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Menstruation is a difficult phenomenon to deal with. Also, the taboo around menstruation doesn’t help an inch! How was your first time?
I still remember the winter of ’92. I was standing underneath the moonlit sky, participating in the Christmas Midnight Mass. I felt as if the ground under me would just collapse and so would I, along with it. Suddenly, my legs felt heavy, my body ached, my mind numbed and my soul just wanted to cry its heart out. I had no idea what was happening or about to happen. I was absolutely clueless.
We returned home around 2 am in the morning, and I quietly headed back to my bed. I just couldn’t fall asleep. I had this dull, nagging headache and I was feeling miserable. For no apparent reason. Or was there?
I limped quietly, dragging my heavy legs, in the early wee hours of the morning, finding my way to the bathroom in the dark. As I got down on my haunches, I looked down in horror. I found traces of blood. Was I imagining what I just saw? Where on earth did that come from? I panicked. I touched down there and my fingers were red. Blood red! I was horrified at what I just saw. And again, clueless!
I waited for the sunrise like I had never before. I was waiting to tell my Mum about the strange happening. My mind kept racing ever since I touched blood. What was happening to me? Did I hurt myself somehow..somewhere? Was I going to die? Would my Mum be upset? And anxious? And clueless like me? God help me!
Finally, the sun rose! When the first rays of sunshine struck and there was light, I cannot tell you how much lighter and hopeful I felt. All I wanted to do was tell my Mum. At the same time, I didn’t know how…if I should. Wouldn’t it panic her? But, who else could I tell? The suspense was killing me. And I wasn’t feeling any better since the Christmas Midnight service. I had never felt so vulnerable and so miserable at the same time like now.
I still vividly remember that Christmas morning. It was around 6.30 am when my Mum woke up. We wished each other ‘Happy Christmas’ again and she went into the kitchen to make breakfast. I still didn’t muster the courage to tell her about the eerie happenings. I somehow felt hesitant and unsure. But, I had no other choice. I checked in again and I still saw blood. My Mum headed into the bedroom and I quickly followed her with a heavy heart. I cried, ‘Mum, I don’t feel well.’ And she asked me what happened.
I spilt the beans to her. She was shocked just as I was. But not for the reasons that I had expected her to. She was taken aback, I could tell. And I saw a glint of sadness in her eyes too. And a sense of helplessness. She didn’t tell me much. After check her cupboard, she took me to a side and thrust a pad into my hand and whispered the instructions on how to use it and dispose it off safely. She also told me how I would have to use it every month around the same time from now on. And that there was no reason to see a doctor. I was not ill and it was perfectly normal. That was it! No more questions and answers!
I remember thinking how finally I knew what those mysterious Whisper and Carefree ads aired on TV were all about. And I felt a huge rush of embarrassment, pain, sadness and anger engulf me. Of all the avalanche of emotions, the greatest that I felt was anger. I remember looking up towards the skies and questioning God if this was fair. If He was not being fair to womenkind. What was His problem with us? What was this torture and punishment inflicted on us? Oh boy, was I angry! Hell hath no fury than a woman scorned! And Christ knew, how furious I was that Christmas day! I felt let down by the very same God that I was standing in the church and praising and praying to. I felt cheated, insulted, disappointed and terribly let down. What did I do to deserve this punishment for life?
That Christmas has been the worst till date. I know my Dad quickly learnt about my condition but was trying to be as normal around me. He was normal but I sure wasn’t. I was pretty sure my younger brothers were kept in the dark about me. Thank God for that! No, actually, thank Mum and Dad!
Anyway, the painful ordeal didn’t just end there. We had a large family get-together with Uncles, Aunties, cousins etc. All the elders were informed by my Mum. I could sense a feeling of mutual grief and loss in their facial expressions and eyes. They looked at me with sympathy at the loss of my innocent childhood. I hated that feeling. I was put in the spotlight all of sudden for no fault of mine.
Life was never the same again. Maybe, it was but, I was never the same again. I looked at life in a wholly new perspective. There was so much confusion, caution, suspicion and fear. I was still clueless. Mum never told me why it was all happening to me. All I got was her assurance that it was normal. Except that I was pretty sure at that age that nothing was normal about it.
My body was changing and I wasn’t comfortable with it. In fact, I was ashamed and embarrassed about it. My posture changed and my self-confidence took a beating. Every month since, I experienced torture before the onset of menstruation and during it. It was hell on earth. And, somehow this was supposedly normal.
Years have passed and I have a seven-year-old daughter. I felt extremely humbled and thankful when I conceived my daughter. I was privileged and blessed to be a mother. For once, all those monthly pangs of shooting pain felt totally worth it.
However, I must admit that I am still not comfortable with this menstruation affair. I doubt that I will ever be! It still feels very weird till this date and I still somehow cannot treat this monthly leaky business as normal. I always wish it away as soon it makes its monthly debut. Sometimes I do wonder, though, if I would miss this phase of menstruation once menopause sets in. Only time will tell!
For now, my life’s literally an auto replay of the psychological movie, ‘Inside Out’ every single month. The first day of the period and the few days prior to it (yes, that whole PMS phase) are simply the worst. With time, I have learnt the tricky art of exercising self-control on my emotions that follow the laissez-faire policy during menstruation. I have learnt to keep my emotions in check else they were making my life a complete mess. I make a conscious effort now to track my dates, keep my emotions in check, stay cool when dealing with my husband, child, relatives or acquaintances. It is no easy task. But, I try to be mindful and stay as objective as I can.
I know for a fact how menstruation affected me as an adolescent – my self-esteem and confidence, my body image, and so much more. Even today, in the best of times and the highest levels of confidence, PMS knocks the hell out of all that with its unwanted entrance every month. It’s hard to feel good in your own skin during the monthly episodes. I feel as sexy as the bloated cartoon character Pingu which has just gobbled some really stinky fish. All the problems, even the minutest ones get magnified to Goliath proportions. Add to that, the PMS symptom of hitting the highest blues and crying at the drop of a hat.
It is safe to say that those pesky hormones mess up not just your body but also your head. You feel worthless and empty and soulless. And, you know what is the worst part? No one really understands what you are going through.
Yes, we live in times of Google and in an overly sexualised world where there are no more hushed whispers and secrets anymore! But, in spite of all the information and awareness overload, men still have no clue what it really feels like. It’s a joke. ’Is it that time of the month again?’. And we, my dear women, are at the centre of it all. The “circus clown meets a Chudaiyl (witch or female ghost) of a C-grade horror movie” who pops out of nowhere and makes her disastrous appearance unfailingly every month.
For some reason, the older generation including the women themselves have absolutely no clue that PMS is a real thing. For them, PMS is a pure figment of your imagination. It is as pointless talking to the women of the older generation as it is to men belonging to any generation belonging to the past, current and future. So, the safest bet to explain your condition to this tribe is ‘Oh stomach pain again, you know’. And, they instantly understand. Or do they?
Men and old ladies (and children are exempted), let me try breaking this down especially for you! Picture trying to keep in control a highly charged, wild bull. Hypothetically, let’s just say a pregnant one! Because you actually experience all the pregnancy symptoms of misery during menstruation. Without actually being pregnant, that is! Pregnant bulls are a fantasy of imagination. They don’t exist. Period.
But, you get the picture right!
We are pregnant bulls while on menstruation. We are experiencing pregnancy even though we are not supposed to be technically pregnant. Wait, it gets more curious after this! And no my dear, the root problem of all our untamed anger is not red or any of those fifty provocative shades of it. In reality, just as bulls don’t actually get charged and furious at the sight of red as much as they charge towards the matador’s cape at the slightest movement in all their rage and fury.
So, stop laughing at PMS. It is the real deal. We are not crazy beings while leaking tears and blood. We are not OTT because it is that time of the month when we see red and all hell breaks loose.
Read my lips – ‘We are pregnant bulls that easily get charged at the slightest provocation.’
So, no, we are not easily provoked because of the sight and appearance of red blood as is the common myth. We are easily provoked because we are done putting up with jerks behaving like jerks and our tolerance levels are simply empty during that time of the month. Our periods are a ‘wake-up’ call to us that we have to put a period to all the crap and injustice that happens around us.
Like this! To make matters worse, there are so many superstitions, misconceptions, taboos, rumours, jokes around menstruation that it is not funny anymore. Especially the stigma attached to menstruating women in India. That of being ‘dirty’! Seriously, don’t you think this is not only extremely misogynistic but also utterly insensitive and callous?
Thank your stars that you don’t have to deal with all that bullshit. Yes, you have to put up with the bullshit of dealing with us. But, listen up straight, once and for all! All you have to do is go underground for a few days in a month and not provoke us. Even the slightest bit. Else, you will unleash the Mad Max within us and all the fury upon yourself. Don’t tell us later that we didn’t warn you!
We have already so much bullshit to deal with that we certainly don’t need any of this thrust (not fair!) bullshit that strikes us every month and we don’t want you to add to the pile of bullshit that we already are dealing with. P.H.E.W!
So you see, my friend, Menstruation is not so simple, natural or normal as it deceptively appears to be. It’s a complex and curious phenomenon.
I know life will definitely come a full circle again. And I will be filling in the shoes of my own Mum and my daughter will step into my shoes. And we will have a replay of that winter of ’92 all over again. I know I will take a different approach from my Mum but will it work or not, remains to be seen. I can only hope that I will be able to handhold her efficiently through this daunting experience for any girl child and keep intact her self-esteem, confidence and body image during this life-altering ‘I’m not a girl, not yet a woman’ phase.
So, till then, rebel with or without a cause, every month, my fellow women! For it is our birthright and privilege to bleed profusely – body, mind and soul!
Image source: flickr, for representational purposes only.
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Winner of the Rashtriya Gaurav Award (2019) in association with the Government of Telangana for ‘
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