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I Bled For 3 Months Continuously, But Doctors Refused To Believe It Was Linked To Stress

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PFIEditor’s Note: This post is a part of #YoungSambandh, a campaign by Population Foundation of India and Youth Ki Awaaz to find solutions to improving access and awareness of sexual and reproductive health and rights among young people. Have a story to share? Share it with your thoughts and suggestions here.

Submitted anonymously:

We all know – or many of us who menstruate do – that sometimes women’s periods skip a month or two. It’s common and mostly harmless. We’re aware that exercising too much during our periods can be harmful, and we know consuming liquids helps. But how many of us have been told about the implications of mental health on menstruation?

I wasn’t. Until I learned it the hard way.

It was rather out of the blue – I was 21, and trundling through the final year of college, nearly 6 years ago. I remember every excruciating detail like it happened yesterday. My father was diagnosed with cancer, in the brain. To date, I don’t remember the medical term for his illness.

We decided that I would finish my degree and not take a break from my studies. My mother and father would go to a top notch hospital in Chennai for his treatment. For a while, it seemed like nothing really changed in my life, at least in my immediate reality. And yet everything had.

Storm After The Storm

The stress must have been high – I don’t remember – but somewhere I must have been internalising it to protect myself. The first three months, I didn’t get my period. I wasn’t sexually active, so I wasn’t too worried.

“I had successfully bled an entire month. I was weak and constantly dizzy.” Image for representation only. Source: Wikimedia Commons.

After the third month, my period came. I wasn’t happy. The flow was heavy and uncomfortable. I couldn’t wait for it to taper on the third day. Except it didn’t. I thought since it had been a while since I bled last, maybe it was a slightly longer period. It was. I became increasingly anxious as the 10th day went by with no sign of it ending. And then the 15th day passed, and the 18th, the 20th and then the 30th. I had successfully bled an entire month. I was weak and constantly dizzy. Clearly, it was time to call my mother.

Already under an incredible amount of pressure because of my father’s chemo and radiation treatment, that incredible woman somehow found time to help me relax. She hadn’t seen me in months, so she had no idea how bad it had gotten. She sent me money anyway, and a contact for an Ayurvedic doctor, who, to date I fondly remember as the Quack.

What followed was constant check ups over two months that demanded a blood thyroid test, but somehow missed out on a haemoglobin check. She gave me a combination of truly revolting medicines, and excitedly told me they would curb the blood flow over time. She even gave me an alcohol-based kashayam to give me the energy I lacked.

To be honest, if there was anyone who was a Quack at this point, it was I. Three months of bleeding, with barely a day or two in between cycles and I didn’t insist on switching to allopathy. I went from 58 to 45 kilograms in a matter of six months. And I refused to go for regular checkups. I still have messages on my phone from friends – good friends – urging me to go to the doctor, offering their support, offering their parents’ support. I was stubborn.

Brief ‘Respite’

Around this time, my father’s brain CT came back clear, so my parents returned home too. My father was in the clear! But my mother had me – weak, shaken – on her hands now. I won’t forget the look on her face when she saw me. We went to a local clinic and I won’t forget the shock on the doctor’s face when she saw me, either. She demanded an instant blood count. My haemoglobin level, which should have been at a healthy 12, was at a 4. She recommended a blood transfusion.

It took me six months to recover. Six long months, during which I was on hormones and iron, and failed to clear an entrance exam for my postgraduate studies. Even then, no one made the connection between my stress and my period.

Back To Square One

“She acknowledged my history, but put me on mild medication to begin with. I switched doctors.” Image for representation only. Source: Pixnio

Eight months down the line, I cleared my entrance for postgraduate studies in one of the most reputed institutions of the country. Good news for a short period, because at the same time, my father had a relapse. The cancer was in his brain, again. My memory of the first semester consists of me shuttling between Delhi and Chennai to help out, and of course – bleeding.

Once again, I went to a doctor. This time, I was smart about it. I told her of the history and about my father and told her aggressive hormones were the only way to help. She acknowledged my history, but put me on mild medication to begin with – Trapic 500. I switched doctors.

The second one, from a reputed hospital, categorically denied any relation between my period and stress. “What can you be worrying about so much that results in something like this?” she asked me. Miserable old bat.

She put me through another two weeks’ continuous bleeding before finally giving in to my pleas and giving me a mild hormone – Dronis 30. It worked. I was just as stressed about my father’s deteriorating condition, but at least I wasn’t menstruating alongside.

The Cure Needed

My father passed away a couple months later. I wasn’t bleeding anymore. Somehow, reading the two statements together don’t make sense to me, even today.

Neither does the lack of awareness amongst any of us – myself, an educated 22-year-old, my mother, a woman who’s given birth twice, and four experienced healthcare professionals – about the debilitating effects of mental health on one’s periods.

The doctors might not all have had all the details about my life to join the dots, but they didn’t ask either. Questions about stress and work never came up. A sedentary lifestyle (false – I used to walk 6 kms everyday during my post grad) and poor diet were assumed to be the reasons for my PCOD, which caused me to bleed. Maybe we need healthcare professionals to look at patients as individuals with history, rather than as the next case that comes their way.

I never received validation from medical professions for my theory that it was my failing mental health that caused me to bleed out like that. But I put my story here before you, to see if you will.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

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Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

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MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

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A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

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A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

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As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

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A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
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