Period & Disability
Today, we are celebrating International Day of Persons with Disabilities. What’s International Day of Persons with Disabilities? It’s a UN-sanctioned day to celebrate and increase awareness of diverse abilities and promote inclusion. As we continue to do better and be more inclusive, we wanted to share Malvika’s story.
Malvika is our Sales Coordinator at Ruth and more than her role in sales, she has been championing inclusivity within our team, especially being more inclusive to people with disabilities. She has given us some light regarding her disability and how it affects her period.
Malvika has epilepsy - a neurological condition that affects the nervous system¹. “I have epilepsy which causes me to have absent seizures quite often. Even though the seizures themselves don’t physically hurt (well most of the time) they do have a significant impact on my memory, concentration, brain fog, energy levels, drowsiness and mood. I am on medication for it though so the frequency has definitely decreased (I went from around 100 absence seizures a day to a few a month) . I also struggle with hypothyroidism which causes me to have low energy and fatigue,” shared Malvika. The seizures that Malvika is experiencing, much like the seizures that people with epilepsy experience may be related to a brain injury, genetics, immune, brain structure or metabolic cause, but most of the time the cause is unknown².
Periods, as we know, can already be tough to people who menstruate. Some of us struggle from different period related disorders such as PCOS and endometriosis, and some of us just really struggle from cramps or mood swings without being diagnosed with any of these disorders. However, for Malvika, periods look a little different, “my challenges during that time of the month usually arise due to the interconnection between seizures and menstruation as well as the medications I use. When it comes to epilepsy, hormonal changes during the menstrual cycle are shown to cause changes in seizure frequency. So for my case I tend to have an increase in seizures when I am on my period which also impacts my memory, energy and concentration.”
As most menstruators can likely relate to, when you experience any difficulty or discomfort during their period, you have to make certain changes, some more drastic than others. Lifestyle changes that can take awhile to get used to or even implement. For Malvika:
“This sounds bad, but for the longest time I ignored my disabilities and health issues despite knowing that my period increases my seizure frequency. It wasn’t until four years ago until I started taking these things more seriously and made changes in my period care routine to adapt to my disability. Some of the changes I made was
- Talking to my Student Accessibility Services advisor about this interconnection so that she was aware and I had the accommodations I needed at school to succeed.
- Having my period kit (which includes my anti-seizure medication, painkillers, pads, and gum) with me all times when I go out
- Estimating when my period will be so that I could plan my school and work schedule around them.
- Taking extra precautions when I am on my period for my own safety and asking for help when I need it.”
It’s a learning experience for Malvika, as we are sure it is as well for people with disabilities who also menstruate. Malvika shared that she only became comfortable with her period by the time she was 14. This is because she had a better understanding of what to expect and how to deal with cramps and headaches. “When it comes to menstruation with a disability, however, I think it is a work in progress and there are times when you feel more comfortable with self-advocacy and you’re somewhat okay with the extra complications you have to face during your period and then there are other days that you’re not,” shared Malvika.
Much like our previous interviewees here at Ruth, Malvika also shared her frustrations when it comes to lack of education behind menstruation, “I was just taught the basics about periods and menstruation - that girls get them when they enter their pre-teen years (which by the way is completely wrong as not all women bleed and not all people who get their period identify as women) and also how to practice menstrual hygiene. From what I remember, we weren’t really taught much about the science behind menstruation and I personally wasn’t given much guidance by doctors on how to handle periods while having a disability and the interconnection between them.”
As we wrap Malvika's story up, we should remember that people with disabilities are often forgotten and excluded from conversations, and we need to change it. This year, the UN is focusing on bringing awareness and recognizing that people with disabilities are among the most vulnerable and affected populations during the COVID-19 pandemic. According to the UN, where marginalisation, discrimination, vulnerability and exploitation are every day factors for many people, the increased risk of poor outcomes have been magnified with the reduced access to routine health care and rehabilitation services, more pronounced social isolation, poorly tailored public health messaging, inadequately constructed mental health services, and a lack of emergency preparedness for people with special needs³. So as we celebrate International Day of Persons with Disabilities, we hope that at the very least, we can share some resources and some education in what today should be about - to be a voice and advocate for people with disabilities. We hope you can educate yourself, as we do as well, regarding different disabilities, and how people with disabilities navigate through life with their disabilities.
Here’s Malvika’s advice to a person who’s currently struggling with any disability especially during their period:
“I think my main piece of advice would be that they should focus on self-care (this includes medication, therapy and doing things you enjoy such as watching a movie or utilizing aromatherapy/adult colouring books) and being extra gentle to themselves around this time of the month. Also, if they are comfortable with disclosing their disability, they should definitely bring it up to their accessibility advisor/guidance counselor at school and their friends as it definitely allows them to create a support system and get the extra assistance they may need during this time.”
And for those who haven’t gotten their period or currently struggling with the stigma around menstruation:
“I think that it is insane how periods continue to be stigmatized and mistakenly are considered to be a mark of womanhood. I think the best way to prepare for your first period is to ask questions and educate yourself on menstruation as oftentimes the things you learn in teen magazines or at school don’t really paint the whole picture. I also believe that educating and spreading awareness is the best way to combat stigma around menstruation. If you’re not completely comfortable about going up there and talking about that is totally okay as you should do what you’re comfortable with, but as long as you are acknowledging the fact that learning is continuous I think you are on the right path :)”
Malvika’s story, as we are sure, is only one of many. We hope that you get to at least read one of their stories and that you educate yourself today on people with disabilities. You can learn more about International Day of Persons with Disabilities here and/or donate to the International Day of People with Disabilities organization here.