Period Pain: My Thoughts on Pill Shaming

“What are you taking?,” a visiting acquaintance who also happened to be a yoga teacher asked me as I popped a pink colour coated pill.

“It’s a painkiller. I am on the second day of my period and I get terrible cramps.” Even though I knew it was intrusive of her to ask me about the details of my medication, I casually divulged the details without making eye contact. My uterus objected fiercely as it has far less patience than I do. It was trying to tell me that some gyaan on ‘why painkillers are not good for the body’ was on its way.

Turns out my uterus was right.

The yoga teacher not only gave me unsolicited advice on staying away from painkillers, but also topped the advice with a personal story of fighting PCOD and irregular painful periods with yoga and Ayurveda.

The story was genuinely inspiring. It might have moved me a bit more though if it had been narrated to me without the unnecessary ‘pill shaming’.

I first encountered the term ‘pill shaming’ when a friend who was battling depression and anxiety started taking medication. My first reaction to her decision was, “Are you sure this can’t be tackled through just therapy? Do you really need the drugs?”

She told me that she had thought a lot about it. Later in the day, she sent me a number of articles on pill shaming. It was hard to accept that someone like me, who considers herself a progressive person, was insensitive and callous with my words.

I apologised to my friend shortly after foraging every piece of information of pill shaming on the internet.

‘Pill shaming’ is world more used in the mental health world where;

– People close to you, like your family and friends are ‘pill shaming’ you by suggesting that someone should  just be able to “get over” their distress with improved diet, exercise, or sheer willpower alone.

– Not just family and friends, but also well informed activists who – by virtue of sharing their own drug-free story and/or truths about psychiatry – are said to somehow be tacitly shaming the person who still uses psychiatric drugs as a part of making their way through the world.

As the yoga teacher spoke of her own transformation, I realised that even though she ‘meant well’, she was unintentionally pill shaming me, just like I had pill shamed my friend a few years ago. It was not the first time someone had objected to my painkillers, in fact, most of the time that I have popped a pain relieving pill in front of anyone else, I have been advised to replace it will all kinds of seemingly natural therapies like yoga, acupressure, naturopathy, homeopathy etc. Most of the time, I indulge in these conversations, ask for centres/therapists and soon forget about it all.

Also read: The Question You Should Never Ask Women – Period

I vividly remember the day I got my period at the age of 14. It was a spring Sunday afternoon and I was re-reading Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice on the sofa in the living room, which also doubled up as my bedroom in the night. Suddenly, my abdomen felt like someone was piercing thousands of needles on the inside of it. Maybe piercing needles is the wrong analogy, but then I really don’t know what the right analogy is – everyone’s pain differs.

Does pain even need an analogy to be understood and justified? I have grappled with this question ever since I got my periods. I have never had to go run to the bathroom in anticipation of my cycle because the pain always comes before the blood. After the first time, which made me immobile for almost three days, my parents took me to a gynaecologist. She prescribed pain medication, which I take till date. My mother, who was slightly apprehensive, repeatedly asked the gynaecologist if the medication would have any long term side-effects but was given reassurances that everything would be fine.

No medication comes without risks and side-effects and I am fully aware of them when I pop the pill – after all, the advantages are huge. Simply put, the pill allows me to be functional. I don’t find any deeper spiritual meaning in bearing the pain.

A lot of women have tried telling me in convoluted sentences that it is just training for childbirth. What if I don’t want to bear children? And even if I do, I don’t need to go through hundreds of days of excruciating pain for those few hours of birthing? Needless to say it again, but this notion that the women have to bear their menstrual cramps is deeply steeped in the patriarchal idea of womanhood which is made great largely by the suffering it endures.

A lot of people will argue that their questioning of a lot of women taking pain medication for menstrual cramps is just a genuine health concern. However, why hasn’t anyone ever extended any of their health concerns when I take medication for anything else other than cramps?

Have a headache? Pop a pill.

Have fever? Pop a pill.

Have a cold? Pop a pill.

Have menstrual cramps? Uh…aren’t cramps normal? Please don’t take a pill!

We all know that there are millions of individuals with lifelong illnesses who depend on medication to help them live normal lives. A majority of them are able to have a semblance of normalcy due to the medication available to them.

Periods cannot and should not be compared to life-threatening illnesses but the cramps do take away a lot from those of us who are not blessed with a pain-free period, and every woman should have the right to treat her pain in whatever way she wants to.

Eat healthy, do yoga, learn alternative therapy or pop the pill!

No judgements here, sister! We’re all in this together.

Bhawna Jaimini is an architect and activist in making. She works closely with the residents of one of the most marginalised neighbourhoods to improve their built environment.