I was nine when I started my first period. Nine.

I was so young I was still making up dance routines in the playground and absent-mindedly picking my nose in public, but then one day the puberty gods decided I would be plucked from my innocent childhood and made to menstruate.

It was a weekend. I was sat on the upstairs loo while my mum hung out washing on the landing. I wiped after doing my business and there it was on the tissue: blood.

It wasn’t bright red like the normal blood I’d seen when I’d fallen over and grazed my knees. This was darker and definitely not wee, so it had to be my period. I pulled up my knickers, flushed the chain and walked out of the bathroom. “Mum, I think I’ve started my period,” I announced.

My mum did what any normal mum would do when a nine-year-old announces she’s bleeding from her vagina: she freaked out. Dropping the bed sheet she was folding, she hopped from one foot to another, spluttering, “OK… um… right… OK… um”. I shrugged, walked past coolly and reassured: “It’s alright, mum. I know what to do.”

I was too young to have had sex education at school, but luckily my mum had been spotting signs that my period was on the hormonal horizon. While she may have been useless on the day (bless her), she’d been super organised beforehand and prepared me for aunt Flo’s imminent arrival.

She later told me she’d noticed a white discharge appearing in my knickers when she did the washing, which is a sure sign your first period is about to start. (BTW: regular discharge is totally normal and part of a woman’s monthly cycle. It’s not gross and is nothing to be ashamed of. Find out more about it here.)

So when my period came, my mum had already given me “the talk”. She had put sanitary towels in my knicker drawer and performed an extremely detailed demonstration of how to stick a white-winged sanitary pad into the gusset of my age 9-10 knickers.

By the time I went back to school on Monday, I was a period pro. I skipped into the school playground with a packet of Always tucked away inside my backpack and that was that. The world kept turning and nothing really changed.

After a phone call from my mum, the school made a few changes to accommodate the “more mature” girls in my class (which is code for “those with boobs”). We got changed in the toilets for PE instead of the classroom, we could go to the loo in the middle of a lesson and we knew where the secret stash of sanitary products were.

People feel sorry for me for having “grown up so fast”, but in reality I was remarkably unfazed by the arrival of aunt Flo.

Puberty is a slow and steady experience for girls, unlike boys who seem to sprout overnight and get reaaaaally deeeeeep vooooooices all of a sudden. So I was used to “growing up”. I had boobs – not budding nipples but actual breasts that needed a bra – and had discovered my first pubes a year before.

Maybe I was too young to feel that shame and embarrassment that a lot of girls feel when they start their period. I was more interested in cartoons than how I looked, what boys thought of me or what was happening to my body. If anything I’m happy that I started so young, it meant that when my friends started I was a dab hand and could help them out.

Periods aren’t always easy, of course: sometimes you leak blood onto bed sheets or your pants (which is really easy to wash with cold water), the pain can be excruciating (hot water bottles are your friend) and it makes swimming awkward (you can still go, just wear a tampon and change it when you get out – you don’t want a wet string dripping in your undies).

I’d recommend using a period tracker app to log pain, flow and moods, so you know what is normal for your body. That way if you are worried or notice anything unusual speak to an adult you trust. The most powerful thing you can do for your health as a woman is get to know yourself.

But for the most part, you, like the other half of the population who menstruate, will be just fine. And if a nine-year-old can do it, I’m sure you can too.

@Brogan_Driscoll

The findings from the latest Good Childhood Report – which gathers informations about the wellbeing of children from 15 different countries, across four separate continents – are in. And sadly, they don’t look amazing.

Team GB might have excelled at the Olympics, but it looks like the nation is far from golden when it comes to raising happy, confident children – especially girls. Out of the 15 countries that are ranked in the Good Childhood Report, England came in last.

The report revealed that one in seven girls said they weren’t happy with their lives overall, while a third don’t feel happy with the way they look. While this might come as a shock to adults, for anyone who’s been in high school recently, it probably won’t come as much of a surprise.

One of the girls involved in the study explained:

“We’re expected to be perfect, like Barbie dolls or something and if we don’t then we get bullied.”

In fact, girls have become less happy with their lives and the way they look over the last five years. Another teenage girl said:

“There are so many things that are difficult about being a young person. There are so many pressures from your friends, from your family. You don’t know who you are going to be, you are trying to find who you are in a certain way.”

We all know what she means, don’t we? The Instagram stars that seem to have their whole lives sorted aged 15; all those advertising campaigns full of models with wide eyes, tiny waists and symmetrical features; the interrogation from family members who demand to know what you want to do with the rest of your life before you’ve even worked out what subjects you’re taking for your GCSEs.

Boys aren’t immune to the pressures of modern life either; despite being happier than girls overall, one in nine boys is unhappy with their lives and one in five is unhappy with the way they look.

But the sort-of-good news for boys is that those numbers haven’t changed that much over five years. Obviously, it would be better if everyone was happy and skipping and singing the Friends theme song at all times, but at least that’s something. For boys.

So what’s the reason for the gap?

Excellent question. It’s not entirely clear why this happiness gap exists but one theory is that emotional bullying, such as being called names or people posting nasty stuff on your Instagram, is twice as common as physical bullying.

And in news that will probably not come as a surprise to anyone, girls are more likely to be victims of emotional bullying, while boys are more likely to be physically bullied.

One of the girls in the study explained:

“There is a lot of pressure to look good, you get called names no matter what, people always say stuff behind your back, boys always call you ugly if you have spots, or a slag if you wear makeup.”

Also, girls also tend to spend more time on social media, which can have a negative impact on mental health. It’s true, you can even ask Biebs.

Reasons to be cheerful

But let’s look beyond the gloom to some bright spots on the horizon, shall we?

There are so many great body-positive campaigns happening right now putting the spotlight on people of colour, disabled people and girls’ rights to their own bodies. From L’Oreal’s True Match campaign that celebrates skintone diversity, to #SREnow’s initiative to provide information about sex and relationships at schools, to the Maltesers advert that featured a woman with cerebral palsy getting real about her sex life.

Hopefully now that the media is (slowly) moving towards more diverse representations of girls and women, we might see a new wave of body positivity that will, in time, turn the tide. And fingers crossed when the next Good Childhood Report is released in 2017, girls in the UK might be feeling a little bit happier.

And by the way…

Your mental health is so important. If you feel so unhappy about anything that it is making life difficult, there’s a lot of help available out there. You can talk to a teacher, a parent, guardian or relative, or you can visit the Childline site for more information.

Image: Getty