Menstrual Hygiene Day 2024: Periods in the Dark with Tracy Ritchie

May 24, 2024 9:00 am Leave your thoughts

“Dealing with a period is the worst thing about being a blind woman” –  To mark Menstrual Hygiene Day, iSightCornwall member Tracy Ritchie shines a spotlight on the challenges of menstruation when you cannot see:

“It’s not something many people think about. It’s certainly not something I thought about when I first found out I was losing my sight. But month after month it’s a minefield. It’s that taboo topic, periods. People don’t want to hear about them, they don’t want to talk about them, but they affect around 50% of the world’s population and that includes people with disabilities. It’s an important topic that needs to be addressed and, although work is being done to make periods less of a taboo topic with period poverty and whatnot, I feel like the challenges people with sight loss face when it comes to periods is never discussed.

Having a period when you’re blind is so undignified. I cannot tell when I come on, I have to have a friend check for me, I cannot tell if I leave behind a mess, I cannot tell if my clothes have stains on them, if I leave behind a mark when I get out of a taxi or a car of a volunteer driver. Do you know how humiliating that thought is? And the fact that I can’t check on my own. It’s awful.

I was recently at a dancing club surrounded by friends and sighted volunteers, and I thought I might have come on but I couldn’t be sure so I had to come straight home and get in the shower just in case. It’s so humiliating.

How do you know if you’ve made a mess in your bed overnight? Is the mattress still clean? These are challenges I and so many have to deal with every month.

During my time of the month, I won’t even let anyone who visits me use my bathroom in case I have made a mess without realizing it which is so embarrassing. For most people, a period is a private time but it’s not private when you’re blind. I’ve had friends tell me that there’s a mess in the bathroom and they’ve had to help me and that’s so undignified, to have your friends help you clean up bodily fluids.

But I know I’m lucky in that respect, to have good friends who are willing and able to help me. I dread to think what I would do if I was more isolated. What do people who are alone do? I can’t imagine it. It’s another form of isolation. I don’t leave the house in those first few days because I’m so worried about leaving behind a mess or embarrassing myself. I don’t know what I would do without the amazing people I call my friends.

I think about people who don’t have sight at a young age and have to experience their first period in the dark, that must be so frightening. I at least know what it looks like and have some sighted experience.

When you’re blind you have to learn to deal with menstruation in a different way, I change my pad over the toilet to help stop the mess and you have to feel where it goes and hope you’ve managed to line it up right. I shower so often because it leaves you feeling dirty, because you can only know how it feels rather than being able to look with your eyes to see if you need to change or wash anything.

And these are just challenges you face at home or in a familiar environment! If you are out and about or attempting to travel further from home it’s just a nightmare. Trying to find a public toilet when you cannot see is difficult on a good day so trying to navigate to a toilet in a rush is almost impossible without a friend with me.

Monitoring your period is so important for health reasons, a change in colour or amount can be a sign of needing to have a discussion with your doctor but I’m entirely unable to do that.

As you get older and start experiencing perimenopause you suddenly start experiencing changes and that makes it even more difficult because you can no longer predict when and how your period will come. I’ve spoken to sighted people who experience periods and who say they couldn’t imagine being able to check if their period had started or not but that’s the experience every single month for people who cannot see.

And this is why I think it’s really important to talk about it and to raise awareness. In an ideal world, periods and menstrual health wouldn’t have the stigma that’s attached to them and we could discuss it as easily as asking ‘is there something in my teeth’ but we’re not there yet and I know other people must be facing the same challenges and embarrassment every month, just like me.

This subject is so important, this is health, this is dignity. Dignity is everything to you when you’ve lost your sight and we need to start discussing issues like this to start making a difference.

What’s worse, making someone uncomfortable by talking about menstruation or millions of disabled people feeling humiliated and isolated due to a natural bodily function? That’s the question I want asked this Menstrual Hygiene Day 2024.

I hope things will change in the future, there are so many apps available which can help people with sight loss with all sorts of things, even apps which can help people put on their make up or identifying colours and items and I don’t think it would take too much work or research to make apps to help with periods. To help you line up a pad correctly or identify if there’s blood in an image. It would be lifechanging.

But raising awareness is the number one goal, to have people discussing these challenges and to be made aware. That’s how things will change, how we’ll get more accessibility in this regard but also to make people experiencing this feel less alone with their challenges.

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