When mental illness and a female body collide
I’ve struggled with my mental health since I was young. For me, it seems like there’s a strong genetic component — all of my biological siblings suffered from depression when they hit puberty, while my adopted siblings did not. My mental illness has been exacerbated by trauma, abuse, and sexual assault.
At various periods (no pun intended) in my life, mental illness has shown up in different ways. During my early teen years, it was depression and self-harm. In college, I was briefly diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder. As an adult, it’s manifested as anxiety and PTSD.
For me, mental illness is both something I’ve come to live with and worked incredibly hard to overcome. I’ve gone through years of therapy, and after finally finding someone who genuinely helped me rather than enabled me, I’m doing much better. I haven’t self-harmed in over five years, I rarely feel suicidal any more, and I’ve learned how to have healthy relationships and manage my emotions.
But once a month, like clockwork, it all comes flowing back to me like a bad memory. My emotions start raging again, and I can feel all my progress start to slip away as my mind starts telling me everything I’ve fought so hard to quiet. I feel like I am going crazy; I wonder what happened to cause such a sudden downturn when everything was going fine. Then, sure enough, three or four days later, my monthly gift arrives as a little red stain.
“Oh,” I think, letting out a small sigh of relief, “That’s why.”
Except, it’s not really once a month and there’s very little clockwork involved — that would be too easy.
Like 60% of American women of “reproductive age,” I use a contraceptive. As someone who hates taking pills and is averse to unnecessary pain, “the implant” is my preferred method. The subdermal hormonal implant is placed into the underside of your upper arm. It is a painless procedure (especially compared to the incredibly painful IUD procedure) and lasts up to five years.
While every woman’s body is different, one of the benefits of the implant is that it can eliminate periods (or severely reduce them). The first time I got the implant I had light spotting in the early months and then would go for stretches as long as six or eight months without any bleeding at all. When I would bleed, I didn’t have any of the cramps or pain that used to be associated with that time of the month. My periods were lighter and much more manageable. They passed faster, too, often in only three days.
When my first implant expired a few months ago, my periods returned. After getting a new implant inserted, they are starting to become irregular again. I imagine eventually they’ll go away entirely again, but until then, I’m stuck with sporadic and unpredictable periods.
If it were just about the bleeding, I would be totally fine with that. But it’s not.