A few months ago I was invited to go and talk about my experience of problem periods and how it affects women’s working lives on Emma Barnett’s Radio 5Live talk show. Emma was fantastic as was Nancy, a fellow sufferer who I met while I was there.
One of the questions we got asked was, and I paraphrase. ‘How bad can it be? Why can’t you just man up and get on with it?’
Emma had prepared both of us that there might be questions like that, and had gently (and wisely) reminded us that swearing was frowned upon that early in the morning. We were both very restrained in our replies.
I thought about this question a lot yesterday.
My period started in the early hours of Saturday morning. It was four days early. I thought it might be coming because I had spent most of Friday with a splitting headache. I get menstrual migraine/headaches. I’ve been getting them for years. Some people will tell you that they’re not a thing. They are most definitely a thing.
My headache persisted over the weekend, and on and off all day Monday. On Tuesday afternoon it started to come back with a vengeance. What had been a dull, persistent thud in the background started to make its presence felt more and more insistently. I took some pills and soldiered on. I have spent a great deal of my life suffering with migraine and headaches. There isn’t really an option to give in unless things get desperate. Since I had my daith points pierced last Easter, these desperate times have been fewer. Life has been easier.
I should have known on Tuesday night that this was going to be different though. I had food cravings. Like pregnancy food cravings. Coca-cola, hot chocolate, crisps that kind of thing. The dinner the children and Jason had smelled awful to me. These are signs. I just ignored them and went to the pub quiz and had a nice time. I didn’t drink anything as all I wanted was hot chocolate anyway.
I woke up at six o’clock on Wednesday morning. My head hurt. It hurt in that way that said it might just turn into a migraine. I was complacent, because since the piercings I’ve only had one really bad migraine. I rolled over and hoped going back to sleep for an hour would fix it. I woke up at half past six feeling worse. I knew then I needed to get up and take some pills.
I drank a pint of water. I took some pink Migraleve (anti-emetics to try and avoid the sickness). By this time my sense of smell was on the fritz. Everything smelled terrible, and strong, and persistent. Like it can during pregnancy. My internal thermostat started to go wrong shortly after that. I am usually freezing. When I get a migraine I start to sweat I’m so hot. I have to have windows open, even when it’s icy outside. I opened the French windows and tried to get on with getting the children’s things ready for school.
By the time the children’s alarm went off at seven, I knew it was game over. I was starting to shake. I was hot and cold in turns, pouring with sweat. My right eye had tremors in the corner of my vision. Sometimes I go blind. Not yesterday, which was one, small blessing. My eyes hurt so much I had to turn lights off. I could feel the nausea beginning to roll over me in great waves.
I got the children up and let them know I couldn’t help them. They’re brilliant. They know the drill. They checked I had everything I needed and proceeded to help each other get ready. I am very lucky they are so good.
I couldn’t go back to bed. Too hot upstairs.
I shut myself in the study where it was dark. I opened all the windows, wrapped myself in a blanket with a bucket by my side and hunkered down.
There isn’t anything else to do. Nobody can help then. No pills stay down. Not even sips of water stay down. Everything makes you throw up. Everything hurts. My head splits, my neck is rigid, my belly hurts from period tenderness and repeated retching. I hadn’t managed to eat anything before I started throwing up. I’m never sure at this stage whether full on vomiting or dry heaving is better. Every heave hurts like a mother fucker because I have to move my splitting head. I want to cry, but I know that if I do, it will only hurt more, and my runny nose will make me feel sick and then I’ll vomit again, and again, and again. Because I can’t keep water down I get more and more dehydrated. This makes the headache worse. It’s no good drinking though. It just makes the nausea worse.
At this stage, everything in my body wants to empty. It rejects everything. I don’t want to move, but I have to. I stagger and I use this word advisedly, backwards and forwards to the bathroom. It’s excruciating to move and worse because I have to go out into the light and God damn it hurts.
I do this, repeatedly from seven in the morning until about seven at night. It gets marginally, incrementally better. By four the heaving is slightly less. By five my eyes are less sensitive to light. By seven I can see out of one eye fine. My right eye is still a wreck. My head still pounds like a train. I can manage a few sentences. I can’t take pills till about eight. That’s when it starts to go in the right direction and I know I won’t die this time.
My hip, which is never great from where I was rather brutally manhandled during surgery for my ectopic pregnancy twenty years ago, is absolutely trashed from lying on a cold floor, shaking. I can barely walk and it’s going to take a couple of days for it to click back into place. Last night when I finally got the bliss of a bath to wash all the sick and blood and sweat off my knackered body, I crept upstairs like Julie Walters in the Two Soups sketch. I fell out of the bath on exit and had to be rescued by Tilly.
No dignity. No romance. Nothing lovely. No manning up. Today I can almost walk. Today I am hungover as hell and clumsy and disoriented, and that’s how it is.
Before I had the piercings I had this about once a month. The week I got the piercings? I had two of these back to back. They swallowed a week of my life.