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  • Writer's pictureIndia Wittmershaus


They say pain is an essential part of life. That's the shittiest thing I've ever heard. Sadly, it's true.

There are many facets to pain. Emotional pain, physical pain. Which is worse? Hard to say. Some pain is sharp, some is searing and all-consuming and some pain is dull but constant. You learn to live with it. Because even though it sucks, pain is a part of life. Whether it's an injury that passes or something you can never get rid of. We are human, we have learned to live with it. Learned to forget it, suppress it and just move on.

There are many kinds of pain. But as I lie there cramped in the fetal position, trying to patiently endure the cramps in my lower belly, I can think of no other pain than that of menstruation. How ironic that the lives of half of humanity are marked once a month by a process in which a dead piece of the body is expelled. In a woman's body, life itself is produced and then it dies. And this happens on average 400 times in a woman's life. 400 times a part of her dies and in pain the body expels the dead part so that the woman can produce a new life. Ironic, isn't it?

I lie here and it hurts. It hurts, the whole body is struggling. My stomach rebels, but I know I don't need to vomit, even if it feels like it. My body is just simulating the feeling. My abdomen cramps and feels like it's filled with lead. My back groans and in jolting waves the pain moves from my lower back to my shoulders. My breasts hurt. They are too full. Everything hurts. My skin is sensitive and everything is uncomfortable. I'm in a bad mood, unbearable to everyone else. I don't like myself right now either. It hurts.

I am still young. Just ten years have passed since my first period. I have already endured this pain about 120 times. Just a quarter of the expected number. They say it gets better over the years, but that's not true. Not in my experience. I've just learned to deal with it better, hide it well and just move on.

Every pain is different. And every pain is felt differently. That's only natural, every person is different and feels everything in their own way. Therefore, every woman feels differently when it comes to menstruation. Some have no pain, some have terrible pain. For some women, the pain gets so bad that they actually throw up. For some women, the pain is so bad that they can barely stand up. They only get through the day with painkillers. 400 times.

Yes, every pain is different, so is the length of the pain. I said it is not getting better. That's not entirely true. At least the duration of the pain has decreased for me. For the first five years I had to endure this pain at least 7 days a month. That's a week. A quarter of the month. That's three months a year. Three months in which everything hurts. Today it is better. The worst pain is only 3 days long, after that it regulates. The pain becomes duller, easier to ignore, until it passes, only to strike again a month later.

I lie here and it hurts. I know the pain will go away. That helps a little. But I also know it will come back. For another thirty years at least. After all, it will end sometime. But I have heard that for many women, the last few years of menstruation are the worst. The pain gets stronger, more varied and lasts longer. Apart from that, menopause is not only associated with considerable discomfort, but also has long-term consequences for health. Is menopause a ray of hope? Or just a new pain after all.

I still remember my menarche, my first menstruation. I live in an informed world. Long before it happened, I had been prepared for it. In theory I knew the process and when I bled for the first time, I knew immediately what was happening to my body. I didn't necessarily feel good, but I wasn't in much pain either. I was thirteen years old at the time, it was a Tuesday morning in summer and after the realization that my time as a woman with a fertile body had begun, I went to school. I wasn't the first of my friends to get her period and I wasn't the last either. I was somewhere in the middle and those of us who were already menstruating had told me it was brutal.

So that day I went to school. I took the train and everything was fine. I walked ten minutes from the train station to school and all was well. I greeted my friends, we entered the building and everything was fine. We went to the classroom and I didn't feel quite so comfortable. I sat down in my seat at the very back and the lesson began. And with it the pain started. For 90 minutes I lay half on my desk. I held my body tightly and tried not to die. That may sound very dramatic now, but that's exactly how it felt. The hour flowed slowly. I can't remember anything more, except that it was a music lesson.

I come from an educated society. I knew what was coming. But at that moment I realized that I didn't know it at all. It hurt so incredibly much. It was a pain I had never felt before. I had not been prepared for that.

After the lesson, I excused myself and had myself sent home. I remember it well. All the way, I prayed to myself that I just had to keep going. One step at a time. Just keep going. At home, my mother gave me a hot water bottle, I put on the most comfortable clothes in my possession and lay down on the sofa. There I lay. The whole day. I held on tightly and endured the pain. The next day I went back to school. I had a painkiller with me in case I couldn't take it anymore. But I knew the pain then. And I could stand it.

Ten years have passed since that Tuesday in summer and here I lie again. I clasp my body in an embryo position and convince myself that the pain will pass. That I can push it away, that I just have to move on. And I know I will. There is no other option. I have to go through this pain about three hundred more times. Thirty more years and then I will have overcome it. Successfully endured it. Three hundred more times something inside me will die before my body is too old to produce life. Just keep going.

They say pain is an essential part of life. That's the shittiest thing I've ever heard. But I can't deny it, because I relive it every month.

Written by India Wittmershaus.

Cover photo by Larm Rmah.


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