I am most tired during my period on Thursdays. It’s random fact, but one that I never confidently knew about myself until recently. When I was a teenager, my periods were agonizing; they were painful, unpredictable, difficult to track, and basically debilitating. The intense cramps and dizziness caused me to frequently miss school, so much so that my doctor recommended I skip periods altogether and start birth control to regulate my cycles. I didn’t look back for a decade.
But before I knew it, 114 months had gone by, and now as a grown woman, I realized I didn’t know my body at all. Aside from the occasional breakthrough bleeding, I had no concept of what a real period felt like. The pill, with its notorious side effects, had taken it all away. So in an effort to renew a sense of understanding my body, I decided to dip my toes back in the bleeding-woman waters by using period tracking apps.
Like any other Type A person, I identified a goal: I wanted to learn about my body, what to expect, and if I should make adjustments. I’d track my cycles, then have historic data that I could use to identify patterns every month — eventually with enough information to know how I could be my most comfortable and if there was anything I should be doing differently. It was the perfect plan of indulging in note-taking — my one true love — while educating myself about my own body’s habits. Weirdly, I felt excited to get my period again.
My first choice was Flo, a five star rated menstruation tracking app in the App Store. I created a health profile with my age, height, weight, and other info that would help inform the app’s algorithm. When I got my first period a little less than three months after going off the pill — though I was clutching my abdomen and digging my nails into my palms trying to ride out the pain — I was also feeling the undeniable thrill of having something to track. I updated the app voraciously: How heavy was the flow? What other symptoms was I experiencing? Did I work out that day? Was I drinking enough water? It was oddly exhilarating; though the first couple of months were mildly stressful, by month three, Flo had started to identify patterns.
After logging a sizable amount of data, I followed up with my primary care doctor Jennifer Chang, an associate professor at the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences. She tells me that these types of apps are a great way to better understand your body for both people who experience irregular periods and women trying to get pregnant. The collected information is also useful to bring to doctor appointments if patients have particular concerns; in my case, I felt caught off-guard about my period cycles, so providing a doctor with more data allows for expediting treatment. Chang says the apps can also help identify symptoms menstruation-related illnesses like endometriosis.
Furthermore, female health tracking apps remind you to use them, much like how our phones already remind us to attend meetings or take dinner out of the oven. So if you’re someone who spends a lot of time on your smartphone (and most of us are pretty guilty of this), period apps can present an accurate reflection of your cycle length, symptoms, and more.
While push notifications and smartphone overuse can lead to a general internet fatigue, Flo had given me the thrill of indulging and validating my control freak tendencies. The experience felt so informative that I even downloaded a second app, Clue, another highly popular and well-reviewed period and ovulation tracking app. It’s especially praised in the context of monitoring ovulation and fertility, should that become something I need to focus on in the future.
Between Clue and Flo, I learned an immense amount about my body’s routine: My breasts get achey about a week before I start bleeding, and stay that way until day two. My cycle is approximately 35-days long with three to five days of variation. I’m super bloated with cramps during the first 48 hours, and I usually bleed for seven or eight days straight. I don’t usually experience cravings, but fitness does, in fact, reduce discomfort. I drink a healthy amount of wine during, and, as previously mentioned, I log fatigue on Thursdays.
Even though this experience hasn’t helped me predict my cycle down to the day — one of the many joys of being in the 30 percent of women who experience irregular periods — I’m always prepared with supplies and Ibuprofen. Most of all, I have regained control. I know my body and I know what’s normal — or not — and I’m the most in-tune with my body I’ve ever been. And that is a freedom I’ll never let go of.