Every girl’s first period experience is different. Encountering symptoms of PMS without knowing where all these new emotions and pains have come from is tough, and that's before your family get involved. A friend of mine had to deal with her mum hanging balloons in the garden(!) when she first got her period. I personally just changed my underwear over and over, not understanding what was suddenly coming out of me, until my mother asked why there were so many pants piling up in the wash basket.
My most enduring memory though is that of the migraines. I thought it was normal. I just thought great, so I’ll just be in this pain every day from now on and always feel sick. Growing up sucks. Nobody explained to me what oestrogen was, never mind what it does with your whole body.
Nobody ever forgets their first period
Katharina Hingst, the director behind the short film Bloody Hell, can remember exactly when she started. “I still remember my first period very clearly. It was unexpected and entirely unspectacular, and happened on the morning of the 11th January 1999. I was 11 years old and had just killed my first Tamagotchi, when Mother Nature decided to make a woman of me. The blood didn’t really bother me—I’d already read a lot of teenage magazines by that point and (very proudly) knew exactly what was going on down there. Somewhere between determined and embarrassed, I rummaged through my mum’s things to find a panty liner that I fitted correctly and with ease. I think I only told my best friend and I stocked up on Always Ultra —from the supermarket. Nothing was as dramatic as it could have been. I quickly had the blood situation under control. But back then I had no idea that my hormonal balance was being played with. Unbeknownst to me, I had gone from angelic child to Satan’s daughter overnight. And that was the beginning of a difficult puberty phase, with both raging and tear-filled mood swings that are as much a part of my cycle today as ever. Unfortunately, I didn’t know about PMS then, and was convinced that I was mentally unwell in some way. And that often made things difficult for me.”
Bloody hell—left to bleed alone?
Hingst felt alone dealing with the emotional side of her first period. “I think the conversation about PMS and its mental side effects, like hormonally induced depression, is imperative to making sure women and girls don’t spend their lives wondering why, every month, they feel like the universe has pulled the rug out from under the feet.”
It was for this reason that Hingst created Bloody Hell - a film depicting the emotional rollercoaster that is one’s first period, and to show that those who menstruate “don’t have to feel ashamed of depression or mood swings.” I certainly would have appreciated being shown a film like this in my sex-ed class back in 2003 (and maybe something on the female orgasm, but that’s a whole other story). I know 13-year-old me would have felt comforted to see a visual representation of the emotions that I was feeling, but couldn’t sort through or understand. Because what the girl (played by Lara Levy) in Bloody Hell experiences, still feels familiar all these years later. “These multiple states of mind that emerge just before a period as PMS, and swapping rational thought with chaotic feelings... it’s like an emotional tidal wave. And it can feel like you’re going mad.”