Being on your period at work sucks. Pain aside, that washed out, exhausted feeling we all get makes working nearly impossible. If our managers don’t notice it’s because we’ve pushed through in a way that’s unhealthy, and that no one would expect if the pain were in any part of our body outside of our uterus. Yes it’s inconvenient when our period starts during a work week, but not talking about it doesn’t help anyone – us or our employers. Ladies, it’s time to talk about menstruation at work, period.
It’s Time To Talk About Menstruation At Work, Period.
When I was a teenager, I had sever ovulation pain that was later diagnosed as Mittelschmerz. The male doctor who told me about it jokingly called it “Metal Smurfs” and his joking shut down any questions I had. A few years later I started having periods that were so intensely painful that it felt like knives stabbing my uterus. These periods lasted two weeks, sometimes longer, were extremely heavy and I really can’t express enough just how incredibly painful they were. At one point I remember being in a car driving home from work, and one of the cramps hit so hard that I screamed out in pain, jerked my wheel, and almost wrecked the car. I went to the ER that night, and was sent home with a prescription for Ibuprofen and told to rest.
I’d been seeing gynecologists since I was fifteen, but never thought my pain was anything exceptional because their attitude toward it made it seem like I was overreacting. I was 23 by the time it got so bad that I couldn’t function as an adult anymore. Laparoscopic surgery finally determined it was endometriosis. The doctor removed the endometrial adhesions and tissue, and warned me that it was likely to come back. I spent years in pain after that, on hormones, doing anything I could to manage that pain, all the while trying to be a normal functioning adult.
But I wasn’t. When that pain started, any good intentions I had for work that day flew out the window. The pain ruled my life. It took over every aspect and work was no exception. And while I could manage it away from work with heating pads, baths, pain pills, and rest, the hours I spent sitting at a desk were excruciating and unproductive.
So what should I have done different, and what should you do if you’re in my position?
- I should have talked to work. We all have had times where a headache KO’d us, or where a stomach bug sent us home early. Period pain should be talked about just as freely. Yes, it feels uncomfortable to approach a male boss and say, “I’m having severe period pain, I need to rest for the remainder of the day,” but it’s necessary. It’s necessary because not only will it open the dialogue between the two of you, it will allow other women in your office to openly manage similar issues.
- I should have explained my condition. While we don’t have to open up about our actual medical conditions to our employers, doing so can help clear up any misunderstandings about our more sluggish work days and give us a chance to manage our health better overall. Think about it: if your manager understands that what you’re experiencing is a health issue, they’ll have a better chance at helping you rearrange your days to be more productive.
- I should have been gentler on myself. Those days were so so hard. There were many days where I’d spend 5-10 minutes crying in pain in the bathroom before going back to work and trying to pretend I didn’t have a knife slicing into my uterus. The truth is if my employer was a good employer they would have understood how difficult it is to work in a situation like that, and arrangements would have been made. But I didn’t ask. And if they’d balked against it, that probably wasn’t where I should be working in the first place.
Overall there’s a stigma against women showing their ‘womanhood’ in the office. That expressing some of the issues we face with our menstrual cycles, or even pregnancy, makes us appear weaker than our male counterparts. But that doesn’t change until we do. Until we stand up for our health and give our employers a chance to respond with compassion, we can’t expect things to get better. And be honest: are you really giving your all on those really painful days? Probably not. If you took a health break on those days and made up the time somewhere else would you be more productive overall? You absolutely would. We all would.