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Your Period Pain May Not Be 'Normal'

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It’s quaint to have a male doctor who has never experienced a period in his life tell you that the pain you experience during your monthly cycle is “normal.” Normal for whom? As compared to what? What exactly is normal anyway? Is normal not being able to stand upright because you feel like you’ll pass out from the pain in your abdomen? Is normal having cramps 24/7 for a week straight? Is normal flop sweating from the excruciating pain? Because frankly, none of that ever felt “normal” to me. In fact, it felt very “abnormal” and it felt like nobody believed me when I told them that my pain was so bad I felt like I should go to the ER because there’s no way that something most women experience every month should hurt this much.

Medical gaslighting is not new, nor is it novel. It happens all of the time, particularly where chronic illnesses or more obscure and lesser understood illnesses, like endometriosis, are concerned. When doctors cannot find a cause easily with a blood test, ultrasound or other standard medical exam, they are quick to write off symptoms as “phantom pain,” “in your head” and attributable to being a “hypochondriac.” This kind of dismissive lack of care isn’t just unprofessional, it’s damaging to a patient’s mental and physical health.

I can recall feeling like maybe I was overreacting. Maybe I was just a wimp or had a lower pain threshold than other women. I mean, I had never given birth so I certainly had no reference point for what contractions felt like, but I was pretty sure that my cramps were comparable. I had never taken classes to teach me Lamaze breathing techniques, but I instinctually taught myself to breathe in a focused methodical way just to get through each cramp. I would make guttural moaning sounds while writhing in the fetal position all night long, waiting for whatever medication I had taken to just take the edge off. It seldom did. But… was I overreacting?

In hindsight, no, I wasn’t. My cramps were every bit as debilitating as I knew they were. I had no reason to disbelieve or distrust “medical experts” so I let them talk me out of forcing the issue. I dutifully fell in line and gaslit myself because I was taught as a child to respect people with degrees and especially men with lots of letters after their name. That’s the problem with socializing children, and particularly children assigned female, to distrust their thoughts, feelings and bodies. They grow up to ignore their own needs to please everyone else around them and to not be a bother, not take up space, not be too loud.

While I didn’t intend for this to become some kind of feminist treatise, it might sound like one by default since endometriosis comes with uniquely female challenges which don’t exist in a vacuum. They are indicative of a society that places less value on the voices and bodies of women than men, and I for one would like to see that challenged. Your extreme period pain is not “normal” and you do not need to tolerate it. Exert your autonomy over your body. Raise your voice. Don’t let so-called professionals silence you, regardless of their gender. Insist on follow-up exams and don’t let up until you get the proper diagnosis and treatment. You deserve to live a life free of pain.

Getty image by sSplajn.

Originally published: August 29, 2021
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