Let’s be honest. Menstrual periods often suck. But when your body is hyper-sensitive, they suck even more.
The week before I get my period, I have symptoms of PMS, hardcore. I am irritable and defensive and you don’t want to mess with me when my period is on the way. I get horrible cramps, flu symptoms including a sore throat, chills, hot and cold flashes and achiness, and I get exhausted and fatigued. I often sleep a lot or I won’t sleep very well at all. I get the brunt of my meltdowns the week leading up to my period, and a lot of the time, I am passively, and on occasion actively suicidal.
But the worst thing is that I pass out. But not from what people might think.
I drink plenty of water, I eat a healthy diet, my heart and my blood sugar and blood pressure are normal, my iron and vitamin levels are normal and I am not anemic. I have been complaining of being faint and on the verge of passing out since I was young. Doctors have told me that my light-headedness might be because I am not drinking enough water, or not eating enough iron, or that I was sensitive to the heat, or maybe I didn’t eat enough for breakfast. And then when I still continued to almost pass out, even when I upped my iron intake, drank more water and it was cold outside, I got an EKG done and numerous blood tests for my thyroid, my blood sugar, my iron, my vitamin B-12 and vitamin-D levels. Everything came back excellent. I was told that my fainting was probably “just anxiety.” To that, I answered, “OK. I do have anxiety. I do get panic attacks, but why are there no triggers when I pass out?”
Turns out, I have autism spectrum disorder. I believe this to be the main factor in my fainting spells. I was 13 when I first got my period, but it wasn’t until about a year-and-a-half ago, when I was 20, that I was finally diagnosed with autism.
When I look back to the times that I have passed out or been close to passing out, it usually occurred within hours of getting my period. I have often had severe cramping and heavy bleeding. My body is hyper-sensitive to pain and other changes, so the cramping and loss of blood are my main triggers. Other triggers can include bright lights, loud noises, even background noises like sound machines or the air conditioner. I was not aware of these triggers until I was diagnosed with autism.
When I faint, or almost faint, my body feels like it is going to collapse on itself. I can’t move, I shake uncontrollably and I can’t talk. Often my eyes get heavy, my vision blurs, there is ringing in my ears, my muscles feel numb, my speech slurs or I am completely nonverbal (usually I can speak very efficiently), and I lose touch of reality. I am usually aware of the symptoms coming on and can usually sit down and drink some water before I pass out, but that has not always been the case. And even if I am aware of the symptoms coming on, I don’t always have the verbal capacity to be able to speak my needs.
My most recent fainting episode was today when I was in class. I had gotten my period about 15 minutes before class. About 30 minutes into class, I started to feel super sleepy and experience extremely painful cramps. I sucked on a mint, drank some water, moved around in my seat and tried to focus on the lecture. Then about 25 minutes later, some of my muscles tensed while others felt limp. I tried drinking some more water, but it didn’t help. Then my eyes started closing and my head felt super light and I started uncontrollably shaking on and off. I could feel all the blood draining from my face. I was sure I was going to pass out.
I wanted to leave the room, but I was seated in the very front and I worried that if I stood up, I would pass out in front of the class. I was scared because I didn’t know what to do. I had never felt faint like I did while sitting down. Usually, my solution to these symptoms was to sit down, and I was already seated.
For the next hour, I sat, trying to will myself into not fainting. Thankfully, I did not pass out. But by the time the class had concluded, I was in a daze and unable to speak. I didn’t know what to do. Someone I sit next to in class made a joking comment about my “sleepiness.” But I couldn’t respond to tell them I needed help. I was frozen. After everyone left, I was still in my seat. By that point I had texted my dad to tell him my situation and that I needed to be picked up from school. I wouldn’t be able to drive home.
My teacher asked me if I was checking my email and mentioned that she had to lock up the classroom soon. I couldn’t respond. I couldn’t get her attention using my words. Finally, my dad suggested that I write a note on my phone and I was reminded of an app I downloaded recently called “EmergencyChat.” I was able to show my teacher my phone and communicate with her through the chat system until I was able to gain back my verbal abilities. Thank goodness for that app!
After that incident, I thought, enough is enough. I need to share my experiences. I have not found anyone so far that has had the same experience with autism and their period, but I figured I must not be the only one. I hope sharing my story will make others feel less alone.