Having your period is no fun for a lot of reasons. Your breasts feel like Dkembe Mutombo has been playing bongos on them all day. You spend a lot of time in bathroom stalls with your legs spread, one hand fumbling around in your crotch like a blind man trying to disarm an explosive. Every time someone speaks to you, you have to restrain yourself from gleefully tearing their head off their body and parading it about the town square on a pike.
But this is a picnic compared to some of the punishments menstruation can wreak on your body if you don’t take care of yourself properly. See, Period Times, they’s different from Regular Times. There is a large amount of blood and other juices (forgive me) squirting (forgive me) from your loins nonstop. It’s a very natural process, but it throws your hormones and chemistry vastly out of wack, and it would behoove you to take steps to correct such biological roller coasters.
The major upset that can happen when you’re bleeding copiously from your vag is iron deficiency. As we all know, blood is chock full of iron, a mineral that the body very much needs to cope. And when you’re losing almost 3 tablespoons of that blood in a few days, you may suffer from iron deficiency. Chronic iron deficiency is referred to an anemia. (uh-KNEE-mee-uh.)
Iron deficiency can be characterized by several symptoms, including fatigue, weakness, irritability, and pallor. Sound familiar? Are you always sluggish and pissy during your period? Does your lovely family keep telling you that you look like shit? Iron deficiency could be why. If your iron deficiency progresses into anemia, you could experience such joys as constipation, tinnitus (a nonstop and presumably very annoying ringing in the ears), fainting, breathlessness, and heart palpitations. You may even experience pica, a condition characterized by the overpowering urge to eat things that are not food. Like paper. Or rocks. Fun, right?
It’s simple and painless to correct iron deficiency. You could take the easy route and just pop a vitamin, and no one would think less of you for doing so. If you like your vitamins to taste like candy (and who doesn’t?) the Flintstones brand makes a multivitamin with iron that is delicious and will eliminate any fear of deficiency. If you are not a vitamin kind of girl, there are plenty of other ways to get your iron. Of course iron is found in most kinds of animal flesh, as well as eggs. If you don’t consume animal products, spinach is a particularly good bet. I like it in salads or cooked in a little olive oil and garlic, but I promise you that if you blend it up with some fruit and a little milk, you won’t taste a thing. Lentils and other beans can be a decent iron source, and even some breakfast cereals are fortified with it. You have a myriad of options. Your main task is to stay well-hydrated so that your body can metabolize iron properly. Don’t even think about it. Just down a glass of water with every meal, and then you only need five more glasses to round out the day! I like to set myself markers by which I know to drink water. For instance, I know by the time I get to work I need to have one glass down. Or by the time my second class is over for the day, I need three glasses in my system. Whatever gets you to drink it, man.
Still not concerned about iron? Well, as a vegetarian, and as a person with naturally very low blood pressure (which can be exacerbated by extreme anemia), I would like to share with you an episode of What Not to Do, Anemia Edition. It was the summer of 2011 – a fine year, a fine year indeed. I was at college, doing work on campus over the summer. It was the fourth of July, and a steaming hot day it was. I hadn’t had much to drink that day, except of course for a couple of nice cold brewskis. That’s hydration, right? Plus, my nutrition was suffering. I hadn’t been taking vitamins, nor had I been eating my greens. The result, as I found out later that night in the emergency room, was severe anemia, coupled with dangerously low blood pressure and dehydration. Anyway, some friends and I were having a leisurely dinner when my stomach started to feel unpleasant. I decided to drag my boyfriend on a little walk to get some fresh, muggy Pennsylvania summer air. Ten minutes into our walk, I started gasping for breath. I thought perhaps I was having an allergic reaction, so we started hurrying back toward my dormitory to get my inhaler. My stomach was roiling, and my heart was beating so fast and irregularly I thought it was going to explode and shower my poor boyfriend with fresh, hot blood. We were within sight of the dorm when I just managed to wheeze that I needed an ambulance before I passed out.
When I awoke several minutes later, my first recollection was that I was wearing a sundress with a tiny thong, and my legs were spread wide open for the entertainment of the huge crowd that had gathered around me. Someone was wiping my face with what appeared to be a soaked undershirt, and an EMT was gazing deeply and romantically into my eyes. I promptly turned over, exposing my lily-white ass to about forty people, and vomited up a nutritious dinner of Chinese food. Unfortunately, I’d had lo mein, and some of the undigested noodles were so long that they were stuck in my stomach as they were coming out of my mouth, and I was required to digitally extract them. (Just keeping it real here, folks.) I still couldn’t breathe, so they packed me onto a stretcher and shoved a needle in the back of my hand and a tube down my nose. I had always thought that those contraptions looked profoundly uncomfortable on TV, but I was so grateful that I wasn’t going to die that I hardly noticed. However, the night was young. As soon as my boyfriend had climbed into the front of the ambulance and we were on the road, I grasped the shirt front of the young, nervous-looking EMT and slurred:
“I have to take a shit.”
His discomfort increased noticeably at this proclamation and he stiffened in the chair, patting my hand awkwardly.
“Well, we’ll be at the hospital in less than two minutes, I promise. You can go as soon as we arrive.”
My grip on his shirt intensified, as did my desperation.
“No,” I clarified, “You don’t understand. I am going to shit in thirty seconds whether there is a toilet in the vicinity or not.”
The poor child didn’t seem to know what to say to this, and merely began glancing around the interior of the ambulance as though a chamber pot was going to materialize out of thin air if he prayed hard enough.
As soon as we got to the hospital and I was wheeled into my comfortable little room, I sprinted (well, hobbled with vigor) toward the bathroom, carrying my saline drip with me, and relieved myself. When I exited, feeling a million times better, my boyfriend was choking down laughter.
“You want to know something embarrassing?” he snorted.
I hardly thought anything could be more embarrassing than vomiting in front of everyone I’ve ever met in my life with my ass hanging out. “What?” I said wearily.
“You seriously sharted yourself on the stretcher.”
And that is why you don’t want to become anemic.