My period is not a luxury. Just ask anyone who menstruates, and they will tell you the same.
At best, our monthly cycle is an inconvenience – an au natural reminder that today really wasn’t the day to wear those good knickers. At worst, our period can serve as a devastating and painful reminder that our body maybe isn’t working the way it should be.
My name is Katy Johnston, I’m 23-years-old and following surgery in April of 2018 I was officially diagnosed with stage 4 endometriosis: a gynaecological condition that affects 1 in 10 women in Scotland and makes my period the worst time of the month.
Endometriosis is the second most common gynaecological condition in the UK – it occurs when cells that replicate those lining the uterus grow elsewhere in the body – fusing themselves to organs and creating sticky cysts and painful clots. Each month, these cells break down and bleed out, but, unlike a normal period, the blood has nowhere to go. Instead, it stays inside, snowballing, and brings with it extreme cramps, nausea, pain during sex, heavy menstrual bleeding and potential infertility.
So yeah, my period is more than a monthly inconvenience. It’s a lingering headache, a persistent nightmare. It’s constant and unrelenting and it went undiagnosed for years, because, after all, ‘it’s just a period’.
For me, and I’d hazard, most the 190 million individuals with endometriosis across the universe, access to sanitary products is no luxury, but a daily essential.
And, as MSP and shadow cabinet secretary for health and sport, Monica Lennon put it: “No one should face the indignity of being unable to access these essential products to manage their period.”
I’ve gotten pretty used to carting around a small medical cabinet worth of painkillers, heat packs, tens machines, and sanitary items with me, always. Frankly, these are the essential items I rely on to get through the day. Anyone who might call them ‘luxury’ or ‘non-essential’, clearly doesn’t have a gynaecological condition like endometriosis.
This condition isn’t cheap, according to leading charity Endometriosis UK, endometriosis costs the UK economy £8.2bn a year in treatment, loss of work and healthcare costs.
Recently, lugging about my stash of medical supplies, I’ve become increasingly aware of my relative privilege.
My period is costly. My bleeding is daily (although I’m also menopausal thanks to endo – long story) and I’m constantly forking out for the latest pain relief gadgets, essential oils, ointments, over the counter remedies in search of a cure (There is no cure by the way).
I’m a student. I work part-time. I depend on freelance work and my loan to fund both my life, pay the bills and contribute towards the management of my condition. I am not well off but, the difference is, I can afford to bleed through my knickers when a lot of people can’t.
According to the homelessness charity Shelter, in 2018 34,972 homeless applications were made in Scotland. If half of those people are women and one in ten of those women have endometriosis, we’ve got a problem and it’s not going anywhere.
I am so grateful to the NHS: for my weekly prescription, which, no doubt, I could not afford without it. For the treatment I have received from MRI’s to ultrasounds in the early stages through to surgery, which I will need again and for my many regular GP appointments and consultations.
But we’ve got a long way to go. I was delighted when I saw the issue of free sanitary provisions in hospitals flash up on Sky news last week. How is it that my student library freely stockpiles tampons in their loos, but countless NHS hospital would think twice before supplying period provisions? Even on the gynaecology ward, after my first operation, I was forced to borrow sanitary items from a fellow patient as I had soaked through my pyjamas and the ward sisters had nothing to offer me but paper knickers.
Endometriosis isn’t cheap, but we didn’t ask for it. This health condition shouldn’t be forced into the shadows because it’s about periods and that makes us uncomfortable. Regardless of whether it’s endo, PCOS, menorrhagia or just a regular period, no one should feel caught short in public spaces.
Schools, public bathrooms, libraries, galleries, football stadiums, concert venues, shopping centres, hospitals should all cater for people who bleed.
Because there’s a lot of us, and silencing us doesn’t stop us bleeding, it just creates a culture where women grow up ashamed of what is natural and embarrassed about something over which they have no control.