My Dear Period,
I don’t think we’ve ever been formally introduced, you and me.
One day, you arrived without warning. I was still a child. I was such a child, I didn’t realize I was becoming a woman. My chest had started to fill out, and I didn’t even notice. I didn’t look at my body back then. I lived in it.
But of course, a man quickly took it upon himself to make me notice. A fisherman in the village where I lived, with a look in his eye I wasn’t familiar with yet: “Ah, they’re growing! Someone’s becoming a woman!”
I still remember the feeling of shock and shame – and the oversize t-shirt I forced myself to wear the rest of the summer. And still, at that moment, I had no idea just how big they were going to get, my breasts. No idea what I was going to have to endure in the years to come.
One day that same summer, I was sitting on the toilet, in my parents’ restaurant, when suddenly I saw blood in my underwear. I thought I’d hurt myself somehow.
I’d heard about you before, of course, but you were definitely not part of my world.
I was eleven. I was a kid.
I screamed, and my father came over, then my mother. It was right in the middle of lunch hour, so the restaurant was packed. They gave me a quick explanation of what was happening to me, then I went to clean up.
And just like that, in an instant, my childhood was over.
I quickly got used to your presence. I learned how to use pads and I remember the day when, frustrated with missing too many beach days, I tried a tampon for the first time. A revolution. Suddenly I was normal again. I could forget, a bit, the body that was clearly taking up more and more space in my life.
My breasts took on their final shape. They were full and proud.
But of course, I couldn’t see their beauty.
After the village fisherman (ah, village fishermen. I’ve got quite a few stories to tell about village fishermen, but that will be for another time), the boys at school who were just as poorly educated, and just as disrespectful of my body as I was, and couldn’t believe the miracle puberty had just created.
I was the first in my class to become a woman so visibly, and unfortunately, no matter how hard I tried to hide it, it was really hard to deny.
I was eleven years old, and men were looking at me in the street. At school, the boys would not leave me alone. And they were rarely nice. When they were, it was because they wanted something from me, which plunged me into oceans of self-doubt. Because that’s just how it is. A woman’s body can’t protect a child’s mind. I didn’t know how to protect myself. And those harsh, vulgar, inappropriate words – hearing them so young – that never goes away.
I heard it all, and it really, really hurt me.
I was incapable of communicating about my situation because I didn’t understand it. Who could have understood me? I transformed myself from an innocent, smiling kid into a rebellious teen with baggy clothes and a wary attitude.
I stopped swimming, I bought big sweaters and started slouching my shoulders.
And you were always there, faithfully each month. You always showed up unexpectedly, I was never ready to welcome you because I never knew where I was in my cycle and I kind of wanted to forget about you – you, the inconvenience of you and my stained underwear.
You’re on your period? It’s embarrassing, something you only tell your best friend.
You have tampons in your purse? That’s embarrassing, you’d better hide them well, so no one sees.
You have a stain on your pants? So embarrassing, and constant cruel jokes. Fortunately, that never happened to me. It happened to a girl in my class, and she ended up switching schools.
Hide. I had to hide, hide, hide it away. Hide and forget my femininity, push it as far away as possible.
With each passing month, the pain got worse and worse. Light cramps started to turn into crippling spasms. And the more I hated you, the more you made me scream. I was in so much pain, I had to miss entire days of school. I’d go home doubled over, in tears, and collapse onto my bed, loaded up with Tylenol and wrapped around a hot water bottle.
The years went by, and I got used to how violent the pain was each month.
That pain so many women have. Pain so intense I couldn’t even think. Just groan and cry.
So I finally figured it out and was ready at all times. I always had my pain relief kit with me. I learned over the years that you would always come at the worst moments. In class, of course. During an exam, or on a Sunday when all the pharmacies were closed. On a boat. On a trip. I remember one night, I was traveling in Syria and the pain was so bad, a doctor came to give me a shot of morphine.
I was 17. I remember saying to myself: “This can’t be normal for a natural process to make me suffer this much…!”
In the meantime, my sex life was beginning.
Fortunately for me, even though I still didn’t love and understand the woman I was, I knew I was a human being and I deserved respect. I managed to protect myself from the traps that a lot of young teen girls fall into when they’re a bit lost (which is to say – all teen girls) and I was more or less respected, and even loved.
And life went on.
Then one day, when I was about 27, I stopped taking the pill I had started taken a few years before. It was strange, just something I felt I had to do. I decided to follow my intuition for once. I would protect myself another way. I didn’t like how I felt when I was taking the pill. I didn’t feel “real” and I can’t really explain the feeling any more than that.
Then when I was around thirty, I started becoming aware of my mood swings. A few days before you arrived, dear period, I became unbearable. First of all, my chest would swell so much my bras didn’t fit anymore. My stomach got so bloated, I couldn’t zip my jeans. And as for my mood, uh…how do I put this. I started to understand the meaning of “rage”. Rage, tears. Or immense sadness, tears. Or both at the same time.
Every month, my world imploded. Every month, I was leaving my boyfriend, my job, my life. I was crumbling emotionally. Every month, I destroyed everything and tore it all down.
And every time, I was hurting people and suffering deeply.
I finally realized my moods were related to my cycle. “Aaaah shoot, come back, babe, haha no I was just kidding, you’re not a pretentious messy asshole, see, I’m just on my period!!!”
And every month, dear period, I cursed you even more. On top of the physical pain, there was now the emotional pain – not the kind of thing you can manage with some Advil and a hot water bottle.
Fuck you, period! Shit! Fuck off, goddamnit, shit! My period.
But anyway, I ended up paying more attention to my moods.
It’s difficult to understand how much control our hormones have over us. How life can be rosy one day and gray, rainy and hopeless the next. I tried to push away those feelings. And tell myself, pfff, it’s just PMS, that’s all. Life will look rosy again tomorrow.
But there again, I was hiding it. Only my close friends got to hear all my complaints, poor things. I’d heard enough insults about women being “irrational” – I wasn’t going to be the one to trample on the dream that a woman could be President of the USA or France one day (“and who knows, what if she has to decide whether to press the red button or not and she has her period that day? hmm?”) NOPE, NOT ME. So I never said anything and pretended like everything was totally fine.
I remember one thing. I remember having an intuition. I remember thinking about all the emotional problems that were surfacing during my period and hearing a little voice say: “These problems aren’t entirely false, though. That guy is kind of a pretentious, messy asshole!” But then I discreetly slipped them all under the thick rug of my existence.
So there you go. All I wanted was peace, but inside me, a fierce war was raging.
And then one day I wanted to have a baby, and suddenly, kind of like how everyone warmed up to Kim Kardashian after treating her like she was an idiot for years (don’t overthink it, the comparison just came to me, I couldn’t not let you enjoy it too) I started to find you interesting, dear period.
I started trying to understand you and I even started reading books about my female body.
Yes, I had a body. Not just breasts, legs and a butt that were never small enough, thin enough or toned enough.
Inside, I had a body. An entire universe – magical, rhythmic, organic and vibrational. I started to understand it in snippets, all the while continuing (not gonna lie) to treat it like it was ignorant and not worth listening to. Like a machine at my service.
On the one hand, I was beginning to understand that maybe if I was tired during my period, it meant I should rest. Since I’m my own boss, I had a choice, so I started staying home on those days, working at my own pace on my couch.
On the other hand, only trusting the courage of my doctors, I was stuffing myself with hormones trying to force destiny and pop out a fucking baby(that doesn’t sound very nice, but that’s the fucking violence I felt through the whole process).
Little by little, I started to like the first day of my period. I’d learned it was a great day to write. To not make any appointments. To be alone, to be creative.
I was seesawing back and forth. On the one hand, I was taking myself all the way to the end of the story of hate and shame against my body, which you now know more about the roots of, filling myself with hormones, gulping down steroids and letting myself basically be insulted by my doctors.
On the other hand, I hated every time you came (no baby!) but I also admired you. I saw your beautiful color, flamboyant red, a sign of my health, a sign of future possibilities. I admired your unshakable timing. I started listening to your messages and understanding that, yes, each month was a physical house cleaning, but also an emotional house cleaning.
And that listening to those dissonant messages also meant I had to confront my deeper problems and find solutions. I started to figure out that following my cycle gave incredible power to my creativity. Spending time alone during my period to write helped me come back fresh and ready to tackle all my appointments the following week.
Of course, it wasn’t always possible to organize all that time away, but I learned that every little adjustment made a difference.
And then, my pain started to get better. I couldn’t believe it. No way.
I still kept my Advil close by.
And then one day, just like that, I managed (ok, with a few breathing exercises) to not take any Advil at all. It almost worried me, it was so magical.
Since then, I stopped using tampons. I wanted to let you flow naturally and see and understand the messages I found written red on white in my pad.
Yes, I am not embarrassed to say that.
No, it isn’t dirty.
On days when I don’t have that option, I use a menstrual cup.
Like I wrote in my Lenny Letter, I continued experimenting with my fertility to the point of IVF. I went through one cycle and the day I learned it didn’t work, I also heard my body scream.
During that long year of trying to have a baby, I had learned to love and respect you, dear period. I learned to take you into consideration and honor you as a marvelous sign of life and the cycle of nature I am a part of, baby or no baby. I learned to listen to you, and I also realized one day you would leave me, and how much I would miss you.
And in return, you’ve become gentler, sending me subtler messages about my life. No need to tear everything down anymore, just make adjustments. Take a moment, each month, to listen to your messages. The pain has completely disappeared, and I’d almost say I miss it, but that would bean exaggeration.
And when my body cried out, I finally, thanks to you, dear period, finally learned to listen to it. And when Chris and I decided not to continue the treatments, to let nature take over, whatever she decides to bring our way, I knew that was the right thing for me. Not for everyone.
Just for me, a unique being who is, from now on, connected to my body.
If I’m writing to you today, it’s not for me, because we talk every day and you, my period, my body, my femininity, my intuition, are now the guides of my existence.
It’s for all the little eleven-year-old girls out there all alone, wondering what to do with this powerful femininity blossoming inside them. All the teen girls. All the girls who were made to feel embarrassed about their periods, ashamed of being a woman.
That femininity – listen to it, respect it, and fight hard against anyone who tries to diminish it. Anyone who tells you you are dirty, vulgar, crazyor irrational. Or that you were asking for it.
Don’t hide from yourself. Don’t hide from others.
Find a big sister like me, symbolic or real, close to you, to explain to you the joys and treasures of a woman’s life. Have her read this letter. She’ll understand.
This is a new day we are living in. A new time where femininity, its rhythms and treasures, will finally be honored by society.
It’s up to us, dear period.
It’s up to us, my sisters.
Translated by Andrea Perdue