Tuesday, 17 October 2017

Am I Number 5?

"When you get your period for the first time, you have to catch it in a milk bottle and take it to the Drs so they can check it for you"

Those were the first words I ever heard about menstruation, spoken by a girl in my class named Leah....to be totally honest, most of my "Birds & Bees" information came from Leah as my mum was never really a fan of talking about that kind of stuff....I remember panicking for months about how exactly I was going to manage to catch it in a milk bottle and what the Dr would even do with it anyway, when finally one evening it all became too much and my Mum found me crying in the bathroom with worry about it all...she finally sat me down and told me all about what to expect from my first period.

It was lucky she did as only a few months later, at the age of 11 whilst still in primary school - it arrived.

And for a while there wasn't much to it...it lasted a little longer than the 3 days my Mum had told me to expect, and the tummy cramps were a little more intense than I had expected sometimes...but it was manageable.

But over the years, things changed and by the time I was 16 I had come to absolutely DREAD that time of the month.

I remember turning down a trip to the swimming pool with friends because I was on my period, and them asking why I couldn't just wear a tampon and go anyway like they did...I knew I couldn't do that. My periods were far too heavy for that...in fact I often had to double on the thickest sanitary towels available just to be able to make it through a lecture at college without embarrassment.

Everywhere I went I would always have to ask someone to check my skirt in case anything had leaked through, I always felt worried that I was going to flood through my sanitary protection and be humiliated.

And once or twice it almost happened, too...I took to carrying spare pairs of underwear in my handbag just in case. 

When it came time to go on a long awaited beach holiday to Venezuela, I was devastated when I realised the trip coincided with when my period was due and I knew I wouldn't be able to wear my pretty bikinis or enjoy the holiday properly...so for the first time, I took myself off to my GP to see if there was anything they recommend to help with my heavy and painful periods.

He advised me to take a kind of medication that would temporarily delay the arrival of my period...so I did. And although it made me bloated and uncomfortable, it kept my period at bay that month...but the following month I paid for it! I had the heaviest and most excruciatingly painful period I've ever had, I remember crawling around on all fours in tears at one point because I was in such agony I couldn't even stand. I never dared to take that medication again and since then I've suffered on with heavy and painful periods in silence.

The side effects were also hard to deal with - I'd suffer with cramps so painful that they would make me yelp, terrible headaches, blurred vision, acne, nausea and extreme mood swings every single time my period arrived which made it hard to go to college and later to work. I found myself calling in sick once a month...and of course it was never long before those continued monthly absences resulted in disciplinary action and lost jobs.

But for some reason, I was always too embarrassed to talk about it - I could tell that my employers thought my excuse of heavy painful periods wasn't a good enough reason to justify an absence, and I guess that made me feel as though I just wasn't being tough enough - that everybody else manages to just deal with that time of the month and get on with life, so I should be trying harder to do the same.

Even now I know to avoid the swimming pool and avoid arranging any big days out at that time of the month because that worry still remains....that my periods are just too heavy to trust the sanitary protection. And I know that for a week of every month, I'll feel sick and headachey, and generally exhausted.

Whenever I have tried to bring it up with my GP, I've been brushed off completely - I'm told its just "one of those things" and "the luck of the draw". 

It was only recently that I discovered that actually heavy periods affect around 1 in 5 women, and this is actually a recognised medical condition. And I certainly did not know that there are a range of treatment options available.

That is why I am taking part in the Am I Number 5? campaign to highlight the condition and the treatment options available...to enable more women like me to stop living their lives for only 3 weeks of every month, and claim that fourth week back. 

If you suffer with heavy periods too or know somebody who does, please visit www.wearwhiteagain.co.uk to find out more about the condition and treatment options available.

And if you'd like to join in with the campaign to raise awareness of this condition, just share a snap on social media of your painted fingernails...with 1 nail painted in a different colour to represent the 1 in 5 women affected by heavy periods.

From now on I won't be suffering in silence anymore.

I’m working with Hologic and BritMums to promote the Am I Number 5? campaign. Visit www.wearwhiteagain.co.uk for more information and advice

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