how does it feel to have your period?
October 19, 2006 12:44 PM   Subscribe

how does it feel to have your period?

I like flying coach. the seats are close enough that you can listen in on the most interesting conversations and experience the most intriguing smells.

there was a couple in the row behind me yesterday on my way back from happyland and they weren't happy. she, in her twenties and nothing short of stunning, seemed to have rejected his advances earlier that day. I didn't think they were going to shout or do anything else highly comedic, so I was about to tune out when she said something that sparked my interest.

"You would be pissed too if you knew you were about to get kicked in the nuts for the next week."

oh, shit.

there isn't a lot that's really worse than getting a good, hard kick into your nuts. it makes you want to puke, cry and laugh hysterically at the same time and I blame an incident much like this one for the existence of the bee gees, tax codes and the republican party. but something tells me a woman can never really know what this feels like, just as much as I think a man can never really know what having the period feels like. unless of course the hive mind, which proved quite capable here, interfers with another exceptional explanation.

so how does it feel to have your period?
posted by krautland to Health & Fitness (96 answers total) 33 users marked this as a favorite

It's different for every woman.

For me, I get cranky and snippy a couple days before, then the day before it starts, I get a dull ache in my lower back. Once the bleeding starts, the crankiness goes away, but I tend to feel tired and not quite right for the duration. I also feel fat, and can't fit into my "sexy" jeans. I have learned never to go clothes shopping while I'm on my period. Ever.

Little things set you off - both in anger and in sadness. I cried last month because my boyfriend disciplined our cat for jumping on the counters (something I've done, myself). I had no explanation for it - it just upset me.

Then there's heavy-flow days where I'm worried that I'll bleed through my clothes. This then requires that I visit the bathroom twice as frequently as normal.

But after it's over, I have a few days where I don't feel fat anymore, and I'm the most beautiful woman on earth. More confident, more energetic, more sexy.
posted by ArsncHeart at 12:55 PM on October 19, 2006

It varies greatly. Cramps, personally, is like that stabbing pain akin to when you haven't eaten anything in two days and your stomach is protesting. Except in a different spot. And then there's excessive bleeding from. You feel like absolute shit physically for a few days before and the first 3-4 days of the duration. And massive amounts of blood and various other types of dead!cells exiting your body by any means over a period of 5-9 days is highly unpleasant, so I won't try to describe that.

PMS is hell. You know it's PMS. You know what it is, but you still can't control the annoying emotions - I mean it's not just an excuse to eat chocolate and cry. (I personally hate chocolate.) It's when you're being irrational and you know you're being irrational and you can't help it.

On preview - yeah, bloating sucks. Heh.
posted by Phire at 12:57 PM on October 19, 2006

I think that, for some women who have conditions like endometriosis, periods are incredibly painful. However, for most, it feels crummy but it's totally doable. Honestly, I don't think it's akin to being kicked in the nuts (save, perhaps, for those with certain conditions, of course). It's not the worst thing ever.
posted by penchant at 1:04 PM on October 19, 2006

I don't think the feeling is quite as universal as a guy getting kicked in the nuts. (Disclaimer: as I have not yet kicked every guy that I see in the nuts and documented his reaction, I don't have a statistically valid reason to say that. But I digress.)

In fact, for the longest time, I thought that women who talked about cramps, bloating, weight gain--the whole PMS thing--were making it up to get attention. I had to keep charts on my period because I never had any symptoms whatsover; it was always a big shock when I got it. The first time I had cramps, I was in my 30's. I thought there was something wrong with me until I figured out I was just becoming normal.

So I think it runs the gamut from women like me to my best friend in high school who, in the throes of PMS mood swings, became literally hysterical when her mom came home with a Betamax instead of a VHS. Her mother was so alarmed she immediately went back to the store and exchanged it for the different format. (I guess even PMS can have a silver lining, in the right circumstance.)
posted by sfkiddo at 1:06 PM on October 19, 2006

And I say this having experienced ruptured ovarian cysts that were very painful. Yes, that sucked, and maybe was like a kick to the nuts. But the pain didn't last a week. My period was nothing compared with that.
posted by penchant at 1:09 PM on October 19, 2006

It's different for every women.

There were a couple of months where the onset of my period meant a few days of Montezuma's Revenge. Serious Montezuma's Revenge. It was fucking awful. After becoming a bit more active that went away.

Day-to-day, it can feel like, well, you know how after guys orgasm there's that post-come and you have to clean it off or it will drip? Just imagine that dripping going on for a week straight, except it's blood and there's a lot more of it. And there are clumps.
posted by Anonymous at 1:12 PM on October 19, 2006

C'mon - Kicked in the nuts? That is perhaps a tad dramatic. For me it is just mild abdominal cramping on the first day. The rest of the week I forget about it. The sore, swollen boobs the week before is not particularly fun though.
posted by delladlux at 1:16 PM on October 19, 2006

Yeah, it is different for every woman, but I would guess for most (not all), it ain't nuthin' like a kick in the nuts.

For me, I feel a vague dull pain in my abdomen a few days before I start. This is my warning signal, and I make sure I have some sort of supply nearby if I am traveling or whatnot. At about this time, if I am stressed, I find it harder to control my emotions. Even so, most people around me don't notice a difference.

I have cramps for the first day only. A few ibuprofen tablets takes away all the pain.

Other than the cramps, for me, the period is just feeling myself slowly leaking "down there" for several days. I am always paranoid about leaking. Sometimes when I sneeze or shift position, I can feel a gush of flow. With pads, for me, it is a trade off of coverage area versus diaper effect (where a bystander can see it). Tampons hurt for me to take out since they expand as they absorb flow. I don't think many guys realize this, but when properly inserted, most women don't feel the tampon. I only use tampons with an applicator (nesting cardboard tubes that position the cotton/absorber) since I don't like to get the blood on my hands in a public washroom.

When I was a virgin, my periods used to last a full seven days. They get shorter when I am sexually active. I am not sure really why.
posted by Monday at 1:17 PM on October 19, 2006

It's really much more like getting kicked in the head.

The uncontrollable emotionality is the worst. I'm widely known for following the crying-because-I'm-sad-that-I'm-crazy spiral as far as I can without becoming a singularity of femmy misery.

And you can't take a pill every day to avoid a kick in the nuts. But if you could, you'd still forget.
posted by Ambrosia Voyeur at 1:18 PM on October 19, 2006 [8 favorites]

I personally have always had a very light period with little to no symptoms. And I have no pre-menstrual symptoms of any kind. I get a dull ache in my uterus for maybe the first 6 hours after I start bleeding that feels kind of like ulcer pain, but lower down. And that's it.

I'd double or triple my period symptoms if I could get away from my mid-cycle extremely sensitive breasts. Drives me crazy.
posted by gaspode at 1:19 PM on October 19, 2006

Personally, I just have a lower back ache and feel kind of constipated/upset stomach-y. I get a sore/scratchy throat & feel dehydrated for a day or two before my period, too (I think this is because the immune system's at its lowest in order to give interloper sperm a better chance). Rarely do I get moody for no reason, though if something stressful is going on, it exacerbates the situation. Finally, I feel like there's a psychological componant of real/imagined body odor that makes me feel a little smelly/unbathed during the first few days of heavy flow. It's diminished as I've gotten more comfortable with my body, but I'd imagine it's there for lots of women.
posted by soviet sleepover at 1:24 PM on October 19, 2006 [1 favorite]

The only thing that surprises me every month is how fucking exhausted I get. I'll be dragging for several days, thoroughly mystified by why I'm so bone-tired, and then my period will come and the lightbulb will go off.

Beyond that... cramps for me are totally dependent on exercise and nutrition (they range from debilitating "I'm physically unable to get out of bed" to unnoticeable), the actual physical shedding of uterine lining is annoying but not particularly noticeable most of the time, and my digestive system can be just off in weird ways.

PMS moodiness also seems to depend on general stress levels in my life. When they're low, it's unnoticeable. When I've been repressing anger or hurt or frustration, that's likely to come to the surface as the estrogen levels drop.
posted by occhiblu at 1:26 PM on October 19, 2006 [2 favorites]

I have what is referred to as Primary Dysmenorrhea, which means, "your cramps have no underlying cause." I have super heavy periods that are often very long. No endometriosis, no fibroids or note, and no scar tissue.

For me, this means that I missed a lot of school because I couldn't get out of bed because of the pain. Sometimes when I did stand up, I would vomit immediately. My grandmother said "Oh, grow up." So now, 12 years later, my period also involves an amount of shame (I am 25).

On days when my flow is particularly heavy, I may need to change a Tampax Ultra Super tampon every 1/2 or 45 minutes. Should I not waken in time during the night, I wake up soaked. And in pain. Outings are precariously and serruptiously timed around bathroom availability.

The pain also extends down my thighs, up my back, and makes me constantly nauseous. Also my boobs hurt, sometimes too much for a bra, and they get noticeably larger.

There are also the realities of standing in long lines at public restrooms; getting into a stall and finding no toilet paper; the fear of wrecking a boyfriends sheets; being a houseguest while bleeding; long car rides; and adult work obligations. I chose Depo Provera, and did that for 4+ years, but cannot comfortably continue that shot. Hormone b.c. pills make me continually nauseous and do absolutely nothing to abate the pain. I've tried several kinds. One doctor suggested I stop eating meat, dairy and a few other things. I tried that in my first year of college when I couldn't afford to buy milk. It helped.

Currently my body is adjusting to life without Depo so the full pain is not back, but the length is. My Ob/Gyn has suggested to me that I may experience less painful periods after childbirth. We'll see on that one.

I don't know if the emotional stuff is a direct result of the hormonal period thing, or anger at being in pain. Anyway, it makes me feel a bit weepy or dramatic. Most people say this doesn't show.
posted by bilabial at 1:27 PM on October 19, 2006 [2 favorites]

I would have preferred getting kicked in the nuts. I never had bad PMS or any crazy mood swings, but what I did have was swollen, sensitive boobs and painfully intense cramps. If I didn't take any drugs for the pain, I'd literally vomit. If I didn't take enough of them before bed, I'd wake up in the middle of the night from it. I can remember lying half-asleep in the shower with the water turned up as hot as it would go, as that's the only relief I could get. (Interestingly, I've never been diagnosed with endometriosis or anything. I'm just one of the unlucky ones, I guess.) In the end, all the ibuprofen I took for cramps in high school and college damaged my stomach, which I only found out after suffering two months of duodenitis this year. (Basically, a really sucky stomachache that wouldn't go away.) And now I can never take ibuprofen again. The good news is, five years ago I went on Depo Provera and now I don't have periods anymore. A lot of people get hysterical and tell you that Depo will mess you up, but for me it's been a godsend.
posted by web-goddess at 1:27 PM on October 19, 2006

here is the worst of it:

-premenstrual (up to one week before period): your skin is so tender and bloated with retained water, that to rub a bar of soap across your thighs, belly, and breasts is almost impossible. break-outs of pimples. hair gets greasy very, very quickly. fatigue, and difficulty waking-up.

-menstrual (3-7 days): the heavy cramping feels the same as that horrible cramping in your intestines before diarrhea. the cramps start as a quick, cold, flash of pain that come in contractions and waves, and then fan out into that 'diarrhea cramping'. there are constant lower backaches, which are so bad that they extend to your thighs. constant paranoia that you've bled-through your tampon onto someone's furniture/car seat/etc. no viable sex for at least 3-4 days. it affects your G-I tract, so lots of women have nausea or diarrhea or vomiting (or all) for the first 48 hours.
posted by naxosaxur at 1:28 PM on October 19, 2006 [2 favorites]

Wow, I sound a lot like bilabial. I never knew the phrase "Primary Dysmenorrhea". I just knew it sucked.
posted by web-goddess at 1:29 PM on October 19, 2006

I used to have really bad cramps that would hurt so bad I couldn't sleep for two or three nights out of the month.

I would start getting tired even before the cramps set in, a feeling like all the iron had been sucked otu of my body and I had no energy to lift my arms or turn my head, let alone walk across the room. Everything would be sore. I'd be irratable because of the soreness and the tiredness, and I'd also be emotionally more touchy and neurotic because of all the hormone crap going on with my body.

After a couple of days of this -- and of nasty cystic acne popping up all over my body -- the blood would arrive in a gush and my entire midsection would fill with an awful pain. At its mildest, I'd feel intensely constipated. At its worst, I would lie in bed and hurt for hours. Sometimes sitting on the toilet with my head between my knees was the only comfortable posture I could assume.

Going to work or school at those times was awful. Everything hurt and I felt like I was experiencing an unending days-long hangover at the same time as a vampire was sucking me dry. Ugh.

Eventually, I got medical treatment. With the help of some hormones and a lot of ibuprofin the pain became less intense. It wasn't until I went on the pill, however, that I got real relief.

Now that I'm on the pill, my period doesn't really feel like much except an annoyance -- as in, "Damn, I gotta buy tampons, that's annoying." I know exactly what day it's going to arrive, and I often get a funny feeling like, "hmm, I think the bleeding just started," which prompts me to head to the restroom.
posted by croutonsupafreak at 1:40 PM on October 19, 2006

As some have suggested, it doesn't stay the same throughout your life, either. My periods used to be heavier but I never had PMS. For the last few years, though, I've developed a high degree of irritability the week before.

No one's mentioned menstrual migraines, so I will. Hormone changes can trigger them in some women. I can bet on a migraine on the second or third day.
posted by cabingirl at 1:42 PM on October 19, 2006

I nth “it’s different for every woman,” and also, it differs over time and according to other circumstances for individual women. Also, “having a period” is not a clearly defined thing: there’s PMS, there’s the actual physical dripping (which schroedinger described well), there are the attendant mood issues, etc.

At its worst, for me, being a menstruating woman went like this [TMI warning]: a week before I actually started bleeding, I’d begin having more vivid and usually unpleasant dreams. I’d also start having mood swings, and being much more apt to cry over nothing (a snippy word from my sister; a cotton commercial). As the week went on I’d start having physical symptoms—breast tenderness, stomach discomfort. A day before, the cramps would start. Oh, the pain. This was pain that could keep me from going to school, pain that required two or three Aleve every four hours plus a heating pad plus stretching to keep it at bay. I’m inclined to imagine that at its worst, I could truly empathize with being kicked in the nuts. And this wasn’t any condition I had, just—the usual. So then the bleeding would start, super heavy. Changing super-plus tampons every three hours. The cramps would end about 48 hours after they started, around the same time the stomach issues went away. The heavy bleeding would continue for about four days, then lighten up to be more manageable for another three. Still, the whole time I actually had my period, I’d definitely feel less energetic, more unhappy, and just generally unwell. So, if anyone’s keeping track, this means that for two weeks out of every month, I felt unlike my normal self. This got better as I got older, then got worse again.

But! Hormonal birth control (NuvaRing) has changed all this for me. No PMS at all. Hardly any mood changes during my period, little to no cramping. While I am actually bleeding, I sometimes forget about it, and it only lasts about four days. It might seem like I’m making too much of it, but it’s changed my life.
posted by CiaoMela at 1:43 PM on October 19, 2006

There's psychological and physical symptoms. 'Kicked in the nuts for a week'? Oh, hell no. The worst cramps I ever had were for a few days after my IUD insertion, but that was more like a combination between occasional really bad gas pains coupled with general muscle aches - both in the lowest part of the abdomen and, for some women, in other areas - low-level back pain, sore breasts, for example. A lot of this is more pre-period than during period. I get irrational, but a lot less than when I was on the pill - but the mood stuff is very variable from woman to woman.

The physical during is generally cramping the first day or so, and then there's just this...thing you have to pay attention to. It almost reminds me of my tattoo aftercare - you check it every once in a while and occasionally do something. Depending on what you use, you pop in the bathroom and replace your absorbent (or collecting) material of choice every x number of hours. If it's being heavy and you're using a pad, you can sometimes feel it when you change from sitting to standing or vice versa.

Psychologically, I personally feel relieved each time, which always makes it relatively pleasant for me. I'm always much happier the week of than the week before.

(On preview: no viable sex? That again is a seriously personally dependent variable. I also went pretty long before a period this 'cycle', so I felt kind of flu-like the day before I finally got it. You seem to be getting a lot of horror stories, but really, you can't tell with a lot of women unless they tell you, you know?)
posted by cobaltnine at 1:45 PM on October 19, 2006

(Different for every woman, yada yada yada...) Imagine, boys, if you were me, and you...

Wake up one morning. You feel a bit like you might be coming down with the flu, energy level at maybe 70%. Your stomach hurts (normal stomachy hurt, like ooo... that 87.0 food rating was for a REASON kind of hurt). Hours may-or-may-not go by.

As you're slidin' into first, you feel a' sudden burst... diarrhea! When you wipe, there's blood. Very bright red fresh healthy blood. You grab a tampon from under the sink and slide it in careful not to get the applicator (if you use one) slippery (from the blood) cause that makes it frustrating and frankly, gross.

If you do not pop a couple of IB, then you feel very achy/flu-like all day. If you do medicate, you're still looking at an hour or two date with the heating pad, but you're good to go after that. The pain is a consistent heavy, (sometimes dull, sometimes intense) pressure-type ache somewhere (or the entire length) between your belly button and your crotch.

After that first (or second for some) day, it's pretty forgettable.

Periods aren't really all that bad. Cramps, which happen before your period, remind me of what it feels like to have a "catch" in your lung (very acute pain that dissipates quickly and commands your complete focus). And the emotional nonsense that occurs at SOME POINT (and it never really seems to be the same point for me) before bleeding could really just go AWOL and I'd never miss it.
posted by 10ch at 1:46 PM on October 19, 2006 [1 favorite]

As others have said: It varies. Sometimes they're really bad. On several occasions, I've fainted due to pain. But I'm a wimp. And sometimes, I hardly notice. There's no observable pattern. But if it's going to be a difficult period, I know at the outset - the moodswings are worse the week before.
posted by handee at 1:51 PM on October 19, 2006

I second what bilabial and web-goddess said.

Menstrual migraines are the worst. I'm also prone to regular migraines. Them be a treat when compared to their menstrual brethren.
posted by hercatalyst at 1:55 PM on October 19, 2006

All hail hormonal birth control (the Mirena IUD, in my case.) I still get the exhaustion, moodiness and achy breasts, but no cramps, no diarrhea and best of all no bloody shambles in my jeans / in the toilet / all over my high thread count sheets.
posted by rdc at 2:00 PM on October 19, 2006

As you've probably picked up, it varies quite a bit. No big deal here.

There's PMS, which involves pimples and cysts, irritability, bloating, hunger, and tender, swollen breasts. After the bleeding starts that calms down.

Once the bleeding starts, you can feel the ooze a bit, particularly if you stand up after you've been lying down for a while, and you get paranoid about leaking (heavy days=1 super tampon every hour or two). Sometimes there are cramps, which range from noticeable and annoying but can be ignored, to a feeling very similar to when you've eaten something not quite right and really need to shit, to doubled over punching self in stomach (fortunately that last one has been very rare for me).

Depending on your own mood and attitudes and those of your SO, you may find yourself celibate for the duration. Personally, I get really, um, excitable for a couple of days in there - usually the heavy ones - but that's not such a great thing since my SO is squeamish and has the opposite reaction to it.

And there's a bit of paranoia about smell, especially when things lighten up.

Personally I run about 7 days on a 35 day cycle, with 2 of them very heavy, so I'm very glad it's not that bad.
posted by dilettante at 2:02 PM on October 19, 2006

Years ago, I had really painful periods. I had to wear soft-soled shoes and walk slowly so as not to jar my abdomen. There were two kinds of pain: a constant ache, and then sharp stabs several times a day. The gentle walking was important for swollen, tender breasts, as well. I'd have to wear larger shoes and bras because of the 5-7 pounds of water retention. I lost sleep, and had the usual symptoms of sleep deprivation and fatigue. The worst of it lasted two days or a little longer, and after that I could function pretty well.

I'd consider that extreme; my doctor thought so, too. It's comparable to a moderate kidney-gravel episode, which causes constant discomfort and now and then is almost unbearable. (Not like actual kidney stone pain, which is indescribable.)
posted by wryly at 2:09 PM on October 19, 2006

My Ob/Gyn has suggested to me that I may experience less painful periods after childbirth.

You very well may. Mine aren't nearly as bad now. Before my daughter was born, my cramps were so severe they actually caused me to pass out at work once. (The only thing more embarassing that fainting was the office's Mother Hen yelling, "It's alright everyone! She just has cramps!) It felt like someone shoving a hot poker through my bellybutton and out my ass. I couldn't sit down.

Now the cramps are gone, but my period is so heavy that I can't leave the house the first day because I am a total biohazard.
posted by jrossi4r at 2:15 PM on October 19, 2006

I've got endometriosis, and as penchant mentioned earlier, it is wildly painful. Before I was on birth control pills, I had a "kicked in the nuts" feeling two weeks a month. On them, the most intense pain lasts about four days. On those days I'm stuck in bed, drugged to the gills, useless, miserable, and in tears. And I won't even start on the swelling, headaches, bowel issues, exhaustion, blahblahblah.

For the last year or so I've been cycling my pills to keep it down to about four periods a year just so I can have something resembling a life. A lot of women I know with more standard "Ouch, a cramp! Guess I need a midol" type periods can't relate at all.
posted by mostlymartha at 2:16 PM on October 19, 2006

My Ob/Gyn has suggested to me that I may experience less painful periods after childbirth.

Ditto that this is true. My period pain had diminished with each passing year, but one thing that never changed was the breast pain.

It was so incredibly bad, and I had to squeeze myself into a larger cup size (almost 2 sizes).

I had a baby and resumed regular periods, and . . . absolutely no breast pain. I do have slight cramps, but I think it's from the Paraguard IUD.
posted by peep at 2:26 PM on October 19, 2006

My Ob/Gyn has suggested to me that I may experience less painful periods after childbirth.

The sad thing is that they will suggest this even to women who do not want children, ever. What's the solution for them?
posted by agregoli at 2:36 PM on October 19, 2006

As others have said, it varies for every woman and each woman's period may vary from month to month.

I have achey upper thighs (front side only) a couple days before my period starts. During my period there may or may not be abdominal achey-ness. My flow may be very light and last for five days or it may be tsunami-like for eight days and I toy with the idea of using diapers. No matter if it's a heavy or light period, I'm damned tired for the whole thing.
posted by deborah at 2:49 PM on October 19, 2006

to address the lady's kicked in the nuts statement...
i think what she meant by that was "imagine you know something horribly painful is going to happen to you every day, and there's nothing you can do about it, meanwhile i'm bothering you about stupid shit on top of that. meanwhile our vacation appears to be ruined and we haven't even gotten off the plane."
posted by amethysts at 3:02 PM on October 19, 2006 [2 favorites]

There's a nice range of descriptions up there, both mine and my daughter's experience fall within those parameters. But I just have to say, bring on menopause. I am sick and tired of having to deal with this inconvenience month after month for 2/3 of my life - 26 bloody years.

If I don't have tampons, I use pads and in hot weather, no matter how often I go to the toilet or change the pads, blood and clots get caught in my pubic hairs, and start up an enormous itch.

I hate the mood swings, and I hate that people can assume things about my rationality (which are sometimes wrong) because of it. You know, I seem to remember a time in the 80s where the whole idea of mood swings was unacceptable except for women who murdered their husbands.

Oh and get this, quitting smoking caused my periods to be heavier and longer and more painful. That is, more than once, when I have quit smoking, my periods have become worse. Confirmation bias? Who knows.
posted by b33j at 3:03 PM on October 19, 2006

I found that my cramps, etc. got a lot better as I got older, even though I did not give birth. (My mom said her cramps went away for 5 years or so after giving birth.) When I was young, I was guaranteed to miss a day of school or work every month because the pain was so bad, and there was vomiting and diarrhea as well. I had a prescription for double-strength Anaprox (this is Aleve, which wasn't available OTC yet -- I had the highest prescription strength available) which just took the edge off. When I got older, say, around 26, the cramps got a lot better. Two OTC Aleve would mostly get rid of them though I would still have some ache.

Unfortunately, now that I am in my early forties (how can this be possible? I still feel 23), they have started getting worse again, and the cycle shorter.

I always got a migraine the night before it started, and now I might get migraines for a few days (UGH UGH UGH).

The women who say "it's not that bad"... well, count yourselves lucky. As for whether it is like being kicked in the nuts, I don't know, but it can be really really bad -- doubled-over seeing red from pain bad.
posted by litlnemo at 3:17 PM on October 19, 2006

Oh, and b33j: regarding menopause, it might be worse before it gets better. There is this lovely thing called peri-menopause we get to go through. For some women apparently it's no big deal. For others, it's a lot of pain, mood swings, etc. My mom tells me hers lasted almost 10 years, so I guess I am doomed.
posted by litlnemo at 3:21 PM on October 19, 2006

I get really bad cramps every now and then - the kind where I end up on the floor yelling PAIN! PAAAAAIIIIN! Those ones, I've always thought, must be like getting kicked in the nuts - but in slow motion.
The pain starts off like you're being struck and then grows and grows until you wonder how you can survive this.
(The answer: gobbling Advil like M&Ms.) Luckily, that only happens 1 out of 4 ish periods.
posted by CunningLinguist at 3:39 PM on October 19, 2006 [1 favorite]

Ah, the bowel issues. I was too embarassed to mention that to my doc, but if it comes back, maybe I will.

I haven't heard very much on this thread from the other side of the period world, so I'll throw in that my best friend from high school mentioned one summer while we were living together that she had never had a cramp. She didn't know what a menstrual cramp felt like. Oh, I wanted to smack her. Light period, no pain, over in three days. I think she just used panty liners.
posted by bilabial at 3:42 PM on October 19, 2006

Oh, God, I second CunningLinguist's descriptions. Every three periods, I experience the worst pain EVER, beating out an ulcer, gallstones and (accidentally) getting hit in the face with a baseball bat when I was 11. It doesn't feel like hunger pains to me, as experienced by an earlier commenter - it's more akin to a terrible leg crampx1000, combined with a sunburn on the inside. Some women, as stated, feel milder or worse versions of this. With enough Advil, I can go on with my day, but without pain medication, I'd be writhing under my bed or something.

The actual rumbling, non-pain aspect is sort of like the feeling you get right before you're about to have some bowel troubles. PMS is different for everyone, as mentioned.
posted by Zosia Blue at 3:48 PM on October 19, 2006

Constant intense back pain for two days, all-over aches and tiredness for the rest of the week. I always felt self-conscious and I planned my life around my period. Now I'm on bc and haven't had to deal with it in a long time. My doctor asked if that concerned me and I said, "Are you kidding? That's awesome!"

I would not compare periods to a kick to the nuts. It's more like having your nuts in a vise that is slowly tightened for two days and then slowly released over another five.
posted by Marit at 3:53 PM on October 19, 2006

I started getting my period when I was 11, and for the next 8 years (until I started taking hormonal birth control) about one out of three periods involved the worst agony I have ever experienced in my life.

I had pretty ordinary premenstrual cramping - painful like an overworked muscle but nothing I couldn't ignore. When the bleeding started, though, the real cramps would commence within about an hour. The pain was localized in my abdomen but often reached up to my diaphragm, down to my thighs and into my lower back. There was a constant background level of pain that was bad, and waves of harder contractions every few minutes on top of that. Any movement at all provoked severe nausea and often intense projectile vomiting. This would last between 3 and 8 hours and would then usually fade to a more ordinary level of cramping. Sometimes the pain was so bad I would mercifully pass out, but most of the time the nausea prevented that from happening.

The intensity of the pain is hard to convey. The only experiences in my life that compare were having my nipples, clitoral hood and inner labia pierced - but piercing pain is intense for only a moment and my cramps would go on at that level of intensity for hours. Over the counter pain meds did absolutely nothing for it. No other injury or medical problem has compared - not lower back spasms from sciatica, moderate migraine headaches, or a dislocated finger. I have not given birth yet so I don't have a sense of how labor pains would compare.

Sadly, some people still have odd and misogynistic ideas about periods and their associated pain. My mother was harsh and unsympathetic - she would never let me miss school for menstrual pain, no matter how hard it was for me to function, nor would she allow me to see a doctor (and I never had enough money to see one on my own). She believed that because she had to tough it out as a girl, I should do the same. I spent many days in junior high and high school slouched in the back of the classroom trying to hide the agony or rushing frequently to the bathroom to throw up. Some teachers were sympathetic but a lot had the same "suck it up" attitude my mother had. Even though there were a number of girls with pain this bad, most adults believed we must be faking it.

If boys and men were the ones who experienced menstrual pain, there would be far more medical and societal sensitivity about it. The only upside to the whole experience is that I now have a very high pain tolerance.
posted by rhiannon at 4:25 PM on October 19, 2006

Half of the time I don't get cramps, but the other half of the time they're really bad and last 1-2 days. I remember in high school they were REALLY painful and I had to leave class to rest in the nurse's office or go home. However, in the past few years I have discovered the relieving effects of heat pads applied to the stomach area and things have been much better.

Another annoying thing is that if you aren't careful, you can ruin a good pair of panties/pants/a skirt. When I get my period I am constantly going to the bathroom to change my pad and checking my bum to see that no blood has leaked. For this reason, many women have "period panties" and wear dark bottoms for the week, so that if there is a stain it is less visible. Bedding can also get stained but you can avoid that by putting a towel on the bed before sleep.

For the most part, it isn't as bad as it used to be when I missed whole days of work/school. It's annoying when leakage happens. Plus my girly bits down there sometimes hurt. And during the last couple of days, it smells really bad down there and I get flatulence. Which is always fun.
posted by catburger at 4:41 PM on October 19, 2006

Yea, every few periods, the pain/PMS is intense. Taking lots and lots of ibuprofen will prevent a little. Once I thought, gee, maybe I'm making this up, I wonder what will happen if I don't take any ibuprofen? Fast forward to me laying on the floor of the bathroom in the Astor Place Starbucks, begging for pain reliever from British tourists and having the manager talk to me like I was a drug addict. I felt like I was going to pass out or die. I took some pain reliever and felt almost back to fine in an hour.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 4:45 PM on October 19, 2006 [2 favorites]

Moral: now I take ibuprofen every month, whether I'm feeling pain or not.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 4:46 PM on October 19, 2006 [1 favorite]

There's great descriptions of the physical here. I just wanted to add that for me, having my period makes me feel very inward-turned. Not necessarily sad or bad (though, as others have said, recent stress can push it in that direction), but quiet, thoughtful. I don't much want to go out, talk to others, or do much that is outgoing. Reading, tea, bath, journal--perfect time for these things.
posted by Riverine at 4:49 PM on October 19, 2006

posted by ch1x0r at 5:10 PM on October 19, 2006

I nth “it’s different for every woman,”

Me too. For me 'getting my period' is pretty much the same as 'not getting my period'.
posted by shelleycat at 5:21 PM on October 19, 2006

I had to wear soft-soled shoes and walk slowly so as not to jar my abdomen.

Now that's hard-core. As for me, I've always had rather irregular periods and so am never sure if what I'm feeling mood-wise is just normal irritability or if it's PMS. As I've gotten older though, it's become more regular. Now I can tell when I'm ramping up into PMS. The point at which I'm sitting in traffic in my car, hate everything on the radio and have to turn it off because it SUCKS, hate every single person dirving anywhere near me, and want to ram my car into the guy in front of me because he's driving like a moron........that's PMS. I feel constantly on edge and about to scream at everyone so I tend to retreat to my home where I can't really bother anyone. Ice cream is the answer.

The actual physical side doesn't start for a few more days and creeps up on me really really slowly. I'm always amazed by the women who seem to have some sort of Period On switch where the flow just starts all at once. It takes about 4 days of very mild spotting before anything really starts up so I always have plenty of time to stock up on supplies and tylenol. But yeah, a constant dripping accompanied by occasional gushes depending on how long I've been sitting/laying in one place is about right. Cramps don't start until the flow really gets going and are focused in the area below the belly button with lower back aches in the beginning. Not searingly painful but it varies. Sometimes a dull ache, sometimes curl-up-in-a-ball-and-breathe-deeply. Lately my cramps have been waking me up at night. Usually the day where I have cramps and the flow really kicks in is also the day my dark mood lifts and I finally don't feel like running over slow-moving pedestrians in the crosswalk (which I would never do, of course).
posted by otherwordlyglow at 5:34 PM on October 19, 2006

The chick on the plane was quoting this
posted by msali at 5:36 PM on October 19, 2006

The thing I hated the most about my period was how my life seemed to have revolved around it. For two and a half weeks of every month, I was either ovulating (a doubled-over mess from the sharp pain of ovulation), pre-menstrual (a bloated, irrational mess), menstruating (an exhausted, agonized mess good for nothing but sitting on the couch with a heating pad and some percocet), or post-menstrual (an anemic mess with serious diarrhea; dunno why but my GI upsets always came afterwards). I'd had laparoscopic surgery to check for endometriosis (none) and did every dietary/exercise/vitamin thing imaginable to help tame the beast. I tried oral contraceptive pills and ended up with all the same menstrual symptoms and exponentially worse PMS. Nothing worked.

I went to my ob/gyn three years ago, when I was 29, and in all seriousness asked her to perform an elective hysterectomy. I'd read up on all the risks and problems associated with it, I knew what kind I wanted (abdominal, because I wanted them to leave my cervix intact so as not to shorten my vaginal canal), and I was ready to sign the consent form and have it done as soon as humanly possible. I hadn't (and still haven't) had children, but I didn't care. I just wanted to have a life where I didn't spend half my time thinking about my reproductive organs.

My doc, after gently explaining that she really wasn't comfortable cutting out my uterus, suggested that I try the Mirena. And it has changed my life. I don't menstruate any more, at all, and while I can occasionally still feel myself ovulate with all the sharp stabby pain that involves, I don't get bloated and irrational and agonizingly tender in the breasts. I'm not exhausted for two weeks of each month. My life isn't run by my uterus. I don't think there are superlative adjectives in the English language sufficient to explain how much better my life is now.

If you have horrible periods, I really urge you to see your doc/NP to talk about the Mirena. Even if you've had terrible reactions to hormonal contraception in the past (like I did), the Mirena's progesterone stays localized in the uterus and doesn't have any systemic effect for the vast majority of users (and most women's reaction to hormonal contraception is to the estrogen, and Mirena doesn't have any estrogen in it). And almost all women experience a drastic reduction in menstrual bleeding and cramping, or total cessation.

So yeah, it's probably not the same kind of shocking pain that's involved with getting kicked in the nuts, but getting kicked in the nuts doesn't run half your life.
posted by jesourie at 5:57 PM on October 19, 2006

Me? On a good month, I get abdominal cramping, back pain, and diarrhea, with a little bit of moodiness before and a lot of moodiness after. Sometimes, the achiness radiates down my thighs. I feel congested all over.

On a bad month, you'll find me curled up on the bathroom floor next to a heater vent, sobbing, with a lot of moodiness before and temporary insanity after. Thankfully, this is relatively rare when I'm on birth control.

I had a miscarriage once, and it felt like a very bad period. Having given birth without meds recently, though, I truly think I could laugh off the bad days now.
posted by moira at 5:57 PM on October 19, 2006

Here's what she might be talking about: the first few days of my period, there is a constant, unmoving, throbbing pain in the lowest part of my pelvis.

For a guy, it would be most comparable to having a pulsing headache while being stuck with a needle for 3 days straight, except that it's located around the shaft of your penis. I take at least 4 ibuprofen several times a day for it. Not a turn-on.

For me the most irritating thing is that you can't control it. Sure there is birth control that can limit how often it happens, but you're damned if you do and you're damned if you don't: having your period is annoying and uncomfortable, but not having it can be nerve-wracking.
posted by mynameismandab at 5:58 PM on October 19, 2006

I think you missed the key point of the "going to be kicked in the nuts" thing. It's the "going to be". As in, not that the pain is exactly the same, but you're being asked to imagine that you know a particular kind of pain is coming and there's nothing you can do.
posted by AmbroseChapel at 6:19 PM on October 19, 2006

Oh, yes! "Period panties", towels in bed, hoping not to "overflow". Menopause cannot come too soon!
posted by deborah at 6:20 PM on October 19, 2006

A lot of women who have endometriosis don't know they have it -- and depending on where the endometriosis is, it can cause painful periods. I went thru about 15 years of incredible monthly pain. When in the hospital having my first child, a nurse clued me in that no, menstrual cramps are NOT supposed to feel just like labor contractions. This was my first clue something was wrong - many, many previous doctors had written it off as nothing. Progesterone-only birth control pills seem to be controlling it, though I just started on them and only time will tell. It still pisses me off that I told several docs about it and got no response. I basically had to diagnose myself.
posted by selfmedicating at 6:31 PM on October 19, 2006

Hormonal birth control (NuvaRing) has changed all this for me. - Posted by CiaoMela

Amen! I started my period at 10 years old and always had horrible cramps just below my belly button (that made me literally want to double over in pain), very heavy bleeding and acne breakouts. As I got older, the flow stayed heavy but the pain got easier to manage.

When I became sexually active, I started on the pill. After a few months on the pill, I would start 'spotting' - light bleeding between actual periods. My doctor would change the brand/dosage I was on to try and control the spotting. When it got so bad that I was having bleeding every few days (with no problems to be found), my doctor put me on NuvaRing. It's amazing! I'm down to three days from my old six and I only have to use panty liners.

The only pain that I do still experience are the tenderness in my breasts (that pisses off my boyfriend) and some pain in my knees and hips. I get more emotional than I used to as a teenager - I'll cry at the drop of a hat (which also pisses off my boyfriend) and feel all-around crazy.
posted by youngergirl44 at 6:35 PM on October 19, 2006

For the first several years of my menstrating life i spent the first day curled up on the floor in tears, everything hurt accompanied with a migraine and severe sharp constant jabs in my abdominal area. If i moved it felt like I was going to throw up. My mother always thought it was an act. Lucky her.

Now Im mostly used to the pain and just aknowledge that when that day comes around Im going to sit in one spot trying not even to breathe too heavily, popping as many Ibuprofen as I think I can safely pop.

I had an ovarian cyst that was pushing on all sides of my ovary and was twisted for about the last 6 months before it finally took care of itself, but I have to say that because it made my periods ten times worse then I ever thought possible.. I now appreciate my horrible one day a month because it could be worse.

For me I think its definitely on par with getting kicked in the nuts.
posted by trishthedish at 7:42 PM on October 19, 2006

For me, it's not so bad until the day my period starts - I usually take a pain pill (Aleve is a lifesaver) around the time it starts, because the cramps usually kick in an hour after that. If I don't take a pain pill, I get pretty severe cramps - others have described the nausea, lower-stomach-in-a-vise feeling. The next day, I'll feel some lower back discomfort that I usually ignore.

I don't really get all that emotional, anymore, but I do get incredibly sensual around day 14.
posted by muddgirl at 7:47 PM on October 19, 2006

Three or four days before your period begins is your last chance to fertilize the egg so it'll bond to the lining. My body knows this, and it wants that egg fertilized -- I can't overemphasize how strongly. This doesn't take the form of "Ooh, isn't that baby cute, I want one"; it's more "I wonder how that guy'd respond if I threw him against that wall, because I totally could..." -- except the urge repeats for almost every guy on the sidewalk, and is much stronger than that. (Ovulation is pretty similar but not as strong.) This lasts until my period begins.

At that point, I return to a normal level of interest but am unlikely to act on it because it all seems like too much of a hassle (wtf?). Once something's started, it goes normally, though. I frequently hear that orgasm is supposed to decrease cramping/pain afterwards, but I haven't noticed that at all.

Also, the swelling breasts -- that drives me crazy (I don't notice bloating or sensitivity anywhere else). Every month I have a mini-panic because I'm afraid they're genuinely growing. Yes, every month. No, I don't remember from one period to the next. Yes, I usually am pretty sensible.

I don't think the emotional effect on me is too large -- by which I mean I don't cry at commercials unless they're really sad. Okay, seriously, I don't get mopey if there's no reason to be, but if there's a reason to be sad at the time, that can be magnified. I don't act impulsively. My snippiness or touchiness increases by maybe like 10% -- it doesn't make a real difference in interactions unless I'm talking to someone else who's also currently snippy or touchy for similar reasons (hi, Mom).

I can pretty much tell when it starts. The real tipoff is that (and I know this is bizarre) I have one erotic dream a month, and that happens the night of, or the night before, my period begins. In general, though, I feel some sensation and just a certain hyperawareness.

I think, based on admittedly limited observations, kicks-in-the-nuts are a fast flash of white-hot pain, followed by a long dull ache. A cramp, for me, means a two- or three-second twinge, or shooting pain; it can sometimes be pretty intense, but isn't going to have me doubled over or making a noise. Cramps like that only happen to me a couple of times per period -- I guess it's the lining detaching? -- and I don't bother taking anything.

I also have a little general stiffness/ache, but most of all, my pelvis feels heavy. I am totally disinclined to move -- if I sit, I'm sat. I'm fat (all month, ha ha) but I usually don't feel that "not gonna move" way at all.

I rarely talk about stuff like this, especially online, because it almost always seems to go directly into "If you aren't using a cup, you're the worst person evar" -- it's like breastfeeding in that way. Closing fun fact: Hardly any women use pads, because -- and almost everyone learns this the hard way -- it is possible to get diaper rash.
posted by booksandlibretti at 7:58 PM on October 19, 2006 [3 favorites]

(Oh, and I'm not on BC, which is relevant for the hormonal issues.)
posted by booksandlibretti at 7:59 PM on October 19, 2006

naxosaxur, I'm glad I'm not the only one who uses the diahrrea cramps analogy (only it's a bit lower than the stomach) but you definately feel the same way — like you're body is trying to expel something. I also feel like booksandlibretti mentioned above — that my pelvis is heavy.

I remember once someone asked a wrestling weight-related question here, if women lose lbs when they menstruate because they're losing fluid. A bunch of women answered to say that your period is not just blood, it's also tissue. Chunky, bloody tissue. Uterine lining. Which is disgusting at first, but then you get used to it. For me, about 20 minutes after I have a really bad bought of cramps, this is usually the result.

Luckily, my first day is always miserable, I bleed super heavy, my cramps are insane, but after that it's practically over. I might spot for the nest 2-3 days but the first day is really it, which means it's pretty easy to deal with in the long run.

I would say moreso than the physical effects are the emotional ones. It is so true that even when you're being emotional and you KNOW you're being emotional, you just can't stop it, crazy-train style. This week (I'm on my period right now) I started freaking out about nuclear war (because I live in Korea) and what brought me to tears most was the idea of having to evacuate our dog in case the Norks invaded. CRAAAAAZY!
posted by Brittanie at 8:18 PM on October 19, 2006

I didn't experience any crazed emotions until I hit my 30's. It seems like every other month about week before, I might experience extreme anger (hatred might even be more like it) or extreme sadness where I could sit in front of the computer at the office and tears would well up for no good reason. I think I can deal with the cramps more than feeling out of control! I bloat enough for DH to notice and say (as he's looking at my boobs), I think your "friend" is coming.

The first couple of days is hell. I've always experienced really painful cramps in my lower abs and achey all around my upper and lower abs and back which also goes down to my thighs. I feel drained (no pun intended), sleep, and just plain miserable. There's also diarrhea for the first two days and I never fail to pop 1000mgs of Tylenol every 6-8 hours and always make sure to take them before going to bed or I won't get ANY sleep. I have a "special" towel that I sleep on top above since I'm paranoid of leaks. I found that by partying (aka, excessive drinking and dancing) on the first or second day seems to lesson the cramps as well as the flow. Not that this happens often... ;)
posted by Jujee at 8:54 PM on October 19, 2006

In my early twenties, I was so regular you could set a clock by my cycle. 29.5 days exactly. Which was a good thing, because it meant I could plan ahead for the twelve hours I spent curled up on the bathroom floor, vomiting every few minutes, which continued with dry heaves long after my stomach was completely empty. I never had PMS, though.

Now in my thirties I am much less regular. My cramps are much less painful. But I do get PMS - every cycle, a day or two before I start bleeding, I have an intense crying jag that may be superficially related to something that just happened, but is way out of proportion.
posted by expialidocious at 9:00 PM on October 19, 2006

For a few days beforehand I generally feel more tired than usual, a bit waterlogged, and less able to cope gracefully with stress.

For the first two days of my period I'm still less energetic, occasionally a little diarrheic, and very aware of the lining coming out. (As others have pointed out, it isn't "blood.") I don't get anything like cramps; the worst I get is a headachey feeling in my abdomen.

After the first couple of days there's still more lining to shed, but otherwise things feel pretty normal.

I crave baths the whole time. Maddeningly, the place where I live now only has a shower.
posted by tangerine at 9:14 PM on October 19, 2006

Response by poster: a few things I noticed:

1. pretty much everyone here (well, except 10ch) describes stories that sound to me like this is a really intense process. I am under the impression that this is a huge problem for everyone on here. am I mistaken? are you just the ones who face more difficulties than the average female or is it in deed that most of you go through this?

2. the lack of absence of my female colleagues. some of the things I read here would make me expect they wouldn't show up for a couple days each month but I can't say I've noticed. are women tougher than men? (oh, that question sucked.)

3. the psychological aspects are really fascinating to me. a friend told me a few weeks ago she was four weeks overdue - in spite of not having had any intercourse. she attributed this to stress and depression. I wonder what other irregularities you have faced and what went on in your heads during those times...

intrigued to no end,
posted by krautland at 9:35 PM on October 19, 2006

I'm not nearly as extreme as everyone here, but the first two days a hot water bottle (or tea pot) on the belly feels mighty nice.

I use a "cup" so I don't notice the drippy/wet sensation anymore unless there's a problem & it's so nice not feeling it. That's unpleasant. However, the flip side of that coin is that if the "seal" isn't tight (held in place with very light suction), it can be a very literal & very bloody mess (even a half ounce of blood can be pretty dang alarming -- check out the mess you can make with a half ounce of chocolate syrup, now imagine that mess in your underwear). Which is awkward at work. I don't think I've ever missed work, but occasionally I've begged an advil or ibuprofen or four to finish out the day.

I'm lucky in that I'm ridiculously regular at 27-28 days almost exactly every month except the time I was a full seven days late after being fired from a horrible job unexpectedly. *NEVER* having been late before I walked into a planned parenthood where the doc on duty looked at me like I was in-freaking-sane & said "Um, stress much?" Ohhhh.

Glad to hear that the diarrhea thing is not atypical... I always wondered if that was just me.

I'm always really tired first day of, sometimes the second. Generally in the week before I'll have one day where People Need To Stop Pissing Me Off & one day where I'd be a happy camper if I could just have sex all day. These days invariably confuse me because even though I know it's a pattern, I never recognize them until I see it all in retrospect when I'm looking down going "Ohhh, blood -- that explains a few things..."
posted by susanbeeswax at 10:23 PM on October 19, 2006

1. I think it runs the gamut, but I think it is also very often underestimated. And, really, it's not something that just comes up while you're discussing weather. My long-term SOs were informed (two, total), plus one very close friend, but that's about it.
2. We are expected to show, so we dose up and put up, no matter how miserable we feel. It's not really something you get to call in sick for, and as a couple of other posters mentioned, it gets blown off as a minor, overblown thing. My guess is that you've had female colleagues who have had to bail out occasionally for exactly that reason, but used another excuse. I know I have.
3. I've skipped periods due to stress, both before and after being sexually active. Before, no biggie. Stress is a common factor in this type of thing, and easy to pinpoint when there's no other glaring possibility. After becoming sexually active? Hoo-boy, talk about a bit of panic, especially if you have a really heavy period right after. I've also doubled up, which is a pain, but less of a worry.
posted by moira at 10:23 PM on October 19, 2006

I kind of like getting my period. I think this may be because I was one of the late bloomers. For the most part I only get cramps the day before it starts, which is a good thing because I know it's coming. Then on that first day of my period I experience mild discomfort, but by the second day I have a strange sensation of euphoria. I don't know what it is. Some girls say they don't like menstruating because they feel dirty and messy, but I feel cleaner when I'm menstruating.

I also get a feeling of groundedness, I feel more feminine, etc. I spend most of my time with my my boyfriend and my brothers, so I appreciate being reminded than I am a girl. Often, it's easy to forget that!

I think I have only TWICE in my whole life, hated getting my period, or found it to be an annoyance. Other than that, I almost look forward to it, because I do start getting a bit irrational and bitchy for a week prior, but then I'll start cramping and I'll realise "Oh! So that's what my problem was!" So getting my period is a sign that for the next two to three weeks I'm going to be in a steady, clear, stable mood. Always a good thing. (And thinner too.)

Another reason I like it is because it puts me in touch with myself and makes me feel like I have more "me" time, or more privacy. On the odd occasion, menstruation can be more painful than usual, and I'll have a headache and be extremely tired, but in a sick, masochistic way I kind of enjoy this: It gives me the opportunity to chill out and sleep in, to say "no!" or "please bring me lollies", etc.

I will mention the eeriest feeling I get in regards to menstruation.... when you find that you have synched up with a woman you live with/spend time with. For example, when I was growing up, my mum and I never used to get out period at the same time. We also didn't get along. Just as we began to truly like each other at the beginning of this year, I noticed our periods became synched. It was truly bizarre.... I actually, for no reason at all, got my period late one month (it is usually like clockwork, following the lunar cycle exactly) ...& when I finally did get my period my mum got hers on the same day. I felt a bit violated after that! Like mysterious forces were at play. I also get an odd feeling if, say, I'm hanging out with five girls and we realise we are all menstruating. It seems like too much of a coincidence!
posted by mjao at 10:24 PM on October 19, 2006 [1 favorite]

When I first got my period, I would describe the cramps to those who hadn't gotten theirs yet as being like an air bubble that wouldn't come out.

I frequently get raging cystitis a few days before my period starts.
posted by brujita at 10:25 PM on October 19, 2006

The real tipoff is that (and I know this is bizarre) I have one erotic dream a month, and that happens the night of, or the night before, my period begins.

Oh, god, the Period Horniness. Miserable and horny, all wrapped up in one messy little package.
posted by moira at 10:28 PM on October 19, 2006 [2 favorites]

I know a lot of women talk about this stuff with their "girlfriends," but I'm definitely not one of them. Reading that other women have similar experiences to my own -- and that a range of experience both more mild and more extreme than what I have lived through -- is a huge relief to me, and makes me feel so much less alone.

To answer krautland's question about missing work: I've known a few women who regularly called in sick for menstral reasons, but they're pretty rare. I think most people just tough it out.

As to stress causing missed periods: I missed my period right before my wedding, which freaked me out unbelievably bad. I was terrified I might be pregnant, to the point where I took six or eight pregnancy tests. I later learned that three or four other friends also missed their periods before their weddings. I've been under worse stress and I've been more depressed than that, but it's never caused missed menstruation.

Also: is it this intense for everyone? No, definitely not. Now that I'm on the pill, I have no pain and only very light bleeding for about three days. I don't break out. I only rarely have cramps, and they're pretty mild. Sometimes I feel a little moody, but as long as I recognize why I can easily control it. I'm pretty sure there are plenty of women out there who have experiences this mild without hormonal help.
posted by croutonsupafreak at 10:32 PM on October 19, 2006

I am under the impression that this is a huge problem for everyone on here

Totally not, for me, mostly because mine's not really painful (even without BC). I posted a lot above -- like, having bizarrely swelling breasts and wanting steak (hey, iron) -- but although it's usually annoying, it's not something I think about except when there's a question like this. I also think that women whose periods are fine are a lot more likely to say "What can I add?" and scroll past. That's what happens with self-selected surveys.

the lack of absence of my female colleagues

I know many more women who exaggerate or outright fake cramps or illness to get out of whatever than I know women who are genuinely unwell enough to warrant getting out of whatever. That's just my experience, of course, and many women do have legit problems.


Oh, man, yes. Usually my cycle is between 27 and 32 days, or so, but if I'm stressed -- even if I don't realize it (like moving into dorms each fall and out each spring) -- or if I don't eat normally the week beforehand, my period can be two weeks late, three weeks late, or completely absent. I'm not sexually active, and this is part of the reason: I can just be "Oh, right, I have to remember that rehearsals don't mean I can stop eating" instead of "OH GOD call Planned Parenthood today and buy ninety pregnancy tests" (similarly, an ingrown hair is always an ingrown, "bummer," not "OH GOD herpes, warts, or chancres"). Hormonal BC will smooth out a lot of cycle irregularities, but for a lot of women (including me) it's not worth the side effects.
posted by booksandlibretti at 10:39 PM on October 19, 2006

Really, we sit around hoping someone will ask us about our periods.

My periods have always been irregular, so I have to go by PMS symptoms to gauge them. I'll start breaking out almost a week before, then get a little bloat-y and stomach-upset-y. And find myself attracted to EVERYONE, including platonic friends, strangers, people of the wrong gender, etc. Often I'll still miss those symptoms, though--the surest sign for timing is that that 1.5-2 days before bleeding starts, I get withdrawn and feel like I can't connect with anyone socially. Miserable! Then the day before I'm exhausted, constantly hungry, and peeing every hour.

My period starts suddenly (sometimes lightening briefly after the first "here I am!"), and I nearly always know right away. I sleep badly for the first two days, have some cramping and clots, sore legs and ankles, and a heavy, swollen, really unpleast feeling through my whole pelvis (I've heard this described as the "lead vulva" feeling).
Then two days of moderate bleeding with very occasional cramps, ending with about three very mild days where I feel totally normal.

Except...when I have the First Day From Hell. A couple times a year (not recently, thank God; maybe I've outgrown it), I'll get very sick within an hour or two of the bleeding starting. A sudden onset of feeling overwhelmingly hot, nausea and diarrhea, painful cramps and an awful hollowed-out feeling like someone's taken a melon baller to my lower abdomen. I get dizzy, weak, and very disoriented, and really can't manage anything except curling up and whimpering for a a few hours...til I get chills and fall asleep. It pretty much wipes me out for the rest of the day, and often means the rest of the period will be unpleasant too.
posted by hippugeek at 11:52 PM on October 19, 2006 [2 favorites]

To all those who have contributed to this - as big thank you! I suspect there are plenty of male lurkers like myself saying "Wow, I never knew. Perhaps I should have asked before.". Times like this you know why the Internet, and specifically Metafilter, are truly great things. Again, thank you.
posted by vac2003 at 1:04 AM on October 20, 2006

1. pretty much everyone here (well, except 10ch) describes stories that sound to me like this is a really intense process. I am under the impression that this is a huge problem for everyone on here. am I mistaken? are you just the ones who face more difficulties than the average female or is it in deed that most of you go through this?

Health-related topics on the internet are always like this, mainly those with a story to tell post. There's a definite bias towards those with problems, and also what the person experiencing sees as mild or ignorable symptoms sounds much worse when written out. For many the whole cycle thing is horrible, but for just as many of us it's not an issue at all.

I'm pretty sure I'm not some kind of freak, it's just that those like me are much more likely to skip the question. I even thought twice about posting my answer because, basically, I figured no guy would believe me based on what others have posted.

I have a short cycle, so I'm totally not complaining about this one.
posted by shelleycat at 1:14 AM on October 20, 2006

When I got my first period almost a decade ago, it was accompanied by cramps that had me doubled over in pain for at least a couple of days. I was terrified, because I was going to have to live with the pain every month from then on.

And then, strangely, I never got a menstrual cramp again. Hearing what other women go through makes me feel so fortunate.
posted by Famous at 1:18 AM on October 20, 2006

As a teenager, I used to get menstrual cramps and muscle spasms so bad I would hyperventilate. Those eased considerably when I went on the pill, but were replaced by migraines predictable enough that I began adjusting my work schedule to accommodate coming in 2 hours late every fourth Tuesday, just long enough for the Excedrin to kick in so I could function again.

I've been off the pill for about a year now and the migraines have lessened and the cramps have not returned, so I'm counting my blessings. I've also been using a cup for the past few months and I find it to be such an improvement over pads and tampons, I've almost come to look forward to my period. (Well, except for the bloating, fatigue, intense crankiness, short temper, tender breasts, depression, and other assorted issues!)
posted by platinum at 1:27 AM on October 20, 2006

My period started when I was eleven, but I didn't start getting cramps until I was twelve. I remember sitting in Student Government and suddenly feeling like the contents of my lower abdomen were being gripped by a hot iron vise. "This is it," I thought. "I'm going to die." Sadly, it was just the beginning of eleven years (so far) of monthly super happy fun menstrual carnival parade.

Others have described the symptoms well. The severity of my symptoms (moodiness, bloating, breast tenderness, cramps) varies cycle to cycle, but if it's a bad month, not taking painkiller in time has resulted in all sorts of exciting situations. Like ThePinkSuperhero, I've more than once found myself curled up on the floor of public bathrooms. Once I passed out in an alley next to a puddle of my own vomit. This would have been embarrassing enough even if I hadn't been at work at the time, having stoically made it through half my serving shift until I couldn't bear anymore. I ran to the kitchen intending to tell my boss that I should probably go home, but instead found myself lying on the asphalt surrounded by the kitchen staff with an ambulance on its way. That was fun.

It helps psychologically to track my cycle, which facilitates that moment of relief when you realize that you're not on the brink of a nervous breakdown - it's just been 22 days since your last period.

Birth control pills don't help me very much. When I was a teenager, I used to get cramps monthly, but as I've gotten a bit older they're bad only about half the time (but now I get migraines, too, so the universe stays balanced). Unfortunately, like rapidly adapting bacteria, they seem to develop a tolerance for each new method I employ. It used to be that just ibuprofen would work. Then I started using a heating pad, and it was like the Holy Grail. Then that became laughably ineffective, like trying to put out a forest fire with a squirt gun, so I started taking long hot baths. That worked well for awhile, but soon I'd just be leaning out of the bathtub to puke every ten minutes. Now I use both as needed, but it turns out that the ABSOLUTE BEST PRESCRIPTION, and I'm really surprised nobody's mentioned it yet, is four ibuprofen, a heating pad, and...oh come on, someone else say it. I'm too bashful to speak of such things on a community weblog (although puke stories are A-OK with me).
posted by granted at 1:50 AM on October 20, 2006

Four ibuprofen, a heating pad, and an orgasm, right?
posted by jesourie at 1:55 AM on October 20, 2006

1. pretty much everyone here (well, except 10ch) describes stories that sound to me like this is a really intense process. I am under the impression that this is a huge problem for everyone on here. am I mistaken? are you just the ones who face more difficulties than the average female or is it in deed that most of you go through this?

Uh, I don't have intense pain - inconvenience, mild cramps, discomfort. My daughter, on the other hand, misses two - three days of school each month, and throws up.
posted by b33j at 1:58 AM on October 20, 2006

Two days of quite intense abdominal pain; inconvenient bleeding; mild mopiness. Thanks to my progesterone only pill, though, I haven't menstruated in over 6 months (apparently this is normal for my kind of pill). I don't miss it.

Question is: what's it like to get kicked in the nuts??
posted by unmusic at 5:27 AM on October 20, 2006

2. the lack of absence of my female colleagues. some of the things I read here would make me expect they wouldn't show up for a couple days each month but I can't say I've noticed. are women tougher than men? (oh, that question sucked.)

I really think this is something we don't get enough credit for. We are just supposed to show up, and we do, usually with a bottle of Motrin or something stashed in our purses. I work for a bunch of guys and there is no way I could get away with "I can't come to work because I'm curled up in a ball in a dark room moaning in pain wishing I were dead, sorry." So you put on black pants and you gobble pain pills and you go do your job and try really hard not to snap at people or burst into tears for no reason. But without Advil or whatever, there is absolutely no way I could do it. On really bad days, you invent a dead grandmother or something. Easier.

(Also, does anyone else laugh at the restrictions on the number of Advils you're supposed to take? I usually take so many that I can poke myself in the arm and not feel it. And even then, I can still feel the fucking cramps.)
posted by CunningLinguist at 6:53 AM on October 20, 2006 [2 favorites]

(Also, I'm so glad to hear I'm not the only one who totally forgets the symptoms and is surprised every month that "oh yeah, now I know why I was so bummed out yesterday and why I tried to jump that guy the day before." It's bizarro that the symptoms wouldn't be obvious since they show up every damn month.)
posted by CunningLinguist at 6:56 AM on October 20, 2006 [1 favorite]

A couple times a year (not recently, thank God; maybe I've outgrown it), I'll get very sick within an hour or two of the bleeding starting. A sudden onset of feeling overwhelmingly hot, nausea and diarrhea, painful cramps and an awful hollowed-out feeling like someone's taken a melon baller to my lower abdomen. I get dizzy, weak, and very disoriented, and really can't manage anything except curling up and whimpering for a a few hours...til I get chills and fall asleep. It pretty much wipes me out for the rest of the day

Oh god, the first time that happened to me, I was in high school and I had absolutely no idea what was going on. The second time was during English class, and I almost passed out on the way to the nurse's office. Embarrasing! It's a lot less of a problem now that I keep track of my cycle more faithfully - really helps with that.

Also, I think women in general are pretty wary of using their period as an excuse. Since it's not so bad if I take painkillers at the right time, I usually just blame it on having a headache or being tired.
posted by muddgirl at 8:01 AM on October 20, 2006

I start out with the horniness that some people have described. Literally every male around seems like they could be a possible fertilization candidate, even though I'm happily married. It's an aggressive feeling too, like someone else said : "I wonder how that guy'd respond if I threw him against that wall, because I totally could..."
This fluctuates with dramatic emotions, although the severity of the emotion changes from month to month. At it's worst, I almost start weeping at credit card commercials and similar fare. Most songs trigger the pre-weep feeling too.

I have been very lucky, pain-wise. I always scoffed at my friends who couldn't hang out (or god forbid, go the beach) during the first few days of their periods. Now I am more sympathetic (but I don't really get cramps, I don't think.) I do get something that I can only describe as "period butt pain". I can't explain it well, but it feels like some sort of anal spasm.

Bleeding-wise, I think everyone covered it pretty well. I am always amazed at the different forms of blood/tissue that can be shed. It's especially weird when it's actual pieces of uterine thick pink skin.

I have Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome so I used to get my period every 3-4 months for 2 weeks at a time. Now that has been regulated (not hormonally via birth control pills but endocrinologically [prob. not a real word]) and I am pretty regular, either 28 or 35 days.
posted by nekton at 8:38 AM on October 20, 2006 [2 favorites]

It varies not only from person to person, but from month to month. I don't usually get cramps, just a dull ache in my lower back and some queasiness along with some exhaustion. I didn't really understand how cramps could be that bad until a couple of summers ago when I got the doubled-over can't-walk-it-hurts-so-much style of cramps. I've gotten them once since, and hope to never have them again.

Some months are heavy, some months are light. Stress definitely affects it -- last year, when I was dealing with my graduating year, moving, and a break-up, I got my period five times in two months. Sometimes stress makes it late, sometimes early and frequent, sometimes it doesn't affect it.

Pre-menstrual horniness, oh god, yes.

I use the cup now, so I don't have to deal with the "shit, I'm out of tampons!" moment or the drippiness or the smell, and it's all good. Given that I don't usually get cramps, the cup effectively makes it feel like I'm not even having my period.

PMS is such a pain in the ass because you know you're being irrational, and if you have a legitimate concern, everyone assumes you're being irrational and even you doubt yourself, and you feel like an absolute trainwreck and it's just normal. Massive depression and irritability every fucking month, and that's NORMAL. Now that's intelligent design.
posted by heatherann at 9:47 AM on October 20, 2006

For me it's more of a nuisance (rather than a huge problem) most of the time, but remember, we put up with menstruation 12/13 times a year for 30 to 40 years.

Now that's intelligent design.

Well, if Eve hadn't fucked up, we wouldn't be in this mess. am i rite?

posted by deborah at 10:11 AM on October 20, 2006

A couple times a year (not recently, thank God; maybe I've outgrown it), I'll get very sick within an hour or two of the bleeding starting. A sudden onset of feeling overwhelmingly hot, nausea and diarrhea, painful cramps and an awful hollowed-out feeling like someone's taken a melon baller to my lower abdomen. I get dizzy, weak, and very disoriented, and really can't manage anything except curling up and whimpering for a a few hours...til I get chills and fall asleep. It pretty much wipes me out for the rest of the day

This is an amazing description of what it feels like. Hits it right on the nose.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 10:48 AM on October 20, 2006 [2 favorites]

My periods were much worse when I was in high school - the first day I couldn't do anything but sit near the toilet and throw up or dry heave the entire day. No real cramps, just a ache in my back, but yeah, the throwing up thing. Not cool.

Now I've outgrown the throwing up, which I'm extremely thankful for, but the ache in my back still shows up every month. For the entire duration of my period. Also, I can tell my period is coming because my knee pain gets a hundred times worse in the week previous to, and the first few days of, my period. I've been walking down the street with my friends and just collapsed to the ground, unable to walk any further because of the pain in my knees.
posted by emmling at 10:52 AM on October 20, 2006

My period is nothing like all these stories. For me, the worst thing about it is that I constantly feel like I need to go to the bathroom. Coupled with fairly heavy blood flow making me paranoid about leaking onto my clothes, this meant that until I went on the pill, I would go to the bathroom at every opportunity for about a week. On the pill, however, I usually just keep taking active pills for between three and six months, then take the sugar pills to have a period when it suits me. I don't think I've ever had actual cramps. I also can't imagine that it is actually a majority experience to be so wiped out by a period, and I can't imagine how I would stand it.
posted by jacalata at 1:15 PM on October 20, 2006

I think one of the worst thing about having a bad period is that not only do men not believe you that it's that bad, but other women won't believe you either, as evidenced even on this thread.

I've never had severe pain, but it was worse when I was in middle school and high school - I had some very severe bleeding in middle school, a few times so much that I got dizzy from blood loss. Luckily that changed. I used to have cramps that would leave me in bed for a few hours but I don't remember them stopping me from doing most activities.

Now that I've been on the pill for over 5 years, periods are just an annoyance, mostly. I agree with the poster that said they make her introspective - I don't really want to do anything but eat comfort foods, lie around the house and think quiet thoughts. I tend to listen to a lot of music and I'm not very talkative. Periods in the summertime when it's hot are a bitch, as I don't use tampons (I don't like foreign objects left inside my body) and pads can get very hot, sticky and uncomfortable.

And the horniness before and after? And sometimes during? Oh man. I am a rabid sexual beast.
posted by agregoli at 1:57 PM on October 20, 2006 [1 favorite]

Oh yeah, jacalata reminded me: I have a small bladder anyway, but for the next couple days after my period starts I have to pee literally every twenty minutes. That's Part Two of the bloating story.
posted by granted at 2:50 PM on October 20, 2006

I think there may be tradeoffs: for years of major fertility issues, my compensation was that I have never had the major menstrual problems that other women, including my own mother and sisters have had to deal with. Mild cramps and occasional digestive upsets are about the worst of it, and I too have switched to the Divacup so the "ack, I'm out of supplies" thing and the sticky icky pad thing are things of the past.

So count me as another "eh, it's a thing, no biggie" woman.
posted by Dreama at 3:02 PM on October 20, 2006

"I think one of the worst thing about having a bad period is that not only do men not believe you that it's that bad, but other women won't believe you either, as evidenced even on this thread."


"are you just the ones who face more difficulties than the average female or is it in deed that most of you go through this?"

All the women I've ever talked with about this have indicated they have cramps of at least a moderate level. Of course, this could be a coincidence. It's a small sample size, after all.

"the lack of absence of my female colleagues. some of the things I read here would make me expect they wouldn't show up for a couple days each month but I can't say I've noticed."

I used to stay home for a day every month. Only one day -- after that day the pain was gone and it was just the annoyance of the blood to deal with. But the thing is, it sometimes started on the weekend or on other days I wasn't working anyway... or it would start right after work and go away by the next morning. So I didn't actually miss work every month. It helped that I was not working full-time for a while. Then when I got older the cramps got a lot better and I would just work through them.

You know how some people have headaches they can work through, and other people get migraines that make them want to beat their head against the wall while sobbing hysterically? (Or is that last bit just me?) Think of it that way -- if you had a bad headache every month on schedule but you could work through it, you would probably just go to work, take Aleve, and deal. But if it's that higher level of pain... that's a different story. That's when you stay home if you can't treat it.

"I wonder what other irregularities you have faced and what went on in your heads during those times... "

Moving to a new city, starting a new job, and (ironically) pregnancy scares! All of those caused unusually delayed periods, though I was always freakishly irregular anyway. 6 weeks was not abnormal and even three months happened a few times. When I see women in tv shows or movies complaining that they are a few days late, I laugh because I would never know if I was a few days late. Ever. One month it would be a 5 week cycle, the next time it might be 7 weeks.
posted by litlnemo at 3:04 PM on October 20, 2006

2. the lack of absence of my female colleagues. some of the things I read here would make me expect they wouldn't show up for a couple days each month but I can't say I've noticed. are women tougher than men? (oh, that question sucked.)

I really think this is something we don't get enough credit for. We are just supposed to show up, and we do, usually with a bottle of Motrin or something stashed in our purses.

I agree with CunningLinguist. The first day of my period I feel very tired and I should stay in bed. It is they way you feel tired when you have the flu. I'm too tired to think or do work. But it would look terrible if I took 10 or 12 sick days off every year on top of sick days when I have a cold, so when I worked office jobs I went to work. I would surf the Internet or doodle all day. This last year when I have been back in school I gleefully ditched class and slept every first day of my period. It was great.
posted by halonine at 9:34 PM on October 20, 2006

I think everyone's covered the pain part above pretty well. I just wanted to add that physically, it's gross. The bleeding is not the same feeling as the cut-on-your-finger-type bleeding. It's feels a bit like having a head cold—the kind where mucus is continuously slowly dripping out of your nose for four days and you have to soak it up otherwise it leaks everywhere, all the time.
posted by hooray at 7:29 AM on October 21, 2006 [1 favorite]

Also, does anyone else laugh at the restrictions on the number of Advils you're supposed to take?

I used to. I'd take four of them at least every four hours, if not more often. I'd buy them in the jumbo bottles of 500 from Kmart. Unfortunately here I am ten years later, and I just suffered through two months of "duodenitis" which my doctor thinks is due the ibuprofen. Basically, I can never take it (or any other anti-inflammatory) again without suffering a horrible stomachache for weeks at a time. (Oh yeah, and how they diagnosed it? Sticking a camera down my throat. Fun.) The worst part is, I don't even have my period anymore. I haven't had one in five years because of my Depo shot. But the damage was done back in high school and college. So be careful, and if you start having any stomach issues be sure to tell your doctor about the ibuprofen.
posted by web-goddess at 2:54 PM on October 22, 2006

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