Meet Sydney (she/her), she is a female in her mid twenties who was willing to share her story about her painful periods. Sydney is not her real name, but we will refer to her as Sydney to keep her real identify confidential. Sydney has been dealing with dysmenorrhea, the medical term for severe menstrual cramps, since she got her period for the first time almost 10 years ago.
Dysmenorrhea: the medical term for severe menstrual cramps
The Start of Her Period Journey
At first, Sydney thought that the painful period cramps she was experiencing were normal. “I was under the impression that everyone who had a period also had intense period pain”. She would be in pain 3 weeks out of every month – one week before, one week during and one week after her period. However, as she started talking to other girls who had gotten their periods too, she started realizing that many of them didn’t experience cramps that were nearly as severe as hers were.
What Painful Periods Feel Like
“The symptoms are a bit of a wildcard” because the symptoms she experiences during her period differ from day to day and cycle to cycle. Most days, she experiences aches and cramping throughout her body – from her back and shoulders to her chest and abdomen. She explains that, “the sensation feels similar to when you’ve done a really tough workout and your entire body is sore”. Sometimes, her symptoms also include nausea, headaches, bloating, mood swings, and loss of appetite. Nausea, is probably the worst symptom. The number of times the extreme pain from her period caused her to vomit, almost made it feel normal. “Without making light of the situation, it feels as though I’ve been used as a human punching bag, but both internally and externally… overall it’s extremely exhausting”.
“It feels as though I’ve been used as a human punching bag…”
Dealing With The Greater Impact of Painful Periods
For Sydney, the worst thing about her experience with dysmenorrhea is the major impact it has on her daily life. It’s difficult explaining how her painful periods interfere with her ability to go about her day in a normal way. Especially because it feels like an excuse to most people. “Oftentimes the pain is debilitating that I don’t even feel like going to the grocery store.” Because of the unpredictability of the pain, she tends not plan anything or go anywhere when she gets her period because it’s simpler than cancelling or moving plans around.
The start of her periods is also the start of another vicious cycle – her symptoms make it hard for her to fall asleep and stay asleep. This stunts her ability to get enough energy to function properly and be productive when she feels well enough to try and get tasks completed.
The Stigma of the Period Conversation
Sydney can’t always be open about her periods with everyone. She tends to avoid expressing her painful periods and discomfort with people she doesn’t know well. She explains that “having a conversation about periods seems like something that’s frowned upon and generally a bit TMI – too much information”.
To calculate the number of weeks that Sydney has been out of commission because of her periods, adds up. At a minimum, seven days a month over a ten year period is 840 days.
Saying she has “painful periods” is finally more understandable by her close friends and family. They now know and understand what she goes through during her period because they’ve seen it first hand. They have learned to be okay with the fact that her social calendar is blank for the one week a month when she’s dealing with her period.
What Has Helped and What Hasn’t
Sydney has found that using a heating pad helps when it comes to managing pain. Combined with a painkiller like Midol or Advil, it has become her go-to cure over the years. She’s careful about how much she takes, because “I know they have side effects so I make sure I follow the instructions. I generally don’t like taking medications so I try whatever I can before resorting to pills.” She has also found that taking a long, warm shower seems to do the trick. There doesn’t seem like a lot of alternatives out there to help with painful periods but “my uncle suggested cannabis – it might be something I end up looking into”. (Click Here To Read About Cannabis and Women’s Health).
When she consulted a general family doctor, she received a recommendation to start taking birth control pills in hopes that it would regulate her cycle and reduce her cramps. She took her doctor’s suggestion and began taking birth control pills just over a year ago. While the pill has regulated her cycle, and reduced the number of weeks she experienced cramps from 1 down to 3, it hasn’t completely solved the problem. She still has severe dysmenorrhea during the week of her period and her levels of anxiety and depression have increased over the last year. “I am now seeing another doctor and I think they are finally trying to figure out if I have endometriosis, but I do not have an official diagnosis yet”.
“I think they are finally trying to figure out if I have endometriosis, but I do not have an official diagnosis yet”
Final Thoughts and Advice
Don’t ignore your body. If you are someone that experiences a lot of severe pain during your period, figure the right health care professionals who believe you and can help you understand what is wrong.
Her advice to others who experience dysmenorrhea would be to “Give yourself grace during your period. Understand that it’s okay to take some time to prioritize your health and wellbeing, even if that means decreasing your level of productivity.”
The real person behind Sydney & The Health Aisle Team
Illustrations by: Larissa Darrah