Why You Shouldn’t Ignore Your Body’s Signals Like I Did

My first period came when I was wearing bright white pajamas for pajama day in 8th grade (anxiety-inducing, right?). There I was, hair done, ready to slay my pajama day yearbook pics, when mother nature decided to say “Here, take this” and ruined my day. Since then, I figured that I knew all there was to know about periods and the symptoms that came with them. I’d get back pain, maybe a cramp here and there, but that was basically it. I learned to just deal with the minor pain every month.

However, the pain suddenly got worse when I entered college and had a lifestyle change. I was eating more and more takeout instead of my mom’s home-cooked food and I got my first job as a barista in Starbucks. Once, while I was at work, my period came and my bleeding was especially heavy. I had the same usual cramps and figured it was nothing to worry about.

An hour or so into my shift, I suddenly felt weak. Am I just tired? Did I eat enough? I quickly ate a banana and drank some peppermint tea, but I was alarmingly getting worse. I felt like I’d drop down at any moment. I hunched over the register ringing up customers, each of them looking at me with concern. They asked if I was okay and I didn’t have an answer — I was asking myself the same question.

The pain was so excruciating that I left the register and sprawled out on the backroom floor. I didn’t know what to do. What is happening to me? I called my father to pick me up. I went home, relieved to be back, and forced myself to sleep through the pain. After my nap, the pain went away like a bad dream. I brushed it off as a one-off incident and carried on with my day.

But it wasn’t one-off. A few months later, the same thing happened — I was on my period at work, I had excruciating pain, I called my dad, I took a nap, and I was as good as new. So I brushed it off again, thinking that if a nap could solve it, it wasn’t a big issue.

Fast forward a couple of weeks, I receive a notification from my yearly physical results. I check my medical records online and see, “Iron level: Low.” That was it — no information on how severe the problem was, no next steps. Concerned, I searched online for an explanation.

After searching through multiple sites on iron deficiency, I kept seeing “anemia” as the first symptom listed. I skimmed multiple articles and repeatedly saw the word “period” popping up. This was when the connection struck:

“Anemia is the reduction in red blood cells or hemoglobin within the body. Hemoglobin binds and transports oxygen molecules to the cells of your body. When blood is lost during your period, the iron within those red blood cells are also lost. As a result of this, your body can’t receive enough oxygen to function normally. This loss of blood can lead to fatigue, dizziness, shortness of breath, abnormal rapid heartbeat, etc…” (source)

I quickly researched how I can elevate my iron levels. “Eat more greens,” Google told me. I knew for a while that I was relying more on takeout. As I started to make a more conscious effort to eat healthier, I stopped feeling dizzy during my period. I had finally cracked the code and my period no longer weighed me down.

Although I was finally able to get down to the bottom of my health issue, I was still frustrated by the number of obstacles I had to go through to simply “eat more greens”.

However, there are obstacles that I didn’t have to go through in retrospect. Here’s my advice on beginning to manage your health:

  1. Know that experiencing pain during your period is not normal. If your period makes you faint, you get bad cramps, or your period doesn’t come on a monthly basis, make an appointment with your doctor. Your period is a vital health sign, so any pain or discomfort should be reported immediately.
  2. Listen to the signals your body is trying to give you. My body was telling me that there was something wrong whenever I had heavy bleeding. I didn’t listen and my body didn’t cooperate — rightfully so. Track any patterns or health trends and jot them down.
  3. Assess your lifestyle. Are you eating a balanced meal? Are you exercising regularly? As a college student, I sometimes think that being young is the same as being invincible and that I can take my health lightly. If you don’t treat your body right, it won’t work right for you.

I’ll end with this: You know your body better than anyone else, so if you feel that something is wrong, call your doctor to make an appointment. Your health comes first; you come first!