What would it look like to shift cultural paradigms so that we listen to, and believe, girls and women when they speak up about pain and suffering? What would it look like to shift medical paradigms away from a steadfast reliance on evidence, patterns, and symptoms, and create space for valuing personal narrative, emotion, and intuition? These are the questions unearthed by Second Days.
Kaavya Ramesh wrote Second Days about her experience as a young girl coping with debilitating and seemingly inexplicable menstrual pain for years, only to find out her senior year of college that she had a common diagnosis: Endometriosis. Endometriosis is a disorder in which the uterine lining begins to grow outside of the uterus. It is characterized by acute, chronic pain; for Kaavya, this pain was at its worst on the second day of her menstrual cycle, hence, the title of her story.
For many years, I too had debilitating periods. My menstrual pain may not have been at the threshold that Kaavya experienced, but it was my entry point into this story. Unlike most of my friends, I had a flow so heavy that it was a burden. The blood loss made me feel weak and tired, and severe cramps and bloating caused discomfort and pain that did not seem fair. I refrained from talking about it, because nobody really wants to talk about a woman’s period; menstruation is still buried under a culture of shame. Like Kaavya, I found relief at age 21 after switching to a different kind of birth control.
As I reflected on this story, reading it for a second time, the complexity of it began to resonate with me. It grew from a story about severe menstrual pain, into one about using Band-Aids to heal bullet wounds, powering through pain because you think that’s your only option, and ultimately, about a woman’s naturally powerful intuition and her having the courage to listen to it.
What stirs me most about this story is that Kaavya suffered unnecessary pain for so many years. She knew in her gut that something wasn’t right, but the few times she spoke up about it, she was told both by family and medical professionals that it was “normal”. That periods were supposed to be painful—that she should try ibuprofen. So she gritted her teeth, and attempted to soothe her pain with short-term, surface level solutions. Had she been taken more seriously, she could have found real relief much earlier in life, rather than waiting until the tipping point. The innate intuition of women is very strong, but patterns like this discourage us from allowing ourselves to listen to it. This is especially true for young girls—often, we are not taken seriously, particularly when it comes to ‘important’ issues, like pain. Kaavya’s courage to overcome this dynamic inspires me. She believed in herself enough to not settle for pain. This is what makes Second Days such a resonant ENDPAIN story; it encourages us to mimic the bravery of Kaavya, and work towards dismantling the paradigms that trapped her in a cycle of pain for all those years.
In late November of this year, my Mom received a cancer diagnosis. She is a high-powered lawyer who excels at her job, in large part because of her intelligence and strong intuition when it comes to business. Now, as she carries out her treatment in the face of a powerful disease, she is learning to trust a different kind of intuition. She is learning that the most important thing she can do is honor herself by listening closely to her energy and the needs of her body. Second Days teaches me that to be the best support for her, I need to follow her lead, and let her intuition guide the way.