The sound of plastic crinkling from my pad was always deafening to me. I used to refuse to change my pad if someone else was in the restroom and waited until they left to do it. Instead of bringing a small pouch, I would carry an entire backpack with me, fearing that the entire class would know that I was leaving to change my pad. I bled through my pants and stained chair cushions more times than I could even count.
If you couldn’t tell already from the aforementioned anecdotes, my relationship with my period has always been a rocky one. Periods were spoken of in quiet, hushed tones at home, in those dreaded mandatory sex ed sessions, even among my closest girlfriends. When I got mine for the first time in 7th grade, I honestly felt like it was a bait and switch. I was the last of my group of friends to hit menarche, and spent a few years before pondering that periods were the most magical thing that could ever happen to you, that you somehow became untouchable and maybe superwoman. Today, I believe that periods are indeed a sign that we’re superhuman–I mean come on, we bleed out of our bodies for 4-7 days once a month, on average! However, looking back, I also recognize the various somewhat traumatic experiences that led me to believe otherwise until quite recently.
I’ve always had irregular periods since puberty. Upon getting my first job at high school (as, yes, a content creator and blogger for Claire’s), I had a taste of “grownup” responsibilities. The stress of this initially glamorous job during junior year quickly began to affect my cycle, and I started having 2 to 3 week long periods. I remember how my blood boiled whenever I used to hear people casually say that they barely bled during their periods. I was not of the lucky ones who wore liners and had 3-day long periods, but my cycles seemed to worsen with age.
I moved to New York in 2016 with lofty dreams of having a fulfilling career in fashion. I always knew that it would be competitive and cutthroat, but I never thought that it would impact my health in such a life-changing way. Like every other eager, wide-eyed newbie in the fashion school, I immediately immersed myself into as many opportunities as I could get my hands on. Unfortunately, and much to my chagrin, my intense determination to succeed resulted in spreading myself thin, overcommitting and biting off more than I could chew. During one fashion week, I interned for someone who stressed me out so much that I started my period and didn’t stop bleeding for three consecutive months. I spent every day in shame, discomfort, and fear throughout those three unbearable months. There was a pervasive feeling of dread and despondence that crept into my everyday life, from waking up to physical pain to the emotional weight of feeling alone and helpless in what I was experiencing. I couldn’t even bring myself to talk about it with my best friends because I was so mortified by my condition. Over a period of time, I actually began to normalize those debilitating emotions, buying a stash of pads of apocalyptic proportions at all times. It took me a while to acknowledge that my excessively long and heavy period was simply not normal and that I needed to seek professional medical help. Throughout this all, I maintained feelings of humiliation and contempt towards my period, always doing whatever I could to camouflage the fact that I was bleeding.
“Some of them confided that their irregular periods were their biggest insecurities, while others expressed their gratitude towards me for being so open about my health on social media.”
After getting prescribed birth control for the first time after the three-month catastrophe, I savoured every “normal” cycle, rejoicing when my periods ended after five days. It was during this time that I began to share my experiences on social media, albeit out spite and frustration at the initial stages. Instagram stories were the dumping grounds for my venting, and I think my comfort with sharing what could be considered as such a personal thing stemmed from my perception that it was a digital audience that I wouldn’t have to face in person. What I was totally wrong about was that my interactions with my audience proved to be one of the turning points in how I perceived myself and my bodily health. I was inundated y a flurry of unexpected responses from friends and complete strangers; I had deep conversations with my followers about overcoming the shame and embarrassment associated with my period. Some of them confided that their irregular periods were their biggest insecurities, while others expressed their gratitude towards me for being so open about my health on social media. Every single exchange felt like I was sledgehammering down a new wall. The confidence that I felt myself exuding, notwithstanding the fact that it was behind a phone screen, was a revelation.
Although having suffered through an exhausting ping pong relationship with various birth controls and Eastern medicine alternatives, a rollercoaster of side effects, and many ruined pairs of underwear, I came to realize several things along my arduous journey. Realization number one: you are not alone. After “going public” about my period struggles, I never imagined that a community of people who shared my pain and similar experiences existed right under my nose. It was both reassuring and a genuine breath of respite to know that we weren’t fighting this battle alone. There’s power in numbers, especially when they seem to talk! Realization number two: shame is only what you make of it. For so many years, I let society’s ideas of periods ruin my perception of myself as well as my body. When I experienced the full spectrum of the capacities of my body, whether good or bad, I came to a newfound understanding and almost reconciled with my “crazy” period. Instead of shuffling hysterically to the bathroom concealing everything I possibly could, I now shamelessly walk down the hallway or airplane aisle with my head held high and a pad in tow. Realization number three: embracing your body is a constantly evolving journey. Yes, I still cry in abject frustration every time I spot in between my periods, letting my stress get the best of me even when I know for a fact that it is a determining factor in my menstrual health and that I don’t need to blame myself for it. I still curse my uterus when I have crippling cramps and crave the unhealthiest fried food on earth. The one thing that’s changed is that I am the most in tune with my body than I’ve ever been; the more I study myself and listen to my body, the more I can be prepared for what I might expect with my cycles.
At the end of the day, if you have a period, you’re pretty much stuck with it for a good while, so why not make the absolute most of it? I keep an ongoing note in my phone tracking my periods and all its quirks, which gives me peace of mind and can help me somewhat forecast and plan my life. I’ve also acquired a whole collection of period hacks, from herbal heat packs and topical CBD ointment to ancient Chinese tea brews and absorbent underwear. I’ve reached a stage where I’m the most comfortable with my cycle that I’ve ever been in my entire life. So, if you ever happen to meet me at a dinner party, you’ll be sure to hear all about my positive period journey without fail.