Most of us know that feeling when you’re sitting at your desk with a particularly difficult email to compose and suddenly you need to get to the bathroom and quickly. If like me, you suffer from acute monthly pain i.e. you can’t stand up, the room is spinning and your whole body is screaming out in pain, then by this point it’s too late. This is not the moment at which you need to explain to your boss that you’re feeling a bit under-the-weather and you need to go home, it’s too late, it’s already happening.
Throughout my working like I’ve been in exactly this situation more times than I care to remember. It wasn’t until I was carried out of the office in a stretcher by a team of paramedics that I finally got the wake up call I needed.
Be responsible for your own body
The effects of menstruation can be debilitating, couple this with the embarrassment of trying to explain to your team why you need to stay in the toilet cubicle and can’t join the weekly meeting and the pain is amplified. The stress of being in the work place surrounded by your colleagues and superiors compounds the pain, making it far worse than if you were laying in a hot bath at home or curled up on the sofa with a hot water bottle. Panic sets in – where can I hide, how can I loosen my clothing without anyone realising, how will I get through this presentation without fainting?
Plan for your period. Don’t think to yourself, ‘Oh, maybe I’ll be OK this month. Perhaps I’ll get away with it.’ With work pressures and important deadlines it’s tempting to try and grin and bear your time of the month but by trying to struggle through you do your work and more importantly, yourself far more damage.
You can avoid these horrific situations by being responsible for your own body and managing your menstruation. Don’t try and fight it, it will happen and it will cause disruption. As long as you are willing to accept that, you can minimise the collateral.
I know the feeling of apprehension that you get when you call in sick, particularly when you were fine the day before and not showing any symptoms of illness. It’s easy to worry that your boss will think you’re pulling a sickie.
However it is far better to explain to your boss the reason behind your monthly sick days than to try and think of other excuses, or worse drag yourself in. As soon as the cat was out the bag I knew that I wouldn’t have to explain why I was unwell or worry about being pressed about it at the office the next day.
In my last job I was in a difficult situation as I had a rather unapproachable boss. In the end I spoke to a senior female colleague about my situation and she explained it to my boss. That way I knew we had a tacit understanding and I could quietly take myself home if I knew my period was on its way.
Find a private moment to explain to your colleagues. They will be much more understanding the next time you tell them that you might not make it in the next morning.If you feel like you want extra back-up get a note from your doctor, that way your company has it on record and you won’t have to answer to HR each time you go home at lunchtime.
People can find it weird when you explain to them that you know you will be unwell on a particular date two months from now, but if they now your reasons it will make sense and you’ll be able to plan your work calendar accordingly. Book meetings and presentations around your period, use a period calendar App to track it, if you’re regular note down your menstruation in your diary. The earlier you can give people notice, the better.
I’m starting a new job next month and I plan to be transparent about my period pain from the start. I will find a quiet moment to explain to my boss. Be matter-of-fact and don’t get flustered, that way your boss will feel calm about it too.
I know that I am far more productive when I am healthy and free from stress. There is enough work place pressure in our lives as it is without having to endure period pain in silence too. By explaining your situation to the people you work with everyone will benefit. If you are suffering stay at home, don’t drag yourself in and remember that you are responsible for your own body.
For more on menstruation and the work place check out this BBC article