When my partner rolled out of bed and stumbled into the living room early yesterday morning, he wasn’t surprised to see me on the couch with an abandoned book beside me, while the television ran through another episode of “Gilmore Girls” I’d seen 1,000 times.
He was, however, shocked by my groaning about cramps, and the way I flung a once-hot water bottle at him, begging for it to be reheated in the microwave.
“It literally never occurred to me that you’d get your period a second time in quarantine,” he said.
“Periods don’t stop for pandemics,” is the reality of my body and the rallying cry for menstrual activists around the country continuing their campaign for accessible feminine products. Jennifer Weiss-Wolf, a co-founder of the non-profit Period Equity, wrote in Newsweek that emergency aid during the coronavirus must include menstrual supplies.
“One potential blind spot: How seemingly neutral interventions overlook and even undermine women’s essential needs,” she wrote.
These stressful situations, like a lost job, a global pandemic or economic crisis, can often feel like they compound menstrual symptoms. Experts have studied the intuitive relationship between stress and the body, but it’s hard to track exact changes in experiences like pain and discomfort.
“In practice it is difficult if not impossible to identify a threshold at which stress will interfere with the normal cycle,” one recent study notes. “Some studies showed a correlation while others showed no effect of stress on menstrual cycle.”
My personal opinion – expert regarding my own body if nothing else – is that the pandemic has definitely made my symptoms more acute.
I’ve got the kind of period pain that hits me like a brick in my gut, back and calves, usually on the first two days. If I can take an ibuprofen early, I’ll be okay. But once the symptoms start, even that little orange pill won’t be able to stop them. Nothing seems to work in quarantine, no matter when or what I try.
Two cycles ago, I would have happily accepted a period when I couldn’t leave the apartment all day as a vacation. The corner of the couch used to cradle my aching body, but now it swallows me. Like so many conditions of quarantining, during this cycle, I feel trapped.
While it was often torturous to be out while on my period in the before times, it’s worse being stuck inside. Distractions like work, friends – the world, basically – have faded away. It’s just me and my pain at my desk, in the kitchen, on the couch. I used to feel guilty not going for a run, knowing it would probably help with cramps. Now, I’m fixated on weighing the pain relief versus the risk of carrying the virus around my neighborhood.
I don’t own a heating pad, but I can make do with hot water in bottles and jars. Unlike many who have lost income during the pandemic, I’m lucky to be able to afford pads and tampons. Nobody should have to make do without clean sanitary pads and tampons, yet they’re still taxed as luxury items in 30 states, making them unaffordable for many, especially in the current economic crisis.
It’s been only a month since my last period, but our world has completely shifted. When my partner expressed surprise that I was having a second period during our sequester, it was kind of funny. But I realized I felt sort of the same way. At the end of March, I knew the coronavirus was real and dangerous, but part of me still believed it worked on a semester schedule; that it had to wrap everything up and give us our grades by May.
No. The pandemic is giving us an incomplete. My second period in quarantine will probably not be my last. As the painkillers kick in, I’m no longer counting days in quarantine. I’m counting cycles.