Saturday, 12 September 2015

Me and the Mirena Coil

This is about my very personal experience with the Mirena coil. It is not a lament about its existence or against its use; it is one story – my story. I know other people who have used this method of dealing with their period woes and are very happy with it. That is not my experience. My experience was horrible and traumatic and I’m writing about it because this is my period blog.

As mentioned in an earlier post, after it became clear that tranexamic acid wasn’t really an adequate treatment I had more tests. These included an intra-vaginal scan, and a subsequent appointment with a gynaecologist. A word on intra-vaginal scans – lying in a darkened room and having a slightly vibrating wand wiggled around your vagina is a very disconcerting experience in the context of a medical exam.

The results were frustratingly inconclusive. When I got to see the gynaecologist his only real advice was that I get a Mirena coil fitted. Because he didn't really think a hysterectomy was quite the thing, it’s a bit drastic and anyway, it has a tendency to make women put on weight, and that’s something I have a bit of an issue with... Thank you for your input there, Mr Gynaecologist, your reference to my weight ‘issues’, as you perceive them, is most helpful and relevant. No really. So anyway, the two choices boiled down to either a method of contraception or a major operation.

I put off having the coil fitted for a year because I was terrified of having it done. I'd read too many awful experiences online to be calm about it, despite knowing people in real life who'd had it without much of a fuss at all. Finally though, I persuaded myself the benefits outweighed my fears. It took a couple of visits to my local clinic before I could actually get it fitted. Ideally, it needs to be fitted during a period, but this isn’t always practical when you bleed very heavily. Also, if you want to get it fitted, don’t have sex after the first day of your period or you might get turned away on the slim chance you might be pregnant, even if you used contraception. And be prepared to be told you need to lose weight, as a general and repeated maxim. Not that that’s relevant to whether you can have the coil, but you might not be aware of how fat you are if healthcare professionals don’t keep telling you repeatedly.

Anyway, eventually I got an appointment and got the damn thing fitted. It wasn’t a particularly pleasant experience. It turns out my cervix isn’t keen on being cranked opened and having a weird little thing passed through it. Afterwards I had to sit in the waiting area with my head between my knees until the nausea, dizziness, hot flushes and shaking stopped.

I felt pretty ropey for the next day or two, and horribly conscious of my bits. But I was prepared for some initial discomfort and was convinced it would be fine fairly soon. Wrong. I hated every minute it was inside me. I never felt quite right with it, but I suffered with it for a year, hoping I'd get to the point of light or no periods. Instead I had near constant low-level bleeding. As it wasn’t the uncontrollable bleeding I’d been having I was still prepared to take it as a bit of a win.

Unfortunately, the bleeding got heavier as the months passed, along with increasing levels of pain. I started getting massive cramps again, until about a year after having it fitted my body said That Is Enough and expelled it all by itself one evening, completely wrapped in menstrual lining. This counts as one of the most horrid experiences of my life. It wasn’t just painful but also frightening, because what the hell was going on? All I knew was that the cramping was intense and that the bleeding was scary as I sat on the toilet and cramped and bled and cried continually for an hour or more.

Obviously, this treatment was not for me. As I said, I know actual real life people for whom it has been a success, but clearly it is not for everyone. Of course, there’s no way of knowing until you try. Well, not until there’s a lot more research into understanding why people suffer from dysfunctional periods. I would appreciate a method of dealing with them that wasn’t a by-product of contraception, because if you start having trouble with the Pill then chances are you’re going to have trouble with other hormone-based remedies, no? And the Mirena coil releases a low-level dose of progesterone into the womb. The more I think about this, with my non-medical non-scientific brain, the less sense it makes. But it does explain why the Progesterone-only Pill had much the same effect on my periods over the course of a year.

I could be wrong and maybe there is a Pill that would be suitable for me again, but it does make me reluctant to keep experimenting. The experience has definitely made me incredibly reluctant to undergo more tests and examinations – I put off a smear test for a year, which is not a good thing to do in the slightest.

This post is getting far too long now so I’ll end with saying I think there’s a range of things to talk and be cross about contained in here around women’s bodies and how they are discussed and cared for, which are much wider than my personal experience and need to be talked about openly and dismantled. I remain adamant that we need to tell our stories.

Tuesday, 1 September 2015

Period Pieces

I can gleefully report that I have been period free for over a week. The stop-start shenanigans have stopped for a while. It's the least bloody I've been for ages and it is glorious! There's been plenty of period-related things floating across the internet to keep me occupied, and I thought I'd round up a few of them here.

The Pool are gathering quite a nice archive of period pieces. Most recently, and as part of their In My Head week, Lynn Enright wrote about PMS: PMS is definitely real. I'm goddamn certain it's real (my earlier post Current mood: changeable is about this), and I related to this article hard. I also learned a new acronym - PMDD, which stands for Premenstral dysmorphic disorder and is something I'm going to research.

Also on The Pool was a PMS SOS Kit article, a shopping list for your period woes. It's fun rather than serious, although the Sudocrem tip for spots is an excellent one! It features shower gels and under-eye concealers; things to perk your mood up a bit.

Lucy Powrie, the YA blogger and booktuber, made a very interesting video about menstruation in YA literature. Periods are absent from the majority of fiction, it's just not where we learn about them. I think Lucy makes a convincing case as to how rubbish that is, and especially so for girls who are experiencing menstruation for the first time. Reading about periods can normalise the experience and be a comfort.

I wouldn't generally link to the Daily Mail because it's a rage mag of the lowest order, but this article is intriguing. Apparently there is a new treatment for super heavy periods, whereby the womb lining is burnt away with microwaves. It sounds a relatively simple procedure, not hugely painful, less invasive than some older methods of doing this, and fairly cheap for the NHS. I'm not totally sold on it, but it does look worth further investigation. To redress the balance, they also ran a story about women stopping their periods and defying the laws of nature for the sake of their careers, which is a horrible mess of stereotyping, all round unpleasantness and misogyny. If I ever have the strength, I'll unpick it piece by piece, but not right now.

Last up is an article about period problems that has some pretty handy drawings illustrating the sites of pain of different types of problems. It's on a site called Refinery 29, which I didn't know before but looks a little like a US The Pool. I liked this a lot because it isn't always easy to identify what sort of pain you're getting and this actually helps.

Hope you enjoy and/or find some useful stuff in some of these. And please let me know of any period pieces that have caught your eye recently.

Saturday, 22 August 2015

A Moan

That's all this is really, me having a moan.

Yesterday I had a wonderful period free day. I thought that at last, after 10 days, the post-Norethisterone period was at an end. Confidently I told my friend I should be good for maybe two and a half weeks now. Well, that was nothing but a pipe dream. 36 hours without bleeding. Go me.

I'm not sure what to make of this premature return, and to say I have the hump about it is putting it mildly. Maybe it'll be just a blip, but I have been having the stabbing pains I get from time to time that herald the arrival of my somewhat-more-than-monthlies. Meh.

As I said, I'm just having a moan.

Tuesday, 18 August 2015

Menstruation and Me

It seems like a good time to spill a little of my menstrual history to give some more context for this blog. I've always had heavy periods right from the get go. Heavy and painful, a winning combination. Fortunately for me I got on just fine with the Pill from my teens, through my 20s and into my 30s. This took the edge off the worst of it and for most of that time I considered my periods a nuisance but they were manageable. My luck only held so long and a raft of side-effects started to make themselves known and I stopped taking the Pill.

Little by little my periods got heavier and more painful and lasted longer. Initially I thought my body was just adjusting; I took a lot of Feminax and hoped for the best. I realised this was no longer an option one Saturday morning when my parents popped into the shop where I worked to say hello, only to find me doubled up with cramps and fighting back tears. I went to the doctor soon after.

This was about six or seven years ago now, I think. Since then I been to the doctor's numerous times, had tests and been referred to a gynaecologist. The treatments I have been recommended and tried are:

  • Tranexamic acid for the bleeding and mefanamic acid for the pain. Tranexamic acid maybe helps a little on reasonably heavy days but not on uncontrollable ones. Mefanamic acid didn't touch my pain.
  • A Mirena coil. An utter horror story, one of the worst experiences of my life, and completely ineffective.
  • A progesterone only Pill. Helped initially but after a year things got worse.

A hysterectomy was half-heartedly mentioned by the gynaecologist but I'll save my thoughts about that for another day. I will mention my disquiet on another subject - that so many of the therapies for heavy and painful periods are actually methods of contraception first and foremost. None of them come from research into alleviating period problems, seemingly.

I was taking the progesterone Pill until a couple of weeks ago. I had to stop so I could take Norethisterone, another progesterone tablet, to stop the ridiculously heavy period I'd been having for the previous two and a half weeks and was making me very poorly. Probably not helped by the two week period I'd had a fortnight beforehand either. The Norethisterone did give me a break for a week, but within 48 hours of finishing the pack my period was back. That was eight days ago and it's not stopped yet, but I have now gone two days without flooding or losing great clumps of gunk (actual medical term). I'm staying off the Pill for now to see what happens.

Obviously I have to go back to the doctor's soon but I don't hold out much hope of being told anything different. And when I look at the paltry list of solutions above, it makes me feel a bit fed up. That's not a lot of help offered over several years and numerous appointments with my GP. When I do go again, I'll report back here. If anyone has any suggestions or advice please shout. In the meantime I'll continue to renew my tranexamic acid prescription and cocktail paracetamol and codeine with ibuprofen on really bad days.

Saturday, 15 August 2015

Bleeding Uncool

The other day I got out of the bath and promptly bled everywhere. I was fricking furious; there's nothing fun about trying to stem the blood running down your legs and stop it from soaking into the bath mat. After I'd cleaned up myself and the surrounding area and climbed down, moodwise, to rueful, I began to think about an essay I read a few years ago by Iris Marion Young.

Her book, On Female Body Experience, is a brilliant collection of essays. In it is Menstrual Meditations, which takes both a theoretical and practical/lived look at the experience of menstruation. It's packed full of interesting things, but it was the idea around the uncontrollable nature of menstrual flow that popped into my brain and sent me back to the book to ferret it out. Young writes:

'The expectation that girls and women control their bodies to conceal this process seems especially unjust because this excretion is not controllable. There is nothing a woman can do to stall or temporarily stop the flow...'

Periods are a messy business, and if you have heavy or super heavy days there can be times when it is literally impossible to contain the flow. Because it's not just slightly gloopy blood that is dispelled; clumps of lining can come out too and there's not a tampon in the world that can deal with that - I speak from personal experience.

I do feel the injustice of trying to keep my out of control bleeding hidden. For years I've spent one week of every month worrying about the bedsheets and the mattress and the towels and the sofa and the cushion I sit on the dining room chair. But that worry is nothing compared to the anxiety caused by the fear of bleeding visibly onto your clothes. I wear a lot of black.

Young goes on to point out the further injustice that alongside the requirement to keep menstruation under wraps, our institutions and workplaces are often ill-equipped places for us to be able to perform the necessary acts to keep our bleeding a secret. During my time working in retail (not my current employer, I hasten to add), I have been in the situation of being the only person on the shopfloor and faced with the choice of either leaving the floor completely unattended or dripping blood on the carpet. Fun times.

As is most likely obvious by now, I'm not at all interested in keeping quiet about periods. I don't think they should be a secret. I have an idea that more openness will eventually mean more acceptance and more necessary allowances made. And that would be bleeding cool.

Friday, 14 August 2015

Suggested Reading

Earlier today I saw this tweet in my timeline, from The Pool:

The link is to an interesting article by Kate Spicer worth its four minutes allotted reading time! I love the idea that 2015 is the year of the red storm, although I think there's still a way to go before menstruation is no longer taboo. I'm happy that periods are being talked about and the issues around them are being more openly acknowledged.

The tweet also reminded me that there was another period article on The Pool not that long ago. I just read it again, and it's a really great article by Anna Friedman that talks about the emotional side of menstruation. I love this bit the most:

if you’re really suffering every month, your crazy-making PMS symptoms belong at home – where you are free to eat whole chocolate bars and and cry at every elimination on The Voice – not in the workplace, or god forbid, on the beach. Public spaces are for women who can play through the pain and swallow their tears.

This resonates completely with how I feeling yesterday. You can read the whole article HERE.

Thursday, 13 August 2015

Current mood: changeable

Periods have been on my mind again today; more than I would have liked really. I was going to write about where I am with my Woes, but actually it's the emotional toll of menstruation I want to mention.

I am somewhat beleagured at the moment physically and mentally. It's not only period related, but it sure ain't helping. I've gone through about two dozen moods today, from irritatingly chirpy through flat all the way to fighting back tears.

The fragile and unstable nature of my emotions just before and during my period can sometimes be overwhelming. I've always had PMS-like symptoms* to some degree, but recently I've found myself becoming tearful much more often. There is other stuff going on in my life that is quite upsetting, but these bouts of crying seem cyclically linked to my menstrual cycle (such as it is, but that's a story for another day). In my mind I call the times when I'm brimming with tears hormone crashes, but I have no idea if that's medically accurate. I do feel my mood crash though, that's for sure, and it's sadness I feel rather than the stereotypical anger associated with PMS.

Sometimes I can coax myself back into my default fairly cheerful mood, other times I withdraw completely and read until I feel better able to deal with the world. Today I've eaten pizza, watched two episodes of Gotham and am now listening to Sleater-Kinney. I no longer feel so bad.

Do any of you lot out there get mega 'hormone crashes' (and do you have a name for the phenomenon), how does it affect you, and what do you do to try and make yourself feel better?

*I say PMS-like symptoms rather than simply PMS as my understanding of PMS as a medical condition is that the symptoms are supposed to vanish once you actually start bleeding. I wish.

More information about Premenstrual Syndrome (PMS) can be found on the NHS website. There's quite an interesting list of symptoms; I reckon I can tick off a good 80% of them!