief History of My Period
I started menstruating some time in junior high. The first couple of times, it was just a rusty spot on my underwear for a couple of days and, since I’d read Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret, I wasn’t particularly freaked out. I also didn’t tell anyone. I just raided my mom’s pads when I needed them and got on with life.
Then, in high school, I learned a new and terrifying feeling–cramps. I had cramps like… like… imagine a puffer fish made of steel and sharp razors expanding and contracting in your lower gut. Or like an earthquake made of broken glass just above your cooter. That’s what I had cramps like. I couldn’t sleep. I couldn’t eat. I couldn’t take any pain killers, because I would throw them back up. I just had to lay there in bed in a half-awake stupor dreaming of contraptions you could shove into your uterus and just scrape everything off all at once and get it over with.
My mom would sit next to me and rub my back and tell me about how she also had terrible cramps when she was my age, but that, eventually, they stopped happening as frequently or for as long.
She was right. I still cramp up–which we will get to in a second–but not the days-on-end pain and not usually anything close to that bad.
In grad school, I learned a nifty trick for dealing with the severe cramping, though. I would lay on the couch and ask my crazy roommate to sit on me. Do whatever. Watch TV. Knit. Gab on the phone. I could not care less. Just let me have some pain-free time. Since then, I’ve been lucky enough to find a handful of men and women willing to sit on me when I need it and it helps so much. To y’all, I am grateful.
How It Goes
The first thing that happens is that the lump in my right tit swells up so that you can feel it right under the surface of my skin, if you push in just a little bit. This usually happens three or four days out. Two or three days out, I’ll start dropping things or knocking things over like crazy. It’s like I lose all ability to accurately tell where I am in the world. After about the third time I knock my toothbrush on the floor, I also notice that I can smell things really, really vividly. Two days out I start to feel a little something rumbling around, like gas, but more centrally located. This is when the inability to tell where I am in the world transfers to being able to read people, or, actually, no longer being able to read people. You don’t realize how much you rely on visual cues from people until those days when you just can’t read them. I don’t like it. It’s disconcerting.
The day before, I usually sneeze a lot and I feel like I’m on some kind of mild hallucinogen. Things seem much more vivid and smell really intense and everything feels really, really awesome. I can remember standing in a bathroom at Michigan State running my hands under the faucet because it felt so cool. Even now, I can remember exactly how it felt like I was feeling every individual stream prickling against my skin and how amazed I was that I’d never noticed that before–how wonderful water is.
The day of is usually not that bad. I have some mild cramps, that really feel like gas or something and I’m really aware of how wet and unusually cold my cooter feels. But basically, I’m just waiting around. When it starts, it doesn’t really feel like anything. You just go to the bathroom and wipe and, instead of the clear, kind of slick cooter juices*, there are some streaks of red. Or a lot of red.
The second day in is really terrible. I have cramps. I bleed really heavily, especially in the morning, like someone just opened the floodgates. And I hurt all over. Everything aches and everything is painful to the touch. Sleeping is a joke, because who can find a way to lay down that doesn’t feel like all the pain of a red-hot poker with none of the burn?
This is why I was flabbergasted when the Professor recommended sex for cramps. The thought of someone touching me in any way but to sit on me? It makes me cringe. Even my hair hurts. Please don’t touch me. Because that might make me throw up.
The third day is also really heavy and I start to see bits and pieces of the endometrial lining. Secretly, I think this is pretty cool and weird. It reminds me of some kind of dark red cross between raw liver and slugs. I’m convinced that I can feel the bigger pieces as they slide through my cervix, but this could just be psychological on my part, I guess.
By the fourth day, the bleeding has lightened up quite a bit and the cramps are over and I’m feeling back to my usual self. The fifth day is like this, too, but lighter still. There may still be some endometrial bits and pieces and usually I’m only really bleeding in conjunction with the arrival of this stuff at this point. By the sixth day, it’s just some light spotting and finally, it just tapers off into nothing. I usually wear a panty liner on the seventh day, just in case, but there’s rarely any reason.
Oops. I don’t really have a conclusion. I do feel better, though. So, there’s that.
*Ha, someday I’ll have to write up a post about all the different cooter-juice permutations I have, but not today.
Ivy—St. Mark should give lessons to others!
Katherine—I wasn’t sure what you meant by politically incorrect. I’m still not. I thought this was insightful and informative and deeply moving.
Rachel—Her mom and my mom must have gone to the same school of "How Little Can I Get Away with Saying?"
Heather—Posts like this and Katherine’s really make me think that it’s obscene that we don’t talk about this stuff. Also, I’ve decided that, if your doctor says something like, "Well, that’s just how it goes for [redheads, fat chicks, sluts, etc.]" we should get to kick them right in the shins.
Kristina—One of my friends has a set of sheets she calls "the scene of the crime" that she uses when she menstruates and has given up bothering to get the stains out of. The bathroom scene in this post reminded me of that.