I’m autistic. That identity means something to me, because it explains SO MANY LIFE EXPERIENCES I have had that non-autistic people do not relate to.
Seventeen taught me many things about love, life and friends — mostly how to stalk a guy I liked (since girls were supposed to like boys) and how to develop an eating disorder.
They had an embarrassing section at the back of their magazine, where teens could share their stories.
When I was about seventeen years old, I decided to finally share my period experience. I imagined a future edition with a letter to the editor thanking them for posting such an embarrassing story because they, too, had that happen.
Instead, the email response was one I’ll never forget — and it turned me off the magazine for good:
We wish we could thank you for the submission, but our embarrassing stories section are for true events only. Every now and then, we receive embarrassing stories that are so far out there that it’s obvious they didn’t actually happen. Please only submit embarrassing stories in the future that actually happened.
I don’t know how to describe how invalidating that is.
No one taught me anything about periods growing up
I didn’t know what was normal in regard to pain — and I was in a lot of it. Some days, I couldn’t concentrate on anything other than what my uterus was doing.
My mom was most excited about the fact that I was somehow turning into a woman just because I’d started bleeding. She didn’t like tampons, so didn’t teach me how to use them. She taught me about using pads, but never told me about the noise they’d make when I moved, how they bunched up or when to change them.
No one told me how much blood was normal, either.
Seventh grade gym class
I hated pads. They stuck to my skin most of the time and would often bunch up to the point of repositioning the front part against my leg. I started just not wearing them at all because I hated them so much. My gym shorts were purple, and I rolled them so they would be shorter. All the cool girls did that.
This boy, who was in about three of seven classes, started harassing me. Back then, everyone called it getting hit on or having an admirer. He’d say things like, “Oy Mami, mmmm,” while licking his lips. I didn’t know what he was talking about, but I could feel dampness from the blood between my legs with every step.
Teachers would always just look at me like those dogs do in ASPCA commercials.
My period was irregular. No one knew at the time that I had an eating disorder, not even me — I wouldn’t know until about 2013. I wouldn’t begin recovery until 2018 — 14 years after my first cycle, 16+ years after my eating disorder developed.
The thing about having an eating disorder is that it really screws with your menstrual cycles. You can’t predict them, and they’re heavier. But how heavy is too heavy?
There is not enough time during a seven-minute passing period to use the restroom during a menstrual cycle and get to class on time.
Considering many autistic girls don’t get a proper diagnosis until adulthood, anyone who bleeds should be allowed to take longer in the bathroom during their cycles. Period stigma would have a better chance at ending if we actually allowed people enough time to switch out their menstrual products.
But no. This didn’t exist from 2004-2009. You had four to nine minutes to rummage your locker, use the restroom, and arrive at your next class. Sometimes, you could socialize.
During state testing, you weren’t allowed to have any personal items on you. Girls who got their periods during this time were only allowed to get their menstrual products out of their bags and followed to the restroom, where a teacher would wait inside to keep you from talking.
I just didn’t bother. I was embarrassed about my periods, but no one seemed to feel the same way. The pain was so unbearable that I struggled to walk most of the time. More times than I could count, I felt like passing out. I’d only have time to switch my pads once, thanks to gym. I had maximum three minutes most days to get from the front of the building to the back of the building for my bus, so I couldn’t change my pads on my way home.
I had two light denim skirts:
- The mini skirt was just long enough that it pleased the dress code standards.
- The long skirt went to the length of capris.
Tying a long-sleeved shirt or sweater around your waist only works so much.
I’ve tried to ignore that these awful events ever happened to me. They rocked my entire school experience, and no one bothered to help me. While I had some friends, I spent a lot of time wishing I was homeschooled because I experienced trauma during my school years as a direct result of being autistic. People just saw me as weird, strange, problematic, someone who needed to be fixed to be cooler, someone pretty enough to be a popular girl but too weird to ever be anything less than a loser.
Plus, I was the girl who had blood splotched all over the back of her light denim skirts, mostly the longer one. I trashed the shorter after I went home day to find that I had blood all over the parts of my legs I couldn’t see while standing, but seated people definitely could see.
I was the girl kids laughed at when she got off the bus, who didn’t dare turn around to look back at them to determine how many people were watching.
I was the girl kids shouted about, screaming as loudly as possible, “HEY, SHE GOT HER PERIOD! HAHA. EMBARRASSING! SO GROSS!”
I was the girl who went through one overnight pad in less than an hour’s time.
Summer of 2005: Tampons
All I’m going to say is this: No one told me what the applicator looked like.
Also this: The instructions did not properly illustrate what a cardboard applicator looks like.
My first time trying a tampon happened right before I entered ninth grade.
I’d moved away from friends and even lost a friend. That was the first summer I told a girl I liked her. It was also the summer I lost the person I considered my best, most truest friend. (But, thanks to compulsory heterosexuality, I wasn’t gay. Obviously. Duh.)
I could not walk well with the tampon inside. I also could not sit properly. Inevitably, I decided to give up on tampons altogether. When I went to remove it, the cardboard piece separated from the cotton and only the string was there.
Um, what the fuck?
I was terrified, ready to try to explain to my mom that I needed to go the hospital because I’d gotten a tampon stuck inside me. I pulled out the instructions and pored over every word. The only mention of a cardboard applicator was under the disposal section.
Because it was not spelled out entirely, I had inserted the tampon without removing the applicator.
Continuing to use tampons
My mom allowed me to use tampons, but I had to get them from the store myself. She’d pay for them, but I had to select, carry and ring them up because using tampons back then had a lot of stigma.
I had a lot of accidents in ninth grade. The school nurse would sometimes help out, but only when she was in a good mood.
Tampon red flags everyone told me were normal:
- feeling like electricity coursed through my body, then coughing up blood — only while wearing tampons
- fuzzy feeling similar to dizziness, but not quite + disorientation and forgetfulness
- horrible rash (from disposable pads as well)
- stomach pain, not like cramps
- 100°F+ fever
I told multiple people about my symptoms. I told multiple doctors about this. I was diagnosed with acid reflux by one.
The thing about being autistic — at least for me — is that finding the right words to articulate things is difficult when I’m overwhelmed by other things happening in my body.
Words and their meanings are lost when autistic people communicate with non-autistic people.
|So when I say…||What I’m saying is…|
|I just feel really sick on my period.||I don’t feel right, and something feels wrong.|
|My cramps are really bad today.||I feel like I’m giving birth to a rhinoceros and all I can do is feel it. I need to stay home today, so I can rest.|
|I don’t feel like going to school/work during the first few days of my period.||The collective sensory experience is monumentally overwhelming during my menstrual cycle. It is debilitating, because I cannot think about anything else and do not have the energy to do anything — but society forces me to, anyway. I’m 100% more likely to have a meltdown, but I’m not allowed to do that because no one around me fully understands what that’s like and I’ll be institutionalized or just punished even thought meltdowns are punishing enough!|
Autistic people put a lot of effort into the things they say and how they choose to communicate. Then non-autistic people put those carefully crafted sentences through a blender to create a new meaning. You may know this concept as reading between the lines.
The period experience no one ever gave me the space to share
I was the autistic girl with the blood patches on the back of the skirt.
I was the autistic girl with menstrual blood spilling down her legs.
I was the autistic girl who stood up from the plastic desk seat to reveal a pool of blood, but didn’t know about it because she was masking and forcing herself into a state of sensory numbness to get through the day.
I was the autistic girl who often went to the nurses office for an extra pad or two because she could never bring just enough to school — only to be told the pads were for girls who actually needed them, not lazy girls who never came prepared.
I was the autistic girl whose classmates laughed at her because she menstruated and did not know how to manage everyday life and her period.
I was the autistic girl who often passed out on her menstrual cycle, only to be awoken by a teacher or parent and chastised for being “lazy”.
I was the autistic girl who bottled meltdowns inside for years out of fear of being abused and misunderstood further.
I was an autistic girl who developed dissociative identity disorder (DID) due to ongoing severe abuse in her childhood, which made menstrual cycles that much more difficult.
I was an autistic girl with DID.
Now, we’re an autistic DID system.
Reusable menstrual products (RUMPs) changed our life. They feel similar enough to clothing, don’t crinkle or bunch, and are a much friendlier sensory experience.
This is my why. I choose to heal loudly, because I seek to make a difference.
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