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Missing periods: the literal and symbolic red flags

A bit of monthly bloating? A tight squeeze into my jeans? FANTASTIC.

I got my period today.

I’ve likely lost a third of readers by now – the conservative segment who still believe that such a matter is private and must only be discussed, when necessary, between mother and daughter, or patient and doctor. Perhaps I am violating “period etiquette” by writing about it. It is probably socially inappropriate to log my menstrual activity online. Is it equivalent to “toilet talk”? To discussing other bodily functions?

Maybe! But I don’t care! I could scream it out to the world, because I am absolutely elated.

Every time I get my period, I rejoice.

My friends, on the other hand, regard theirs as the devil incarnate. “Ugh, I got my period early! Sucks. Can’t swim!”, “These cramps are brutal”, or, “So much for wearing my nice white pants”. Their voices are full of resentment.

So why does it make me so happy?

It is a symbol of my health. It is a reminder of my commitment to my well being, of strength of purpose enabling me to overcome adversity, permitting me to beat anorexia.

Menses while anorexic

While I was anorexic and for a time afterwards, until my body had completely recovered from the duress I had put it through, I wasn’t menstruating.

Since arrested menstruation for consecutive months may reveal an undergoing problem in the diagnosis of anorexia, this was an indication that I was hurting myself.

The physical disruption of my body’s regularity was a manifestation of the disruption of my psychological equilibrium, my equanimity- something which all too many of us take for granted.

Regular menstruation: health and fertility

I was once in the company of my aunt when she spoke some words that really resonated with me. She was suggesting that we begin to better appreciate our bodies as vessels capable of giving life instead of focusing on sculpting our bodies to the pinnacles of perfection through dieting.

Initially my inner cynic scoffed at this. Her comment struck me as so “Handmaid’s Tale”. It could have been interpreted that she was extolling a woman’s ability to give birth above all her other virtues. She was suggesting that a woman’s worth was dependent on her ability to produce babies. To define women by their biological function first and foremost is so passé. Surely we’ve progressed past the stage at which women were regarded as nothing more than walking uteri – breeders.

Later on, having reverted to a less aggressive, more open-minded state, immersed in independent, quiet introspection, I re-considered her words. Cynicism trumped rationale when she first spoke, but some after-thought made me realize that there was so much value in what she said. It is easy to forget just how incredible it is that a woman’s healthy, well-nourished body can promise the existence of another human.

We often compromise our health when we diet. A diet spun out of control, one that has mutated into the bestial disease named anorexia, will cause us to lose our periods, and temporarily, or possibly permanently, our fertility. That, in turn, will rob us of the privilege of motherhood.

Eating disorders as false illusions of control

Many people suffering with an eating disorder describe the illusion of control that dietary restriction provides as a catalyst for the onset of their disease. But loss of periods as consequence of restriction shows that restriction does not result in control. It can result in the loss of the opportunity to have children, which is in fact a loss of control, for people desiring children. A protracted, untreated eating disorder seems to close doors, one by one.

Listen to your body

I had a regular doctor’s check-up at the beginning of my weight loss. At that stage, it was not entirely apparent that I was developing an eating disorder. My periods had stopped nonetheless. My doctor said it was normal at twelve, thirteen years old to have irregular cycles. I clung to his words and used them to justify the unhealthy changes occurring in my body. After that appointment, each missed period was no longer a concern for me as it was prior – I could deceive myself into thinking that that abnormality was normal, but it wasn’t.

So this is my advice: listen to your body, it is wise.  If things are changing, they’re worth considering. Each person’s changes could be different – be it hair loss or the cessation of menses- these changes speak volumes. They’re your body’s cry for help.

I am especially attentive to my body now. Thankfully, my monthly periods are a positive affirmation of my health – so at the moment, I am celebrating.


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