Archive for April, 2013


April 21, 2013

About a year ago I played a game of netball during which the entire team, but myself in particular, played really badly. After our staggering loss, we stood around clutching our drink bottles and pondered what went wrong. I felt compelled to speak up: “Hey team. Sorry I played so badly tonight. I’ve got a ridiculously heavy period at the moment and I just feel like crap.”

If an atmosphere can be so described, what followed would be an air of “Too Much Information”.

The instant I mentioned the P word, I wished I hadn’t. Where my comment could have been met with empathetic quips about how annoying heavy periods are and how debilitating cramps can be, I was faced instead with an uncomfortable, shifty silence. Odd really, given that I can almost guarantee that each of the women would have, at some point, probably had a period.

Women openly talk about pregnancy. We shamelessly share news that we are “trying to conceive” (aka having lots of sex). We talk about annoying husbands, beauty regimes, weight loss and parenthood. We compare notes on schooling and offspring achievements. We look to each other for advice on career development and personal growth. But up there on the list of the Top 3 Things Women Do Not Usually Discuss With One Another, snuggled in between sexually transmitted infections and miscarriage/stillbirth, is the Big P.

Given that menstruation is the most obvious and profound difference between men and women and is something that dominates our lives for 40 or more years, it never ceases to amaze me how little it is discussed. 

There is an aisle in every supermarket on the planet devoted to the products we rely on to manage our “time of the month”. There are a million euphemisms: Aunt Flo, Cousin Red, crimson wave, rags, have the painters in, ride the cotton pony. But for something which can so profoundly dictate the mental, physical, emotional and reproductive state of a woman, the menstrual cycle is not a topic discussed in the school yard.

Either menstruation for most women is merely a minor inconvenience barely worth a mention, or something is preventing us from discussing it.

For me, my hormonal cycle is like a roller coaster carriage that I ride on, at times waving my hands in joyous delight and at others hanging on for sheer survival. It carries me through this life in a rapid, bumpy fashion which I have had to learn to manage and enjoy. Mine is not a smooth ride. If there are women out there for whom menstruation is a “minor inconvenience” involving a little bit of bleeding once a month and nothing else I would be surprised if they existed, but more power to them if they do. Hormones have seen to it that I spend roughly one week bleeding heavily, one week feeling terrific and one week suffering practically every imaginable symptom of premenstrual syndrome (no mean feat – according to Wikipedia there are over 200). 

Talk to any woman desperate for a baby: a period five days late can be the harbinger of the greatest joy. For a woman not wanting a baby, the greatest agony. The no-woman’s-land between period due date and that positive or negative pregnancy test can be profoundly isolating. Counting days, monitoring moods, avoiding or attempting conception. Menstruation can be a daily minefield. And yet women rarely talk about it. I am yet to hear a woman in the school yard proclaim that she is feeling particularly manic/ paranoid/ pained/ depressed/ bloated/ relieved or pimply because she is on day X of her cycle. I would love to hear it. I would prefer to hear that over the sarcastic, impatient, unsympathetic quips so often heard from men about the women in their lives and their PMT: “She’s got P-M-T“. A statement used in a derogatory way as if to suggest PMT is a cop-out. An excuse. A made-up term. It is so often used to trivialise the very real symptoms around 85% (if Wikipedia is to be believed) of women have suffered at some time. Imagine if women spoke of penile dysfunction in the same way: “He’s got penile dysfunction”. Would men tolerate this lack of compassion? I thoroughly doubt it. And yet periods, PMS, pads, tampons and all the associated accoutrements that accompany a woman’s menstrual cycle are either trivialised, mocked, doubted, or simply ignored and avoided.

It’s time we opened up about periods. They are a fact of life. A profound and fundamental one. All women have them at different times and in different ways, but for basically the same reason. We don’t need to hide our hormones. They are part of the fabric of what makes us women. If your hormones are affecting you in a particular way, it is not an excuse or a cop-out to say so. If a woman told me she was feeling especially paranoid or fragile because her period was imminent, I would rejoice at her sharing. I would let her know that I too feel that way sometimes, and remind her that, for all its intensity, it passes. Just as the cramps dissipate. The pimples and blemishes fade. The bleeding stops. The cycle goes on and we continue our rides, unique and yet bonded as they are. 

They can be a drag, but whether we like it or not we are driven by our menstrual cycles. We ride them. Control them. Are at the mercy of them. 

At least until menopause.



April 2, 2013

I live with a Sneezer. If you share the misfortune of living with one you’ll know what I’m talking about.

My Mum is a Sneezer. As kids we used to all hold our breath as she would launch into an attack within earshot of Dad. Without fail it would result in his exasperated utterance “Gor blimey!” as though Mum was deliberately tweaking her nasal hairs just to annoy him. In Dad’s defense her sneezes really are quite something. The sort of cathartic bodily expurgation that has you wondering how her body emerges unscathed. Indeed, the apex of Mum’s sneezing career was apparently having an anaphylactic reaction to Dad’s aftershave.

Fast forward several years of sneezing purgatory and I find myself cohabiting with a chronic, explosive Sneezer. The poor chap had me wondering whether anyone has ever actually died from sneezing when, the other night, he launched into a 30 minute cascade of extreme nasal sternutation which very nearly left him comatose. The onset of the attack seemed to coincide with my arrival home. Upon moving rooms, it was soon discovered that the offending allergen was in fact me. Or at least something on me. Being the cause of someone’s massive allergic reaction is not a nice feeling. You feel all at once guilty and annoyed. Sorry for almost causing you brain damage, but do I have to stop wearing perfume? Do I really need to change my favourite laundry powder? Can’t you just… not sneeze?

I guess, as with my parents, it may all come to a tumultuous sneezing head when something on me will cause Mr Sneezer to go into anaphylactic shock and I will really have to accept that his allergic reaction cannot be helped. Hopefully not. But until then I will have to, like my father, just leave the room uttering an exasperated “Gor blimey!” and perhaps offer some tissues.