No one likes getting their period, but cramps, zits, and eating a family sized chocolate cake in one sitting were the least of my problems. In fact, my periods nearly killed me and doctors didn’t take my complaints seriously until then.
I’d always had heavy periods. From almost my first period, I was regularly bleeding through pads (and tampons when I started using them) and waking up to find that I’d bled onto my sheets. Almost every aspect of my life was affected when I had my period, and I hated being told that it was just normal and something I had to get used to by doctors.
I was always jealous of my friends who didn’t have these problems. I felt like an outcast when I couldn’t go swimming even with a tampon, didn’t want to wear skirts or dresses in case I bled down my legs, and couldn’t get out of bed on some days because the pain was so bad. My friends didn’t get it either; they tried to be sympathetic but it was hard when they didn’t understand that I wasn’t being flaky, I literally physically couldn’t go out with them.
The Pill helped, but not much. When I was 16, I was allowed to go on the combined birth control pill. The idea of it preventing pregnancy had zero effect on me—I was just so excited that I’d finally be able to do things during my period! It definitely helped with the flow and randomness of my period so I could plan around the worst days, but it never solved the pain and I still had days every month when I couldn’t get out of bed.
My screwed up cycle caused other health problems that doctors dismissed. It wasn’t just my periods that were messed up; I regularly had other health problems as well that doctors never thought to link to my cycle. Migraines would leave me stuck in bed for days at a time and I was always convinced that they were related to my periods, especially because my mom had exactly the same problem. However, whenever I brought it up with a doctor, they immediately dismissed it. If I complained about my acne, I’d be told that it was just hormonal and that it would clear up even though I was well out of puberty.
I eventually learned to manage the pain a bit. After a few years, I figured out how to lead a basically normal life. I’d still have to take days off school for migraines and cramps woke me up most nights when I was having my period, but I could still function on a basic level. I felt like I didn’t have a choice but to decide that this was my normal.
Even when the pain got worse, I didn’t get treatment. After being told by a male doctor that I should use a hot water bottle to relieve cramps, I gave up trying to get them to take me seriously. I was convinced that I must not have been dealing with the pain as well as other people and so I tried my best to get on with life even though things didn’t feel right.
Unfortunately, there came a time when I couldn’t ignore it anymore. I spent the entire Christmas break in agony, doubled over on the couch and unable to move. It came on quickly; one minute I was fine and the next everything felt wrong but I couldn’t tell what exactly it was. The emergency doctor told me it as probably stomach flu and all I could do was rest and stay hydrated. Even though I had really bad abdominal pain, he insisted it was on the wrong side for appendicitis so I didn’t need to go the hospital.
Thankfully, my mom who took me seriously and didn’t accept the doctor’s BS. After I’d spent Christmas day half out of it on painkillers and half crying in pain, my mom drove me to the hospital the next morning and demanded that a doctor came to see me. The doctors thought that I probably did have appendicitis and they’d have to operate on me to find out. I was so tired and just wanted the pain to stop so I didn’t even flinch when they stuck a cannula in the back of my hand and I drifted off.
The quick appendectomy turned into a four-hour operation. My appendix was completely fine, but the four-inch cyst they found on my ovary was not. Not only had it twisted my ovary and effectively killed it, but it had become gangrenous and had given me blood poisoning. They couldn’t save my ovary but they did save my life.
I was told that I had polycystic ovaries and endometriosis. Coming ’round in the hospital is a bit of a blur, but the surgeon explained to me that there was a much more serious problem than appendicitis. He’d never seen a cyst as big as mine and couldn’t believe that I’d never been diagnosed with something more serious than “period pain.” He was the first doctor to give me information about abnormal period pain and what could be done to help.
I’m still trying to manage the symptoms. My doctor finally started to take me seriously and look at real alternatives to the Pill (which hadn’t helped at all) to find a way to manage my pain as well as try and stop more cysts forming that could damage my only surviving ovary. It’s not something that can be cured and it’s been hard to accept that, but I’m finally getting the help I wanted and needed all along.
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