The UK is woefully ignorant when it comes to gyno experiences and options for anyone with a uterus
One of my favourite Frank Turner lyrics reads 'I won't sit down and I won’t shut up, and most of all I will not give up’ and perfectly encapsulates how I feel when it comes to getting the medical help I need when it comes to my ongoing problematic periods. It’s my mantra. And a lot of people who menstruate rock the same mantra.
What is sexual health education like in the UK?
From the classroom to clinical settings we just aren’t clued up on the inner workings of our reproductive systems. This is evidenced in the fact (Phillips, 2017) that a quarter of women in the UK aged 16-39 don’t understand their menstrual cycle. With the addition that it can take on average 7.5 years (Endometriosis UK, 2017) to get a diagnosis for things like endometriosis, it’s clear to see that we need to do far more to empower menstruators with the care they need to live more comfortable lives.
My story is a challenging one, but sadly not an uncommon one. From seeing multiple doctors over 10 years, being prescribed and trying various drugs and contraceptives, to being told at the age of 23 that my only options were to (and get ready for this) either get pregnant or have a hysterectomy - how crazy is that?! So it’s fair to say I’ve experienced little empathy or continuity of care when it comes to my debilitatingly long and irregular periods.
It wasn’t until I attended my first smear appointment at 25 (a whole other issue!) that I was actually asked about my cycle. Not only asked, but this wonderful, sympathetic and knowledgeable nurse’s way of providing care helped me to feel validated and empowered to demand better from my doctor - and you should too! She informed me that there are NICE guidelines (NICE, 2018) around treatment that you can remind your doctor to follow. These guidelines state that your doctor should inform you of all treatment options available to you and refer you to a specialist if your case warrants it.
A decade later, I still suffer greatly from menorrhagia (heavy and irregular menstrual bleeding), horrible mood swings, flooding (saturating a tampon and a sanitary towel worn at the same time), unexplainable bruises and periods that last 20+ days. It has been a hard and, at times, isolating experience. It’s becoming increasingly normal to talk about periods and the struggles, but it wasn’t always this way and definitely isn’t the status quo worldwide. Charities such as Wear White Again (Wear White Again, 2020) and online communities like YourPeriodCalled have helped me feel empowered and encouraged me to refuse to put up and shut up. I know my own body and I know that it is not ‘normal’ or fair to have to endure the impact my menstrual cycle has on my quality of life.
Above all, trust in yourself!
If you’re going through problematic periods too, I would encourage you to seek medical help from your GP or gynaecologist. Some other helpful tips include:
- Keeping a period diary, I use the period tracking app Clue which comes preloaded with lots of things you can monitor over the course of your cycle including pain, flow, exercise and emotions.
- Looking into the various types of home pain relief such as hot or cold water bottles, CBD oil, TENS machines and finding what works for you. (Always check with a doctor or other certified health professional before trying any product!). You can check out our article on Our Best 8 Hacks for Conquering Your Period to start.
- Confiding in a trustworthy friend or reaching out to period-related charities and period-positive communities. There are lots of worthy charities fighting for better recognition and offering great advice around menstruation problems, as well as some awesome period-positive accounts on platforms such as Instagram that will just *get* what you’re going through.
Above all, trust in yourself - you know how it feels to be in your body and if it doesn’t feel right, you deserve the very best of what’s available in order to make it so!
P.S. Here is that Frank Turner song!
Endometriosis-uk.org. 2017. It Takes An Average 7.5 Years To Get A Diagnosis Of Endometriosis - It Shouldn't | Endometriosis UK. [online] Available at: <https://www.endometriosis-uk.org/news/it-takes-average-75-years-get-diagnosis-endometriosis-it-shouldnt-37491> [Accessed 10 September 2020].
Nice.org.uk. 2018. Overview | Heavy Menstrual Bleeding: Assessment And Management | Guidance | NICE. [online] Available at: <https://www.nice.org.uk/guidance/ng88> [Accessed 10 September 2020].
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