Reclaiming My Period & My Body
By Heather Carbone, Guest Contributor
For most women, a period is an every month thing—a point of conversation, something to bond and bitch about. The typical: "I feel so bloated and moody on my period" or "Oh, you too? I just got mine!”
But I have never been part of that "group,” at least not for any extended length of time. I got my period when I was 11-years-old, and I was deeply ashamed. I have no idea why that was the case. My mother had explained to me without any emotional charge it was coming. Yet, when it happened, I felt so alone, like the only girl my age who ever got a period. I knew I was on the younger side, and it just felt so early and so shameful. I was so relieved when it was a full year before it came again. My period was regular for the next two years, but it halted again around 15 when I started to seriously restrict my food intake.
I did not get my period regularly again until I was 21 or 22. In those six or seven years without my period I developed a feeling of superiority because I didn't have to deal with it. I had mastered the ability to keep my weight low enough that my body could not produce a period. I completely turned off a human function because it was inconvenient for me.
Eating was also inconvenient; it took time, money, effort, and made me very anxious. With restricting, I felt less anxiety, had to deal with less fussing with foodstuffs, and was period free! Being anorexic saved me a ton of money on food and feminine products. And it saved time. At least that’s how I rationalized it.
I had my tubes tied when I was 24. I can spout off a litany of reasons why I did this (which could be a whole other post!), but it boiled down to time, money, the inconvenience of pregnancy, and fear. It was simultaneously the most altruistic and most selfish decision I think I have ever made.
I feared a child with my issues, feared relapse, feared pregnancy and delivery, and I honestly didn't know whether I could handle the sheer unpredictability that comes with being a parent. Yet, there are parts of me that do want children but deeply fear passing on the myriad mental health issues present in my family, not to mention my eating disorder.
When I got my tubes tied, I again experienced that sense of superiority. Not superiority over anyone specific or even the collective whole, but superiority over my own body. I could opt out of a basic human function. Sterilize myself. If I had to get my period, I could at least take control (I hate using that word related to anything eating disorder) of my body in another way. I am not saying this was a reason I made this decision, or that it was even a formulated idea in my 24-year-old consciousness, but looking back, I can see and hear it lurking in the echo chamber that is my mind.
My period returned when I was 25, but this time they were intensely painful. Shortly after I was diagnosed with endometriosis. So now, I not only got my period, which was inconvenient and expensive, but now it was debilitatingly painful.
Looking back, endometriosis was one of the major factors that led to my relapse. I was so angry at my body for having one more thing to deal with. One more thing that was completely unseen to the outside world, yet such a pain in the ass for me. Another disease that affects women, yet, in my experience, is not taken seriously. It was not a conscious decision to drop to a weight where my period ceased. Nor did starving myself make me a more productive human being, but it felt like I had the say in that. Well, not really me, but something in my brain had a say in it. This seemed better than being controlled by the whims of my corporeal form. At least at the time...
And my period has ceased to exist from age 25 until today, at age 33. I have been dreading this day, when my period returned. It just brings up so much. But at the same time, it also feels kind of nice to belong to a "community" in some way—to know that others understand me, that I can connect with other women around having a period, and that there are people to support me, especially since I feel out of place regarding childbearing with women my age. I recently bonded with a co-worker while frantically trying to find someone in my deserted office on a snow day who had a pad or tampon.
In all honesty, leaving the world of treatment has been difficult. I went from having a built-in community or peers who understood me to being thrust back in to the real world, which can leave me feeling lonely and displaced. I no longer fit in with the treatment crowd, and I don’t necessarily feel like a “normal” 33-year-old woman. Creating meaningful connections with others have been challenging after the deep relationships I built in therapeutic communities.
Although getting my period again brings up a multitude of emotions, insecurities, and questions – all of which are great fodder to continue my work in therapy – it also bridges a gap I have been feeling between myself and other women. My period allowed me to have a conversation with two amazing women I sit near at work that went beyond the typical surface conversations about the weather. Meaningful connections feed my soul and push me forward in my pursuit of recovery. While I may not be jumping up and down with excitement, I do see my period as another step into my recovery.
Heather Carbone is a proud resident of the state of New Hampshire. She left her home state to complete her undergraduate degree in sociology in Florida and lived in Chicago for eight years. The time away from home made her realize just how much she loves New England. She shares her life with two elderly mini dachshunds named Dunkin and Dylan in Manchester, New Hampshire. Heather was recommended for hospice care in October of 2014 due to severe and enduring anorexia nervosa and is very happy she found alternate treatment options. After a full year in the hospital leveraging unconventional treatment approaches she is now healthy, working a full-time job, and completing her Masters of Science in Public Health at Southern New Hampshire University. She is also completing her 200-hour yoga teacher training at YogaLife Institute of New Hampshire. She will finish her coursework in the spring of 2018 and become a registered yoga teacher this summer. Heather’s ultimate goal is to complete her PhD and advocate and research alternative healing paths for those with treatment-resistant eating disorders.