Consent has been in the press this week again, thanks to a couple of young men who were deeply personally insulted and affronted at the nerve, the sheer bloody gall, the CHEEK of their presumptious places of learning, to include them into an invite that went to all students to voluntary consent courses.
It’s an irony that when I am not having a bout of anxiety, it’s hard to recall and write about exactly how anxiety affects me (in a similar way to how you can remember that a tattoo hurts but you can’t recall the exact pain itself) but when I am in the midst of an episode I can barely string two sentences together. Thus it’s taken me several weeks to write this post, in between bouts feeling fine (occasionally even awesome) and feeling like flinging my laptop into the Thames and watching it sink. Then jumping in myself. I need to grab those “fine” moments and write in those, because when I am feeling awesome the last thing I want to do is pick up my laptop and write about the times I felt like crawling under my bed and staying there for ever, but when I am in my “fine” moments it’s hard to explain what having an anxiety episode feels like.
I’m often told I don’t look my age. I have to admit I rather enjoy the look of shock that usually appears on people’s faces when I tell them my actual age. It’s usually followed up with “what’s your secret?” Depending on how well I know them and their sense of humour the answer tends to be one or a combination of…
- Good genes, thanks Mum
- Stay out of the sun, don’t smoke
- You should see the state of the portrait in my attic
- It’s mostly because I act like a child
- Bathing in the blood of virgins
- My dress sense never grew up
- Ritual sacrifice
I’m still finding it hard to sit down every single Sunday and write. Last year it was really important to me to do so, because writing here was so tied up with giving up alcohol that I felt if I didn’t write every Sunday I may as well go back to drinking and the two – writing and not drinking – became inextricably linked. Now I know I can happily not drink just by, you know, not drinking.
My birthday this year made me feel profoudly grateful for my wonderful friends – new and old – who sent me cards and gifts, or drew awesome pictures, or sent me messages or sang songs to my voicemail. It all reminds me that I’m not alone, that people understand me, that people are thinking of me and care. As someone who suffers from anxiety and has struggled with depression in the past that is an incredibly powerful feeling.
I tend to see birthdays as basically an an excuse to take days off work to do absolutely nothing and act ridiculously. Well, ok, I often act ridiculously but birthdays allow you to act ridiculously without the added side-eye that you get when you’re nearly 40 and acting ridiculously on a day to day basis. Birthdays are a free pass for excessive cake eating, lie-ins, duvet fort huddling, staying-up-all-nighting and it’s a great way to get people to play silly games with you.
Of all the publications and site that covered my infamous tea & consent blog, the weirdest one was the Daily Mail. I didn’t actually end up with a huge amount of traffic coming directly from it; but then it came out several months after it had first gone viral (viralled?) and perhaps by that point everyone was thoroughly sick of it (because it’s a virus. Ho Ho Ho.) I was actually at work when someone emailed me the link, and as I scrolled I felt a weird sense of euphoria mixed with nausea. Voice in my head: don’t read the comments. I mean, it was amazing – something I wrote has been picked up by one of the most read papers in the country! But, on the other hand, it’s the Daily Mail. I really dislike the Daily Mail don’t read the comments. As a non-straight woman, product of a single mother, left wing, cycling feminist – I am not exactly the sort of person who enjoys, or is enjoyed by, the Daily Mail don’t read the comments. I am the sort of person the Daily Mail hates. I would have thought were I ever to end up in the Daily Mail it would not be for anything good.
You may have noticed that blogday has been missing for a couple of weeks. I have no excuse for this – I wasn’t moving house (thank goodness – I’ve already done that 5 times since starting this blog) or on holiday or ill or anything special at all. Well, I had a few exams and was prioritising revision, but if I am brutally honest with myself the revision was a blessed excuse not to write.
I didn’t write because…I had nothing to say.
It wasn’t my first protest; although I have an anxiety disorder and struggle with large crowds, and a medical issue that means it is painful to walk for long distances I feel some things are important enough to be present for. This was one of those occasions.
A while back one of my fellow humourless killjoy feminist friends came up with the idea of a list of “Things we wished people spoke more openly about”.
The conversation that ensued lead to several revelations amongst the group and numerous exclamations of “I am SO glad we’re talking about this” and “OMG I thought this was just me” and “why don’t we talk about this stuff? This is GREAT.”
So this is part two of my ongoing but irregular series – “Things we wish were talked about more openly.”
Just like last time, I am going to add a lengthy content warning, mainly for the benefit of my family who might not want to read about my intimate shizzle.
This blog, and indeed probably the whole series, will feature talk of things like sexual acts, body parts, bodily functions and fluids and other things that often make people (right across the gender spectrum) feel uncomfortable. It’s almost certainly going to make my family feel uncomfortable, so if you’re related to me, you might want to stop right here.
I am going to say, straight up, that a lot of the things that are likely to come up are things that I personally find really difficult to talk about. I spent a lot of time hating my body and not really wanting to look at it, feeling awkward and anxious about sexual acts, being ashamed and scared of things my body did and generally feeling unable to talk about it. So just as you might be leaving your comfort zone to read this, I am going out of my comfort zone to write it. So we’re on this journey together.
“I wish we spoke more openly about…
Menstruation and PMT”
I recall that my school education session on periods was woefully inadequate. It left us all with the impressions that:
- If you have sex, you will get pregnant. So don’t.
- When you are on your period you are gross KEEP IT A SECRET AT ALL COSTS
- Periods are gross and icky. DON’T TALK TO BOYS ABOUT THEM
- It’s just a few tablespoons of blood (LIES)
- Vajayjays are dirty. Try not to touch them
I was never really told what was coming out of me was pretty amazing or marvellous or perfectly ok. It’s taken me decades to be able to unpick all this.
What does get talked about a lot is PMT – but it’s usually framed as a big joke as to why women are in a bad mood or being grouchy. There’s a lot of talk about OH LOL HORMONES BE MAKING GIRLS CRAZY BITCHES but it’s not taken terribly seriously. But PMT symptoms can be really serious, and varied and honestly? They can really really suck. Treating PMT as some ‘bitches be crazy lol’ thing does a great deal of harm to women who are having real physical and mental symptoms. So forgive me if someone makes some bullshit “on the rag lol” joke at me and I imagine ripping your fucking nipples off. It’s easy to be a humourless bitch when you’re not actually being funny.
But there is no ‘once size fits all’ for PMT – and women experience all sorts of different symptoms. Some lucky ones don’t get any. Personally, I get really mood swingy, teary and grumpy and find it hard to concentrate. I don’t always connect the dots sometimes; I spend 3 days wanting to kill things/other people/myself and crying at fucking adverts and because of my history of mental ill health every time I’m like THE DEPRESSION IS COMING BACK. 3 days later I’m like “oh. Hello womb lining.” I have to pee way more, my IBS flares up. I don’t want to do anything. At all. I don’t even want to write this blog. I had to force myself to sit at this laptop today. My body temperature is higher and I feel hot all the time. Boyfriends haven’t always understood why I don’t want to snuggle when I am on my period. BECAUSE I AM MELTING GET OFF ME. I don’t get cramps – for which I am eternally grateful – but I do get hormonal migraines. Regular as anything, once a month. Full on, someone-is-trying-to-stab-their-way-out-of-my-eye-socket-with-an-icepick migraines. Painkiller resistant, soul destroying, please kill me now migraines. Every period. I’ve been having periods since I was 14. So in theory I’ve been having migraines every month for over 20 years. That’s more than 240 migraines.
Only I haven’t, because (with the agreement of my GP) I run packets of pills together to avoid having periods for several months at a time. This suited me down to the ground for many years, as I still believed all the things I learned at school about periods (refer to the list above) and therefore was really happy to not have gross blood doing gross things euw gross.
A lot of crap is talked about hormones and what they do (see the ‘boys will be boys‘ rubbish excuse) but that’s sort of the point isn’t it? Hormones are punchlines or excuses and that detracts from being able to talk about them in a meaningful way.
It took me many many years to get over the idea that my vagina-during-my-period was gross and untouchable. Vaginas are naturally self cleaning. Period blood is seen as a waste product, like poop or pee – but it’s not remotely the same thing. It’s the uterine lining that a woman’s body has prepared to grow a foetus. If you think about it, that’s probably the cleanest thing ever. It has to be – it’s going to grow, nurture and nourish a tiny potential life which hasn’t got its own immune system. It’s…kind of amazing when you think about it. But it also isn’t just blood. There’s all sorts of weird stuff coming out of there. Weird textured stuff. Clots. Weird stringy sticky stuff. I swear I thought I was completely abnormal for YEARS because this ‘couple of tablespoons of blood’ they’d told me about at school bore no relation to this flood of weird Xenomorph-acid-like substance. I thought I was ill or weird. It took a long time before I felt comfortable enough to talk to other women about this and you know what we discovered? We ALL thought our discharge was weird and we all wished we’d just talked about it years ago.
So why don’t we talk about this? When talking about it helps us understand each other better? Helps women feel they are normal and not alone, and helps guys understand what women are going through. It’s such a huge taboo that it has an entire Wikipedia page about it. Why is it such a huge taboo? In these enlightened times, does it need to be a taboo at all?
Gloria Steinem wrote a rather marvellous essay imaging a world in which Men were the ones that menstruate. Of course, it’s satire, and not entirely serious. But it’s a refrain I’ve heard often. If men had periods, toilets would always have sinks inside the cubicle. Sanitary products would not only be not subject to VAT, they’d be FREE. If men had periods, there’d be allowance in job laws that allowed flexible time off for PMT. If men had periods, it would be a sign of strength, not of weakness.
It’s been a ‘man’s world’ for a long time, and feminism has been making gains over the last 40 years in leaps and bounds. It may seem like a weird ask, but I would like a next big leap to be for the taboo over talking about periods to die in a fire. It’s not just an issue here in the UK with girls feeling confused and alone and scared/wary of their own bodies – in other countries it has serious ramifications for the education, welfare, safety and wellbeing of women and girls.
We need to be able to talk about menstruation, our own, other women’s, those of women the whole world over, without fear or revulsion or jokes or snarky jokes. Boys and girls both need to learn how normal and natural they are, that they aren’t dirty or weird. Men and women need to learn how to communicate properly about what their bodies do.
Periods are perfectly normal. Let’s talk about them.