I know pain, excruciating pain, the kind that makes one numb.
Body writhing like a snake, perhaps more like a worm that just had salt sprinkled on it. An empty stomach because nothing will stay down. Fierce retching into the toilet bowl; it feels like I’m about to spew my guts but no, it’s only disgusting trickles of mustard coloured bile. On days like this, the toilet, my pillow, my bed, and pain relief drugs are my best friends. On days like this, my body is not my own. It belongs to my angry bleeding uterus. What else can explain the sort of pain she inflicts on me? She must be angry.
I can’t remember exactly when I started menstruating but I must have been thirteen or fourteen and I bled for 10 days straight. Yes, I counted. And it wasn’t just the bleeding; the pain that accompanied it was near paralysing, my mum rushed me to the hospital. I remember sitting in the doctor’s office with mum thinking, “Is this going to be my life now? I don’t want it, I don’t want it!”
Growing up, Mama (my late grandma) and Tati (my aunt and second mum) would always tell me they pray that when I start menstruating, I don’t get period pains like my mum. They would recount how the entire neighbourhood was often aware that Elo (my amazing mother) was on her period. That people would gather at the house when my mum started crying and screaming from period pain. And how they tried everything, drugs, washed bitter leaf, and other concoctions to alleviate the pain but none worked. I would listen to them both intrigued and nonchalant. Intrigued because I loved stories, and nonchalant because, well, I was a kid and I was not menstruating yet.
But when I started menstruating eventually, one thing was clear, Mama and Tati DID NOT PRAY ENOUGH. Dear God! It was hell, and it still is sometimes. The pain drives me mad, literally. I writhe like I am being exorcised, eyes rolling into my head. Other times I am coiled up so tightly in a violent shudder. I seize to function, to participate, to be useful. I seize to be aware of my surrounding, only the pain. Have you ever experienced pain to the point where you go numb from it? I have. My bleeding uterus performs such sadistic stunts.
It’s okay when it begins and I am home; at least I alone get to go through the madness. Sometimes, friends and family get to catch a rare glimpse of it. But they never truly understand it. One day, about five years ago, I was home alone with my younger brother, Onome, he panicked when he saw me writhing on the bed. “… Should I call your mum?” he asked me. The poor boy was scared sh*tless and didn’t know what to do.
On a few occasions, the world has been privy to my ‘menstrual madness.’ Once, I was travelling from Lagos to Benin, the bus constantly had to stop for me to throw up, the other passengers were quite irritated, and did not hide it. But I was in too much pain to care. I must have displayed in other ways like I did on another trip from Benin to Warri, but I cannot remember much of it.
The aforementioned trip from Benin to Warri was the worst, and one that I will never forget. My uterus was raving mad on this trip. I was on a 30-seater Toyota coaster bus and all other 29 passengers knew that day, there was a young girl on her period on that bus. Boy, did I groan and cry! I slid from my seat onto the floor of the bus wriggling in pain. The elderly woman sitting beside me saw my eyes roll into my head and screamed; she thought I was dying. (She thought right.) She began to pray in Urhobo.
At some point, the bus had to park by the side of the road. Passengers who had panadol/paracetamol shoved them down my throat. Another person gave me a near palmful of mustard seed to chew and swallow. Others were fanning me and chanting “amen” to the elderly woman’s prayer. Something must have worked because the pain eased off after a while and we continued the journey. I sat lazily on my seat, exhausted from the pain and the drama, my head on the elderly woman’s laps. She did not stop praying till I got to my stop where a friend was already waiting. He literally carried me like a baby to the car; I was too weak to walk.
Another time, I could not complete an exam. I had managed to sit through half of it with the painkillers I had taken earlier but they wore off and dysmenorrhea shot through my entire being. I started palpitating and sweating profusely, struggling to keep down whatever it was that was creeping up my throat; I got up, submitted my paper and left. And on few occasions, I have been brought home from work.
Why am I sharing this? Well, because I’m bleeding at the moment. And I have downed a good number of painkillers to keep me propped up on my bed and able to function. But more importantly, because a lot of people are completely oblivious to the ‘kind of pain’ (some) women go through when menstruating. And so they wave it off ever so carelessly when it comes up, men and women alike. Research has proven that menstrual pain can be as bad as a heart attack yet not enough attention is being paid to it.
Not too long ago, I was told to “act professional …” WTF does that mean! My uterus doesn’t understand that. I was so upset that this person who clearly had never experienced the kind of pain I was experiencing at the time would say that. I wanted to yell at her, “You don’t f*cking know how I feel! I should not be here right now! I only managed to show up!” But I kept my cool berating myself for showing up at all.
Henceforth, no one is going to flippantly dismiss my pain. I did not ask for this. I do not enjoy being bedridden and dysfunctional. It just happens to be the way things are. I do not want your sympathy; it will not ease the pain. But show some damn respect is all I ask.
These days, I know how to manage it better; I pop a double dose of painkillers every four hours. Drug abuse? Maybe. But it’s the only way I get by. It’s the only thing that keeps me sane. It’s the only way I know to appease my raging bleeding uterus.