It may sound as though I don’t love my body, but I do, truly.
Life with a variable condition such as multiple sclerosis is pretty unpredictable. So when periods are thrown into the mix as well, life becomes a complicated balancing act filled with a multitude of symptoms.
Since being diagnosed with relapsing remitting MS in 2013, I’ve been coming to terms with a whole host of issues. While some are permanent (reduced mobility, daily fatigue, and anxiety), others come in waves, such as the tingling I get in my arms and legs following a relapse. As MS relapses affect sensation, due to nerve damage caused by the disease on the brain and spine, pain has become a daily occurrence. While the level of pain varies from day to day, it’s always there—a niggling itch on my right hand, a stabbing pain in my left foot, numbness down the side of one arm.
My period aggravates my symptoms in several ways. Plus, since starting the disease modifying treatment I’m prescribed to keep my MS under control, my periods have gotten more unpredictable. Whether or not this change is a direct result of the treatment regime, I can’t be sure, as I’m also in my thirties now. Basically, my body has more in common with a derelict theme park, than a wonderland. And here are some of the main ways my period affects my chronic illness.
Depression and Anxiety
In the run up to my period, in those wonderful few days before the blood begins, my mood crashes. Obviously, this isn’t exclusive to people with chronic illnesses, as periods are renowned for being mood altering. But when coupled with the anxiety brought on by my MS, the depression gets real, and drags at my entire existence.
It also affects my fatigue. I regularly need rests and naps throughout the day, but pre-period, the exhaustion gets wider and longer. It’s like my bones become lead weights, and pulling my flesh around is almost impossible. The fatigue causes pain, too, and before my period comes, the pain is worse. It feels as though my body has been infested, like in the movie Innerspace, and the tiniest people are rushing around my body, and there are so many of them. They hit my skin from the inside, cause tremors and twitches, squeeze organs in strange ways, and burrow my bones till they’re raw. This may sound weird, but hopefully some people will be able to relate to the way pain affects my body, and the way my period changes it.
Menstruation cramps shoot pain signals in strange directions. While my back burns, my legs ache, and stab, and scratch, and it feels as though my whole body is about to be taken over. This confusion perfectly sums up MS. The damaged myelin (the coating around our nerves, like the covering on a household wire) sends faulty messages, tells my hand it’s cold when it’s anything but. And I don’t know about you, but for me, my period is a deafening caw, a distraction, another piece of information my broken body can’t process.
This description of how my period affects my chronic illness may make it sound as though I don’t love my body. But I do, truly. Despite its flaws, my body is brilliant, and has continued to work in spite of every attack on it. While these symptoms make my period inconvenient, each month it’s a staunch reminder, that my body hasn’t given up. Hell, it wanted to. But it didn’t, and in this way, my period is an act of rebellion that I’m proud of.