While menstrual cycles are short and painless for some menstruators, they can be longer, painful and/or anxious times for others like me. The lesser talked of side to menstrual hygiene and health is its impact on mental health, and I experienced the brunt of it in February, 2020.
It was a month of only 28 days and yet three menstrual cycles of at least four days each. I have had my period earlier than expected a few times, but never had I bled for so long in one short month. Apart from feeling lethargic and having immobilizing cramps as I do every month, I felt more anxious, stressed and depressed when I got my period for the second time that month. I had my first nervous breakdown in a public place and hid myself from people. I remember crying for hours and not knowing why, and I remember feeling broken for most of that month. Throughout my second and third cycle, I felt fragile and weak. This disturbed me. Even if I had been stressed already, bleeding for over 10 days and having pre-menstrual symptoms for a whole month made it a lot worse. I had no idea until then that my menstrual health could affect my mental health this way.
I did visit a gynaecologist at a government hospital during my third cycle that month. She barely asked me a couple questions and prescribed some medicine for the irregularity in my cycles. I took the medicine, not knowing whether the issue could reoccur or not.
Apparently, mental stress and physical exertion between cycles can cause hyper-ovulation. I am sad to say that I did not learn this from any gynaecologist or any other medical professional. Over the years, I have seen many doctors and gynaecologists in different cities for the unbearable menstrual pain I experience, but the pain has been as constant as the mental stress of it. The emotional turbulence is as unbearable as the abdominal pain. I am not a medical professional and I cannot recommend what gynaecologists or other professionals must or must not do. But, at the time, I was not living with my family and I felt the need for a reassuring professional to tell me what was happening to my body.
My cycle is now back to normal. But not knowing what is happening to your body, especially when it can happen again easily, is disturbing and I am certain there are many others who feel just as disturbed as I did when it comes to unattended menstrual health. The lack of awareness and conversations in our society does not help. It only causes self-doubt and unsurety about our own bodies. And, believe me, these are not feelings you want to have. Only while writing this article, I realized that what I experienced could have been a more severe version of premenstrual syndrome (PMS), which has only been recently termed as premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD).
Moderate to severe PMS has been attributed to moodiness, irritability and headaches, which is common among most menstruators. More intense and debilitating physical and psychological symptoms of PMS, that can interfere with daily activities and make it difficult to go by your day, is now medically diagnosed as PMDD. While physical symptoms can include fatigue, dizziness, body aches, numbness and swelling, psychological symptoms can include heightened emotional sensitivity, sadness, anxiety, social withdrawal, feeling overwhelmed and a lack of control and in rare cases, having suicidal thoughts. In a country where there is still stigma around menstruation, it is difficult to talk about the unnerving and uncertain effects of it on the mental well-being, even with your close friends and family.
Very little has been written on the associations between menstrual health and dysphoric mood disorders globally, let alone by Indian professionals. I think it is time we, as menstruators and professionals, have more conversations on the co-relations of menstrual and mental health. Men(s)t(ru)al health is important for all menstruators, and yet institutionally hushed in this country.