There will be blood: what it's like to have a period

At the moment there is no blood. All is contained, clean, proper.

It’s Friday night, 15 days after my last period, and I’m shovelling down Thai takeaway, a generous portion of glistening, neon-hued gloop. After the first helping, I go back into the kitchen and help myself to more. But I can’t wait even to put it on my plate; I eat standing up, scraping it straight from the carton.

Like Cookie Monster with post-spliff munchies, I’m stuffing it away, scooping it up before swallowing, not bothering to chew properly. This is not eating – I’m not even enjoying it, particularly – but mindless, lowest common denominator gluttony. My appetite is promiscuous, almost beyond hunger. I’ve also drunk half a bottle of rosé wine, and want cake for afters.

Then I snap out of it, hit with a pang of sick-flavoured disgust. The shock is always there. I’ve no reason to feel so hungry; I spent most of the day consuming a tower of refined carbohydrates – bread, cake, biscuits – and cheese, without thinking, or caring, a great deal about it. But now I’m revolted at my excess as I realise: it’s that time again.

The next morning when I wake my whole body feels stiff, as if bound by a thousand elastic bands. Giant claws are scratching me from the inside. There’s also a flu-like heaviness in my muscles, skewering me to the mattress. I want to fold myself in like an accordion and close the lid on my day.

No blood.

Moving through the days, the number of which can vary – anything up to seven – I undergo a subtle destruction. The world continues as normal around me, but my time is slowed down into a glittering residue of movement. Whole moments are suspended, dangling before me in surreal traces and a haze of a lingering headache, a slight concussion. On the edge of nausea, bound by a profound fatigue, my body becomes blancmange, sloppy and flabby. Somehow there’s more of it; what was contained starts to swell. Clothes are tight, my hips globular with a belt of fat. Like Dorian Gray’s portrait, my edges start – not to bleed, that doesn’t happen yet – but to blur and merge. Decaying from within, I congeal into slime, spilling glistening fluids, snail trails leaking through pores, sliding down the facade. My skin shimmers with grease, a sheen of oil, like finger smears on an iPhone screen.

Still no blood.

My body can’t be controlled. In its unrestrained shedding of detritus – hair, pus, skin cells, snagging fingernails – I feel constantly unclean and itchy, like straw poking in the skin. I want to shave off all my hair and my contact lenses drag and scrape with each blink on the flimsy film of my eyeballs, which I want to scoop out with a spoon. Internally, physical and emotional pain overlap. I feel no aches and pains as such, more an indiscriminate anger, mean inside. Overwhelming pride, defiance and anger fill my thoughts plughole-black, with an urge to vandalise and destruct. Imagery lingers: hair-clogged mould and bad spirits – half-maggot flies with long faces and pendulous ears, drooling with blood-shot aspic jelly. The world narrows tight with anxiety, the sound of water bubbling up from the earth. Walls scrawled with meaningless graffiti ooze with slime, the texture and smell of vomit. Scarlet seaweed swings in a glutinous sea, a dark, veiny underwater forest, backlit with a rust-coloured sunset.

The Scream, Edvard Munch (1893)
The slow dissolve of self continues. Anger turns into a sustained rush of Munchian terror, before subsiding into an irrational and irrefutable belief that takes me far away from myself, my belief in me, or any kind of conviction. I'm lost in a fog of indifference and inactivity; cumbersome and round. The world is hot. Days go by with no food, or just cake and cola, or cake and fizzy wine (Champagne if there happens to be any around). A veil of condensation on a bottle is a thing of beauty, a fridge-cool sweetness held against my temple. Horn-headed slug demons peer and strain, stretched like roadkill on the bed.

Then there is blood.

At first a blush, an embarrassment of thread-veins within egg white. Then, an axe wound, a scarlet gash when I wipe myself. The horror within manifested as a massacre of scarlet slugs and toads between my legs; cephalopods squirting crimson ink, mineral-laden, metallic. Part of me, yet not part of me; ugly, yet beautiful; clean, uncontaminated crimson platelets suspended within colourless plasma flushed with such force, and so much, it hurts the tops of my legs and lower back. Out comes the swan's neck – a square of white towel fabric, folded lengthways, held between my thighs. My own personal Rorschach inkblots, staining the plane of abjection for six days.

Slowly, my body contracts back into shape; for two weeks or so I feel lean, light, tight and lucid. But my period retains its presence, which is defined through its conspicuous absence. Not there but there, it inhabits a negative space, an unease and dread of what's coming. Yet sometimes I'm so desperate for it to start I'll do anything to get it going – a bloody good shag, a bloody good wank, a bloody good shit. If I could squeeze myself like a tube of toothpaste I would.

My cycle rolls round like the seasons, the best bits happening because of the awful bits. My period – which lately I've been personifying as the Joker – makes the best bits possible. It's almost worth having one, so I can appreciate being well again. It has a will and a mind of its own, one which over-rides mine.


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