Autism and menstruation..
Today I got my period. As usual it meant I could breathe a sigh of relief; the past week wasn't the start of a massive relapse, it was 'just' my hormones. I can feel my uterus expelling its lining in the most angry fashion possible, but at least I know it'll all be over in a couple of days (until the next time).
I don't talk about this stuff a lot. It has always been something I've been a little uncomfortable talking about, but I have recently seen a few murmurs about autistic's experience of puberty and menstruation. I guess I wanted to write something to help me clarify in my own mind as well as maybe help others, so here goes.
I have always struggled with menstruation. I can understand it from a biological perspective, I can logically 'get it'. Yet, I still find it incredibly difficult, confusing and annoying. My main trouble being that the changing hormones seem to have a massive impact on my emotional state - I'm not just talking about feeling 'a bit weepy' or 'a little bit more irritable' - I'm talking suicidal, 'I can't cope with life', 'I'm too anxious to leave the house', 'I'm an absolutely worthless human being' type of emotional changes. Now that I look back, some of the times that I have ended up in hospital due to suicidal thoughts/actions have been during the week leading up to getting my period. I have re-named this pre-menstruation week as 'hell week'. This sensitivity to hormonal changes spans to the hormonal changes during ovulation also. So, the week to ten days leading up to my period, plus the time on my period, plus the 3-4 days around ovulation, I roughly spend two to two and half weeks every month dealing with a significant worsening of my mental illnesses due to hormones. Which as you can imagine, is not a great situation to be in.
Sensory wise, periods are an absolute nightmare. Mainly because pads, tampons and most other menstruation products are really uncomfortable if you are extremely sensory-sensitive. I once read a book explaining menstruation and using menstruation products - it said that once a tampon was inserted you didn't feel it; I can feel it, and it's bloody uncomfortable (pun intended). Or take pads, I can feel it rubbing and scratching against my skin. I can also feel the changing body temperatures which come along with the menstrual cycle - and I hate it. I like my body to be the right temperature all the time. I want consistency, not rising body temperatures every couple of weeks. Basically, menstruation is a couple of days of having to try and 'get on with it' when my brain is in red alert warning me of the sensory nightmare that is my period.
I know that most women struggle, on some level, physically with their period. I don't necessarily mind the pain. It's the skin changes which really bother me. I have had acne from the age of 12/13, it has never gone away. But for the week leading up to menstruation my whole body becomes a pimply, spotty nightmare. Now, seeing as my anxiety levels sky rocket roughly the same time, this means my skin picking becomes so much worse. The worse my acne, the more I skin pick; the more I skin pick, the worse my acne. Its a never ending cycle of red blotchy, scabby-ness. And to add to insult, just as my skin is recovering from the last round, boom, I'm back to 'hell week'.
The hormone changes cause me to lose all of my energy also. Which I find incredibly difficult seeing as I am naturally a very active person. This change is hard for me to process, and often I will end up pushing myself too far instead of allowing myself to rest.
The last physical change I find difficult to cope with is appetite changes. As someone with a long history of eating disorders, any appetite change is terrifying - especially when that change is a huge increase in appetite and sugar cravings. I have to keep my food routine consistent, otherwise those pesky eating disorder thoughts sneak in. A change in appetite throws me off completely, and invariably the eating disorder takes full advantage.
One of the most frustrating things for me is that my cycle is not regular at all. When I'm physically well I will always get a period once a month, but never in the regular 28 day timing its supposed to be. This means I never know when I will get my period, and it makes it really hard to attribute the emotional changes to hormone changes prior to my uterus shedding its lining. As an autie I like consistency, regularity, routine and so on. It is beyond frustrating that my uterus and ovaries don't seem to share this love for routine.
I have only recently started to realise that puberty has significantly affected me. As an autie I believe that puberty had a significant and unique impact on myself comparable to my non-autie peers. Menstruation being one part of that. I'm still in the process of trying to unpack and understand this myself. I personally think more needs to be done around autism and puberty, for all genders. It'd be interesting to hear more from other autistic people about their experience of these things.