It is perhaps irrational, but my first emotion is anger. As if someone else is responsible and is walking around unpunished. Three days a month, every month, for ten years, I bit my tongue, contorted myself into all sorts of impossible positions, drowned myself in every form of kai vaidyam, kashayam and lehiyam, tried every kind of diet every passing aunty or atthai prescribed, and practised yoga in an attempt not to drug myself into comfort. But nothing worked. Not hot water bottles, not induced vomiting, not massages, professional or those administered by concerned and loving hands.
The extremity of pain meant coming home from school early nearly every month because the nurse there could not handle me. It meant hallucinating from the agony and passing out, more than a dozen times. It meant missing important functions and fun events at college, missing parties, and once, missing an important exam. It would be no exaggeration to say it changed my life.
Born with hugely misplaced pride, I made a point of not crying in public, even as a child, regardless of how badly I wanted to. But the pain shattered all that. I openly bawled in school and college, and once even at work, unable to control myself. Well-meaning but clueless teachers or colleagues had no idea whatsoever how to help.
So I gave up. Contraceptive pills, homeopathy, unani, siddha, reiki, pranic healing. I went on a desperate overdrive and tried them all. With great patience and adherence to instructions and schedules. Nothing changed. Marriage was supposed to fix it. Poor M will testify that it has done nothing of the kind. Initially, I was lucky not to have mood swings and other emotional trouble, but that modest consolation too dropped away a few years ago. Now I am inexplicably teary, short-tempered, insecure and irrational for the entire length of the period.
Finally, Brufen began appearing in the house in industrial quantities. The first thing that did was bring on severe acidity. Which was countered with industrial quantities of antacids. Last month, six years after the first painkiller, I discovered I have drug-induced ulcers.
And in these years the anger has grown. Speaking to a homeopath friend who says that in her many years of practise she has seen the number of women suffering each month rise, while the age at which the pain begins keeps going down, only fuels my frustration. Herself a sufferer, she began researching historical records, both from homeopaths and allopaths in the UK and elsewhere in Europe, not only to see what sorts of treatments have been administered, but to understand patterns.
She says the oldest records barely have a mention of women patients with dysmenorrhea. This can’t be because they were reluctant to report it – dry vaginas causing painful sex are reported, ruling out social taboos about seeking help for painful menstruation. But as the years pass, the numbers swell. She says the proportion of women suffering continue to rise even today. And she wonders if altered diets and the explosion of chemicals in the air, water and food are not responsible for this increase in some way.
She is angry too. That no attempts have been made to find lasting cures. That women are fobbed off with birth control pills that in the short term cause nausea and weight swings, and in the long term screw up natural hormone regulation and make them dependent on HRT and other expensive treatments. That the only other option are broad-spectrum painkillers well known to have all manner of side-effects like ulcers. Which is a double whammy – now you not have to deal with the pain of the period, but also the burning spasms from the ulcer. And these come unannounced, quite unlike the period.
I am lucky to work independently and not have an office or boss to report to. It means I can often afford the day, or two or even three off, until the pain subsides. But what of those who cannot? I know from cousins and friends that they drag themselves to work, quietly popping Meftals and Aleves to keep going. Ruining their health forever. Why is it that when half the world’s population experiences such severe discomfort month after month after month, there continues to be so little research on an effective solution? Why is it that no one cares how this affects productivity of one half of the workforce? Instead they choose to use it as an excuse to claim women are emotional and unhealthy and therefore unreliable candidates for more responsible positions!
Perhaps the anger I feel is not so irrational after all.