It’s a random Tuesday. I’m at work, typing away on my computer for longer than I should without taking a break. My mouth feels dry, so I grab my water bottle and stand up. Immediately, I feel a quarter-sized blood clot squeeze its way out of my vagina, followed by a river of blood.
When I look down at my seat, there’s a dark spot spreading across the (fortunately) black fabric of my office chair. So I forget my dry mouth and rush to the bathroom, where I can see the damage my period has done. And then I tell my boss that I have to go home, because I’m having another bad period day.
Most people who bleed from their private bits have been there. It’s hard not to get a spot of blood on your pants every now and then. But it’s never just a small spot for me. I bleed through my pants as if it’s an Olympic sport and I’m going for the gold.
My periods have never been what you’d call normal, but sometime between senior year of college and that day at my desk two years ago, they became horrendous. Every time I saw a spot of red on the toilet paper, I’d prepare for war. Getting my period meant that I’d wake up five or six times during the night and waddle to the bathroom to clean myself up, sometimes trailing droplets of blood across my apartment on the way. It meant that I’d call in sick for two days, so I could be close to an endless supply of underwear and so no one at work would notice the inevitable bloody stain on my bottom. It meant that I canceled plans with friends, because no one wants to hang out with someone who has to duck into the bathroom every hour.
You’d think my life-ruining period would motivate me to check in with a doctor, because there’s clearly something wrong here. But it didn’t. I spent several years just dealing with it. I bought pads that looked like mini mattresses, I hovered over a toilet while twisting a menstrual cup into my vagina (and put a backup pad on just in case), I tried laying on a period sex blanket at night to soak up the overflow (even though I wasn’t having any sex).
I thought the bloody monsoon was something I’d always have to deal with; not normal for most people, but normal for me.
Guess what: bleeding so much that it affects the quality of your life, even for just a few days, isn’t normal for anyone. Abnormally heavy periods even have an official medical name: menorrhagia. “With menorrhagia, you can't maintain your usual activities when you have your period because you have so much blood loss and cramping,” the Mayo Clinic says. Hmm, sounds familiar. The clinic goes on to say that dreading your period because of heavy bleeding is a bad sign. And maybe you should check in with your doctor.
Eventually, I got so fed up with my periods that I did just that. My doctor told me that no, my periods definitely weren’t normal, and then referred me to an endocrinologist (a doctor who specializes in hormones). Not only did I learn that my heavy periods were caused by polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), but they were also exacerbating my already naturally low iron levels. I was severely anemic, and that made me tired all the time and constantly out of breath. It was a mess all around.
My doctor put me on birth control pills (which, as a lesbian, I’d never needed before) to regulate my blood flow. That was three months ago, and while the pill didn’t work a miracle to turn my loud, obnoxious periods into dainty ladies overnight, it certainly is helping. They’re getting shorter, a little bit lighter, and way more predictable. Before, I had no idea when my monstrous period would show up. Now, I know to expect it when my pills turn from yellow to brown.
So take if from me: if heavy periods are messing with your life, make the doctor appointment sooner rather than later. There’s no reason you need to suffer.
If you’re like me, you’re probably thinking that sure, your periods are heavy, but they’re not go-to-the-doctor heavy. So let’s make it clear. The symptoms, according to the Mayo Clinic, are: soaking through one or more pads or tampons every hour, needing to use double protection to control your menstrual flow, needing to wake up to change your pad, tampon, or menstrual cup during the night, bleeding for longer than a week, passing blood clots larger than a quarter, restricting daily activities due to heavy menstrual flow, and symptoms of anemia such as tiredness, fatigue, or shortness of breath.
You don’t have to have all of these symptoms at the same time for your heavy periods to “count.” The Mayo Clinic suggests checking in with your doctor even if the only symptom you have is bleeding through your pad or tampon, or overflowing your menstrual cup in one hour. Bottomline: If your periods make it impossible for you to do anything — go to work, hang out with friends, leave your house for more than an hour — then a doctor’s visit is worth it.