I think I have always been quite a moany person. When I was little I would moan about going to summer camp or after school club. As I got older I moaned about maths and music lessons. Then I started moaning about redundant news stories in prime time spots, the patriarchy and inequality, Brexit, tuition fees. Last week I was moaning about how annoying people were for moaning about Big Ben going quiet.
I’ve also, from time to time, moaned about pain. I remember following my mum around the supermarket when I was eleven or so, complaining about a dull achey back ache. I moaned about the same pain when I started my period a few years later. I moaned about it even more when I started working at pizza delivery chains and the pain would present itself after an hour or so of a five hour standing shift.
I have a family full of aches and pains. Moaning about back ache or knee pain is pretty normal business for us. Remarkably, given I have two older sisters, moaning about period pain wasn’t much of a thing in our house (until I hit puberty, that is). I remember texting my mum under the desk in French class the day after I started my period saying ‘I think I have period pain’ and she said ‘try to move around’. An answer I found very unhelpful at the beginning of double French.
My friends say I moaned about my periods at sixth form. I can’t say I remember that – but it does sound like me. When I started university I was having monthly periods for the first time because of the pill, and that definitely made me more aware of my periods and the pain that accompanied them. I remember paracetamol, hot water bottles and bean bags becoming monthly essentials.
Then of course I stopped having periods. I won’t go into that again. For the ‘fun’ of that adventure read A Tale of Two Pills.
Fast forward a year and a half and I’m in Clermont-Ferrand, France. I’ve been off of the pill for three weeks and my boobs suddenly hurt. I moan about it and my parents and, quite rightly, tell me they don’t care. A week later I have my menarche 2.0. A week of tender breasts before my period starts is now a thing. It was never a thing before I was on the pill.
This very second, I am using Clue and my old diaries to trace when exactly the pain got noteworthy. I had three periods that seemingly passed as nonevents and then we get to January 2015. After a 63 days cycle my period promptly started in a crêperie in Lyon three hours after a friend from home had arrived to visit. Two days later, I got up and began my long commute into the Rhône-Alps countryside and started to feel sick from some sort of new period pain. When I arrived at work I taught one class and then vomited in the toilet before going home – I never take sick days. Actually I’ll just quote my diary here, I think 2016 Hilary was quite eloquent about it:
‘I’m finally having a period but once I got to school I felt so faint and sick and there was basically blood pouring out of me. It was horrible. Very strange day, David Bowie died.’
My next period, seven weeks later, appears in my diary as a divine event. It is the day I wrote a certain blood/vagina quote as discussed in Blood, Books and Vagina. I also wrote:
‘The more I learn about vaginas, periods, childbirth and motherhood the more my curiosity grows.’
I was clearly on some sort of (hormone induced?) vagina trip. Though if you’ve read Blood, Books and Vagina you’ll know I had just read Naomi Wolf’s Vagina: A New Biography.
Right, so now we’re in March 2016. Once again I’ll leave it to past me (and Shania Twain, apparently):
‘Man, I feel like woman! Yesterday, for the first time in my life, I came on my period 28 days after my last period! Everything about this period is different but familiar… Today I feel like total shit and I cannot stop eating, but I know why and for the first time in three years I feel like me and my body are on the same page, yipee!’
Oh young, naive girl. I don’t know where I got the idea that this was the dawn of a new age because this next cycle would go on to be 44 days, and the following would be 47. What is consistent on my Clue though, is the increase in cramps and ovulation pain. Around this time paracetamol stopped hacking it and I moved onto ibuprofen. Like sore boobs, ovulation pain was not something I experienced before I went on the pill. I have, until now, categorised it as sharp, often breathtaking pain, towards one side below my belly button, usually the right side.
Once I started having sex again, the occurrence of these pains was no longer limited to where I was in my cycle. Suddenly I was having ovulation pain and period cramps three out of four weeks of a cycle, and recently four out of four (or five out of five). This includes weeks and months where I deliberately stop having sex, the pain continues regardless of my sex life, but is definitely worse when it’s active.
Yet, it now seems that those pains are not ‘period cramps’ or ‘ovulation pain’. After last week’s ruling that whatever is causing my pain it is not gynaecological, I am stumped for how exactly I now talk about my pain. One option is to shut up and not say anything, quit a lifetime habit of moaning and leave my friends and family in peace. One thing that I’m learning to be really difficult about pain, especially chronic pain disorders, which it now seems is a group I may belong to, is that if you don’t say anything nothing happens. The only way anyone is going to know something is wrong is if you say something aloud.
There is nothing, bar a heavy period and a bit of bloating, that projects my pain into the physical world. Which means everyone is going to think you’re fine unless you moan, but if you moan all the time then it’s fucking annoying for everyone. But how else do you express that you’re unwell? I need a metaphysical censor above my head. It’s a concept I find really tricky to get my head around.
Now though, the language I have been using to express that pain is redundant and incorrect. I have focussed so much on my pain-cycle connection that it is incredibly difficult to disassociate my pain from my menstrual cycle. However, the raving pedantic within me can’t get on board with using now incorrect terms. I daren’t start saying ‘ow my bladder hurts’ because in a year’s time we’ll have probably moved onto my bowel or something else. It does of course all come under the category of pelvic pain but there’s something very clinical about ‘ow my pelvic area hurts’.
I need to find a new language for articulating this pain – any suggestions would be greatly appreciated. So far all I have is Twilight Saga’s Jane blank staring while whispering ‘pain’.
In the meantime, I might channel 2016 diary Hilary’s bizzaro way of articulating pain – with utter nonsense and writing a novel…
Update: since I wrote this my sister showed me this picture. Could this be the language I’ve been needing to moan about my pain?!