I am no stranger to drama being used for public health messages or to tackle stigmas. My job involves working with writers and researchers to ensure that mental health storylines are both accurately and sensitively approached – as we know that drama has encouraged people to seek help and changed attitudes around mental health problems.
Periods were never shameful in my all-female household. In fact, nothing was off limits; my mum even taught safe sex to young people and those in prisons. But, despite being able to talk about bleeding I did suffer, hugely. As a teenager I used to regularly faint and become anaemic during my monthly ‘visitor’. Over the years I used several birth control methods until I got to the point where I wanted to have children. However, I was sadly the on-in-seven who, having spent years trying not to get pregnant, then realised that infertility was a problem.
Over the last decade I have spent a lot of time experiencing failed pregnancies and IVF treatment, mostly unsuccessfully. But one little embryo did decide to stick around, and I now have a beautiful 4 year-old girl. I have also spent weeks of every year suffering hugely with my bleeding. So painful I must lie down, losing so much blood that I have often left stains on seats, and moods that swing between anger and tears. Add into the mix the peri-menopause, which means my period comes whenever it wants, with no routine. Finally, I’ve had enough.
As I sat with my GP and described my problems I realised that this was actually the first time I had spoken to a medical professional about something that had affected my life so much for nearly 30 years. She mentioned that I may have endometriosis. I hadn’t even considered this, as it was the first time I had ever asked for help. We tried medication which didn’t seem to do much, so I got a Mirena coil fitted last week. I have to say it was one of the most painful things I have ever experienced but I am hopeful that things will improve.
I know I am lucky to live in the Western world and to have access to sanitary products and that many women around the world experience period poverty or are even shunned for their periods. However even for me periods are still a source of shame. My four year-old gets really upset when she sees any period blood, and my mother-in-law (who was herself a nurse) was very eager to end the conversation when I started talking about the gushing flow following my coil torture. According to Plan International 48% of girls under 21 are ashamed about their periods. I do talk about periods with my friends, but it is usually a ‘compare and moan’; an acceptance that this is just something we have to put up with.
Back to Doctors, and in one episode they throw a period party where the women of the surgery compare horror stories, eat red foods and even bash up a period themed piñata. I am not sure we are quite ready for this, but something really does have to change. With 50% of the world’s population experiencing this, it really is time to start talking and stop suffering in silence.