By Hope Docherty
Everyone has their own unique monthly menstruation though often it is not as simple as Mother Nature’s calling. Cardiff students: Victoria Causley, Charlotte Hetherington and Hope Docherty have dedicated Instagram pages to educate on menstrual health. All three pages have a focus on conditions that can come with menstruation such as: Endometriosis, Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome, Irritable Bowel symptoms and the impact these can have mentally, to name a few.
Collectively they strive to talk openly about menstruation to ultimately help others and create a community for online support. Their pages can be found on Instagram under:
What do you study at Cardiff University?
Victoria: I study History and I am currently writing my dissertation on the dominant attitudes towards menstruation in the early modern era, which sparked my passion for working on menstrual health.
Charlotte: I study Human Resource Management in my postgraduate.
Hope: I study English Literature and History and hope to pursue a masters in journalism, with a focus on medical journalism to write further on menstrual health.
When did you make your page and why?
Victoria: I made my page in February 2021 because I became tired of hearing other sufferers of menstrual pain feel rejected by medical professionals. I have had my own personal journey fighting for answers and treatment to my pain, and it became very lonely thinking that my body rejected anything others could enjoy. I decided that there must be other people like me, and I was right. Many people have opened up to the small community through the page, and I have every intention to build it to help as many people as possible.
Charlotte: There are a couple of reasons: I have experienced symptoms of Endometriosis for 13 years now and it can be so isolating. I hoped that my Instagram page would help me find friends with a mutual understanding of the illness to then help validate my own pain. Also, it takes an average of 7 years to be diagnosed with Endometriosis, which is partially due to a lack of available information and education about the condition; I want to empower people with similar symptoms to be able to push for medical assistance and to do this, I share my experiences and symptoms to look out for.
Hope: Like Charlotte, I also have Endometriosis and started my page recently in April. I show every aspect of my illness to help destigmatize conversations such as: painful sex, mental health and talking to medical professionals about ‘down below’. I found most information about the illness through Instagram and hope someone falls across my page to know their symptoms are not normal and they do not need to live in pain.
How does your menstruation impact your daily/ monthly life?
Victoria: My body physically suffers from my menstruation monthly but suffers daily mentally. I have extreme hormonal imbalances, which I am sure has had a considerable effect on my diagnosis of depression and anxiety over the years – this combined with being prescribed the contraceptive pill as the predominant treatment for my menstrual pain.
Charlotte: I experience chronic pain; sometimes so bad I can’t leave my bed. For this, I am prescribed strong painkillers, however these make me drowsy and make university work difficult! The condition has a big impact on my mental health; it is difficult to stay positive while impacted so severely. I have been hospitalised multiple times due to dehydration from vomiting because of my pain. Often, I get awoken with pain, so feel exhausted during flare ups which last 10 days a month.
Hope: I live in constant fear of my period as it leaves me bed bound for weeks at a time so I forever feel as if I am catching up on lost time. I like to describe it as monthly I have one ‘normal’ week when my symptoms (symptoms of Endometriosis can be found on all of our pages) die down a little so I truly feel like myself. I mourn who I used to be before I was ill and I think that best sums up how much I feel I have lost to my own menstruation.
What do you wish you had known about menstruation when you were younger/ what do you know now that you did not before?
Victoria: When I was younger, it felt like it was built into me to view periods as taboo, unspoken subjects. I am super lucky to have an open family – but not everyone has this luxury. I now know that it is a subject that needs to be acknowledged far more and that it is nothing to be embarrassed about.
Charlotte: Loads! I think the main thing is education for what is ‘normal’ in a period and what is not, and when to ask for help. For example: ‘period pain’ may be mild discomfort, and chronic pain is vomiting and passing out. All symptoms are likely to be dismissed as period pain, if not. I also wish that I’d known that doctors don’t know everything – endo is hard to diagnose as it often has to be diagnosed through a surgery called a laparoscopy so often doctors will assume the symptoms are normal. I also wish I had the confidence to push for help when I knew something was wrong but was dismissed. Also, lots of ‘solutions’ will be suggested including lots of birth control, pills, coils, etc: speak up when these aren’t working for you as there will be an option that helps.
Hope: Too much!! My secondary school taught me nothing about my own menstrual health but I do know how to put a condom on a banana… I wish I had known about conditions that can come with menstruation, in particular PMDD (Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder) which I have been recently diagnosed with. Menstruation can have such a severe impact on your mental health and I felt lost in my monthly menstruation that could be so liberating and pain free for others. I wish I had known menstruation is unique to the individual and cannot be compared.
What impact have you had?
Victoria: My page has had an enormous impact on my mental health, and I have been overwhelmed by the response it has received. Many people have privately messaged me, opening up with advice or concerns, which has allowed me to help them while also feeling less alone myself. I try hard to make my page a friendly, approachable place as the main aim is to create a community of strong, influential people that have the same intentions to help others as I do by sharing their experience.
Charlotte: For endometriosis awareness month, a friend and I walked 28 miles of the Taff Trail from Merthyr Tydfil to Bute Park in April to raise £1350 for Endometriosis UK. I used my Instagram page to fundraise, so that was cool! It was great to be able to widely publicise symptoms for people to look out for, as well as raise some money for the charity.
Hope: Most recently, I have been interviewed by The Times for their radio piece on sexism in medicine which was surreal. But above all else nothing makes me happier than people messaging me to say my page has helped them on their path to receiving help for their painful menstruation. It is crazy how many of us suffer in silence and I could not believe how many people have messaged to say they experience the same symptoms that I do! I have helped to compile medical notes to put forward to medical professionals and my DM’s are always open to anybody who needs help or even a good chat!
Hope Docherty is the lead writer for Spotlight’s “Period Dignity” article campaign. If you have any questions or pitches- all around the topic of periods- that you’d like featured in this campaign, please get in touch with [email protected] and Hope will get back to you as soon as possible! You can have a look at Cardiff University’s Period Dignity Campaign here.