Writing by Kacey Clark // art by Kamilla Varga
When I first learned what a period was, I was ten years old. While the concept of bleeding silently and painfully for a week each month didn’t thrill my ten-year-old self, I wasn’t completely scared of it either. That is until I came into contact with more and more people, places, and platforms that condemned periods as something to be feared and lamented. With every complaint of a peer and every cringe from a stranger at the sheer utterance of the word period or cramps or, goddess forbid, tampon, I started to internalize the belief that periods are an inherent flaw of womanhood. Therefore, I was terrified of them.
Due to a two year battle with anorexia that tail-spinned into orthorexia and exercise addiction, I did not menstruate all throughout high school. As an endurance athlete, I thought this was something to be proud of. After all, if I was training so much that I could suppress the one thing that I feared would make me inferior and weak, then that meant I was a stronger athlete…right? Wrong.
What I didn’t know back then was how essential periods are to our health. Periods are a sign that things are going right; not wrong. Our bodies want to menstruate and do so when they feel healthy, relaxed, nourished, and taken care of (unless of course, there is an underlying condition that prevents menstruation from taking place). What was going on inside of my fear-filled sixteen-year-old self was an interference with the hypothalamic-pituitary-gonadal axis, or HPG axis for short. This is a cascade of essential reproductive hormones running from our hypothalamus to our pituitary gland, and finally to our gonads. If we are in a state of fight-or-flight, our body’s mechanisms for producing and delivering these hormones is slowed or shut down completely, resulting in irregularity or infertility. Amenorrhea is a condition in which a body that is able to menstruate stops menstruating. This could mean failure to have a period by age sixteen (primary amenorrhea) or the loss of a period for more than three months (secondary/hypothalamic amenorrhea).
Many people experience amenorrhea at some point or another, and rarely is there concern expressed over it. In my case of primary amenorrhea, my doctor told me it was no big deal because I was an athlete, and that if I really wanted a period, I should just take birth control. While birth control might be the right option for some individuals, for me, it seemed like a band-aid; I just wanted to get to the root of why I couldn’t do the very natural thing that I was supposed to do. And at the same time, I was terrified of doing it. This created a sort of “damned if I do, damned if I don’t” dynamic in my mind: if I didn’t menstruate, I was broken, and if I did, I was still broken, because menstruation is dirty and embarrassing, right?
It wasn’t until I did my own research, sought out help from professionals trained in women’s health and nutrition, and addressed my disordered eating and exercise habits that I started to appreciate my period for what it was: a sign that all is well in my body. Once I made the lifestyle changes that I needed to (i.e., resting more, moving less), I started to feel better and notice myself regaining strength and vitality. Finally, at age eighteen, I got my first period, and I was ecstatic. I never thought that I would cry tears of joy from bleeding out of my vagina but lo and behold, it happened, and it still happens sometimes when I remember how grateful I am to be healthy and strong.
I tell this story not to prove a point about how I healed myself or diagnosed my issues or found the cure-all for hormonal issues, but because I want to change the dialogue surrounding periods and cultivate appreciation and admiration toward this amazing thing that our bodies do for us. There is no shame in healing, in grappling with difficult bodily changes, and struggling to acknowledge and address false belief systems we’ve internalized from years of inadvertent exposure. But we can change the narrative to once that depicts periods as something to be celebrated, not feared, and something to be talked about, not avoided. Our bodies are more intricate, beautiful, and badass than we give them credit for; it’s about time we appreciate them.
If you or a loved one is struggling with amenorrhea, please consult a trusted health professional to talk about healthy lifestyle changes.
Do you have a story you would like to share about your relationship with your period? Send it to firstname.lastname@example.org[share]