asking to telework when you have your period

A reader writes:

I suffer from extremely painful menstrual cramps. It is worst on the first day of my cycle: abdominal pain, cold sweats, vomiting, leg pain, “the shivers,” etc. I’ve asked my OB/GYN about this, and he cannot seem to find any illness (endometriosis, fibroids, etc.) that could be causing the pain. I have tried a variety of methods: natural remedies, taking medication days before, modifying my diet, birth control, and even prescribed meds to treat the pain, but cannot get any long-term relief.

This is my first full-time job out of graduate school and while in school, I was always able to manage with shifting my schedule when my cycle started. Since I’ve started working, its a little difficult to do so. Last month, I tried to go in and work through the pain, but once my supervisor saw me, she suggested I go home. The pain is unbearable and I normally stay in bed and/or sleep until the late evening to get some relief.

I don’t want to have to continue to take sick days if my cycle begins on a workday. We are allowed to telecommute when needed and I am more than happy to do so when I get sick like this. But I don’t want to seem as if I’m “abusing the system.” I feel it makes me look as if I’m just trying to get out of work and not serious. I really like my position and my supervisor and want to share with her what is going on, but don’t know if that would seem unprofessional and TMI. She is very understanding, but I am not sure how to proceed here. Any advice?

Personally, I’d have a discreet conversation with your manager and say something like, “I want to ask you about something that I feel a little awkward bringing up. I generally have unusually painful cramps on the first day of my menstrual cycle — to the point that my doctor has run numerous tests to see if something is causing the pain. We’re still trying to get it under control, but I wanted to ask you about our telecommuting policy. I’d love to be able to work at home on this day each month so that I can continue to get work done instead of using a sick day, but I don’t want to misuse the policy. Is that something I could reasonably do, or would that be discouraged?”

In other words, just ask.

But I want to acknowledge that this is a much easier conversation because your manager is a woman. And I feel weird about that, because in general your manager’s gender should play no role in how you operate. But the reality is that this is a topic that women generally feel more comfortable bringing up with women than with men, and so because of that, I think this is an easier conversation in your case.

If your manager were a man, I’d still recommend the same conversation — but with whatever wording you’d be more likely to feel comfortable using. And yes, I know that theoretically you should be able to use the exact same wording with a male manager … but there are plenty of women who wouldn’t feel comfortable doing that. In light of that, for a male manager, I might just use a shorter version — “I get horrific cramps one day a month and would like to telecommute that day.” And if you’re wondering why I don’t recommend something just as brief for a woman, it’s because you risk her thinking you’re overreacting to something she knows from personal experience isn’t generally that bad, and thus the additional “it’s genuinely bad” context is potentially useful to provide. And to be clear, I’m not saying any of this is ideal, but I do think it reflects reality for most people, both on your side of this conversation and your manager’s.

What do others think?

{ 237 comments… read them below }

  1. fposte*

    My concern is that “The pain is unbearable and I normally stay in bed and/or sleep until the late evening to get some relief” doesn’t sound like a workday at home recipe. Are you going to be able to be computer/phone available for the office hours, or are you going to need to do flextime as well? I understand not wanting to take sick days, but they may be more appropriate if the pain prevents you from staying alert and available. At my job I can retroactively decide whether it was a sick day, a sick half-day, or a work day; is that something that might work for you?

    1. The IT Manager*

      At my job I can retroactively decide whether it was a sick day, a sick half-day, or a work day; is that something that might work for you?

      That’s an awesome perk and example of being treated like an adult.

      1. fposte*

        It’s probably more the laissez-faire academic approach than an adult philosophy, but it works out so brilliantly that I don’t really care why it happens that way. And boy, is morale a lot better when I know I’m getting paid if I work when I’m home with a cold.

      2. Meg*

        It is a very awesome perk. Teleworking one day a month at my job is a very reasonable request. I think most of us end having to do so, actually. But also, at least the contractors at my job (not sure about the fed employees) have that flex time too where we have until the end of the pay period to make up hours and then whatever we didn’t make up, submit those hours as PTO/sick/whatever.

    2. Liz in a Library*

      This is what I was thinking, too–will you actually be able to put in a normal workday from home when you feel like this?

      1. Esra*

        As someone who has to work from home for Crohn’s sometimes (which also includes cramping, vomiting, etc), you kind of get used to it. By being able to stay at home, I can work much more comfortably and don’t have to worry about the commute or grossing out my coworkers.

        I also agree with Just a Reader below that it might be worth checking into some other doctors. It took me years to get a proper diagnosis. Also, some medical documentation might help the conversation with your manager.

        1. fposte*

          I certainly think that you can adapt at home in a way that’s tough at the office, but it’s not clear yet if this is a situation where that can happen. I totally support exploration of telework in this situation, but I think the OP needs to be really honest with herself about its success when she’s trying it (other people have had good suggestions about additional ways to ensure coverage, too). What really won’t work is to ask to telework and then not get the work done.

    3. Jamie*

      This was what I came to post. If it’s debilitating enough to require bed and sleep, and it absolutely can, then how well can you work even from home. You don’t want to telework In lieu of sick days if you can’t really work. That is abuse of the system. If it’s a question of needing to be comfortable and near a bathroom but you can otherwise work, that’s different.

    4. AF*

      Good point – I’m wondering if there might be enough sick or flex time for the OP. When that happened to me (thankfully just once a few years ago), I used a sick day because I was technologically unable to telework, and I felt so bad that I wouldn’t have been physically able to anyway. It sucks, for sure, but I honestly don’t know that there’s a realistic alternative.

    5. LW/OP*

      Fposte: yes, my job offers flextime and I would be able to decide if it was a full sick day, half-sick day, or a work day. Like Esra mentioned below, when I’m home I’m more comfortable and don’t have to worry about “making it to the bathroom.”

      Just A Reader and Esra: I will look into a second opinion. I actually started with this GYN because my previous one only really offered birth control to me. My current GYN has me on prescribed ibuprofen (800mg) but it is worth it to get another opinion.

  2. The IT Manager*

    Will the LW actually be able to work through the pain even from home? It doesn’t actually sound like it unfortunately. If that’s the case, it’s not really a telework day but a sick day which I know completely sucks for the LW.

    My suggestion is the LW figure out what’s feasible if she has to lay in bed all day before she proposes working from home that day.

    1. Jess*

      Good point. Cramps are cyclical, so you could spend the first three hours of the day in agonizing pain unable to do anything but cry but then be fine for the rest of the day. So you could feasibly work from home but if I were the boss I wouldn’t expect to get a full day’s work out of it.

    2. Lillie Lane*

      +1. But having several friends who deal with this, I feel very bad for the OP. That sucks, and some people won’t believe you. My coworker suffers very badly during her period and had to take a day off work, and our jerk boss loudly complained to *everyone* that she needed to just get over it and “learn how to take Midol”.

      1. Chinook*

        I would agree that the boss was a jerk for loudly complaining and tellign her to take a Midol, but the attitude of not necessarily believing that cramps are that bad is common partly because we all knew girls, especially in junior high, who would use it as an excuse to get out of gym class or other things they didn’t want to do. As a result, it is one of those “boy who cried wolf” situations that, even as a woman, I would be skeptical about until I saw the look of pain on someone’s face.

        That being said, by being up front with your boss about it and having a plan of action to help minimize how this will affect work, you are half way there. I would also recommend that it be treated like any chronic medical condition and be willing to have a doctor’s note to back it up.

        1. Anonymous*

          I don’t remember any girls who pulled that, and even if I did, I trust a grown woman just slightly more than a teenager. (Honestly, it’s so insulting to say “Yes, you are a 30 year old professional adult, but I don’t believe you until I see you in pain because I once heard a 13 year old girl exaggerate about it.”)

          1. some1*

            Word. My mom wouldn’t let me “date” when I was jr high age so I tried to pass off my first boyfriend as a male friend. 20 years later, my mom doesn’t think I have a secret boyfriend stashed away somewhere.

            1. Meg*

              Mine too. She assumes I’m dating any male friends I hang out with, and is only occasionally correct (and now I’ve been with my serious relationship boyfriend person thing for 6 months so now of course she’s mentioning grandkids and *shudder*).

              1. some1*

                I don’t think I explained my post very well…my mom does NOT think I have a secret boyfriend anymore because I’m well into adulthood. While I might have reasons not to introduce a boyfriend to my mom (or at least at first), it’s not because my mom is capable of punishing me for it.

        2. Lynn*

          Maybe this is naive of me, but to me it seems like, this is such a hideously uncomfortable topic for adults to discuss, surely no one would say it if it wasn’t true?

          1. TL*

            Eh, it’s not the uncomfortable for me to discuss. The rare times I have a really bad period, all of my friends know. (Mainly because I get truly unreasonably angry and my initial thought after someone says “hi!” to me is “punch that f*cker in the face.” So, I generally warn them that I get unreasonably angry, will basically disappear until I feel better, and don’t worry at all/please don’t talk to me.)
            Professionally would be a different matter, though.

          2. Ash*

            It’s only “hideously uncomfortable” because women are socialized to feel shameful, bad, dirty, disgusting, etc. about their periods. I’m not saying everyone needs to get all Moon Goddess about periods, but there’s no reason that we should treat them like a shameful, dirty secret either.

            1. Laura L*

              “I’m not saying everyone needs to get all Moon Goddess about periods, but there’s no reason that we should treat them like a shameful, dirty secret either.”

              +1. There’s a nice middle ground in there somewhere. We, as a society, just have to find it.

            2. Anonymous*

              There are plenty of other embarrassing body functions. I think the more general problem is that we are conditioned to be embarrassed about our bodies

              1. Ash*

                I see your point, but try talking about taking a huge dump or something with dudes; they would most likely be fine with that. Talk about your (or someone else’s) period, and it’s all “Ew gross, that’s disgusting and I am a giant baby”.

        3. Anonymous*

          Sure, but shouldn’t professional adults should be given much greater benefit of the doubt than junior high girls?

          1. Anonymous*

            Also, how can you quantify “a look of pain”, exactly? People respond in different ways and it’s complete bullspit to tell someone their issue isn’t legitimate because they don’t look like they’re writhing enough.

        4. Chinook*

          I knew that I would get piled on for expressing the other side of the coin about why an employer may not be 100% understanding if a woman came up and said “my period is bad and I want to work from home once a month.” If she approached it as a medical condition that crops up periodically, then it comes up as more professional and not like someone trying to work the system. The OP is sounding very professional as she understands how it might look, wants to solve the problem it may cause at work and for herself and wants to know where to draw the line between TMI and necessary knowledge and Allison is spot on.

          It is also important to realize that, talking to a male supervisor, they may never have heard of how painful cramps can be and, just like a migraine, may not understand that you can’t focus. They may have seen women in their life who used it as an excuse and, because this is a female-only issue, may put this in the same boat as crying when under stress which can be physiologically difficult to control or be used as an efficient way to manipulate a system.

          Now I know that the women who read AAM are professional and wouldn’t stoop to that level, but that doesn’t mean that there aren’t women out there who do this and it is good to remember that we may be judged by the actions of others we have never met.

          1. Anonymous*

            I think people took issue with your example of junior high girls most of all. The way you described it here is perfectly reasonable and an example of the way things are versus what should be. However, it seemed like you personally were saying that, because you knew young girls who exaggerated pain when you were a teenager, that it’s fair for you to make the correlation between those instances and when a professional adult woman brings up a medical issue. And that you only believe her if she’s about to cry or scream out in pain.

          2. some1*

            “It is also important to realize that, talking to a male supervisor, they may never have heard of how painful cramps can be and, just like a migraine, may not understand that you can’t focus. They may have seen women in their life who used it as an excuse and, because this is a female-only issue, may put this in the same boat as crying when under stress which can be physiologically difficult to control or be used as an efficient way to manipulate a system.”

            I don’t think you are giving men enough credit here. I don’t have male private parts, yet I am still aware it hurts when men get kicked there.

          3. Cat*

            I have no doubt some managers think “I’ve never experienced this, so this person must be lying to get out of work,” regardless of the medical condition. But the way you put this forward – comparing grown women to junior high school girls who don’t want to play dodge ball in gym – is just perpetuating those stereotypes.

          4. Lucy*

            It’s the needing to see the look of pain that I have a problem with. As others have said, pain is subjective. It reminds me of how my uncles accused my mother of being heartless because she didn’t cry at their father’s funeral. Tears are apparently the only way people can express grief?

            So a specific facial expression is the only way someone can “tell” you’re in pain? Ridiculous.

    3. LW/OP*

      Thank you all for your suggestions on how to approach this issue! I understand where everyone is coming from with the concern of if I would actually be able to work whilst in pain. The pain can manifest in different forms and that can dictate how I feel on those days. Sometimes, as long as I am in my bed and not moving around much I am able to function. Sometimes I need to sleep for a few hours, but then can wake up and feel a bit better. In these cases, I would like to telecommute, if possible. Being that I cannot lay out at my office or sleep, I would rather be at home, so I could do these things and still get my work done. If that means working into the night or making up time, that is what I will do.

      However, there are times I need to sleep the majority of the day and am unable to do anything. The pain can be so unbearable that all I can do is hope for sleep and that it’ll be gone once I awake. I KNOW that this counts as a SICK day and I would not lie and act as if I worked from home.

      Chinook: I understand where you are coming from. I have no problems with supplying medical documentation.

      My main concern is that my supervisor is unaware of what is going on and I wanted to get advice on how to get this conversation going and be as professional as possible. I have suffered with this since starting menstruation and have been told at times that I am overreacting, should just suck it up, grin and bear it, etc. I would very much like to telecommute from home—if my boss allows and I am well enough to do so—but also know that there will be instances when I cannot. But I will feel better if my boss is aware of what is happening and not thinking that I’m just taking sick days.

      Thanks to everyone for your support and suggestions. :)

  3. Just a Reader*

    This is not a work answer–but LW needs a new doctor. You can’t definitively diagnose or NOT diagnose endometriosis without surgery. And these are not normal symptoms. Looking into birth control and skipping periods may also be an option.

    All this to say, I think this is a health question instead of a work question–you shouldn’t need special accommodations for a routine thing.

    1. mollsbot*

      She might of had the surgery, and she mentions that she has tried a variety of methods, including birth control. We don’t know her relationship with her OB/GYN.

    2. Liz in the City*

      I’d second getting a new doctor — but even if it’s just for a second opinion. I suffered from really bad PMS symptoms for YEARS with doctors telling me it really couldn’t be that bad or to just get over it. Finally got a doctor who listened and gave me the right treatment that proved effective.

      I feel for you, OP. There have certainly been days where I have similar symptoms and it’s SO NOT FUN.

      1. Anonymous*

        I agree with this – please keep trying to find a medical solution. Your period doesn’t just have to be like that.

        I had horrible periods for many, many years. Finally, I got the right treatment (for me, a specific birth control; I don’t expect that will necessarily apply to you).

        Ask for a second opinion. If that doctor gives up on you, ask for a third opinion. This is very much not normal and not necessary, so you need to keep trying until you find the answer. Keep in mind that a problem with your reproductive system could make you sterile if you leave it untreated.

    3. Annie*

      YES – long time reader first time commenter for just this: SKIP 3/4 OF YOUR PERIODS. I have similar problems, and I take continuous birth control so that I only have to have about four periods a year.

      I cannot imagine going back to doing it once a month.

      1. Shannon!*

        Birth control may work for you, but it is NOT the answer for others. Birth control gave me chronic hives for 6 months and now, 2.5 years later, I still get hives all oover my face and scalp for the first couple days of my period.

        My body is unbelievably sensitive to hormones and severely reacts to them: on the pill, I had a period for a month, I had severe, uncharacteristic mood swings, and I gained 40lbs due the massive amounts of steroids I was prescribed as an attempt to regulate the chronic hives. I’ve been to countless doctors to try to diagnose both the hives issues and my inability to lose weight even with a severely regimented eating plan and exercise schedule. So, yeah, it’s great that birth control works for you. But it’s not a feasible option for many women.

        1. A*

          Birth control may not work for you, but it MIGHT BE the answer to others.

          I agree that like with all medication, birth control is not for everyone. However that doesn’t mean it isn’t worth exploring as a potential option.

          1. Shannon!*

            I wasn’t aware that my comment mandated no woman take birth control ever. Oh, wait, it didn’t.

            The OP stated she had tried several things to help manage her symptoms, including birth control. As a result, I found Annie’s reductive response of “SKIP 3/4 OF YOUR PERIODS” because she has “similar” symptoms rather insensitive. We weren’t given nor are we entitled to OP’s medical history and every single form of birth control she’s tried to help manage her symptoms. For all we know, OP could have tried and be on a continuous form of birth control.

            It’s GREAT that birth control has worked out so well for Annie. I love that there are so many different forms of birth control and continuous birth control is a viable option for women; however, just because it works for Annie with Similar Symptoms doesn’t mean it will work for Others with Similar Symptoms, as evidenced by the OP and for freak cases like my hives sprouting self.

            Furthermore, Annie’s comments seem to showcase an attitude of, “Well, my problems were solved by continuous birth control. So, hers should be, too.” I don’t want her to carry that attitude of insensitivity to other women, especially if she’s in a managerial position (now or in the future) and one of her team members comes to her with an issue like the OP’s. Every woman’s body is different and reacts to things differently. As a result, people need to be open minded to that fact and not make judgment that a woman is exaggerating her period symptoms when “birth control could fix it.”

            1. Ask a Manager* Post author

              I didn’t find Annie’s comment reductive or insensitive. She was suggesting what had worked for her, just as many other commenters have done. I think everyone here gets that we don’t know the OP’s medical history or what might or might not work for her. People are making suggestions in the hope that something that might be useful for her (or for someone else); they’re not dictating her course of action.

    4. LW/OP*

      Thank you all for your support and sympathies. It is really comforting to know that I am not alone in my symptoms. This is my third GYN. I will look into getting another opinion. I am debating about methods for having fewer periods per year.

      1. Ridiculous*

        Though this series is from 2013, and this comment may not get noticed. I think this reply thread regarding a second opinion or OP needing to be on birth control is ludicrous. You cannot tell someone how they should handle their body. You have no idea what the OP has done and it is, frankly, unnecessary to know to provide advice for this situation.

  4. Jess*

    My condolences. I have the same thing and it’s hard sometimes to even get female bosses to understand if they’ve been blessed enough not to have horrible cramps themselves. They think you’re making it up or that you’re making a bigger deal of it than it needs to be.

    My solution was getting my doctor to give me a prescription for Tylenol 3 that I could take with the regular Aleve or Advil without worrying about overdosing. I’m pretty zoned out on those days but at least I’m at work (I don’t drive though!). I still occasionally need to take a sick day though when the cramps are just beyond the pale.

    1. twentymilehike*

      Talk to your doctor about Ponstel. I have been seeing many doctors about this same thing for almost 20 years and FINALLY someone had me try this. The last two times I switched doctors I had to ask about it … It’s got to be one of those drugs that they can’t suggest, you have to ask about for stupid contractual reasons, because they all say they know about it, but NEVER suggest it. They just tell me, “oh you’re fine, periods just suck.” WTH?!

      Anyhow, I start taking them about four days before I expect to start, four times a day, and I have a period like a normal person. I swear it is the miracle that allowed me to not take 15 unpaid sick days a year without ever actually getting “sick” (I have really short cycles. Yay fun!). Before this I was So Scared of getting my period …. my cramps have been so debilitating that I’ve passed out from pain, not to mention the crying, screaming, and vomiting …

      1. Anonymous*

        I hope this replies to my intended poster (replies have been coming up under the wrong people again): I’m replying to twentymilehike.

        Yes, that’s mefenamic acid, a family of NSAID, like naprocyn and advil, but of that family that got taken away because of extreme cardiac risk. It works like those in the NSAID family, but be warned about the possible health risks of using it (it may be a good choice if other NSAIDs aren’t working).

        1. twentymilehike*

          Yes, that’s mefenamic acid, a family of NSAID, like naprocyn and advil, but of that family that got taken away because of extreme cardiac risk.

          OH MY! My last three doctors have all said it was less dangerous than the pill, however, my current doctor originally pushed the pill. I can’t take the pill because they just make me sick. I’ll see her next week, so I’ll be sure to bring it up. At this point though, I’m willing to compromise to not be completely debilitated.

          1. Anonymous*

            Well, don’t fret too much. I mean, it’s a small case of those who do have cardiac issues and if you don’t have any of those problems, I wouldn’t worry. It’s really an issue for long term users (say, people who take it daily for arthritis pain). All NSAIDs (as well as all medicines) have some risk. If it works for you, I wouldn’t worry too much as long as you’re otherwise healthy.

            I was introduced to it during a trip to Thailand and it worked wonderfully. But my body adjusted so now I’m back to double prescription dose (1100 strength) naprocyn. Also not healthy, but you do what you have to do.

            1. twentymilehike*

              Also not healthy, but you do what you have to do. Amen, sister!

              Thank you for the follow-up message :) That made me feel a little less alarmed.

              I found this (which was a good reminder, as it’s been a long time since I’ve read the drug facts on it):


              BC has a lot of similar “warnings” associated with it, so pick your evil, right? :) Hopefully (for myself and the OP) this isn’t a “forever” problem. Damn woman’s curse!!

              1. Meg*

                *coughcough* I may or may not be slightly or extremely giddy that someone posted a link from the organization I may or may not work for.

          2. fposte*

            I actually misunderstood Anon’s post, and in case I’m not the only one: there are indeed studies indicating that the NSAIDS that are non-selective COX inhibitors (which include ibuprofen, naproxen, and Ponstel) may be associated with a higher heart attack risk (though it seems to vary from medication to medication within the group). That’s a different group, though, than the COX-2 inhibitors, Vioxx and Celebrex, which were pulled because of the degree of heart damage.

            I suspect it’s not so much a case of “less dangerous” or “more dangerous” than the pill as which risks are likelier for an individual patient and which bring enough compensations to be worthwhile.

            1. twentymilehike*

              I suspect it’s not so much a case of “less dangerous” or “more dangerous” than the pill as which risks are likelier for an individual patient and which bring enough compensations to be worthwhile.

              fposte, have I told you lately how well-said and thoughtful your comments are? :)

              I couldn’t have worded that better if I tried all day.

              1. fposte*

                Thanks–I think this one comes from having grappled with my own version of this dilemma for a while!

            2. Jessa*

              Yeh but the risk as mentioned above is more for people like me who would take them for arthritis every day for years. Someone taking it for short term (possibly a couple of days before, then during and after the period,) is at far less danger to start with.

              If they don’t have cardiac risks, again that lessens the possibility. Every drug has dangers. BUT and this is a biggie (been there done that ended up with the final end it surgery,) you need to start taking it a couple of days BEFORE you expect that pain to hit. That’s the key to shutting it down. You can’t start taking something like this AFTER you’re in pain. It’ll work but NOWHERE near as well.

              Anti inflammatories reduce inflammation (0bvious yes?) If you’re already inflamed (in pain) you’re starting at a disadvantage, the idea is to stop it before it starts or reduce it while it’s starting. (Rheumatoid Arthritis, Arthritis, fibroids, endo, cysts. I’ve a metric tonne of inflammatory diseases so I learnt this early.)

              Although there is another option out there if you’re not attempting to get pregnant. STOP the periods. For a year before my surgery I just took the pill straight through. No periods no pain. They also have the general use 4 periods a year pills.

              1. twentymilehike*

                you need to start taking it a couple of days BEFORE you expect that pain to hit. That’s the key to shutting it down

                I just want to emphasize this.

                My doctor said originally to being taking this medication 24-26 hours before my period and keep taking it throughout until I don’t need it. That way I was still having a significant pain level and took it for sometimes up to 7 days.

                If I start 3-4 days before I start my period, I can stop taking it the first day, which adds up to 4-5 days max, with almost no pain.

                I feel much better about taking less of the pills, plus the cheapskate in me likes that I have to buy less of them :)

                Considering this discussion, I’d like to hear if the OP has heard of this, tried it, or would consider it.

                (For the record, this is the only medication I take and I am low risk for the side-effects of NSAIDs discussed above)

            3. Anonymous*

              fposte: I believe Mefenamic acid is actually a COX-2 inhibitor, though not to the degree of Vioxx (which was a fantastic pain relief med).

              1. fposte*

                It is a COX-2 inhibitor in that it, like the non-specifics, inhibits both, but it’s not like Vioxx and Celebrex in inhibiting COX-2 *only*, which seems to be the really problematic part. (I’m well out of my area of knowledge so I couldn’t tell you whether there’s a pathway that makes it more like COX-2s functionally, but it’s consistently classified as non-specific alongside naproxen and ibuprofen.)

            4. TL*

              There’s also evidence that cox-1 and -2 inhibitors significantly reduce chances of several common cancers – not enough to take without a good other reason, but enough that it’s worth mentioning as a nice side effect.

            5. Julie*

              Celebrex is still available. I think you’re thinking of Bextra, which was withdrawn from the market at the request of the FDA (as was Vioxx).

              1. fposte*

                Argh. Serious mistake on my part there! I remembered Vioxx and another and overfilled in the blank, I guess–thanks for setting the record straight.

    2. LW/OP*

      Thank you all for your responses, suggestions, and sympathies! Yes, I know that you must take medicine in advance before the pain comes. I am currently on 800mg ibuprofen that I take days before my cycle starts.

      I have not heard of Ponstel and will definitely ask my GYN about it. I am very similar to Anonymous that my body will adjust to a medicine and it will stop working for me. That is the absolute worst feeling! I also want to point out that there is cancer risk in my family so I have to be careful with what medicine I’m taking. I hope this does not come across as an excuse. I would very much like to not be in pain, function normally, and do my job. Or have my period start on a Saturday/Sunday so that I can get through the first day while I am off. Wishful thinking :(

  5. Similar medical issue*

    I’ve struggled with a similar condition. It stinks. In high school, I had to be taken out my high school English class in wheelchair. I’ve gotten it under control mainly by taking birth control. I’ve also talked to other women with similar issues. Based on their anecdotes, it sounds like this is something to resolves itself with age. I’m in my early 30’s now and have occasional uncomfortable cramps.

    I’d like to piggy back on the doubts that you’ll get work done. In my case, the cramps got so bad that I was barely able to stand up, much less work. The pain was unbearable, and lasted for several hours. Once it was over, all I really wanted to do was sit and watch TV, and pray the pain wasn’t coming back.

    How many six days do you have? You’d need 12 a year to manage this. If you do have a generous sick time policy, I would just take the days off. If you have less than 12 sick days a year, I’d let your boss know that you’ll telecommute for part of the day, and take part of it as a sick day. You’ll probably need to really focus for the part of the day that you’re functional to get any work done.

    You’re lucky to work for a woman. She might know someone else who has a had the same condition. I think it’s relatively common, just not frequently talked about.

    Take care of yourself.

    1. Jessa*

      Generous sick time or if you’re in the US being in the FMLA pool (you have to have worked a certain amount of hours though,) at which point you can take intermittent leave if need be.

    2. Meg Murry*

      Regarding the “generous sick time” – one of my coworkers has mentioned more than once that at a previous company (more than 20 years ago, maybe even more than 30) women were given an extra 12 sick days a year, intended to be used when they had their periods or for side effects like cramps. They weren’t required to take the days, but they didn’t roll over from year to year. I’d never heard of anything like this before – has anyone else here heard of workplace policies like this?

      1. KellyK*

        I’ve never heard of anything like this. Even though it’d benefit me personally, I don’t like the idea. I can see a bank of extra days for people with chronic health issues, but not just for being female.

        Of course, that was then, this is now–I’m sure that sort of thing wouldn’t fly nowadays.

      2. anon*

        Based on my experience, this is either very common workplace policy or an actual law in Japan.

      3. doreen*

        Not quite- but my mother swears that when she was working, every ladies room had a couch so that women could lie down when they had cramps.

    3. LW/OP*

      Similar medical issue: Thank you! People always tell me that it will get better with age so I am really hoping that it happens for me. It seems as if they’ve gotten worse though. I’m in my mid twenties so you give me hope that it may get better. I understand your concern of me not being able to work from home. In that case, I would definitely report that as a sick day. But in other cases when I need to sleep for a few hours or can manage the pain, I would like to work. And also have my supervisor aware of what is going on with me. My biggest fear is that she may think I’m just taking sick days and not actually sick.

  6. Lexy*

    I’m not sure if a man doesn’t need the extra context too… my thought is that not having the lived experience of knowing there’s a vast range of severity in “cramps” may make him think you’re making a big deal out of nothing.

    So even if the manager were a man I’d say something to get across that yes, this is very serious, not just take two ibuprofen and push past.

    Also, OP, I’m so sorry. I very occasionally get mind numbingly painful cramps that don’t sound like they are even as bad as yours and I’ve been known to tear up from them. So. Sorry :( I hope you can find some relief.

    1. Liz T*

      That’s what I came here to say. If the manager were a man, I’d be afraid of reinforcing the stereotype that women can’t be trusted when they’re, you know, on the rag. I’d be extra careful to frame this as an atypical medical condition. You don’t have get qualitative about flow or anything–but an emphasis on pain would be helpful.

      (Honestly, you could probably avoid the word “period” altogether. If you made clear that this happened once a month, this hypothetical male manager would probably get the drift.)

    2. LW/OP*

      Lexy: thank you! When I was younger I used to cry too.

      Mrs. Adams: I am so sorry you experienced that from your manager. I fear that she may not believe me as well.

      To the migraine sufferers: I feel for you all as well. A good friend of mine suffers from migraines and it is just awful!

      Thanks everyone for your suggestions! I will look into getting another opinion.

  7. Jen in RO*

    Unfortunately, from the description this doesn’t sound like a “WFH” situation to me either – if you’re in such pain that you need to lie in bed, you probably can’t do much work on that day. This sounds like a horrible situation and I hope you can find a way to get it solved long-term.

  8. Mrs Addams*

    I agree with fposte and IT Manager above – if things really as bad as they sound, are you going to be able to work at all whilst teleworking? This is something you will need to really think about. Whilst in school you may have been able to read the set books/proof read an essay/whatever else, but working to the required quality standard whilst you’re in such pain may not be feasible.

    I would also add to be prepared for some push back from your manager, particularly if she’s female and if you’re young.
    I too suffer from really bad cramps about once every 3-4 months, and before I start a new job I give my manager a heads up that I may be needing to take 3-4 sick days a year for this – whilst it’s not predictable, I feel it’s better for bosses to be aware. However, at one job I started when I was 22 I told my (female) boss that this might happen and I was taken aback by her reaction. She called me weak and “like a child”, and that “a few womens cramps” shouldn’t ever be a barrier to work and I should just work through them. There were also comments about how the pain would be nothing compared to childbirth and pregnancy, and that being young meant didn’t have enough experience of periods to be able to say if my cramps were any worse than normal. Essentially, I was told to put on my “big-girl pants” and get over an excruciating and debilitating pain.

    On balance, in my experience male bosses seemed to be more sympathetic to my problem than women. I think it’s because, in part, men don’t experience menstrual cramps at all and so have nothing to compare it to. Women will always try to compare your situation to their own experiences, and if they’ve never had painful cramps they don’t always believe that others could suffer so much with them.

    1. Jen in RO*

      “being young meant didn’t have enough experience of periods to be able to say if my cramps were any worse than normal” – uhm, at 22 you had quite a few years of “experience” even if you got your period later than average! Your boss was a total bitch – I have a very stress-free period (yay birth control) but I know that not all women are this lucky!

    2. Jamie*

      This is like people who have never had a migraine wondering why you can’t suck it up when you have a headache. Cramps can be no big deal or they can be absolutely crippling.

      I agree with the advice above to find another doctor. A fresh set of eyes can help.

      1. Natalie*

        And really, even with a non-migraine headache, who is anyone to tell a person they’re not handling pain well enough? It’s not like we can hop inside each other and see how it “really” feels.

        I’ve only had 1 migraine, but I used to get chronic, debilitating headaches (I passed out in school at least once). Thankfully they resolved themselves before adulthood, but I would have had a hell of a time with anyone who told me I should just suck it up because they were “just headaches”.

        1. Meg*

          I started getting cluster headaches near the end of high school. I was initially diagnosed with chronic migraines, but none of the prescription migraine medication worked, and the next neurologist I was transferred to realized that pain was the only common symptom (no light or sound sensitivity, no nausea, the area of the head wasn’t even the same).

          When I told him it was always on the right side of the head, around my eye, extremely debilitating for usually around 10-15 minutes, rarely longer but has been longer, and that I’d go months with having an episode daily, then months without having one at all, he realized I had textbook cluster headaches.

          To put it in perspective, cluster headaches are also known as suicide headaches, and women who get cluster headaches say its more painful than childbirth.

          1. Ellie H.*

            Huh. I was about to say that I get the same thing – I frequently have brief headaches on the right side of my head and particularly around my eye (in addition to a wide array of other kinds of headaches). I just had one yesterday that was accompanied by aura, dizziness, brief auditory hallucination and reduced ability to perceive the right side of my body. But they are nowhere near as debilitating as the Wikipedia article describes. I’ve had a few migraine-type headaches, but none debilitating; my most common symptom is that I feel dizzy and weird, which definitely makes functioning more difficult, but not impossible.

            1. Windchime*

              I am a migraine sufferer, and they come in different “strengths” for me. Usually when I get them, they come in cycles of several days. Sometimes I can take medication and still function; sometimes they leave me crying and barfing and having to stay home. My son also has migraines, and he has all the classic symptoms of aura, nausea, and light sensitivity. So there are all kinds of different symptoms for migraine.

              Cluster headaches sound awful. Yuck. :(

              1. italianmarketer*

                Yeah migraines suck. I get hemiplegic migraines which sometimes leave me pretty much paralysed all down the right side of my body, mimicking strok symptoms. Sucks. However I am lucky enough to have an understanding boss… Although this may be more because I scared the crap out of him by having an attack in the office and collapsing!

                Everyone’s body is different – we need to be more understanding of pain as a collective in my opinion.

          2. KellyK*

            Yeah, one of my friends has cluster headaches, and they’re amazingly debilitating. I hope you can get a treatment that helps.

          3. Malissa*

            Those hurt. I usually retreat to a place where I can lie down and then I ice the area that hurts. 15 minutes (and usually a short nap) later I’m good to go again.
            Did you know these can be triggered by food allergies?

    3. CoffeeLover*

      100% agree about men being more sympathetic. I may have even read a study about it at some point.

      OP you’ve said that birth control hasn’t helped lessen the pain, but have you considered taking birth control or injections that reduce the amount of times you get your period. There are options out there that lead you to only having your period once a year, and taking one sick day a year isn’t a big deal. Is this an option for you?

      1. Anonymous*

        “Ugh, we’re so close to beating that thing completely.”


      2. Meg Murry*

        Also for the OP – if birth control pills didn’t help, but didn’t make things worse either, you may be able to use them to adjust your cycle to start on Saturday or Sunday. For instance, when I start taking my pills on Sunday, I always start my cycle on a Tuesday – so could you adjust the day you start your pills to shift your cycle? Obviously this won’t help if BCP made you feel worse, but if they were just not really helping it might be worth considering, especially since they are free now under many insurance plans as “preventative medication”.
        Also, although there are only a few pills that have been FDA approved to take continuously, according to my doctor and several things I’ve read, you can actually take most monophasic pills continuously for the same effect.

        Also, may I suggest the stick on heat pads for cramps? I think they’re called ThermaCare? I’ve worn them both on my back and front and they really do help, once you get to the point where you just need a heating pad and aren’t vomiting, etc.

        Last, regarding the comments about “cramps are nothing compared to childbirth” and the fact that women with bad cramps actually find childbirth similiar- I also found that contractions were very similar to my cramps, to the point to where I was hooked up to a monitor and the nurse was saying – look, you’re having a contraction and I said “really? I just feel a twinge”. Unfortunately, I also suffer from cramps more in my legs than anywhere during my period, and that held true for childbirth as well – which is something NONE of the books prepared me for, that I would be feeling contractions more in my thighs than anywhere else (I actually had been having thigh cramps off and on for a few nights mid-to-late pregnancy, and my doctor never mentioned that this could actually be pre-labor cramps). I really considered writing to all the “what to expect” books yelling – “you totally did NOT tell me to expect this!!!”

        1. Liz T*

          Norplant is also worth considering, though I think that’s hormonally the same as many birth control pills.

        2. LW/OP*

          Meg Murray: thank you! I have not used an actual heating pad but the “old school” hot water bottles. I will look into the pads as I’ve seen them in my local stores.

          In the beginning, BCP worked for me. I could take them and when the inactive pills/week 4 pills came, my period would not be as painful. But a few years later, they stopped working. My GYN switched the type and it did not help. That is the problem with my period. Medicine will work for me at first but my body will adjust to it and then it stops working.

          Slightly OT: You’ve also confirmed what I’ve been thinking for a while: this pain is similar to pain associated with childbirth. I do not have kids yet so I do not know if that will be true for me, but I was thinking that it would be.

          Anonymous2: OMG! I could not imagine going 3 days in this pain. I really feel for you.

    4. Laura L*

      Ha! She has no idea if her periods are more or less painful than “normal” either, considering that she has never lived in another person’s body…

      People are jerks sometimes.

      1. Anonymous*

        I suffered from really intense cramps in my 20’s. As soon as felt things beginning I’d immediately go home where I’d throw up, take a serious does of Tylenol, and hope I could pass out. Birth control pills and time both helped me a lot. I wanted to weigh in on the “just wait until your pregnant/giving birth comment.” I have given birth two times, both times without any pain medication and the first birth was very difficult (long labor with 3 hours of pushing). I can tell you that for me it was so, so much easier than period cramps. My second was almost born in the car because I just didn’t think things were that far along. My midwife said that’s not uncommon for people with a history of painful periods. It’s like a sucky monthly birthing class.

        1. Anonymous*

          Yep, I have a great OB/GYN and she said the same thing–that when I have kids, labor may not be that unbearable for me (although it might…). She mentioned something about contractions coming in waves, whereas my cramps never stop for a full 2.5-3 days.

          1. Anonymous*

            That’s exactly why it was so much easier for me! Intense pain every minute just doesn’t compare to constant intense pain (I’m the same Anonymous that made the comment about birth originally btw).

    5. Greg*

      Actually, what happens is that as soon as most men hear the words “period” or “menstrual”, they think “Yuck! Just agree to whatever she’s asking for so we can end this conversation.” I’m not saying that’s right, I’m just saying that’s the reality. (And yes, I’m exaggerating. But not by much.)

        1. OneoftheMichelles*

          “………so in addition to increasing my team’s productivity 15% for each of the last two quarters, I’ve noticed that ever since my Christmas Bonus my menstrual flow has gotten 20% lighter, with a 10% drop in vomiting, and lower gassiness overall. Therefore, a raise of at least 60% is cost justified….”

  9. KellyK*

    I like this advice. I also agree with the idea of being very honest with yourself about what you can get done during a telecommute day, and not asking for one if it’s not a *real* workday. If you’re in bed with a heating pad, can you get some work done, or do you end up needing to sleep?

    I do agree that it merits a little more detail with a female manager, even though it shouldn’t, because she has a frame of reference that she’s likely to compare it against, that a male manager wouldn’t. In kind of the same way that if you know your manager has some mild chronic condition that’s mostly just annoying, and you had a serious and horrible version of the same thing that required some actual accommodation, you might provide more detail.

  10. Matthew Soffen*

    What about asking when you experience the issues, that you can make up the hours during the rest of the week (if possible) ?

    Also, if you know “about” when it should start, can you work extra time before it happens, then take the day off, then work any extra time afterwards ?

    Another thing is that if your doctor writes a letter explaining that you have these issues, then I think that they would be required to accommodate you during that for an existing medical condition.

    I can understand some of this (I periodically experience a gastric issue where spend a part of the day vomiting and then as if someone turns a switch, I’m fine again (And there is no warning before it happens either).

    1. fposte*

      Just FWIW, a doctor’s note doesn’t legally require anything. If a condition is covered under ADA/ADAAA and an employee raises the issue, the workplace must participate in an interactive process to discuss accommodation, but that doesn’t mean the employee gets what she’d most like or what the doctor requests (if a doctor’s even involved).

      1. Jessa*

        It depends a lot on what the doctor asks for, whether what is asked for is covered under FMLA (intermittent leave for instance is covered, full stop.) Or whether the accommodation is reasonable. Believe me due to my medical issues I’ve become a pretty decent expert on this stuff in the US. I’ve used FMLA, intermitent FMLA, reasonable accommodations etc.

        The key on accommodation is reasonable. As long as the doctor has some sense, what they ask for is usually reasonable. They can still turn you down, but it’ll be a fight.

        FMLA on the other hand is black letter. If you qualify and have a recurring illness (I used it for asthma, which sometimes despite the best control you can exercise gets pretty bad) you can take intermittent leave. They request advance notice if you KNOW but you can also be covered for a call out.

        The issue here and I get it, is the employee is trying very hard to NOT use their sick time or holiday time. This may not be possible because even reasonable accommodation and FMLA require you to use it.

        There may NOT be a solution that preserves the leave time. And it is possible that the OP may not get paid for certain days.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          The key on accommodation is reasonable. As long as the doctor has some sense, what they ask for is usually reasonable. They can still turn you down, but it’ll be a fight.

          However, they could propose a different accommodation than the one you suggested; you can’t make them take the one you propose unless it’s the only one that works.

          (All this assumes the condition is covered under ADA, of course. If not, all bets are off.)

          1. Jessa*

            Yes they can. That’s my bias showing. I know enough about the rules that I usually…well I guide the doctor to what I need to get the work done that will cover the boss trying to give it to me. Between voc rehab and my doctors and my former experience as a special education teacher, I normally go in with something I already KNOW classes as reasonable with all the necessary documentation in hand.

            So yeh I’m totally showing my bias here.

        2. fposte*

          My point was that a doctor’s note has no force in law generally. If she were eligible for FMLA, which she isn’t yet, her employer would be allowed to require a doctor’s certification, but that doesn’t mean they have to do exactly what the doctor says then either (I’m not sure what you mean by “intermittent leave is covered, full stop”–there are qualifications that need to be met for FMLA whether it’s intermittent or not). It’s possible that her situation would fall under ADA/ADAAA, but as you note, that requires “reasonable accommodation,” so the workplace gets the say on whether an accommodation is reasonable or not no matter what the doctor thinks.

          I agree that she’s trying to make this work without sick days (though most workplaces will require you to burn through them for FMLA anyway). One of my concerns, in fact, was that the limited sick days seemed to be driving her request more than any thought to how she’d be getting the work done at home.

          1. Jessa*

            What I meant is that if you meet FMLA guidelines they cannot refuse to give you intermittent leave for a recurring condition. I shorthanded the “you meet the FMLA requirement,” as presumed as having happened, because you have to do that to get FMLA, your company has to be big enough, you’ve had to have worked the amount of hours, etc.

            But if FLMA applies to you, it’s been generally found that a condition that lays you up such that you cannot legitimately work is considered “serious” under the rules. And that’s really the only place someone could have an issue. And in that case that’s an issue for the doctor to prove, it’s generally understood that the doctor’s letters are going to be sufficient.

            The issue with the OP is that you cannot simultaneously say something is FMLA qualifiable and then try to get telework out of it. Either you can work or you can’t.

            And that’s where I’d have the issue in terms of personnel management. If you can work from home great. But if you CANNOT work then, that’s different. But you can’t run both choices up the proverbial flagpole. It really is one or the other. If we had telework I might let someone try once to see if they were able to be productive, but after that, either they can work or they can’t.

            1. fposte*

              Right. Once you qualify for FMLA you qualify–it’s just that the OP currently doesn’t.

              But I think it doesn’t always have to be either/or–as I noted above, I have a both/and without even getting to federal law, and some people who are engaged in both FMLA/ADAAA practices do have combinations of intermittent FMLA and work at home. What’s key here is what the OP does and what her workplace needs, and that’s knowledge we don’t have and aren’t equipped to judge.

              1. LW/OP*

                Fposte and Jessa: I hope I do not come across as defensive and uninterested in what you all are saying. Please know that I am reading your comments with an open mind. But I want to address the comments about my post being about the limited sick time more than any thought to how I would get my work done from home.

                In my experience, there are times when I can do things as long as I am in the bed or near a bathroom. In this case, I would like to telecommute. There are times when I can do absolutely NOTHING but hope that I can sleep the pain off. I would definitely report that as a sick day. I am really concerned about how to share this with my manager so that she knows this is a legitimate condition. Being that it is so personal, and all the stereotypes surrounding the issue, it is hard for me to discuss. I wanted the most professional way possible to discuss this with my manager. And I thought of working from home as a solution for when I could work through the pain. I should have been more clear in my original post. I recognize it is very difficult for others to respond and offer advice without all the details. I am really thankful for all advice and comments everyone has given. Thank you!

    2. LW/OP*

      Matthew: Thank you! I think your suggestion of asking to work before/after to make up the time is a very good one. If my boss allows, I could definitely work on the weekends to catch up or stay later the week before my cycle starts to cover the day.

  11. PJ*

    I suffered through this as a young woman myself. I counted myself lucky if my cramps started on a weekend so I wouldn’t have to miss a day of work. I was in pain every month, but some months were worse than others. During the worst of it I would lie on the bathroom floor praying for unconsciousness. Working from home was clearly not an option during those times. Other months I could have worked from home, but also those months I was capable of dragging myself into the office and at least providing face time.

    I’m very sorry you are experiencing this, and I hope that time will make this go away, as it did for me. By my late 20’s Tylenol and a hot pad were enough to get me through.

    In the meantime, see if you qualify for intermittent FMLA. Visit HR for the forms and take them to your doctor. You may not qualify if you are too new in your job, but it’s worth a try. Once you do, it will give you some peace of mind on those days when you just can’t function.

    Good luck to you!

    1. twentymilehike*

      I counted myself lucky if my cramps started on a weekend so I wouldn’t have to miss a day of work.

      Ah, I’m not the only one!!! I thought that mine would get better with age, also, but unfortunately they didn’t :(
      I mentioned upstream that one of my doctors finally found something that works for me (Ponstel), but so people know about it. I swear I sound like an advertisement, but I cannot begin to say how much it helps, and how much I wish more doctors would talk about it.

    2. LW/OP*

      OMG! I thought I was the only one. I, too, have laid on the bathroom floor hoping for unconsciousness and also more recently hoped that my period starts on a Saturday/Sunday so it wouldn’t be a workday. I will look into FMLA. Thank you so much!

  12. Anonymous*

    A bit OT, but I envy those who’s pain has gone away with age. Mine has only gotten worse with time–terrible, debilitating pain from my very first time in my early teens to now, but even worse, in my 40s. *sigh*

    1. Jenna*

      My problems went away with a hysterectomy.

      The pill helped, believe me. It was less severe on the pill than without, and I could at least adjust the day it arrived so that it was on a weekend. THAT helped a great deal.

      Getting the hysterectomy, while also not a solution for everyone, was possibly the best present I have ever given myself. I did have a male friend question whether I needed it, because he had read that it was over prescribed, and I laughed at him. Maybe I should have been more respectful, since he was concerned for me, but, I had been asking for a hysterectomy for a couple years and only managed to get it when I changed doctors. My female friends all understand why I wanted it.
      (note: I am in my 40’s and wasn’t interested in getting pregnant, ever. )

    2. Crampy McCramps*

      Same here! I always thought it would get better as I got older, but now that I’m 45, things are worse than ever. Now, in addition to the godawful pain, I often get what I call a “period flu”- the first day, I get chills, fever, and body aches- just like it feels when I have the flu. It’s awful!! Oddly enough, the “flu” only lasts the first day. Damn, why does something so “natural” have to be so terrible??

  13. Denise*

    I think that she should get a letter from her doctor explaining the severity of the issue. It doesn’t compel the employer to accommodate her request, but it does provide an objective basis for her request. She might not offer the letter immediately, but mention that she has it in her conversation with the boss. “I tend to have severe cramping…[this and that, such and such]…My doctor has written a letter explaining the situation if you’d like to see it.” But mentioning the letter could make it seem like she’s demanding that she be granted her request. I don’t see that it matters, though; if she is that incapacitated on those days, it is what it is.

  14. SarasWhimsy*

    Good luck OP! I can sympathize, I have endometriosis – and have had the surgery (didn’t do enough to make it worth it) – and PCOS. I take metformin (originally intended for diabetese treatment) every day, twice a day, and elavil every night to help with the pain I’m in a few days a month. I’m lucky to have a boss who understands that this isn’t an every month thing for me, it’s more like every 2nd or 3rd month and if I need to be late or not come in, it’s only for pain management.
    Many comments have been about how the OP would work if she needs to sleep. If she’s anything like me, she takes the meds she needs and goes to sleep for an hour or 2 to let them kick in. Then she might be fine or might need more treatment. Like sitting on a heating pad, or having a bucket next to her – just in case – and very comfortable clothes. It’s certainly something that can be handled while at home and still work, but it’s not something you really want to take into the office.
    I hope your manager is understanding about this!

    1. Just a Reader*

      I have endometriosis and PCOS too, and it took me 7 years to get pregnant–which is another reason I’m advocating for a new doctor or at least a second opinion.

      1. theotherjennifer*

        I would also advocate for a female doctor…a female who knows what cramps are like and how the OP may be feeling. No disrespect to her male doc who can’t find anything wrong with her but maybe a woman would have some additional insight.

        1. Your Mileage May Vary*

          Ha! A female gynecologist once told me that my cramps couldn’t be that bad — it was all in my head. If I didn’t think about them, I wouldn’t notice them.

    2. LW/OP*

      SarasWhimsy: I am so sorry to hear about your endo. Yes, I am like you. Sometimes I can take my medicine, go to sleep for a while and wake up and function. Sometimes I cannot :( Thank you so much!

      theotherjennifer: I have had a female doctor. One who was of the mind of “grin and bear it.” I have no bias against either gender GYN. My current GYN happens to be a male and he takes me very seriously when I discuss the issue. But it is always worth getting another opinion.

      Your Mileage May Vary: I have heard that as well. Or the classic “once you get up and get to moving, you will feel better.” Yeah, right.

  15. Bryan*

    As a male IT manager, that has several women reporting to me, I have no issues if either of them come to me and share their matter just as Alison described it. I respect the potential for awkwardness on the woman’s side of the chat, however at the end we are all adults and I would like to think that most other male managers would act the same way.

    As far as the telework day, I’m not so sure I would approve that, or “run it up the chain”. We have separate sick and vacation time, not bundled PTO, and I would encourage their use of that. If you are in too much pain to get work done in the office, it’s best you just stay home and relax.

  16. Trixie*

    You have my sympathies as well…I used to have unusually painful and heavy periods, and had to try 3 birth controls to get one that worked. Loestrin 24 has been such a miracle. I don’t get any periods usually (common “side effect”) and when I do, it is just a little spotting (TMI?).

    This being said, I think you absolutely can work from home on this day. Lying in bed with a laptop and heating pad, and with quick bathroom access, is wayyyy better than sitting at work for 8+ hours, plus worrying about a commute.

    Just talk to your boss about your situation! Most likely, she’ll be understanding.

  17. Sarah*

    I share others’ concerns that this might need to be a sick day and not a telecommute day, but I trust the OP to know whether that is the case.

    I’m not a doctor, but I used to have similar symptoms and the doctors also couldn’t find anything wrong with me, but birth control pills solved the issue. Eventually, like another commenter above, age seems to have solved the issue on its own (that was in college; I’m now 26) and I am no longer on BC. I know there are a slew of reasons she may not want to go down that road (religious, etc), I would certainly encourage her to at LEAST get a few more doctors’ opinions since it is affecting her life so drastically.

  18. 7*

    If she normally sleeps during that day for relief, how much work would she reasonably be able to finish (in the even that the pain gets too bad to work through)? My boss doesn’t mind us teleworking if we’re under the weather. She did say that if we felt really bad (flu….etc.) that she would rather us take off than try to work while in pain.

  19. TL*

    OP, I don’t know what all you’ve tried with your doctor – but I would recommend just not having a period anymore (or getting it down to no more than a few times/yr) if you haven’t already and hormonal birth control works for you.

    Also, all birth control except NuevaRing and maybe Depo-the shot – is completely covered by your insurance now, if you have it, so you can look into long-term things Mirena-IUD as well as things that aren’t the shot. You can use monthly bc and just skip the off week, too- or at least I have. (Sorry if you’ve already know/discussed this to death, but a surprising amount of people don’t know these things!)

    I feel for you. I had horrible cramps from 11-14 until I got on birth control – had an ovarian cyst burst – and then they came back on birth control, so I just made it my goal in life to have as few periods as possible, which is working pretty well for me. And it’s cheaper, too.

    1. Anonymous*

      Seconded (you beat me to it – my comment’s down below). My life is SO much better since I decided to have my period only a few times a year.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        Me too. Highly, highly recommended. With most pills, you can just skip the last week of the package and never get your period (until you decide to allow it a couple of times a year, which apparently you’re supposed to do). I used to think I was gaming the system by doing this (and took a weird delight in that fact), but then I discovered that my doctor approved of it.

        1. Jessa*

          And most insurance companies allow you to renew a week early so you are kind of getting an extra pack a year, but you can pull this off with regular pills without getting something fancy that might raise your copay.

          1. Ask a Manager* Post author

            Yes! And actually, once I told my doctor what I was doing, she agreed to write my prescription differently so I’d get an extra pack — so now a 3-month prescription is actually 4 packs of pills. Which allows you to do this without cutting it close, supply-wise.

            1. Meg*

              Lucky. My doc was very familiar with my insurance company and they only approved 3 packs per refill :(

    2. AL Lo*

      I second the recommendation for the Mirena. Since having my IUD put in, I’ve gone down to virtually no period at all — just some light spotting. I didn’t have bad cramps before, so I can’t speak to how it would help with that, but if reducing/eliminating periods would help to alleviate your cramps, it might be worth looking into (and as TL said, if you’ve already discussed this to death, I apologize for reiterating advice!).

      1. RG*

        Just be aware that some people have the complete opposite reaction to IUDs – heavier cycles and more severe cramping.

        The science with the IUD is about preventing implantation, where as BCPs adjust the hormones in your body to prevent ovulation and the building/shedding of lining.

        1. AL Lo*

          My understanding is that the Paragard (copper, no-hormone IUD) typically causes heavier cycles and cramping, and the Mirena (hormonal IUD) typically causes lighter/no periods. Obviously a question to take up with a doctor, but virtually all the anecdotal evidence I’m aware of splits the reactions down the middle between the two types of IUD.

          1. Ash*

            This is correct. I did a ton of research, both via my doctor and personal searching, regarding the differences and the IUD that has the most “issues” related to severe cramping and heavier periods was Paragard; Mirena does not have those problems (at least not to a statistically significant degree).

            1. M*

              I sympathize with the OP – I have always had heavy, heavy periods beginning in high school and sometimes the cramps are unbearable. I hope you get some relief soon. My first OB/GYN recommended BC, which helped, and a later OB/GYN recommended not taking the inactive pills every other month (which helped even more).

              Regarding Mirena, it was a LOT more painful upon insertion than I was originally led to believe (“Oh you’ll experience *some* cramping” was really OH GOD IT HURTS and I almost passed out from the pain) and my doctor didn’t mention that I would potentially bleed with cramps with maybe a week total break for 2-3 months after insertion (luckily mostly spotting but annoying enough to mention). I have spoken to other women with IUDs and they mentioned the incessant bleeding at first as well (one friend had a sister whose bleeding went on for almost a year!). That being said, I’m actually fairly happy with it (it was free with hubby’s insurance, whoo!), and the bleeding has stopped.

              1. Ash*

                Your experience in completely different from mine (of course). I had some pretty bad cramping for about 2-3 days after installation, some minor spotting, and nothing since. It’s been awesome!

                1. AL Lo*

                  My experience was very similar to Ash’s. I was glad to have the rest of that day off work, and I had some cramping for a couple of days; after that, I spotted for a few days, and then had a heavier discharge than usual for about 6 weeks after that. By the time I was about 2 months out, I was down to just minor spotting around the time that my period would be due.

              2. Dana*

                Usually the IUD’s are more painful at insertion if you have not had children. I’ve had the Mirena for the last 15 years and LOVE it. Insertion for me was uncomfortable but not painful. My friend had one before she had children and she had the experience you mentioned above and ended up getting a local to finish the procedure. If you have not had children I’d suggest asking for that.

              3. KellyK*

                In addition to the possibility of it being horribly painful, it may not be even possible to insert if you haven’t had kids. I had a similar experience to what you describe (“a little cramping,” my foot!)except the doctor couldn’t get it in at all, and after a couple tries had to give up.

      2. COT*

        Mirena eliminated my cramps, too. Mine weren’t as severe as some of yours here; I had to take a sick day about once a year and occasionally experienced vomiting, passing out, etc. But Mirena’s made my periods really light and infrequent, and I don’t experience cramps when they do come.

      3. Esra*

        Another vote here for Mirena. I had the same issues as OP where I was burning through my sick days for cramps and after a year with the iud, I only get light cramping now.

        Insertion is painful, but if you find a good doctor, they’ll prescribe you something to take beforehand that will help.

    3. Carin*

      I developed this problem in my late 20s and it was fibroid tumors which the doctors initially didn’t think it was since I have zero of the risk factors. Since then I’ve taken continuous-use pills and not had a period for 10+ years now which is the awesomest thing ever. You don’t have to have it even 3-4 times per year and with exceptions, you don’t even have to be on one of the pills designed for it. Most will work just fine, just check w your doctor.

    4. Anonymous*

      Also, all birth control except NuevaRing and maybe Depo-the shot – is completely covered by your insurance now…

      No. Not all birth controls are completely covered. I have seen women shell out for co-pays in 2013 on these sorts of medicines (the once-a-day regimens). I do not know all of the ins and outs of everyone’s prescription insurances, but I have seen co-pays. Source: I work in a pharmacy.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        My understanding is that a long list of BC pills, but not all of them, are fully covered (meaning zero copay). So you have to be willing to take one on the fully-covered list in order to pay $0.

        1. Jessa*

          Honestly, if you’re in a job where there’s a coverage issue, ask your gyn for samples. I know that back in the copay days I never had an issue getting them from her.

          1. Natalie*

            It might also be worth asking your doctor to justify the not-covered pills to the insurance company, or whatever the industry-specific term is. I was once prescribed an extended release anti-depressant that wasn’t covered and would have cost me $200 a month. My doctor essentially told my insurance company that the generic they were suggesting wouldn’t cut it, so they agreed to cover the other one for a slightly higher copay than normal.

            1. Anonymous*

              Or if you work at one the places that won’t cover birth control for religious reasons, you can often get an exemption for health reasons and still have it covered by your employer’s insurance (and I hope my employer loses that case).

      2. fposte*

        All FDA-approved birth control is supposed to be covered, and the FDA covers a lot, so I’m not sure why you’re seeing what you’re seeing.

        1. Anonymous*

          There are so many BC pills out there that the insurance companies might have the “wiggle” room to say which ones they will cover and which ones they will not. It’s ridiculous how there are generics for generics and multiple generics for one brand.

          Luckily mine is 100% covered. However, my premium also went up. So I don’t know if these women had increases in in premiums or not.

          1. fposte*

            Yeah, I think Alison’s take sounded like an accurate summary (and Natalie had a good point about pushing the insurance company–often all it takes is a request).

        2. km*

          I believe the change in coverage is tied to when your health care plan year begins. The provision took effect in August of last year, but folks on a calendar year health care plan didn’t see the change in coverage until January of this year. If someone had a July — June health care plan year, they wouldn’t see the change until July of this year.

          1. E*

            I’m on NuvaRing and have no copay as of this year, which is awesome, although depending on your insurance plan YMMV.

  20. GeekChic*

    I actually wouldn’t share any more information about this issue with a woman than a man – and I didn’t when I had this problem in the past. I generally found that men were *far* more sympathetic about the issue than women. Like Mrs. Addams said earlier, women generally assumed that I was just being a baby and that their experience of cramps was true for everyone and I couldn’t possibly be experiencing something different.

    Now that I think about it, people tend to do that in general. Assume that their experience is true for everyone and dismiss anything that is different.

    Good luck to the OP. I solved the issue with medication (Anaprox) and then surgery – though the surgery wouldn’t be an option if you want children.

  21. Anonymous*

    OP, I sympathize. I haven’t been diagnosed with anything, but I have extremely painful (usually the first or second day), very long and heavy periods. When I was in school I definitely skipped class days because of it.

    Then I went on birth control so that I only get periods every 3 months. OP, you mentioned birth control, but were you on it regularly, or continuously? If you only took it normally, I would look into that, because if you can’t work while at home, taking 1 actual sick day every 3 months for painful periods is much better than taking 1 every month.

    1. Judy*

      I also would say that when I was on BC, back in the days the dinosaurs roamed the earth, I at least was able to time my periods. I had bad but not horrible cramping in my 20’s, and it was comforting to have them on a Saturday when I could stay in my cozy jammies. I wouldn’t have missed work because of them, except maybe once a year, but I would have been fairly uncomfortable at work.

      I never understood the package advertising to never have your period on the weekend. I liked being able to plan to just have a down day on those Saturdays.

      1. Laura L*

        “I never understood the package advertising to never have your period on the weekend.”

        I always assumed that the manufacturers thought women were more likely to have sex on the weekend than on a weekday. :-)

  22. Anonymous*

    I don’t know how OP feels about this, but I wonder about all the health advice on here. I don’t know that this is appropriate or even welcomed. OP has already mentioned she tried BC and other things, but the point of the post is to get advice on a work situation, not on her health situation. I could be speaking from personal bias, as I find unsolicited health advice very off-putting. Maybe OP doesn’t mind, but I think what may be more helpful is to offer work related perspectives/advice.

    1. Just a Reader*

      I think if you’re posting about your period in graphic detail you can expect some health advice.

      The point behind my advice was to try harder to solve the health issue so it wouldn’t be a problem at work.

      Which is close to what I would tell an employee with an undiagnosed condition.

      1. Anonymous*

        I disagree. That wasn’t the question (plus her description wasn’t particularly graphic, although follow up posts’ were–but that doesn’t bother me).

        There are a lot of personal, private, and medical reasons surrounding one’s ability to use BC, and depending on where the OP is on those issues, it can be very off putting (as most unsolicited health advice can be for a lot of people). Maybe the OP is fine with it, but I wouldn’t assume it. She’s asking on a work forum, not a health forum.

        1. Just a Reader*

          Again–she needs to solve the issue to be reliable at work. I think a lot of people are posting helpful suggestions about how to do that.

          I also don’t think it’s kosher to tell other people how or what to post, FTR. LW can take or leave any advice she gets.

          1. Anonymous*

            Pointing out one doesn’t have all the facts and that giving unsolicited medical advice is often off-putting is pretty straight forward and common sense.

            But agree that it isn’t kosher to tell other people what to post, so perhaps you can consider your own statement.

      2. fposte*

        I’m fine with the discussion here, but I’d actually be very leery of instructing an employee to “try harder to solve the health problem” in a face-to-face situation. That suggests that I don’t think the employee has tried hard enough, which isn’t my call to make. I’d lay out what we can offer to accommodate the situation, but I think commenting on the employee’s handling of it is out of bounds.

      3. LW/OP*

        I do not find my description to be graphic. I am sorry if it offended you in any way. I am trying my best to solve this issue as I do not want to be in pain every month. I would very much like to work and do my job as much as I can. I don’t want special accommodations made for me if I can help it. I was wondering about how to talk to my boss about this and what is appropriate.

    2. mollsbot*

      Thank you! We don’t know her relationship with her doctor or her treatment plans.

      1. Anonymous*

        Exactly. I think it’s fine and great even that posters are helping each other, but telling the OP she needs a new doctor is really stringent and inappropriate.

          1. Anonymous*

            Nobody is bashing, but you’re getting really defensive. It’s not bashing to disagree.

            1. Just a Reader*

              I think it is bashing to harp on the issue, and call someone’s advice “stringent and inappropriate.”

              One more time for the work related commentary you keep ignoring–the OP needs to fix the issue or try her best. Calling out sick once a month due to a period isn’t feasible and is very likely to hold her back. I certainly wouldn’t invest in someone who called out sick like clockwork for an undiagnosed, untreated issue unless the work absolutely blew my mind.

              This is different for someone with a diagnosis, IMO, because there are documented ways to work around the issue. My sister has ulcerative colitis and can work on a flexible schedule or work at home when she has a flareup, as backed up by her doctor. Her boss knows what to expect and that she’ll be as available as possible.

              1. Anonymous*

                The only poster who keeps harping on this is you. Significantly, I wasn’t singling you out in my posts, but expressing my own opinion on the topic generally (as we do on this comment section). You don’t need to agree but you might consider why you think it’s all directed towards you.

                Please stop responding to me if you don’t like the content of my posts. AAM has already responded with additional information.

              2. LW/OP*

                I am not trying to bash you and I’m not trying to be defensive. But I work very hard at my job and consider myself to have a good work ethic. As I stated above, I wanted a way to talk to my boss about this and figure out what is appropriate to share. I am on my third GYN who finally prescribed medication to me after my previous attempts with other methods, so I very much so think that I am working to find a solution. I could give you and my boss a list of methods that I have tried to correct this situation. As of now, my GYN has not find any specific diagnosis that causes the pain. That doesn’t mean that it is not there.

                I am very aware of how it looks to constantly call out sick. That was one of the concerns in my letter. I am happy that posters have been very supportive and have offered many suggestions of what to do. But I disagree with your comment about working harder to find a solution. I have been suffering with this since starting my period and feel that I am doing everything I can to find a remedy. As many of the other posters have chimed in that they suffer as well, my condition may very well be common and not a specific condition. You mentioned surgery before but as I stated above, surgery is not an option for me at this time and I’m not going to get into that. Thank you for reading and commenting.

    3. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Actually, I think the OP does welcome it; she included a P.S. with her letter saying, “P.S. And if you have any suggestions I haven’t tried for combating the pain, please pass that along too!” (Which I didn’t include because it wasn’t the point of her letter or anything I intended to get into in my answer, but I certainly don’t have a problem with the conversation spontaneously going there, because it’s relevant in this case.) But even if she hadn’t, I don’t have a problem with this because she can ignore what’s not helpful to her, and it might be helpful to others reading.

      I also don’t think it’s kosher to tell other people how or what to post, FTR. LW can take or leave any advice she gets.

      I agree. I appreciate that this comment section tends to self-police when something is really out of bounds, but otherwise I’d rather reserve the right to moderate to myself :)

      1. Anonymous*

        Thank you AAM, this was not submitted originally. It helps to know this, otherwise health advice is fairly touchy territory.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          But my point is that even if the OP hadn’t said that, this conversation would be fine. It’s a natural extension of the topic, and the OP can take or leave anything said here.

          I will step in if I feel a conversation is going out of bounds, but I don’t have a problem with this one.

    4. Jessa*

      I think the health advice and discussion is not just for the OP, sharing information like this amongst ourselves also gives OTHERS in the group the information. And in a way for the men who don’t have periods this is information that will help them understand or might help the persons with periods in their lives too.

      1. jesicka309*

        EXACTLY. I’m not in the OP’s position, but I am reading everyone’s advice, and thinking I might pass some of it onto my baby sister. And new readers going through the archives might appreciate advice on balancing periods and work too.

    5. LW/OP*

      Thank you, Anonymous! I am okay with the discussion here. I actually expected this might not end well but everyone seems to be fairly respectable and understanding. I am very thankful for the different perspectives and that people took out the time to read and comment.

  23. Joey*

    I’m not sure that telecommuting would actually do anything to lessen the pain to the point that she could work. I would recommend asking for an alternate work schedule while you get the medical issues figured out. I dont know if you did this already with your current boss, but its frequently a whole lot easier to work with this type of request when there’s an expected end date in sight. And depending on the specifics of you situation they might be obligated to accommodate you under ADA.

  24. Ash*

    I know it’s been mentioned already, but I really want to second (or third or fourth) the suggestion for an IUD. I have Mirena and it has been amazing. I had really bad cramps, heavy bleeding, and weird cycles before I got on birth control, and even then my periods could get bad. Switching to Mirena was one of the best decisions I’ve made; no more planning vacations around my period, no more worrying about forgetting to take the pill on time, etc. I strongly recommend this to every woman who can use it.

  25. K-Anon*

    I’ve had female employees get awkward around me in talking about lady stuff. Once I catch on to the topic I kindly let them know that I have 9 sisters and they aren’t likely to me anything I haven’t heard around the dinner-table at some point. My point being simply that most men have mothers, sisters, wives and the topic shouldn’t be that weird to them. That said, I also tell them I don’t need the details and they don’t have to tell me anything they aren’t comfortable with.

    This would be a difficult one for me though… I’m not a fan of WFH for my team, we get a lot of benefit to them being in the office and more accessible. If the person’s a good employee I’d probably approve it though, with the caveat that we’d regroup on the topic every once in a while. The most awkward part is that I like to be able to plan team stuff and knowing where people are is important… the absolute last thing I’d want to do is feel like I’m tracking her cycle…

    In other words, just ask like AAM said. most managers want to keep employees happy and engaged.

  26. bearing*

    How about meeting with the boss and explaining that you have a chronic illness that because of “flare-ups” predictably makes it difficult for you to work in the office, approximately X days out of every Y (you supply the number). You could mention that you are working with a doctor to try to resolve the problem and in the meantime you want guidance about what the best way of accounting for the hours are: to plan to take a sick day, to plan to take a telework day, or some other arrangement. Could you say something like “I don’t know how much detail you need about the nature of my illness” and then offer to follow up with the level of detail that she requires, including a doctor’s note if necessary. I would want to set this conversation up so that I’m prepared to tell exactly what needs to be told and no more, which necessarily means finding out in advance what needs to be told.

    Or maybe sending a message along the lines of, “I need to meet with you soon because of a health issue I have been having, which I expect might cause me either to miss a day of work from time to time or to plan to work from home. I want to know how best to account for my time if and when that happens. How much detail will you want to know about my condition? Should I bring a note from my doctor?”

    BTW there’s a word for when your menstrual symptoms are severe enough to interfere with daily life. It’s “dysmenorrhea.” Use it; it’s much better than “I get painful periods.” (Don’t we all, dearie?)

    1. Just a Reader*

      I like this advice a lot, with the caveat that LW is actually working on a resolution.

      I had an issue with chronic sinus infections early in my career, missing work and not feeling good while I was there, and my boss finally sat me down, told me my performance and attendance were suffering and to get this resolved ASAP. She then proceeded to give me absolutely zero crap for taking time off for doctor’s appointments to fix the issue–and there were a lot. I finally got it resolved and she never said another word about it.

      THAT is a good manager.

      1. Cat*

        Sort of, but the caveat here is that not every health problem is resolvable, and some are resolvable but only at a cost that an individual might not be willing to pay, and that’s not the boss’s call. All your manager can decide is whether you can do the job; that is her call.

    2. Rana*

      “It’s “dysmenorrhea.” Use it; it’s much better than “I get painful periods.” (Don’t we all, dearie?)”

      I was thinking something similar. “Cramps” is too vague a term – it runs the gamut from a vague “Ow” to the sort of debilitating condition the OP describes. Cramps alone would not – to me – be enough to warrant staying home, without further qualifiers explaining the severe nature of said “cramps.” If the OP doesn’t want to go into detail, a different word would be more effective in getting the results she wants.

  27. Anon*

    I’ve had this most of my life (well…). It’s called severe dysmenorrhea. It has gotten much better as I’ve gotten older (I’ve stopped passing out), but the only way I’ve been able to cope is birth control. I took a non cyclic BCP and 3 days before the placebo I’d start taking NSAID’s and muscle relaxants (years ago also Ultram). I also had the option of skipping the placebo week and just starting a new pack and skipping my period all together. I did also try Depo Provera. I was not a fan of Depo but it worked too. Good luck, it sucks.

    Also, those little heating pads you can stick in your pants are amazing. I thought everyone knew about them & then I found a friend that didn’t. Changed my life!

  28. Malissa*

    Prescription strength (800mg) Ibuprofen is the best thing ever for cramps.
    That said, I could totally see working from bed with the lap-top as a heating pad as a very viable solution for this. There is little harm in asking.

  29. Josh S*

    As a guy who has watched his wife give birth, I can say that I’ve got no more squeamishness left in me about anything having to do with the menstrual cycle or female reproductive system in general. (Really, after high school I was pretty much over the ‘ick’ factor…everything since then has just been a matter of becoming more acclimated to the real-life consequences of the biological facts.) I think that, by and large, most male bosses wouldn’t have much problem with hearing about the issue.

    That said, men might not need to hear all the details that cause a case like the OPs to be worse than normal. Simply hearing, “My cramps are unusually bad and telecommute, etc etc etc” would probably be sufficient.

    So basically, Alison is pretty spot-on.

    1. fposte*

      I think that this is one of those situations where sitcoms affect our understanding, kind of like romcoms and romance. What sitcom guys do is generally very different from what flesh and blood guys do; in real life, most people grasp pretty well that people have bodily functions and some of those functions aren’t like their own.

      1. Liz T*

        I think this truth is epitomized by the fact that there’s now a sitcom called “Guys With Kids.”

        Guys??? With KIDS?!?!

        1. Natalie*

          What will they think of next!

          In all seriousness, I’ve never met a guy over the age of about 20 that was freaked out by periods. I presume any adolescent weirdness dissipates once you’ve spent enough time with a female roommate or sexual partner.

      2. Sophie*

        Actually I have had two ex-boyfriends who couldn’t hanlde the conversation. One completely freaked at even the mention of periods and tampons. He once saw a tampon in the bathroom and jumped and screamed. The other thought periods just thought periods were really gross.

        1. Sophie*

          I should add that I know most guys don’t react this way – but I suspect the stereotype in sitcoms may have come from people like my exboyfriends!

        2. OneoftheMichelles*

          Yup. I think it’s pretty irritatingly stupid for anyone over 21 to get freaked out by period talk/issues, but I’ve dated two divorced men (One had TWO KIDS for crying out loud!) who did the Icky-Twitchy dance if I mentioned periods.

        3. Josh S*

          IMO, that’s immediate reason to break up. Any guy that immature about natural regular bodily function is unlikely to be able to handle relationship challenges…

  30. VictoriaHR*

    I’m jealous – I’m not allowed to work from home. I joined a 10-person team in December and everyone but me has a laptop – I only have a desktop. And my manager (who is offsite and communicates via web conferencing) specifically told me that I do not need a laptop and I should be in the office.

  31. Anonymous for this*

    Just wanted to chime in that I also suffered from debilitating menstrual cramps with vomitting, chills, etc. I even fainted a few times from blood loss. My cycles were really irregular too so I could never really predict when it would happen or try to preempt symptoms with medication.

    However, I was diagnosed with hypothyroidism years later and with proper medication I no longer have severe symptoms. This was never suggested by my OBGYN or Endocrinologist as a reason for terrible periods, although my own experience plus reading medical research has made the connection for me.

    Hypothyroidism is something that can easily be tested for with a simple blood test. Worth asking for if you haven’t been tested already.

    1. Windchime*

      I fainted a few times from blood loss as a teenager, too, and was once hospitalized for transfusions. I finally ended up having a hysterectomy because there was nothing (at the time) that seemed to control it. Now I wish I had just gone to another OBGYN, because the BC pill thing would have worked out great. He just wouldn’t prescribe them because I was “too old” (35 at the time).

  32. kjg*

    Re: the health aspect, I haven’t experienced the degree of pain you (OP) experience, but have found that regular (most days, vigorous) exercise is the #1 thing that makes any PMS symptoms non-existent. Have you tried belly dancing? It works your core and pelvic floor muscles tremendously.

    I wish you good health, and I hope you find relief.

  33. Anonymous*

    Maybe instead of a work from home situation, can you ask your manager to adjust your schedule for just that week, and work 4 10-hour days instead of 8?

    Yes I second, third, or whatever not just seeing an ob/gyn but also and endocrinologist. Also if you are sure you never want children, don’t let your doctor tell you that a hysterectomy (or rather an oophorectomy and a hysterectomy) is not an option because you might “change your mind” (and even then there are options including freezing eggs and adoption). That are major side effects, including instant menopause, but it should be up to you to decide what you want after weighing the options, and not letting the ob/gyn make that decision because they know “better”. I have a relative, and because of severe endometriosis would have never have been able to have children, and she suffered for decades because she might “change her mind”. It eventually got to be life-threatening, and then she had the hysterectomy.

  34. A*

    In all seriousness – I recommend looking into birth control that limits your periods to once every three months. I suffer from similar symptoms – the first day of my cycle is unbearable. I get physically ill and debilitated by it. I started taking a generic brand birth control that limits my periods to 4 times a year, and I can’t even tell you how much it has improved my quality of life. I don’t feel bad taking one day off every three months, and often dont have to because the symptoms are drastically decreased.

    Initially I was freaked out by the idea because I try and lead a very natural life, and somehow the idea of a pill changing my menstrual cycle didnt sit well with me. But I realized that even more important than that was the fact that this issue was causing problems in all facets of my life. I went for it, and I’ve never regretted the decision.

    I only bring this up since the OP mentioned she tried birth control, so I am assuming she does not have any moral or religious aversions to it.

  35. OneoftheMichelles*

    Sorry, I won’t have time to read others’ input until after work tonight, but I wanted to chime in soon enough that you might read this:

    Your physical symptoms could be a quote from me talking to my doctor. I passed out cold in high school with these very same symptoms, and have never had predictable start days, so I worried every month, for over a decade–through multiple PCPs, Ob/gyns, etc. Modern science doesn’t know what causes my particular pains.

    Finally, I met this smart dr., who suggested taking 1 or 2 ibuprofen whenever the period starts–Before Any Pain Begins.
    It has to be ibuprofen (blocks prostaglandin production, which leads to cramping). This has been a HUGE relief for me.

    Now, I pop 1 ibuprofen at the first sign of starting. If I start to feel pain, add another 1 or two and wait for it to kick in. Once in a while, I’ll need to go as high as 5 pills, 2x over 12 hrs, followed by a single dose around the clock ’til I’m sure the prostaglandins have quit. This is so much better than waiting until I was in agony and then taking huge doses that spaced me out and barely kept things under control.

    Maybe you’ve already tried this. Just couldn’t stay silent in case it might help. Good luck!

  36. Elise*

    I don’t think it’s one of the medication’s intended purposes, but it might be worth looking to see if you can get prescribed Nortriptyline (just a low dose, like 10mg daily). I’ve been taking that for IBS and have found that it has also drastically reduced my menstrual cramps.

    It was originally designed to be an antidepressant with a 100-200mg dose. They don’t use it for that anymore, but found that it is quite effective at treating other things and only needs a low dose. It can cause cramps in some people, but myself and others have had improvement. It is taken daily, but very inexpensive. Worth a try as it acts very different than a NSAID.

    My other suggestion would be a dietitian. I know you said you tried adjusting your diet, but I don’t know if that was just on your own. Insurances will generally cover dietitians as long as they are legit (actual Registered Dietitian or Registered Nurse). You may be sensitive to something and not know.

    I just hate to hear of someone going thru constant suffering when there might be an easy fix.

    Before my IBS was diagnosed, I was taking sick days often and couldn’t figure out what was wrong. Now, things are under control.

  37. JM*

    OP – you mentioned in your question that you have tried natural remedies. If you haven’t tried acupuncture yet, I would strongly suggest it! It can be very effective for a number of hormonal issues. Just my 2 cents. I hope you find a work solution that fits your needs!

  38. JoAnna*

    OP, I hope your boss will work with you.

    You’ve mentioned you’ve tried some natural remedies; I’m curious if you’ve ever read the book Fertility, Cycles, and Nutrition? The author discusses, in great detail, how changes in diet (for example, going gluten-free) can vastly improve symptoms such as you describe.

    Also, have you ever charted your cycles? Sometimes doing so can help you pinpoint specific problems that might be affecting your cycle and causing your troubling symptoms. Taking Charge of Your Fertility is a great resource if you want to learn more.

    Also, while using birth control to skip periods partially or altogether might help treat the symptoms you’re experiencing (although it sounds like you’ve already tried that), it’s not going to cure the underlying problem that’s causing the symptoms you’re experiencing. You may want to seek a second opinion from a practitioner of NaPro/FertilityCare technology – they’re very experienced in treating a woman’s fertility/cycle problems with solutions that involve finding and diagnosing the underlying cause and not just treating the symptoms.

    Good luck! I hope you can find a solution that works for you, medically and professionally.

  39. Maggie*

    I also had OP’s same symptoms…they began when I was just 13 years old. Taking a sick day from school was not a possibility, not with my mom. “It’s just your period.” was what she said to me. No sympathy there. Finally when I was 17 I asked our family doc if it was normal, he said I should not have had to suffer like that and had me start using Motrin. Back then it was a prescription. Worked wonders! Now I’m in my 50’s, still getting periods, but thankfully the symptoms are much less.

    I feel for you OP. I hope you get some relief.

  40. Anonymous*

    Lots of posts! I too had terrible periods, still do. Been investigated and the first OB told me nothing was wrong and to essentially suck it up. I sought a second opinion and demanded specific blood tests and diagnostic tests, and they did find the source of the symptoms. I can manage better now. So if your first OB can’t find what’s wrong, see someone else. that’s no way to live. Good luck to you…

  41. Anonymous*

    I’m on the pill and through that I can control, when I have my period. Maybe that might help? I’ve made sure that my worst days are on Saturday/Sunday, so that my work isn’t affected by the whole thing. I know that there are lots of women, who experience unpleasant side effects with the pill – but maybe it’s worth talking to your OB/Gyn about it.

  42. Katie*

    Dear OP,

    Periods suck. Try the Mirena coil, it stops them.
    Seriously though, it’s a GOD SEND. Best thing ever to happen to my lady parts

  43. Another sufferer of painful periods*

    First of all, I must say, I feel your pain.
    I have suffered from extremely painful periods ever since my first one. I’ve taken many sick days, I also had times when I had to go through it at work, and everybody had to notice or find out just because of all the pain that I was in.
    I am also glad that this forum already started focusing on diet and not on medications.
    Most of human sickness comes from inflammation in the body, so, instead of looking for anti-inflammatory medication, try eating an anti-inflammatory diet.
    It took me over 10 years to get a proper diagnosis for Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS), and a few more years to understand that, since it is linked to insulin resistance, then a healthy and carb-free diet was the best medication I could have. I don’t know what your condition is, but so many human conditions can be improved or even solved by getting rid of sugars, simple carbs and processed foods.
    I got into the Paleolitic Diet (“Paleo”) in January. Since February I haven’t had any PMS, and my periods got short and and painless. Not to mention that I’ve lost 15 pounds naturally, for the first time in decades, with moderate exercise and drinking lots of water and green tea. Beats the medications by knock-out! I now have been able to even do light cardio on my period days, I would never thought it could be possible. Eating natural foods improve so many things, including your brain function, sleep habits, energy levels throughout the day, it is truly amazing.
    Research all you can, join PCOS groups on the internet, read about Paleo, learn all you can and see what relates to you. In the Dr. Oz site there is a section for Paleo, check the videos, get books at the library. Information will be your best friend.
    Wishing you all the best,
    A sister who is no longer in pain.

  44. evr*

    My period is very much like yours. Typically I overdose on tylenol (taking as many as 8 tylenol within 2-3 hours of the onset of the cramps), and it does knock me out for a couple hours. I have very strong feelings about this. #1 – It is not your fault, so why should you be penalized for it? #2 – If you are at home TRYING to work, then that counts as work, because you are getting something* done, and the fact of the matter is, every day there are healthy people at offices who get nothing done at all. Being at the desk shouldn’t be what counts. Even when you’re feeling sick, the work gets done one way or another, even if it happens slowly, later, the next day, whatever. #3 I work in digital media and so it’s been easy to just say “I’m not feeling well and so I am working from home” and there was no explanation needed. However, I understand some jobs/workplaces make it me crucial to specifically talk to your boss about this. This is how I would approach it: I would explain that this is a severe medical condition. Your doctors have been trying to get to the bottom of it, but haven’t yet, and so you are still dealing with debilitating pain each month. You are able to function online, from the bed at home, but it’s too painful to walk around and get all the way to and office, and be forced to sit uncomfortably at a desk on those days. Overall, do what works for you. The main thing I want to stress to you though is that you should not view this as “abuse” of the system. The employment system is designed to abuse us. It ignores the fact that millions of us have health issues that go beyond making us feel bad for just “5 sick days a year.” Yet we are at risk of being ostracized, looked at as silly or dramatic, or even losing our jobs when the boss finds out we have a health issue, a pregnancy, or what have you, even when it’s technically illegal for most employers to use such circumstances against you. You are not abusing anything. You are a human being, and you come first. You have to take care of your health. Periods happen every month, and it’s not your fault that the American work system often doesn’t give workers enough time for real sickness, real injuries, REAL LIFE, and a vacation that is crucial for mental health. In a better system, you would not feel pressure to force yourself into an office when you are in excruciating pain. But in America, this sort of thing is very common. Also, as a woman, you’re probably already significantly underpaid compared to a man in the same position. I could go into further detail, but the point is that if you take a mentality of confidence, ownership, and the feeling that you “deserve” to stay home those days while doing the best you can to get your work done, that will be your best shot. You do deserve to be able to stay home and work from home. It’s only the backwards society we’ve created that turns this sort of thing into a “big deal.” If you can financially afford to completely “take off” days when perhaps pain is so bad, you already know you will not even be able to attempt any work, then take those off. But If you can’t afford that at your company, or your boss is an asshole who won’t let you work from home each month without some sort of financial or psychological penalty, get a new job and a raise, and target companies with better benefits packages that allow for many 4-5 weeks of time off on top of sick days. That way, you’ll have so much space, you will never feel stressed to have to risk anything by telling an employer your period is basically killing you. If you take on the mentality of the commenters who say this is abusing the system, you will hold yourself down in the employment world in more ways than one, all because of a health issue you can’t control, yet are trying your hardest to overcome in every way. You DESERVE to be somewhere that works for you, because you are working hard for them.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      This is a very well-intentioned comment, but very bad advice. “Trying to work” is not the same thing as “working”; adults’ work performance isn’t assessed based on effort, but on what they achieve. Think about it in different terms — if your kid’s nanny was trying hard to care for them but failing, would that be just as good? Of course not. It’s no different in offices. So yes, it does matter whether the OP is able to work at a close-to-normal level from home or not.

      1. The IT Manager*

        +1M. Excellent response beause I couldn’t figure out how to disagree as well as you did. Guess that’s why you’re the professional writer.

    1. fposte*

      Humanistically, it sounds great. But practically? Are you agreeing enough that you’re willing to take on extra duties without extra pay to cover the person who’s “trying to work” but not getting work actually done?

      1. Lanya*

        Yes, absolutely. Because I would also be taking on those extra duties without extra pay if the person were at home sick and not doing any work at all. So at least if the sick person is working at home and making an effort, in my book, that positively counts for something. Especially because, as evr said, it’s not her fault that she gets a period that sucks one day every month for the foreseeable future, and she is doing her best to cope with it.

        For all we know, the OP’s “trying to work” through her dysmenorrhea might mean that she is still able to get more done than some of her other healthy coworkers could do in two days, depending on her awesomeness, ability level, and work ethic. I think it would be hard to judge this except on a case-by-case basis.

        However – I can see how a manager would be coming at it from a different perspective, which is how Alison responded, and I respect both her opinion and yours.

  45. LW/OP*

    First let me start by saying thanks to Alison for your advice! I understand what you meant about it being a little easier to have this conversation with a female boss. I would feel a bit uneasy sharing this type of information with a male boss. I will take your advice and have a discreet conversation with her. Thank you, thank you!

    To the readers: Thank you as well! I will try and answer all the questions in the comments but let me address this first: I would not ask to telework and not actually work. That is unethical and basically cheating/stealing. I am not that kind of person. Sometimes I need to just stay in bed, but I am alert and can function. Sometimes I can sleep for a few hours and feel a little better once I wake up. This is when I figure I could telework as my job offers flex-time. I am not in a position where I have to take/make phone calls and would be able to do my work through remote connection. But other times if I’ve slept all day or was in too much pain to get any work done, I would NOT report those hours as regular working hours. That is dishonest! In this case, I would report them as sick time.

    I haven’t been through all of the comments and will try and answer all questions. But I just wanted to point that out.

  46. TN HR*

    I’m not sure how big your employer is or if it’s private or public, but you might also want to consider the Americans With Disabilities act. If you meet the definition of disabled (which isn’t very hard), you can ask for an accommodation of 1 day off a month or teleworking that day.

  47. Joan*

    OP im really sorry. I have severe cramps too. They normally last 4-5days and started off with agonizing pain on the first day but nowadays its throughout. My gyn doesn’t have a remedy apart from painkillers and birth control pills which i cant take longer than 6mnths. Have you found a remedy by now? did you manage to convince your boss?

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