I lost my period for years on and off, all to an eating disorder that consumed me.
Its disappearance was simply another step to prove I was “sick enough” when those around me and the societal ideals of an eating disorder could not validate my struggles.
When people think of “that time of the month,” we think of blood, acne, cramps, and womanhood. It’s the source of paranoia if you’re wearing white pants, or the catalyst of cravings and random crying sessions.
And while I still associate these things with my period, my period is also so much more than blood, it is more than “that time of the month.”
During this time, my period became a form of validation.
Am I not allowed to struggle if I don't "look anorexic?"
The standard of an eating disorder is a thin, white teenage girl whose life surrounds weight and vanity. Her life is glamorised, people are concerned for her, she is hospitalised, and soon she finds a man who accepts her for who she is. She is then healthy and fine.
Having brown skin and growing up in a South Asian culture where eating disorders are rarely discussed, I clung to any source of validation. Validation that this wasn’t all in my head. Validation that I wasn’t lying for attention, or just ‘influenced’ by others.
When you’re brown and do not “look anorexic” (whatever that means), you will reach for anything to validate your struggles. However, the internal validation I had from losing my period was never enough. I craved acknowledgement, longing for external validation. So I continued to try to achieve the “look,” emphasising the behaviours and traits to show people I was struggling.
The loss of my period was one of these. In hindsight, I should have been more worried about not having it rather than what it could prove. After all, my period was a sign that my body was functioning and doing its job. But I also understand why I thought the way I did.
The few times I did get my period naturally during my lowest point, it was never a sign of health but rather a disappointment – “Varsha, you aren’t sick enough. You don’t need help.” I would feel guilty for thinking like this because I should have been grateful that my body was healing, yet I was ashamed for not being able to prove that I really did need help.
What was most surprising in my experience was the anger, envy, and alienation I felt when I would hear other girls around me say they “hated their period” because of the cramps or their acne or hormonal energy. As much as I didn't want my period, I found that I longed for it too.
My period transformed from a burden to a sign of strength
It took me years to recognise that your struggles are valid whether you lose your period or not. Whether you “look sick” or not. There is no standard for a mental illness.
Coming to terms with this and healing my relationship with my period meant destigmatising the shame around periods and mental health. It was recognition of the fact that I needed to validate my eating disorder on my terms. I had to understand that the lack of external validation from cultural stigma, societal expectations, and a doctor who wouldn’t diagnose me because it would “affect my employability” could not affect my health anymore.
I remember the morning I got my period back; it was the day of a university exam, and I raced down the stairs and told my mum. Seeing the smile on her face was not only encouraging, but a reminder of the stress that I had perpetrated on those close to me. In hindsight, I realise that the fear, shame, and anxiety around mental health and periods are not always due to the symptoms, but rather the stigma.
It is not your symptoms or validation that define the existence or extent of your illness. Its existence is enough.
Destigmatising my relationship with my period will be a journey I’ll continue for the rest of my life. It is not as simple as being “open about menstruating” but is layered with cultural connections, societal standards, the patriarchy, and my definition of health.
So you see, my period will never just be blood. It will never just be “that time of the month.” My period will always be a sign of health, healing and strength.
Varsha Yajman is an Indian-Australian climate justice and mental health advocate. She has been an organiser for Australian climate organisations and is the co-host of the podcast, Not to be Controversial, discussing stigmatised issues in South Asian communities. Varsha is currently studying law and politics, a coordinator at Sapna South Asian Climate Solidarity, and paralegal at the law firm Equity Generation Lawyers, which conducts climate change ligation. Her work aims to amplify the voices of fellow South Asians and ensure their struggles with mental health are seen and heard. You can follow her on Instagram and Twitter.