(For the past six years, I’ve used Reverb10 prompts to give myself a question to answer every day of December. It’s a great way to reflect on the year and set goals for the future. I’ve kept my favorite prompts, added a few from other sources, and created my own month-and- a-bit of questions.)
Healing. What healed you this year? How would you like to be healed in the future?
My body spoke up loud and clear this year. Something was wrong.
Right before the year started, I was home alone. My husband was out of town. I stood up from the couch and felt wet warmth between my legs. I was bleeding. Red, fresh blood. It didn’t hurt. I was just suddenly, with no reason, having a period. It was terrifying. I was alone. It was night. I was bleeding.
About a ½ hour later I had bled through one maxi pad already. I’d called my husband and told him I was going to go to the emergency room. I promised to call when I got there. I was the last person to be seen at the ER by that shift of doctors before they switched over to the skeleton crew. The doctor was non-pulsed. It was not a miscarriage. It was “an oops of my cycle.” I went home, confused and worried. I honestly have never felt that alone in my life. I did eventually stop bleeding.
A few nights later, worried that our deposit on a new apartment wasn’t going to go through I couldn’t sleep. I never have problems sleeping. But this night, I was up until 4 AM. My mind was racing, my body was shaking. I curled up on the couch and couldn’t get warm enough. Looking back, it wasn’t insomnia. It was a mild panic attack, according to the Googling I did later. I let a concern about logistics become a catastrophe in my head. It consumed me. That has never happened before – I’m normally great about keeping my worries in check.
The next day my husband came home. His work had kept him much longer on a trip than we’d expected. We had just enough time to wash his clothes, pack, and get on a flight to see family for Christmas. Things got better. I thought.
Later, there was a migraine that had me in bed for a whole day. Light hurt. Noise hurt. The sheets hurt. I don’t get migraines. We had to Google (again) what was going on to figure out that it was in fact a migraine.
A month later, my shoulder froze up. I rolled over in bed and was suddenly screaming like a wounded animal. Searing pain in my back. I was off work for days, immobile and exhausted. And in all this, my breasts hurt too. One breast was warmer than the other. They both were so tender it hurt to get hugged. It hurt to wear a bra. I do not recommend Googling those symptoms.
I finally saw my regular doctor. I told her everything – the bleeding, the headaches, the tender breasts. She told me to stop taking the pill. She signed me up for a mammogram.
I’ve been on the pill for a decade. I’d been using it to have 4 periods a year for at least 5 years. I was put on it before I needed any form of birth control because my periods were so horrible. (Not that I knew what I was experiencing was out of the normal range – I thought everyone couldn’t eat / move / was in blinding pain for a few days a month. I thought everyone bled so much it could fill multiple red party cups. My doctor at the time was horrified that I’d put up with it for so long.) Stopping the pill was not something I was looking forward to. I was sure I’d suddenly go back to horrible horrible periods. But, the pain in my breasts was really really scary. I threw away the remainder of the pills and braced myself.
I also got the mammogram my doctor had ordered for me. Having your first mammogram when your breasts are tender is a terrible experience. The technician had me sit down a lot. I was pale and crying. She was worried I was going to faint. But I got through it.
And the results were inconclusive. There was a little spot that “might be nothing, but quite frankly might be the beginning of cancer.” So was asked to come back and have another mammogram-like test with an ultrasound.
So for a week this Spring, I had to try really hard not to think about the voice in my head that kept asking “what if you have cancer?” It was on the tip of my tongue to tell everyone “I might have breast cancer!” but that seemed melodramatic, and so I just kept quiet and drank a lot more than normal. Not healthy, but I needed to get though. I needed to shut that voice up. I did succeed in shutting that voice up, with the help of my mother. I finally told her about all that had been going on and she said – as if it was common knowledge – “The women of our family have dense breasts. I always have to have an ultrasound instead of a mammogram.”
So I got the second test. It also hurt. It was also inconclusive. But by then my breast had stopped hurting so much. And I was sure, deep down, that it had been the pill all along. I new that my body had cried out in the only way it could “Enough!”
I was not looking forward to being off the pill. I have to admit that I’d been scared of my period as a young woman. I’d felt bullied by it, and bullied by an aspect of my femininity. I didn’t want to deal with the mess, the pain. I didn’t want to be out of control. It all seemed so incomprehensible. Like I was possessed temporarily by a vengeful spirit. My memories of those first few years of having my period were of dark nights, lying awake scared and in pain. I felt like I had no choice but to step back into that place.
But it was ok. My cycle snapped back into a regular rhythm immediately. And while I cramp, it’s not that bad. I bleed, but it’s not that bad. I’m no longer a girl huddled on her dorm bed while everyone else was out for the night having fun while I was dizzy and nauseous. I’m a woman. And I’m ok.
These days I find a strange, quiet satisfaction in paying close enough to learn my body’s language. Once I was forced to listen, I learned that that my body will communicate very clearly and very consistently. I’ll cramp hard 3 days before my period, and my breasts will be tender 2 days before, and I’ll get a pimple 1 day before and have an upset stomach the first day, no balance the next and by the 3rd or 4th be mostly back to normal but will cry easily. To know the rhythm, to see the future in that way, makes me feel powerful.
So, to the question. I was healed in a strange way this year.I was healed because I listened to my body, and am no longer so divorced from this basic and important fact of my existence. I had a horrible time of it, but I’ve come to appreciate my period. That’s something I never ever thought I’d say.
(P.S. In 2014 I wrote this.)