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You don’t have to silently soldier through period cramps

Did you know it’s been proven that period cramps can be as painful as having a heart attack?

Don’t let that terrify you because luckily, most of us won’t ever experience that level of pain. But everyone who’s ever had a period can tell you that period pains can sometimes really hurt (the clue is in the name I guess…) and finally, FINALLY, it’s been accepted as science. And you can’t argue with science, soz.

What, so people think my period pain doesn’t really hurt?

The thing is, even though girls have been telling people that period pains hurt since, like, the dawn of time and even though science now backs us up, people still like to think that they’re not really that bad. We’re all just being a bit delicate. Overreacting a bit. Being emotional.

In fact, historically, women’s pain has been dismissed by male medical professionals and it still happens now. For example, if a man and woman go into A&E at the same time with the same stomach pains, the man is more likely to be seen first. Also, it’s been claimed that men are more likely to be given pain medication, while women are more likely to be given something to ‘calm them down’.

Take the word ‘hysterical’ as proof. It comes from the Latin and Greek ‘hystericus’ and ‘hysterikos’, which mean ‘of the womb’. So a word that now means being over emotional is historically linked to women’s pain, specifically in the womb.

Why does all this matter?

Because, when the world doubts our pain, we begin to doubt it too. We don’t want to be seen to be making a fuss or being dramatic if we have period cramps at school for example, so even if we’re having the worst period pains ever, a lot of the time we’ll just carry on as normal.

I’ve never once taken a day off for period pains. That’s despite the fact that I’ve had period pains that felt worse than the sorts of colds, viruses and sore throats I have allowed myself a sick day for. I’ve done 12 hours days where it felt like I had a tiny person wearing football boots kicking me all day long, and I’ve grimaced through period cramps at school even though my back felt like a burning lead weight. I bet you’ve done it too.

Because they’re a regular feature in our lives and because so many people have decided that they’re “not that bad”, we just kind of soldier through period pains without really saying anything about it.

Maybe we quietly ask around our girl friends to see if they have a paracetamol, but actually taking time out until we feel better? I don’t think so!

But really, that’s exactly what we should be doing if we need to. I’m not saying period pains should ruin our lives and have us languishing on the sofa forever but we should be able to acknowledge them for what they are: real, actual pains.

Should just carry on as normal with period pain?

In a word… NO!  If we sprain an ankle, we’ll keep it elevated and pop some ice on it. If we have a migraine, we’ll go and lie in a darkened room. If we have back ache, we’ll do some yoga or lie flat for a few hours. So, why can’t we do the same for period pains? Why can’t we outwardly show that we’re in pain?

Well, do you know what? We can. No matter what anyone says, none of us have to suck it up and just get on with it. Period pain is just as legitimate as a cold or a sickness bug. Some countries are even starting to recognise that…

How do women in other countries deal with period pain?

In Japan, Taiwan, Indonesia and a few other places, women are entitled to take what’s called menstrual leave: time off for your period. Unfortunately, a lot of the women in those countries don’t take their employers up on the offer for fear of being looked over for promotions or even fired.

Clearly, it’s not necessarily easy to normalise period pains and put them on a level with (or above, for that matter) any other pain but it’s no less than we owe ourselves.

OK, so what do I do about my period pain?

It’s not up to anyone else to decide how bad period pain is. It’s a very personal thing. Some of us can breeze through, while for others, it’s totally disruptive. Some of us deal with it every month, while some of us get a bout of it every so often. None of those situations are any less legitimate than the other. Would you tell someone with a broken arm to stop whining because at least it’s not their leg? Nope! So let’s stop classing period pains as less important than any other type of pain.

If you want to moan about it, moan about it. If you need a hot water bottle and some painkillers, you go grab them. And if you need a day off, take it. Pain is pain and we’re entitled to take the time we need to deal with it. Period.


Image: Katie Edmunds

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