Hating Gym, Menarche Edition (guest post)

Tori is, among other labels, a feminist, a yogi, and a teacher in Southern Arizona. She works with her school to make yoga more accessible to students and staff and blogs at Anytime Yoga to do the same for readers online.

I was diagnosed with endometriosis — a condition where the uterine lining grows in various places where it’s not supposed to — at age 28. However, I got my first period during my freshman year of high school. That pretty well coincides with the average 12 year diagnostic delay for people who first develop endometriosis symptoms while in their teens.

My first menstrual period was a flood, and it happened during the autumn of my ninth grade year, just before chapel. (Yes, I went to a school where we had chapel every day.) Fortunately, my homeroom teacher, who was charged with keeping track of me during that time, either didn’t notice or understood why my friend and I ran off to the bathroom.

“Here,” my friend N said, handing me a pack of Pamprin. “My mom gave me these to keep with me at school.”

“Aren’t we not supposed to do that?” I asked, swallowing two. I turned to stare at my butt in the mirror. “Damn it, that’s stained.”

“I have another shirt,” N offered. “You could wear that and tie your sweater around your waist. It might look weird, but it would get you through the rest of the day at school.”

“Forget school,” I said as another wave of pain shot through from my back to my thighs. “This fucking hurts; I’m going home.”

The counselor — the only female faculty in the office — however, had other ideas. “We don’t typically send girls home just because they have their periods,” she said. “You’re not actually sick, and we don’t want you to get in the habit of going home once a month.”

“Ms. H.” I was near tears. “I don’t know if I’m sick, but I do know that I’m not well enough to be at school today. Please can I go home?”

She sighed. “Tell you what? Why don’t you give it one more class? If you still want to go home after that, we’ll call your mom.”

She stood, walked back into her office, and shut the door. I left the office and proceeded directly to the nearest bathroom to change my pad, try and locate the secret stash of ibuprofen rolling around the bottom of my backpack, and think. Next period was gym, and if there were three things I did not want to do in this world, they were:

  1. Change out of my bloodstained pants in front of thirty other fourteen-year-olds, many of whom I knew were not inclined to be understanding of or charitable toward such situations.
  2. Change into green polyester shorts. My mom used overnights as regular pads [protip: there is a hereditary component to endometriosis, though due to technology and access issues, not everyone who's had it will have been diagnosed], so it felt like there was an overstuffed mattress hanging out in my crotch. I was sure it would be visible under that thin material, if anyone cared to look. And I had not yet developed the brilliant retort, “Well, quit starting at my ass!”
  3. Play dodgeball. Just. No. My pelvis already felt like it was going to explode. No way could the prospect of being hit with a ball be anything except horrendous.

Of course, I did not for a minute expect Mrs. D to be sympathetic to any of it, particularly since I’d been returned with explicit instructions to “give it one more class.” Still, I could hope.

“Can I sit out today?” I asked inside her office while other students were entering, talking, and changing. “I don’t feel well.”

“What’s wrong?” She sounded annoyed, as if she’d already determined that what was going to come out of my mouth was a ‘getting out of gym’ excuse and was just waiting to hear it.

“I got my period,” I nearly whispered.

“Do you have a doctor’s note?” She didn’t look up.

“I just got it today,” I tried to clarify.

“I don’t let girls get out of gym without a doctor’s note. You can suck it up and deal with a little cramping.”

“It’s not a little cramping,” I insisted, about ready to throw a small temper tantrum right there. “It’s like someone is trying to saw me in half. I just about passed out in chapel, and I’m on my second pad since then.” I didn’t tell her about the pain persisting through multiple rounds of meds, figuring — probably correctly — that no good would come of that.

She eyed me. “There’s no need to exaggerate. If you don’t have a doctor’s note, refusal to participate is unexcused. I suggest you dress out.”

So I did, with my butt wedged firmly in a corner of the locker room. I wanted to protest more, but at that point, I didn’t know that what I was experiencing wasn’t normal, wasn’t just my inability to deal due to a “low pain tolerance.” And to be totally fair, at fourteen, I had a propensity to get huffy on account of imagined injustices only to get over myself later. I thought I was right, but there’d been plenty of times when I thought I’d been right in the past — except, of course, that I’d actually been wrong.

So I dressed out. I got into my position to stretch. I stretched, sort of, as much as I could while trying to move as little as possible. I walked my two warm up laps. I lined up on my side of the gym to play dodge ball.

And then another wave of pain hit. I slid down the gym wall until I was sitting, leaning against it and hugging my knees. Turns out this was a reasonably effective defensive position for dodge ball, at least among players who have mediocre aim. I was able to say just like that for most of the class period before I was hit and out.

Turns out I should have saved my effort though. My “refusal to participate” was marked unexcused anyway.

Want to guest blog for Fit and Feminist?  Hit me up at saltonmyskin at gmail dot com.

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10 responses to “Hating Gym, Menarche Edition (guest post)

  1. Wow, this makes me angry. So many teachers are such assholes.

    Not to say that there are more asshole teachers than assholes in other professions–it’s just that when you have power over individuals, you’re way more likely to misuse and abuse it.

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  3. If there is one trait that should be essential among teachers, it should be empathy. It makes me so mad, so very mad that you had such uncaring teachers.

    While I understand that a lot of girls would try to use menstruation to get out of going to gym class (lord knows I did, back in high school), it’s better to let them get away with it rather than have just one poor anemic, dizzy, nauseous, in pain child suffer through PE.

    • I used to scoff at the girls who used their periods as an excuse to get out of gym class. Not because I was a hardcore jock, I just hated dishonesty. Now I feel bad, because I’m wondering how many of them had legit issues.

  4. Yet another reason that we are turned into fitness haters in our youth. When you equate fitness with gym class and equate gym class with an uncaring teacher who humiliates you what else is there to think?

    • That’s a big part of why I started this series. I was steered away, none too gently, from conventional sports right around 9th grade. Part of that was because of the prejudices of this teacher and people who agreed with her. And while I don’t think the teacher’s attitudes would have carried as much weight had they not been reflected in larger society, the fact that they were — *and* that she was in a position both of authority and professed caring — carried a lot of emotional impact.

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  8. I know this is an old post but, I my periods were similar but my school not so nasty about it, but I particularly noted the bit where you said you didn’t realise this wasn’t normal – because you kind of know that nearly everyone gets period pain, so you don’t know what kind of level it is supposed to be at. This is something that really annoyed me in retrospect about our schools health program – they didn’t tell you what could be considered in the normal range and what might indicate a problem, which I think would have been a good idea.
    Also, my swimming teacher told me to wear tampons. Ha ha, like I am going to explain to her about how I have and found it impossible. It is irresponsible for teachers to tell students what to do with their bodies.

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