Cramps are when your ass hurts and your crotch hurts and your back hurts and mostly your abdomen has something crushed tight inside it which is intent on spreading out into a ripe vulgar bloom of pain. Pain and nausea twist around each other and will not be broken apart.

You have to leave work early. Your boss is smug about it because she never gets cramps. Her thighs are narrower than yours too. Suddenly that is so important and so obvious to everyone.

On the way home you wonder if other drivers are seeing you grimace and wondering if you are crazy or just a woman. You whack the steering wheel when you can gather the energy.

You cannot stop thinking about your boss's meanness. You cannot stop thinking about anything unpleasant. The worst part of cramps is your inability to censor thought, to change the subject. You try to think about clouds and grass, but those won't stick. The radio is no help because everything is bad. Talk radio is about how all our lives are ruined. NPR is about money. Red Hot Chili Peppers are strangely soothing until you start thinking about penises and socks and you cannot decide which is worse. All your organs want to get out of your body.

Driving over the speedbump in front of your apartment makes you want to cry, because of the way the pain sludges inside your belly, and from the small relief of being home where you can curl over and try to breathe. You are hot and cold and hot. You hit the curb when you park and it embarrasses you and waves of queasy shame roll over you as you try not to look like you're injured as you get out of the car. You feel like a big stupid baby.

The smell of your apartment, the smell of your own hands, the smell of the joint you are trying to roll, all are twisted, gone wrong. You empty the wastebasket just in case. The dirt and paper clip at the bottom are more than you can bear. You would like to cry, or talk to yourself, but both are tiring and neither will get you anywhere, ever.

I don't care what your health textbook told you was the point of this ritual, the bleeding is only a side effect.

In case you were wondering about cramps, it is easier to prevent the pain before it shows up than to fight it when it is washing over me. In case I ever forget this I will be called back from somewhere in my sleep and reminded ever so painfully. It can happen any time of day but am alert to the smaller twinges that I sleep through in nights.

I should not think I am safe for a bit because I took Advil two hours before bed. It may not seem like I would need it again till morning but I do and how can I forget these things when this is My Body?

For next time (like last time) I should remember swimming up from a deep deep sleep and surfacing doubled up on myself, clenching everything that can be clenched. But I didn't last night. Maybe I deserved the pain to balance out my happy day but mostly I was stupid stupid stupid. Do not tell me it was forgetful not stupid, it was Stupid with a capital S.

It is horrid to lie crunched in bed, it is like Ouch and Damn I Forgot The Pills Again. It is like opening my eyes to find an elephant on my belly, trying to pry me apart. It is like stumbling around in the dark, naked, trying to find a robe to envelop me in mock warmth on my way to the bathroom. Retching.

I fumbling found my pills and shaky swallowed them and crumpled in on myself on the toilet seat. Please Please Please I know it takes half an hour and I know it works best on a full stomach but Please Please Please. In bed again I keep the bathrobe on for more bundling and try placing flat hands for warmth and try breathing for calm and try thinking good thoughts like notebooks in the mail and friends and phonecalls like magic and Ouch Ouch Ouch. Do not be surprised when I tell you that it didn't work.

I was like Hurt Me Plenty and I was like Fuck You Uterus and I was like MommaMommaMomma and I finally fell asleep.

This is an equal rights issue.

Women should not have to endure menstrual cramps. What would normally happen if a person went to their doctor and said, "Hey, doc, every month I experience debilitating pain that causes me to miss work, ruins my social plans, and basically keeps me in agony for anything from hours to days." Would a doctor normally say "Oh, yeah, that's normal, just take some Advil." No. Any sane, ethical medical professional would recognize a serious quality of life issue, maybe even an indication of a more serious medical problem, and would do everything they could go get to the bottom of things and fix it.

Instead women are told that pain is normal, and are advised to mask it with painkiller.

Not that I'm not a big fan of painkiller. But long-term painful cramps can be a sign of something more sinister. Endometriosis. Pelvic Inflammatory Disease. Jesus, any number of things. Or maybe they're just a painful quality-of-life decreasing condition and as such should be given the attention they deserve. Hormonal treatments like the pill or depo provera can reduce period pain or eliminate periods entirely. Changes in diet and exercise can produce drastic improvements. Ask your doctor and keep asking until you get the right answer.

When the medical profession ignores menstrual cramps they are putting women's health in danger.

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