On my best days I believe everyone’s pain is valid. I don’t subscribe to a hierarchy of anguish, and I try to make room for all the various experiences we face as humans. For two weeks out of my menstrual cycle, however, I suspend this belief. From day 22 onward, when I can no longer eat, the left side of my body radiates with nerve pain, and I can only move between my bedroom and the base of my toilet ( where I vomit), I believe some pain is worse than others.
On those days, I don’t believe all cramps are created equally, so today I come out of hiding with a simple request: please stop saying you have bad cramps.
Even if you have menstrual-related pain far worse than mine, let’s all place a moratorium on the term.
I get it; painful periods are pervasive. According to the Association of American Family Physicians, the number of people who report period pain so intense that it interrupts their lives varies anywhere from 16-90%. Primary dysmenorrhea, the catch-all term for people who experience painful cramps, is a diagnosis that doesn’t necessarily point to any discernable treatment. Many of us, as a result, are stuck with intense pain and no course of action.
In the piece, “Period pain can be ‘almost as bad as a heart attack.’ Why aren’t we researching how to treat it?,” Olivia Goldhill writes, “There are two main causes of period pain: Primary dysmenorrhea and endometriosis. The former is simply painful periods, with no certain medical explanation, that tends to affect women as soon as they start menstruation. But the distinction between the two conditions is not clear-cut, as many women suffering dysmenorrhea may have undiagnosed endometriosis.”
True solidarity isn’t fostered through comparison. Meaningful support comes when we give up the need to locate ourselves in the experience of another’s pain.
I have endometriosis; though the only way to be diagnosed is to have laparoscopic surgery.
My gynecologist, a kind woman who calls her patients personally to discuss test results, is the only doctor in a ten year journey to use this term. My decade-long adventure involved being passed from primary care doctor to a gastroenterologist, a nutritionist, and back to several more gynecologists, who all tried to force-feed me birth control (despite my concerns about the link between birth control and depression). Except for my GI doctor, who told me to buy Metamucil and exercise more, every medical professional suggested either birth control or Tylenol.
When my current gynecologist finally touched my stomach, looked me in the eyes and told me I probably had endometriosis, a disorder that occurs when endometrial-like cells that grow in your uterus decides to grow elsewhere in the body, I felt relief.
“We won’t know for sure unless we do laparoscopic surgery,” she cautioned. “And even if we do that, the endometrial tissue might grow back.”