The cool thing about periods is how, sometimes, they never end. While the bleeding itself typically lasts a week, it is surrounded by much chaos and strife – like a flash flood bookended by extreme weather warnings and reports of cars being washed into the sea.
There's a window of probably about five days per cycle where my skin is glowing, my mood is good and I can climb a flight of stairs without extending an arm mid-way and forcing my boyfriend to drag me up like a gorgeous suitcase. Anything around that is full of volatility, whiteheads and "sorry to be the worst but..." texts cancelling every plan I made while feeling epic.
Despite the prevalence of feminist comedy and informative cartoons about menstruating (see: Amy Schumer's oeuvre, or that episode of Big Mouth where Michael Stipe is a singing tampon), the Period (proper) isn't even the worst part of the cycle for some people. That can come the week before, when you well up because someone at work asks about your weekend, or even two weeks before, when confusion and brain fog descend like an element of biological warfare, causing you to drop or smash everything in sight like Mr. Blobby on daytime television, lock yourself out of the house or cancel your own credit card, fearing identity fraud, because you did some internet shopping while watching Gilmore Girls and absent-mindedly spent £120 on knives.
Just like snowflakes and orgasms, no two periods are the same. There are many variables that dictate exactly how bad of a time you're going to have, but those who bleed will often end up doing similar things to cope before, during and after the event. And often these things are completely antithetical to any and all advice, but we do we do them anyway, for a laugh.
Of course, this is a totally subjective list and your mileage may vary on the things you do to alleviate the fact you're bleeding out what feels like half your body weight, but here are some potential activities, beginning with the most predictable.
HAVING PRECISELY ONE DRINK, EVEN THOUGH YOU KNOW YOU'LL DO SOMETHING STUPID, GET A SPLITTING HANGOVER AND BEG FOR DEATH
To be fair, this is also called "your late-twenties", so we can't lay all the blame of the menses. But it is a truth universally acknowledged that, if you are approaching or on your period, one drink is actually nine drinks. It won't get you nine times as pissed, unfortunately, but you are nine times more likely to: i) bad mouth an acquaintance based on an old tweet, as if they just murdered your dog, ii) forget to eat, and iii) wake up in the morning feeling like fruit leather.
Red wine doesn’t count, because it’s the nearest thing to eating your own placenta for nutrients, but a thimble of anything else will ensure you spend the next day behaving like the waif niece in a 19th century novel who ends up being diagnosed with a "nervous illness" and has to be shipped off to the seaside to take the air.
MANY DERANGED PURCHASES
When the blob knocketh, good judgement is the first thing to go out the window. Whether it’s spending 45 minutes in Big Asda trying to choose between a variety of scented candles that all smell like the house of someone with a baby, or putting together a work outfit that rivals Miranda Hobbes on a casual day, there is a significant portion of each month where you will not make a single good decision.
I, personally, have a section in my wardrobe dedicated to items purchased in the throes of PMS. Among its ranks are: a neon pink XXL "Florida nan" style T-shirt that says "If You Can't Run With The Big Dogs Stay On The Porch!", a velvet bodycon dress covered in embroidered roses (not as chic as it sounds) and 11 different styles of white vest that I will never wear because they are all slightly wrong in their own different way.
JUNK FOOD: A DICHOTOMY
What the body wants and what the body needs are two different things. What the body needs is to be gently exercised and stuffed with bananas and Marmite, but what the body wants is to lie in the foetal position in front of the oven while a bag of potato smiles gently roasts. The choice is yours, but when faced with the options "long-term relief" or "indulgence NOW", you’d be forgiven for devouring a plate of freezer food before settling in for a nice, long evening of low self-esteem.
HISTRIONICALLY CLAIMING TO HAVE THE FLU BECAUSE YOU'RE SWEATY
You are due on in two days, but this does not occur to you as you’re wriggling around bed at 2AM, kicking off the sheets and wrapping them around you again like a contemporary dance performance, convinced you'll wake up in need of medical assistance if not dead.
In the morning you start boshing Nurofen like breath mints and interpret your streak of vivid nightmares as symptoms of a seriously high fever, which will no doubt develop into a full blown viral illness tomorrow. You sweat on public transport and emerge into crisp winter air wearing nothing but a T-shirt saying "thank GOD" or similar, and people look at you nervously. You run the perfect bubble bath and sit in it for five minutes before clambering over the side like a horse out of a taxi because the steam has made you feel faint. Death, you fear, is surely coming.
Every month this happens, and every month you forget that your body temperature rises around your period because of something to do with progesterone production. You start bleeding within 72 hours and repeat the cycle again, only this time with an alleged stomach bug, because all this heat and stomach tension has given you the shits.
BEING A BABY AT WORK
As the famous lyrics goes: "It's my desk job and I'll bring my hot water bottle (including the case, which is a fluffy Scottish Terrier) into the office to alleviate cramps if I want to!"
In all seriousness, though, menstruating in the workplace is a shit show. If you work in an office being chronically inactive all day, this – as I was told by many a PE teacher when using it as a fake excuse to weasel out of netball – does nothing to alleviate cramps. Being on your feet all day: also bad. I literally cannot imagine having to do something genuinely important, like being Rihanna or performing surgery, in the vice-like grip of Day 2.
There is no winning, and though the concept of "menstrual leave" is often criticised for being sexist or undermining, I will happily take one for the right side of history by admitting that there are at least two days per month where I am completely useless. If we must come to work, so be it, but know that we have our trousers unbuttoned under the desk and spend every possible opportunity roaming the building for tampons and snacks.
SPAMMING THE GROUP CHAT
One of the reasons I find modern horror films so disappointing, I think, is because I’m in a group chat full of people who get periods. If you have experienced this, you will know that every passing thought is documented like a commandment. Someone was late and now cramps are making them groan like a farm animal in labour; someone's belly is swollen with water retention and farts (ft. accompanying work selfie); someone is upset about their relationship because they’ve been reading too much into Co-Star again; "should I get a fringe?"; "where's the nearest Greggs?"
There is nothing more dark or disturbing than a bunch of period-havers discussing their feelings and bowel movements, but there is nothing to be done about it. Providing a live commentary on what ails you is the entire point of a group chat, and arguably the healthiest activity on this list.
GETTING BRIEFLY – BUT SINCERELY – INTO WELLNESS
There is simply nothing I love more when feeling completely pathetic than putting on my "comfies" and doing minimal stretching while some white yoga instructor on YouTube congratulates me for showing up for myself. Same goes for having a Pret juice, misting my succulents and doing deep breathing exercises. It's all bullshit, of course. You'd be just as "well" eating a tray of beige food, popping a multivit and rubbing one out. Or, if you can be arsed, having sex – which is superior to any food or activity because it’s exercise and pleasure all in one.
Honestly, the stress that comes with having a menstrual cycle is a pain in the arse at the best of times. For people who don’t identify as female, or have PMDD, or a health condition that makes periods more painful, it can be even more difficult. You may dread it, you may "manage", you may be one of those freaks who has three "light" days and barely registers it at all – either way, do whatever. Have a nap, get high, text your crush something graphic about poo. When all is said and done, isn’t that the true meaning of "free bleeding"?
This article originally appeared on VICE UK.