The menopause: the light at the end of a very long tunnel and NO PERIODS, at least that’s how I’ve always viewed it, but OMG, the closer I get to it I’m beginning to realise that it’s a pretty crap consolation prize. According to relate.org, women can expect one-third of their life to be post-menopausal. One-third of our lives and this is what we’ve got to look forward to; vaginal dryness, hot flushes, atrophy, fear, decreased sex drive…well, at least the NHS (National Health Service) only lists 7 symptoms and not the 20 listed for PMS! And there’s always HRT to look forward to.
Until then we’ll have to put up with, ‘Have you got the painters in?’, ‘Are you on the rag?’, ‘Is it that time?’, ‘Are you on the blob?’ Many of these terms for the time of the month are pretty disrespectful, ignorant, demeaning and downright f***ing offensive. Yes, I’m irritable, I’m ‘surfing the crimson wave’ as I type. Another inappropriate description, with visions of a super-hero, kick-ass woman riding high on the ocean’s swell, when in reality she is confined to the depths of her duvet.
According to stats, 90% of women notice some symptoms before their periods, such as bloating, tender breasts and headaches. These premenstrual symptoms can start between 5 days and 2 weeks before your period and are often worse for older teens and women in their 40’s. Me!
The international healthcare company, Bupa lists 20 emotional, behavioural and physical symptoms using very tame keywords. I’d like to share some of the harsh realities of these, some of which you will no doubt be familiar with.
The week before your period you may be hypersensitive to almost anything: sound, touch, smell, taste? The slurping and crunching of the morning cereal are even more unbearable than normal, the clatter of a plate in the sink is like a sonic boom and the bright lights almost burn your eyeballs. Funnily enough, these attacks on your senses make you ‘moody and irritable’ just one of the symptoms listed by the NHS. Another is ‘breast tenderness’ – third degree bruising more like! The slightest brush and I’m writhing around in agony. The list also endearingly mentions ‘tummy pain’ as a symptom, which is laughable. For me, the pain evokes memories of Braxton Hicks. Most of us would like to just curl up in bed and wake up 3 days later, this way avoiding the ‘anxiety’ that accompanies the ‘monthly visitor’. The mere thought of having to make a phone call or heaven forbid, to let the boiler man in, can tip you over the edge. A song you’ve never heard before, with no attached emotions, can trigger a tsunami of overwhelming sadness with no warning. It sneaks in like the SAS and then, Wham Bam, deal with this bitch.
All of this has to be dealt with before there’s even any sign of bleeding. When the first spotting appears, there’s a sense of relief. A sense that due to its arrival, it has to finish. However, there are a few hurdles to overcome first: spots, hot flushes or cold sweats, clumsiness – another broken glass, bloating – looking pregnant, reduced self-confidence – looking pregnant, increased appetite – looking pregnant! I could go on…Toxic Shock Syndrome (TSS) – forgetfulness, especially after a few drinks – ‘Did I take my tampon out?’ In the early 1900s, there were around 40 cases in the UK per year, resulting in two to three deaths. Thankfully, due to changes in tampon manufacture the cases of TSS have sharply fallen.
The biggest challenge for some during their period is migraines. Dr Anne MacGregor, formerly of the National Migraine Centre, states that more than half of women who get migraines notice a link with their periods and they tend to be particularly severe and are more likely to come back. She says that migraines are most likely to develop in either the 2 days leading up to a period or the first 3 days during a period. This is because of the natural drop in oestrogen levels at these times. Within 12 hours of my first spotting, Boom! ‘Sumatriptan’ tablets at the ready. If I’m lucky, I only need 2 or 3 tablets, but sometimes 8 or more and I miss out on a few days of life. If you’ve always suffered from hormonal migraines you’ve probably spent about 384 days of your life lying in bed, basically, because you’re a woman.
I do have some period related facts to be grateful for. I’ve no longer got a fibroid (imagine a tap that can’t be turned off). I’m regular, every 31 days like clockwork. Currently, I only bleed for 4 days and the most important? Thank God I wasn’t born in the 1800s before any sanitary products had been invented. One saving grace for women in the 1800s was that due to having 5 or 6 children, they’d have fewer periods! They would use anything they could to absorb the blood, wash it and reuse. It wasn’t until 1896 that the first disposable sanitary product, Lister’s towels became available to buy.
Considering periods and the sometimes-debilitating symptoms that accompany them affect 50% of the population you’d think that more research would have been done. Current research suggests that the exact cause of PMS is unknown, but that fluctuations in hormone levels are likely to be responsible. No s**t Sherlock! I can’t help but think that if men had periods, more research and a cure-all solution would have been found.