By Silja Elsener (text, illustration & photos)
Our illustrator Silja was traveling overseas. And with it also PERIOD. Many questions came up: Can I wash my menstrual cup with non-potable water? How do I deal with my PMS mood in the middle of strangers? And how do I find time and space for myself in a mass strike?
Being on the road for two months also means getting my period twice. I used to always pack a large number of tampons and pads because I've learned not to trust that the right products are available in the country in question. For a few years now, however, I have been using my menstrual cup almost exclusively and only very rarely disposable menstrual products, for example when camping. Or just when travelling.
This year I want to do without it and just take my cup with me. However, what worries me is the hygiene: how does the sterilization work if I'm only in hostels with shared kitchens? Do I feel uncomfortable boiling the cup? What if there are only toilet stalls with no sinks? Is it safe to wash the cup with water that is not suitable for drinking after emptying it? To be on the safe side, I buy two additional menstrual cups and travel with four in my backpack. Better safe than sorry.
In the course of the trip, I keep talking to other backpackers about how they deal with their periods on the go. They tell me stories about tampon worries because there is only one tampon size to buy in supermarkets, about horrible cramps and a cup that doesn't fit properly and therefore leaks on a long-haul flight. And of women who take the pill so as not to bleed on the way.
I also exchange ideas with other cup users about handling and hygiene and about how incredibly practical this little thing actually is.
In the days before the days, I like to withdraw, take more time for myself, take things a little easier. But that's almost impossible here. No matter where I am in the hostel, there are people: in the dorm, in the common area, in the kitchen - everyone engages in conversation.
I'm going to the beach. As soon as I spread out my towel, another woman sits down next to me and starts talking to me. Where I'm from, how long I've been on the road, where I'm going next. Why do people always want to talk? I don't mean to be rude, but I realize how terse and short my answers to her questions are. At some point I unpack my book and escape into the written pages.
I just don't socialize at home if I don't feel like it, meet no friends or only very specific ones. But when I travel, I feel transparent, exposed: everyone can see how I'm doing. I notice how much stronger my irritability is before the days, how much my emotionality is noticeable. I can't hide them, I can't protect others and myself from them.
Saying NO is also much harder for me when I travel. If everyone else is going on a trip, I want to go with them. If everyone else is going to eat, I want to go with them. If everyone else goes surfing, I want to go with them. I say YES to everything so as not to miss anything. And so as not to feel lonely in my PMS mood in this unfamiliar environment surrounded by strangers.
I feel lonely even though I'm surrounded by people I'm very comfortable with. I feel lonely and excluded as soon as I'm not included in a conversation, feel lonely when I go into the sea alone while the others play volleyball together. I feel lonely doing things that I otherwise enjoy very much alone, where I sometimes even seek solitude.
The current takes me and pushes me and my surfboard further away from the others. I fight and am sucked in, swept, pulled down by the next wave. Frustration. I am angry and sad and want to give up. I can't stand myself right now. Why should anyone else like me if I don't like it myself? I keep fighting, the waves grab me, I grab them, I surf. my head is stronger I am stubborn.
I need sleep, but I sleep very poorly and not enough. It feels a bit homesick. I miss my boyfriend, who usually just hugs me on days like this. Soon my period will come, soon the relief will come. Then things pick up again and that gives me hope.