Hosting a website about depression and not writing about a woman’s menstrual cycle, would be akin to watching TV with the sound off. Moods and hormones are inextricably linked – that’s common knowledge and women’s business. Since all my adult life has been focussed on optimising my mental health, the phases of my reproductive cycle have often been the missing link to many psychiatric misnomers. Can you relate to this?
My life revolves around my menstrual cycle. How could it not? I have a natural, monthly pattern of peaking when I ovulate and skidding across the sidelines of a month-well-done every time I bleed.
The day I designed my social, work and creative commitments around my menstrual cycle was the day my womb and I became a team. Yet to look back, we share a cyclical affair determined by when I’m due: to ovulate, to menstruate, or, on an irregular month, to take serious time out for consolidation and resurrection. This usually involves luxurious days in bed, an adaptation of Tigress Yoga, stress-free plans and ‘phone off’, until further notice. Severe descents can amount to relationship break-downs, a screwed self-esteem, pessimism maximised and at worst, suicidal ideation. Can you relate to this?
Since most of my psychiatric admissions have occurred on the precipice of menstruation and because I refused to accept the definition of my wayward moods as a disorder – defined as Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder (PMDD) – it was bleeding obvious that a little self-education about the mystery of the menstrual cycle was high on my list of wisdom to be acquired. I grew certain that this precious, life-giving rhythm had its gifts and good-reasons for calling forth the truth-teller in me and her wild revelations, her deepest depressions and her unhealed wounds. Women unafraid to speak of it and women who were at one with it, were my greatest idols in the early days of pre-menstrual fuzz and confusion.
My mission was to learn how to harness the governing forces at play during my cycle so that I could take advantage of its natural rhythms and live in alignment with the changes to my mood, energy levels, sexual drive and creative flair. Surely that wasn’t too much to ask for as a woman, embodied.
Leaders in the field of menstrual education should be in my mind, women only, so I researched the likes of Katherine Cunningham, Miranda Grey, Devashi Shakti, Jane Ussher and Jane Hardwicke Collins and their combined wealth of wisdom about the true nature of a woman’s menstrual cycle. I met some of them personally, studied with them, practised their embodiment arts, read their books, listened to their meditations, and learnt about how to go about weaving a lifestyle around my cycle, rather than weaving my cycles around life. It’s the latter that ultimately leads to the distress and tension that arises when a woman has not been able to find time for herself. The PMS and the PMDD that the doctors speak of are basic acronyms that represent the rightful responses from a woman forced to adapt to a world that does not honour the potency and sensitivity of her menstrual cycle. I would also go so far as to say – as someone who has repeatedly engaged suicidal and self-harming behaviours on par with her menstruation – that the manifestations of this degree of distress is a result of the self-silencing of women to conform to societal expectations, in a mind-driven world that does not adequately embrace sensual and emotional temperaments.
Menstruation is like a truth sermon – centuries of suppressed knowledge can be revealed.
The message that each menstrual educator embodied reflected the same thing:
Honouring your menstrual cycle by giving your body what it needs ensures a harmonious, evolving and empowering experience of being woman.
But what does that really mean, ‘honouring the cycle’ and ‘giving the body what it needs’ and ‘harmoniously being woman’?
As with all generalisations about women, my sense is that when it comes to one’s intimate relationship with their own body, it means different things to different women.
Here’s a little insight into my own ‘rules of thumb’ that have come about learning to understand my own metaphors and must-do’s for menstrual harmony:
1/ Turtle Time (commonly known as PMT)
Because I look, feel and sense life like a turtle during this time, this phase requires extended time, space, sleep and slowing-down, until such movements quicken post-bleed.
2/ Ritual (Sacred Arts)
Every cycle is a new chance of creation! So I capitalise on this gift and am grateful for the life-death-rebirth trinity that is enacted monthly through my body. Calling forth a new wish, goal, intention or trend never goes astray at the onset of a new cycle (Moontime). Pure alchemy!
3/ Body Care
I can teach myself the same lessons over and over again, or I can chose to avoid caffeine and alcohol during Turtle and Moon Times. Naturopathy and Traditional Chinese Medicine work wonders.
4/ Moontime Musings
Ian’t it beautiful that women are magically linked to the changes of the moon? Isn’t that worth pondering and tuning into? For the spiritualist in me, there is no greater wonder as the moon herself in all my sacred reflections.
For when the incommunicable never felt so clumsy and the inexplicable never felt so frustrating. Factoring in a wild and wobbly dance during Turtle/Moontime holds promise of some peace of mind.
Favouring time with women who are at ease with and in honour of a bleeding woman is a priceless panacea for the woes it may unearth.
7/ Body Before the Boss
While the show must go on, I tend to cut myself some slack when work is unavoidable and menstruation is due. I see nothing wrong with going easy at work during this time or if the discomfort is too much, heading home. My priority is my body and her language is through my cycle. As women, we can support each other in work environments by sharing the load.
If ever there is a time to treat oneself to an indulgent touch, go there.
I’m always interested to hear how other women relate to their cycles and the role it plays in their life. Most of what I have learned about looking after my body has been passed-on over cups of tea by women willing to share their stories. Thank goodness we can speak of it without shame or mention of The Rag…. Thank the Goddess we are all in it together and together we will always understand.