The intensity of period pain varies from person to person. For some, it is extremely severe and impacts daily life. This is the case for marketing professional Ella. Her difficult periods can make working full time extremely difficult.
In this blog, Ella tells us all about her problematic periods, how she manages them at work, the impact her periods have on her work performance and why she feels it’s important for workplaces to have menstrual and reproductive health support.
My period experience…
“There is one week every month that I absolutely dread – period week! It always seems to come around far too quickly, and last far too long. I suffer from awful period pain which really impacts my day-to-day.
I started my period just after I turned 13. The first few years were really difficult. Although I didn’t suffer from any pains for a while, my periods were so heavy that I would be constantly terrified of leaking. During this time, my periods lasted anywhere from 7 to 28 days and before long I started getting really severe pains too. I was told that this was normal for a young girl experiencing her first periods, but after 2 and a half years I was feeling a little fed up, so I went to the doctors and I was prescribed the pill to try and get back some control.
The pill really helped me reduce the heaviness and get some regularity in my periods. Now, after 8 years on the pill, my periods are like clockwork (most of the time), manageably light and only last about 7 or 8 days. But I’m yet to find something that helps the pain.
Dealing with my periods at work
Working full time and having difficult periods can be really challenging. I recently started a new job and luckily have more flexibility in my role. However, in my previous job there was no option to work from home and taking sick days really impacted on the workload of others – so I just dealt with it.
Days 2 and 3 of my period are the most unbearable. On these days, I barely get any sleep, regularly throw up, and occasionally pass out – all from pain. When I manage to get past these parts, I then really struggle to stand-up straight as it puts such a strain on my stomach. Hunching over is the only minor relief I can get! In my last role, I worked about a 30-40 minute walk away from the office and on days that were particularly bad, I would have to call a taxi to take me into work because I physically couldn’t make the walk.
Talking to my empoyers
There were a few times in this role that I tried to explain to my seniors the situation I was facing each month, without explicitly saying that I needed to go home (I never felt it was appropriate to take a sick-day from period pain!), but as there was never a very welcoming response, I would just fill up my hot water bottle, pop some paracetamol and get on with it.
I now work in a team that is predominantly women, most of who are really open about how they’re feeling – in every sense! Although being surrounded by these people makes it much easier to be open about the difficulties, it still doesn’t give the support from higher up the food chain that you need to feel comfortable in the workplace.
I’ve always felt as if period trouble wasn’t a good enough reason to not feel well enough to work – but I’ve recently learnt that anyone who thinks that way, simply just doesn’t have bad periods!
Why I believe employer support is important…
The severity of my pain, combined with the panic of having to confront the situation with a senior, makes it really difficult for me to perform well in my job. Having access to better menstrual support wouldn’t reduce the pain, but may be able to improve my performance in work as it would relieve some of the stress and pressure that comes attached to a period.
The open opportunity for working from home (uncomfortable desk chairs don’t give as much relief as a sofa and a pair of PJs!), free period care (my workplace doesn’t even have sanitary vending machines!), raising awareness (particularly with male members of the team), and being able to talk openly would really relieve some of the pressure that women feel and would help normalise these situations.
I’d love to work in a place that welcomes the honesty and does everything they can to make life as easy as possible. It’ll not only make period health better but help woman perform better in the workplace. From someone who has struggled for years, I think making these small changes will really help make women feel comfortable and give them the opportunity to confront what is going on. I’ve always felt as if period trouble wasn’t a good enough reason to not feel well enough to work – but I’ve recently learnt that anyone who thinks that way, simply just doesn’t have bad periods!
A huge thank you to Ella for being so open and honest about her period troubles. If you are suffering from extreme period pain and it is impacting your daily life, we would always advise seeking help/advice from your GP. These types of symptoms can signify an underlying reproductive health condition. If you are an employer wondering how you can support your employees when it comes to menstrual and reproductive health, check out this blog here by business psychologist Clare Knox. You can enquire about our newly launched workplace boxes here.