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I've Suffered From Extreme Cramps My Whole Adult Life – Here's What I Wish Other People Could Understand

The struggles of severe period cramps

Did you know that studies have shown period cramps can be as painful as a heart attack? If you’re rolling your eyes at this, you’re not alone. I’ve held my fair share of disbelief when I didn’t use to experience intense pain in the past. But, as someone who eventually developed severe cramps well into adulthood, I can now admit I had put my foot into my mouth.

Being unable to get out of bed from extreme pain, throwing up en route to work, and dreading my monthly cycle has been no walk in the park. Now, I understand how crucial it is to have a strong support system for something I cannot fully control. Here’s why I think the world can also be more understanding when it comes to Bloody Mary knocking on our doors.

An inherited curse

Extreme Period Cramps - CrampingImage credit: Andrea Piacquadio via UnsplashImage for illustrative purposes only.

When I first got my period, it turned out to be pretty chill. I experienced very minimal cramps, no extreme fatigue, and I’ve never received any comments about anyone needing to deal with my random PMS moments.

My sister, on the other hand, experienced the complete opposite. I would witness her hunched over, dragging her feet to the bathroom. The sound of her gagging could be heard even from the other side of the house as she stayed in the bathroom for a good 30 minutes, hugging the toilet bowl. 

Extreme Period Cramps - ToiletImage for illustrative purposes only.Image credit: The Association

Younger me couldn’t help but laugh at and make fun of how pathetic she looked, and I found it hard to believe that it could be that bad. 

And you know how Taylor Swift sang,“Karma’s gonna track you down”? Indeed it did. More than a decade later, the same thing happened to me for the very first time. 

It was during a solo trip overseas where everything took a turn for the worse. The initial feeling of nausea was quickly overshadowed by extreme pain in my abdomen. I curled up in bed, moaning and cursing, as cold sweat broke out all over my body. At that moment, I genuinely feared for my life, wondering if anyone could come to my rescue in time.

Extreme Period Cramps - FB messengerI was supposed to meet a friend from overseas who was also visiting the same city, but guess who paid me a visit instead at 7am.Image credit: Pat Yuan Teng

After enduring the agony for what felt like an eternity, the sensation of needing to use the restroom emerged. Still, there were no signs of anything red, which led me to believe it might be a severe tummy ache or some sort of digestive issue.

It was only a year later that the pain started occurring more regularly, and I noticed it would happen just before my period came each month. That’s when it hit me – I was going through the same experience as my sister. I decided to talk to her about it, going down the list of symptoms I faced. To my surprise, it checked every box in her list as well.

Curious and seeking more answers, I then had a conversation with my mum. During our talk, I discovered that she had faced the same problem when she was younger too. This realisation brought some clarity to the situation and made me understand that it was a hereditary issue that we were all dealing with. 

I also felt a sense of relief knowing that my struggles were not abnormal and that there were other women going through the same monthly challenges.

Monthly struggles

In a perfect world, women’s menstrual cycles would follow a precise 28-day pattern. But, that’s not always the reality. I’ve experienced cycles as short as 14 days and as long as 40 days. What kills me is the uncertainty of when each cycle will end and when the pain will strike each month.

Each of these painful episodes can last for about half an hour and I’ve come to realise that they have impacted not only my daily life, but also my overall way of living. My cramps have previously made me late for work, and even caused me to necessitate last-minute MCs when the pain was unbearable.

Extreme Period Cramps - Online MeetingYou have no idea how relieved I feel when my period comes on days when I am WFH.Image credit: Pat Yuan Teng

During my time as a teacher, managing period cramps became a significant struggle. I found myself praying that the pain would occur on weekends or days without morning classes to avoid disrupting the schedule or burdening my colleagues with last-minute requests.

Extreme Period Cramps - WhatsApp Work ConversationI would give my colleagues a head up each month, in case any last minute arrangements are needed.Image credit: Pat Yuan Teng

I vividly recall an instance when I had to teach a morning class, but woke up with intense cramps. Feeling paiseh to cancel at such short notice, I called and requested to push back the classes by 30-minutes. I was urging my cramps to subside, anxious not to be late for my already delayed class. 

Thankfully, everything fell into place, and the school was understanding, even asking if I felt better when I entered the classroom.

On another occasion, I decided to tough it out and commute to work despite cramps making its debut. However, within just 5 minutes of walking, the pain became unbearable, and I had to seek refuge on a bench under an HDB block. Crouching and moaning in pain, I found myself hugging my stomach tightly, trying desperately to manage the agony.

Extreme Period Cramps - NauseaWhen you have to get to work on time and deal with the nausea from menstruation.Image credit: Pat Yuan Teng

The pain was so excruciating that I couldn’t even find the strength to reach for my phone and inform my workplace about my tardiness, let alone get up from the bench. Tbh, I wasn’t even sure if I would be able to make it to work or if I’d have the ability to return home to recover from the intense pain. It was a truly distressing and overwhelming situation.

Extreme Period Cramps - Group of FriendsMy ex-colleagues were incredibly supportive and always looked out for me whenever I mentioned that my period was coming, offering constant tips and advice.Image credit: Pat Yuan Teng

I feel fortunate to have mostly encountered empathetic people who’ve been supportive of my situation. However, there’ve been a few who’ve seemed to downplay this condition – sort of like, “If I can handle my cramps, why can’t you?” But sis, all of us experience different symptoms, some even worse than mine.

For instance, when my sister entered the working world, she knew she could never get a “zero-MC” incentive due to her monthly battle with cramps. When her superior began to grow suspicious of her situation, that’s when her cramps struck, and they witnessed first-hand just how severe it could be.

On the other hand, one of my colleagues shared that in addition to the bedridden cramps she experiences that would last for an entire day, she also has to deal with irregular periods, leading her to cancel plans at the last minute. To make matters worse, her guy friends would make insensitive remarks, exclaiming “period only what”. 

There was even a time during a school exam when she had to rush to the toilet multiple times to vomit, leading the invigilator to suspect her of cheating because of the frequent restroom visits.

How I combat period cramps

Enduring the monthly cramps was not something I wanted to deal with indefinitely. I was determined to take control of my situation instead of letting it dominate my life.

With the advancements in science and technology, numerous menstrual cramp remedies have emerged. Besides painkillers, these are some that I have tried:

Reducing cold beverage intake

Extreme Period Cramps - Cold DrinksImage credit: Pat Yuan Teng

Living in Singapore’s sweltering heat, drinking at least 1 cup of cold beverage daily is a must-do on my list. To make matters worse, I’m a fan of BBT and ice cream. 

Although some studies suggest that cold drinks may not directly cause period cramps, it is still a widely recognised remedy for reducing the discomfort.

Extreme Period Cramps - Ice CreamNever say no to ice cream.Image credit: Pat Yuan Teng

I have personally noticed the difference when I reduce the number of cold drinks I consume each month. In fact, opting for room temperature or hot drinks seems to have a positive impact on managing my cramps.


Friends who don’t know about the horror stories of my period cramps might think that I am a die-hard fitspo for working out 5 days a week. But the truth is that exercise has become a necessity in my daily routine to reduce the impact of the cramps.

Extreme Period Cramps - Running on CruiseEven when on vacation, a 2.4km run is part of the itinerary.Image credit: Pat Yuan Teng

To date, exercising more regularly has proved to be the most effective solution for me. However, it did come with some concerns – it resulted in longer menstrual cycles and irregular periods. 

So, I did an experiment. Interestingly, in months when my exercise routine decreased to an average of 3 days a week, my cycle became more regular. Although it meant going through the entire cycle of dealing with the pain, at least, I could predict when my period would come. 

Drinking carrot & orange juice

Recently, I came across a new method to potentially alleviate painful cramps – carrot and orange juice. This remedy is believed to work due to the presence of magnesium and potassium in these ingredients.

Extreme Period Cramps - JuiceImage for illustrative purposes only.

My sister has been using this approach for managing the monthly pain, and she swears by its effectiveness. She simply drinks a cup of carrot or orange juice every day before her cycle ends, and it has proven to be helpful for her.

Hot water bags

Extreme Period Cramps - Heat PacksImage credit: Menstruheat via Facebook

There are claims that heat therapy can help alleviate the pain. Being as frugal as I am, I’ve tried using a hot water bag instead of heat packs. 

Some people I know with severe cramps swear by heat therapy, but it hasn’t quite worked for me. Perhaps it’s because when I’m writhing in pain, it feels almost impossible to prepare a hot water bag or remove a heat pack from its packaging. So I just have to work through the pain instead.

Adjusting your diet

Extreme Period Cramps - Healthy Food

I’ve also come across information suggesting that adjusting your diet to include more fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean proteins can have a positive impact on period cramps. These food categories provide essential nutrients such as calcium and vitamin B1, which are beneficial for your body during this time.

If adopting a healthy diet feels too strict, there’s also a more indulgent option – dark chocolate. Opt for ones with at least 70% cocoa content, as they contain antioxidants, fiber, and other nutrients that can help in reducing period cramps.

Apart from incorporating these nutritious foods into your diet, it’s also advisable to steer clear of certain items that can lead to bloating and water retention. Some examples are alcohol, caffeine, and foods with high salt content.

Understanding the pain of extreme menstrual cramps

Women who experience such intense period cramps often search for solutions to keep the pain at bay, whether it’s popping pink Panadols or using disposable heat packs. While it may seem like we do it for ourselves, our main goal is to prevent the pain from disrupting our daily activities, which can have a domino effect on the people around us.

Extreme Period Cramps - Whatsapp Group ConversationImage credit: Pat Yuan Teng

I understand it can be challenging to fully comprehend our experience – just look at how I used to laugh at my sister’s struggles before I faced them myself. That’s why it would mean so much if the world could be more understanding and empathetic towards what we go through, rather than dismissing our pain as mere excuses to avoid responsibilities.

Sometimes, I wished these cramps were like an email subscription, with an “unsubscribe” button to click on. Heck, I didn’t even sign up for this pain in the first place.

While I haven’t experienced childbirth myself, the intensity of the monthly pain during my periods makes me wonder if it’s similar to contractions. If that’s the case, I hope my body’s training in dealing with these painful episodes will make me better equipped to handle the challenges when the time for childbirth finally comes.

Check out more perspectives:

Eczema in SingaporeGrowing up as the only girl in a traditional Malay familyExperiences every only child will understandBeing a sugar baby in Singapore 

Cover image adapted from: Pat Yuan Teng


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