About two years ago, I was teaching yoga at 5:45 am. I’m not what people would consider “a morning person.” I don’t naturally get up that early or particularly like it. But at the time, it seemed like a good idea. I felt about teaching early morning the way professional dog poop picker-uppers feel about their jobs. I’m sure grabbing up feces is not their life’s passion, but it’s a job no one else will do that you can get paid for (aka job security). So…..yeah, teaching yoga at 5:45 am is like that. You are needed, no one else wants to do it, and you will get paid for it.
One early morning about 4:00 am, I had wakened a few minutes before my alarm because of stomach cramps. I had just started my period. Something they don’t teach you in the middle school sex ed class you were mandated to sit through and try not to laugh awkwardly is that cramps are caused by a hormone like substance called prostaglandins. And unfortunately for me, they also can cause…
um…how do I say this?
Smooth muscle contraction of the GI tract. Or in the common vernacular: “The shits”
Ah yes, it’s getting a little too real.
And when you are on the toilet at 4:00 am, crying and praying for some sort of other worldly being to take it all away, it definitely feels…”too real.” I quickly decided I needed a substitute, and I constructed a very polite, highly vague text message asking my fellow teachers for help.
“I know it’s extremely last minute, but can anyone sub for me this morning? I’m not feeling well.”
It was the perfect text according to unstated subconscious female communication rules. It was apologetic (It is 4:00 am, after all.) and highly understated. (It is so much better to say, ‘I’m not feeling well’ than the cold harsh reality of, “I’m shitting my brains out and blood is everywhere…oh God the humanity!”)
Press send. Wait. Surely my prayers will be answered.
And it became evident one hour later that they would NOT be answered.
No one was coming for me. I was a one woman island, and I had an inconveniently-timed yoga class to teach. I mustered up all my strength to pull my swollen, tired, dehydrated body into some yoga pants. I carefully waddle toward my car while compulsively checking my phone. Maybe a last minute savior will save me.
I arrive at the studio just in time…you know…to not crap my pants, and I spend another fifteen minutes ruining another toilet. Fortunately for me, no one showed up that day. (Or it’s quite possible they showed up, but ran screaming from the building at the smells and wild animal noises coming from the one and only studio bathroom.) Luckily, that day I was able to resume all uncomfortable bodily functions at home.
I’ve paused many times as I am typing this to consider if this period diarrhea story is the best use of my time. Can I look people in the eye knowing that they know that I menstruate and take dumps?
Oh wait, they ALREADY DO.
I don’t have any hard feelings toward my fellow teachers. As previously mentioned, I don’t particularly like getting up that early either. But I often wonder if I had opted for a more honest text rather than the sanitized version we’ve all been taught to say, if I would have had a different outcome.
I couldn’t be that honest though, because I was ashamed. I was ashamed of being a menstruating woman, a defecating woman, or a woman while being anything that’s not considered beautiful. Maybe if I didn’t have that shame, I could be more vulnerable and honest about how I feel that my body betrays me. And sure, our bodies betray us all at some point. We get sick. We die. But no one expects it will happen to them. We sure as hell don’t talk about it.
That’s one of the reasons why it feels so awful to have monthly period diarrhea and colon spasms. Yeah, it literally hurts. There’s also this assumption that it doesn’t happen to other people, and it shouldn’t be happening to me.
It reminds me of a common Buddhist teaching about the difference between pain and suffering. Pain is unavoidable. While not everyone will experience my particular flavor of pain, everyone will experience some form of pain that life throws at them. I cannot do anything about the present reality of my body, but I can turn away from the suffering caused by my opinions about my pain. That’s why I can talk about supposedly embarrassing topics like menstruation and diarrhea. It’s not because it’s easy or that I get a ton of pleasure out of it. I’ve just spent every menstrual cycle from age thirteen until thirty-six feeling ashamed and like I was bad, wrong, and dirty.
But I’m not. I’m just a woman in pain. I choose to not suffer in secrecy and silence anymore. That early morning two years ago, I realized that no one was coming for me. I cannot wait for the world to be more accepting of women who openly talk about the realities of their cycles. I had to be that woman. I had to be honest about my pain before I could eliminate my suffering. Talking about period poops isn’t to satisfy some sick fascination. It goes beyond me. It’s for my nieces, my (possibly) future daughters.
May they not waste twenty three years believing that their body failed them.
May they care for themselves rather than hiding from and pushing through pain.
May they be honest about the pain so that they can ease the suffering.