Pleasure in pain?
Squatted down in the break room toilets, trying not to scream out in pain – “she was only nipping to the loo” said her line manager, “why is she taking so long?”.
We try to move through the ordeal without attracting too much attention, in fact, without attracting any at all. It isn’t very ‘lady-like’ to reveal information that could shame us, so we protect ourselves, hiding instead. But for anyone with dysmenorrhea or endometriosis, this level of harm is totally normal. I’m called into HR again, too many sick days without a reasonable explanation.
Is it so surprising to lose your temper when you’re suffering alone?
Perhaps if people felt they could talk about their experiences, the burden would not be so heavy. It is one thing to experience extreme pain each month – it is another to have to hide it. If we take away the need to be discreet, we open up the possibility of having real, honest conversations about our welfare.
I have often heard menstrual health be referred to as something that gives us strength, defining our experience on this Earth. While it may be true that people enduring such pain have many shared experiences and develop shared strengths, is it reasonable to suggest that we benefit from this pain?
My gut says NO. I may be stronger now than I was at 12. I’ve learnt essential life skills such as: being sneaky and furtive to hide the fact that I just stained my 4th pair of pants this week; developing a strong character that can withstand days of non-stop pain and still smash that presentation at work; or flourishing into a deeply empathetic, nurturing person who can spot the moment someone is in pain. However, there is more than one way to ‘skin a cat’.
without the experience of excruciating pain.
As I squat over the toilet for the fourth time today, a tear slipping down my cheek and into my mouth, I feel a pang of resentment. “If it were men who bled, they would surely have access to more effective pain relief, they might have monthly prescribed days off work and they might actually get a diagnosis!”. My teeth are gritted with rage. When I sober up from the pain, I realise the absurdity of making such grand assumptions about a theoretical role reversal. But I understand there is a grain of truth within my frustrations.
I want more research, more medical intervention, employment rights and better diagnoses for people living with endometriosis, dysmenorrhea and other such conditions – I want it for everyone who bleeds. On average, people who bleed will do so for a total of 10 years (combined). For those with endometriosis and dysmenorrhea, that means spending an average of 10 years in extreme pain.
But it isn’t a one-way street, we need those that do not bleed to listen and really hear what we are saying. We may have much to learn from the notion of Stubborn Optimism, made popular by Christiana Figueres. She talks about ‘Stubborn Optimism’ in relation to climate advocacy, as the practice of persistence and stubborn conviction – essential to maintaining stamina in any form of advocacy – while sustaining the hope that things will get better, so that we can share our vision effectively and inspire others.
It’s time to say no, I will not accept this level of pain and nor should you either. There is so much potential for medical relief – we just need to demand it.