ARTS & CULTURE EDITOR
Every month, inside a female’s uterus something begins to stir. The inside lining of the uterus begins to shed and break down into a bloody substance, passing through the cervix and exiting through the vagina. This alien act is known as the ‘period’ and is a process apart of the menstrual cycle, where menstrual disturbances are common.
According to mayoclinic.org, it is estimated that three of every four menstruating women have experienced some type of premenstrual syndrome. Symptoms of PMS vary from emotional and behavioral factors such as poor concentration to physical factors such as fatigue.
“Not every woman experiences [PMS] but if they do, they feel as if it is a fluctuation in their hormones. It can cause agitation, like tempers, it can also create a feeling or emotions of sadness. When they do experience it, it is very real and is now in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th Edition: DSM-5,” health teacher Shannon Bruce said.
Recent studies have revealed that such effects of PMS are indeed serious health concerns. The DSM-5 now recognizes an extension of PMS, the Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder, as a diagnosable and treatable depressive disorder. To be treated, symptoms meeting specific criteria, such as decreased interest in usual activities and lack of energy, must be present.
“When women go to see a psychologist or a therapist they can officially diagnose them, it is very interesting and there is real treatment for it,” Bruce said.
Treatment for PMDD is aimed at minimizing symptoms through options such as antidepressants and birth control pills, according to mayoclinic.org. Through investigation and interviews of Division 1 athletes, Shawna Hook-Held, program coordinator at the University of California, San Diego International House and Women’s Studies major, explored such topics for her thesis which studied the shame around menstruation and athletes.
“The fear of leaking is one of the biggest fears. These are high caliber athletes, they are playing and they are so concerned about leaking through their tampon or their pad or they are so afraid that someone is going to see the outline of their pad,” Hook-Held said.
Not only can menstruation be a difficult topic as it creates a complicated environment for athletes to perform in, but it can sometimes inhibit their ability to perform at a 100 percent level.
“It is difficult for a swimmer to deal with periods, the biggest hassle is having to go and change your tampon, especially for water sports. During practice if my cramps are really bad I can just take ibuprofen before practice and I will be fine,” junior and varsity girls’ water polo captain Juliana Pierce said.
The notion that periods can impact a woman’s ability to perform was recently brought to international attention when the Rio 2016 Olympic women’s 4×100 relay swimmer Fu Yuanhui spoke to reporters after winning her bronze medal. Yuanhui claimed that her performance was inhibited by contracting her period and feeling abdomen cramps for the relays. According to Hook-Held, the interview gave the menstrual conversation new vigor and platform for recognition, which Pierce agrees with.
“[By having more conversations] more people will become aware and not make fun of you for menstruating, because some people are really condescending when it comes to your period, [saying] ‘Oh, it’s whatever,’ but it is kind of a big deal. I think it is cool that [Yuanhui] was able to say that on a public scale,” Pierce said.
Because women are affected by their menstrual cycle, both Hook-Held and Pierce agree more awareness should be brought to the topic. Starting more conversations about menstruation has the potential to create a deeper sense of understanding in both the female and male realm.
“Periods are just so silenced and the biggest issue is shame. For me, I just talk about menstruation often and openly. Yes people do tell me, ‘Don’t talk about this in front of a man,’ but a lot of the times that I have brought up menstruation in front of men they have never been invited to that conversation before so they are interested,” Hook-Held said.
It is also important for menstruators to realize their own confusion regarding periods when conversations are opened up. According to Hook-Held the language around menstruation has always been based around women’s weakness. Although periods can be really hard, they do not make you weak.
“It is really important for girls to take care of themselves. There are a lot of misconceptions on what you can and can’t do: you can attend school, you can attend physical education, you should eat healthy, you should exercise,” school nurse Paola Garcia said.
If a student ever does feel that they are unable to perform due to their menstruation, there is help available on campus. The school nurse provides students with feminine hygiene products along with pills for pain and heating pads for cramps. Garcia also suggests for students dealing with an increase of emotional feelings during their cycle to visit the peer counselors or a support group, in order to get their feelings out. According to Bruce, discussing menstruation is very important and she sees her class as a good place to start these conversations.
“It is cool how ladies are openly talking about menstruation and they are not embarrassed about it. You know, it is good to make sure that [menstrual cycles are] normal and everyone knows that it is normal, women menstruate…hello!” Bruce said.