As it transpires, my metamorphosis into a loudmouthed social justice warrior began years prior to the meningitis, with little more blood than a small cut (although to me it felt more akin to the elevator scene in The Shining): my first period.
I was 12, & it was a few days before going on holiday with my parents, when I went to the bathroom & discovered blood in my under-crackers. Despite knowing full well what periods were, curtesy of an ever-important sex education, I totally freaked out…because the bleeding had stopped. My long-suffering mother consoled a crying pre-teen, still sat on the toilet, & explained to me that what I had just experienced was called spotting, & was actually fairly normal. It wasn’t until we were in a remote village in North Yorkshire that my period started properly, but fortunately my mum had packed sanitary towels & spare underwear just in case. That was the first & only period I have ever had that could be described as normal.
According to my sex education, periods were supposed to last 3 – 7 days, occurring in regular 28 – 30 day cycles. I could expect to feel some moderate cramping pains & headaches during menstruation, but over-the-counter painkillers & a hot water bottle should make them manageable. I would feel frail & sensitive, & I might get acne.
My periods lasted nearer 10 days, & could be anywhere between 2 weeks & 2 months apart. The bleeding was heavy enough to overflow a large night-time sanitary towel in a couple of hours. I cannot count the number of times I woke up quite literally in a pool of my own blood, it having overflown my towel & bled through my clothes & the bedding. The pain felt like my uterus was trying to eject itself out from between my legs, & didn’t limit itself to during menstruation either. I would get mid-cycle pain which seemed to coincide with ovulation, pre-period, during-period, & after-period pain. It was easier to count the days when I wasn’t in pain than when I was, & with each cycle it got worse & worse & worse.
Eventually, & by eventually I mean after 4 years, I told my doctor. Apparently, what I was experiencing was just puberty, & by the time I was an adult it would have settled down. He did, however, have the decency to prescribe some additional painkillers which I turned out to be allergic to. I went back & no alternative was offered, but I was offered the contraceptive pill as a means of controlling my cycles, which should improve my symptoms as a knock-on effect.
Even on the pill my uterus stubbornly refused to follow the rules. I must have used just about every single iteration of the pill in existence trying to find one that worked, at one point experiencing 2 three-week-long periods in close succession, leaving me with iron deficiency anaemia as a university student. My problems were, however, still an effect of puberty despite being 20 years old, according to the doctor.
After almost 8 years of this, I was beginning to get frustrated. There was a family history of endometriosis, a disease that appears to have some genetic links, & my development & symptoms matched those typical of endometriosis almost exactly. I had mentioned this to multiple doctors but this was always either ignored or was brushed off as the silly anxieties of a young adult.
However, I did have one new symptom that caught the doctor’s attention; now that I was in a long-term relationship, I was trying to have sex & couldn’t, because it felt like I was ripped apart & burnt at the same time. To me this wasn’t much of an issue – there’s more than one way to skin a cat, if you catch my meaning. However, this was the symptom that medics latched onto. The doctor tried to do a physical examination & couldn’t; it was agony. She told me that I absolutely didn’t have endometriosis, but that my inability to have sex, which didn’t particularly bother me, was enough to warrant a referral to gynaecology. A few months later I attended the gynaecology clinic at the hospital.
I went through my list of symptoms with the consultant, who again disregarded all of the ones causing me trouble in favour of the one that wasn’t. She tried to perform a physical examination &, much like my local doctor, couldn’t. However, for the first time ever my symptom wasn’t attributed to puberty; it was all in my head instead. She prescribed something that can loosely be described as a treatment plan, which unsurprisingly didn’t work, & requested I return to clinic in six months. This being the NHS, it was almost a year before I went back.