I’ve talked before a little bit about my own dealings with depression, but I don’t think I ever really touched on one of the causes that kicks off the endless up-and-down cycles I go through with no end in sight. It comes down to simple biology. Not a genetic presupposition for depression, although it’s possible that’s a factor too. I’m talking about the basic biology be being female-bodied.
Being female-bodied in society has a lot of baggage already attached to it. Things are pretty messed up, to understate the state of things. Everyday in the news there’s new reasons and examples of how much life sucks for the female-bodied and female-passing, and it’s hard to ignore just how little we’re valued as equal people. The issue I’m talking about today is one of the first basic taboo subjects we’re all taught to avoid and ridicule from adolescence: our periods. The time of month we cry and bleed and hurt and rage, and around expected to either hide it or be teased about it.
For at least a quarter of every single month of the majority of my life, I can expect my own body to put me through a personal hell of physiological and psychological warfare. Every female-bodied person experiences this time of the month a little differently. For me, starting a little over a week from when the blood comes, I start feeling overwhelmed and helpless and stressed out. I get depressed, I can’t focus mentally, I cry at the slightest frustration or emotional response to anything, I just want to stay curled up in bed so I don’t have to face anyone while I feel raw and vulnerable and flayed open by my own mind. It’s impossible to my usual optimistic and cheerful self. It’s like Jekyll and Hyde; I become dark and cynical and sometimes suicidal, feeling hopeless and distracted and unable to cope with any kind of interactions.
This is every month, for one week out of every four. No matter what I do or try.
Recovering from this kind of mental flogging is bad enough, difficult and painful and slow. Usually I have about one good week a month, because I’m beat down by my own body and worn out trying to recover for that long every single month. On top of this, I also get beat up and worn down by the things which are usually called ‘cramps’, which in my opinion doesn’t even come close to describing the endless twisting aching stabbing pain which, lucky me, isn’t effected by any pain relief, over-the-counter or prescription. This is the kind of pain that makes me feel like I’m going to throw up all day because it runs so deep in my body, that makes life unbearable while it lasts, that leaves me faint and ill and pale and hunched over if I have to stand up or walk anywhere. This is the kind of pain I’m expected to work through without showing it, because it’s the pain of being female-bodied and comes every month and “everyone has to deal with it” so I shouldn’t expect special treatment. This is the kind of pain that usually lasts about 24-48 hours, and leaves me weak and shaky for a day or two more after it leaves. Every. Single. Month.
This is considered within the realms of “normal”. Oh sure, having some kind of weird immunity to painkillers isn’t typical, but that’s just a bit of random trivia to other people, a point on which to show a little extra sympathy while still telling me to tough it out and keep working, don’t slow down, we all go through this so why are you so weak as to ask for a day off?
There’s a lot of messed up expectations in society. Despite people not admitting it, the fact of that matter is that having a menstrual cycle is a lot like having a mental illness with physical symptoms, complete with a lot of the same stigmas, belittling jokes, and daily struggles. The difference is, there’s a lot of fight happening right now to increase awareness and understanding about a lot of mental illnesses, and effective or not, there’s at least some forms of support networks for a lot of them, too. Not so much so for the things I’ve been facing and fighting on my own, and I bet that a lot of other female-bodied people are, too. It’s a conversation that just isn’t happening, and I don’t think a lot of people are even aware it’s something that should be addressed, because it’s so deeply ingrained that periods are normal (yes, they are), and that there’s nothing to do about it except put up with it (wrong wrong wrong).
In a perfect world, female-bodied people who suffered through their cycles like I do would be given the support and help they need to take care of themselves during this time. They wouldn’t be forced to try and hide the impossible battles they faced. Instead, they would be encouraged to do whatever helped them survive it, up to and including simply not going to work when necessary, or being given options of different tasks they could actually perform during the times they were unable to fully cope with their normal duties. I don’t think of this as “special treatment”; I think of it as basic human compassion. If people with physical differences and people with mental differences are worth fighting for to get equal treatment, then so is over half the world population who happens to have both a quarter of their lives because of their biology.
Society has conditioned us all to accept that we don’t deserve consideration for the acts of our biology simply because it’s something we all experience to various degrees, and that giving in to it is weakness and we must hide it to be considered ‘equal’ to male-bodied people.
That’s utter nonsense.
Hopefully by now you can see how utterly nonsensical it is, and how very far from any kind of real equality it is. I don’t have answers on how to fight this battle, or advice on creating awareness and change, or channels for building support. All I have is this blog and my words and my outrage. All I have is the hope this is message will resonate and spread, and that somehow, eventually, the world might become a place where I don’t feel like life isn’t worth living because of having been born into this body that I mostly try to love.
Keep fighting. Maybe someday a real equality for everyone will be achieved. Until then, we can keep whispering the dream of it into the darkness, a prayer and a wish to attract the sun and a new day into this endless night terror.