I’m open about most things. To the point of oversharing, definitely. But I don’t think I’ve ever written about periods before. Or, for that matter, been able to use the phrase ‘menstrual cycle’ without embodying the spirit of my uptight Year Nine sex-ed* teacher who didn’t understand the concept of lesbianism and seemed awfully uncomfortable telling a class of teenage girls what this menstruation nonsense was all about.
(*It wasn’t called sex-ed. I’m British; it was called Personal, Social and Health Education which is much more repressed and unhelpful.)
Anyway. Times are changing, my friends, and here I am, using the phrase ‘menstrual cycle’ on a publicly open platform. I don’t even care if you cut me out of your life for such a transgression! Gosh and cripes.
It’s just, I’ve only just realised how much power there is in really knowing what’s going on with myself every month. Physically, mentally, energetically… When I discovered that there was a pattern to the madness of my life – and one shared by practically every woman – I had a total ‘aha!’ moment. Except…that makes me sound like Alan Partridge.
More of an ‘Oh!’ moment, then.
I can’t help but suspect you won’t be interested in the history of my period (why not, though?) so feel free to skip the next paragraph. I provide it only for backstory.
When I was about 27, I came off the pill after more than a decade and found myself battling really shitty skin again. That was why I’d gone on the pill in the first place. But now I just wanted to have some control over my body and my skin – I wanted to be well and function properly without having to rely on chemicals that were having fuck knows what effect on my body and fertility. I tried a lot of things: veganism, supplements, psychotherapy (on myself, I should add – I read a book called Skin Deep that was all about the psychology behind having acne. It was a fun read), affirmations, meditation, keeping a cycle-diary. I was desperate for my period to return so I could see what effect my hormones were having on my skin. When I got to day 245 of my cycle, though…I started to think something was up. At some point in all this, I did have a period, and then it went away again. When I got pregnant with my first daughter the midwife asked for the date of my last period. I told her it was 9 months ago; it was a weird moment.
Fast forward to this year – and I finally got back in the flow (as t’were) after pregnancy and breastfeeding etc. I had three cycles, at which point reflecting on my behaviour caused me to pause for a moment and squint into the distance. I asked myself, ‘am I dealing with a split personality, or is this somehow…normal?’
Because, seriously. Let’s (wrongly) assume I have a 28 day cycle and take an average month. For half of it, I’d be a motivated writer, full of ideas and confidence and – crucially – the ability to sit down at my keyboard and write. Then for a quarter of it, I’d be unable to do anything but critique everything I’d written and snippily edit my work, finding fault with it all. Then, for the final quarter I’d be able to do NOTHING AT ALL. No words. Words would not happen. I wouldn’t even want to open my laptop, let alone muster up creative energy and pour it out.
That happened several times, and each time, that ‘dry’ week made me question everything. (As did the annoying critiquing month, but as least then I was still sort of writing).
And it’s not just writing. You should see my wardrobe. It’s the wardrobe of someone who doesn’t know who the hell they are. It’s mostly grey and black, and sensible boots and tights. But there are weird things in there. My pink fur coat. Suede pink platform sandals I can’t walk in. Tropical print skirts. Sheer shirts. Crop-tops. A jumpsuit! Cute, quirky slogan tees that I put on then immediately replace with something less controversial.
When I purchase those things, I’m desperate to wear them. But by the time they arrive and the weather is right for me to do so, it’s like I have no idea why they are in my wardrobe. It’s like someone else ordered them for me. A fun version of me. The version of me I like to think I am, but frequently turn out not to be.
I make social plans that just two or three weeks later I dread the thought of, despite my excitement at the time. I make plans to decorate my house in pastel colours, only to find a week and half later that I want to paint everything navy and embrace low-lighting.
I kind of rolled with it, but all along I wondered… Is it just me? Am I really just so insecure that I can’t make up my mind who I am or what I want? Because I don’t feel insecure. I like myself a lot, even if I never know quite which version of myself I’m going to wake up to.
Then I downloaded an ebook called Adore Your Cycle, by a women’s coach and author called Claire Baker. I’d followed her for a while via her blog, and something kept pulling me back to her and her approach to women’s health and periods. I made the decision to download her book – and just as I went online to do so, she sent an email with a 50% off code. Winner.
Honestly, it is transforming my life. I mean, I only read it last week, so it’s probably too soon to say, but the RELIEF and understanding that I experienced when I read the book was immense. She explains how women’s cycles follow different seasons – withdrawn, silent winter (when you’re bleeding), outgoing, flirty spring (up to ovulation), proactive and motivated summer (after ovulation), then reflective, critical autumn (pre-menstrual).
It explained all of my tropical-print skirts (bought them in my ‘spring’ phase). It explained my writers block (ALWAYS when I had my period, why did that not click sooner?!). It explained my drive to edit. It explained why for a week or so each month I’d suddenly want to change EVERYTHING ABOUT MY LIFE and do all the things I’d previously lacked confidence to do.
Ugh. Why did I not know this from the start? WHY? I can work with this knowledge! I know when to sit down and write, and when to expect my inner-editor to come out. I can plan for that! I can make peace with the fact that – for seven days or so, while my uterus decides to just fall to pieces – I’m actually not gonna want to create much, thanks. Just going to want to sit here, in silence, and watch chick flicks and cry about very small things. The book will wait.
And I know when to make life changes, and when to hold back. I know when to start trying to save the world, and when things are likely to overwhelm me and make me feel like my actions won’t be worth the effort. I know when to try and change my diet and make it stick. I know when to accept that I won’t be able to fight cravings, and to not give up just because I have a bad few days.
There is so much POWER in this knowledge. I can’t tell you how energised I feel by it. (I mean, I can tell you. That’s what I’m doing right now.)
You might relate to some of this, or you might relate to none at all and wish I’d stop saying ‘menstrual cycle’ already. I know when I mentioned it to my colleagues, they said I was sounding dangerously close to being someone who uses a Mooncup.
And you know what, I probably am. Maybe. (They are actually a lot bigger IRL than I imagined and that frightens me, so….it’s not a definite no.)
But that’s not what this is about. This isn’t about being a hippie, earthy, ‘I am woman hear me roar’ do-gooder (I can only aspire to such giddy heights). This is about realising that we hold power in different ways at different times, and that if we learned to work with those powers instead of sucking it up and carrying on as normal, then maybe we’ll all be a little bit…better? Happier? Aligned with ourselves, at least. Empowered, definitely.
I’m going to be reading so much more into this. I’m quite excited about what else I might discover about myself. If you’re in any way interested, I’d recommend you check out Claire Baker’s website and see what resonates. Her free resources are a good place to start.
After a bit of experimenting, I’ve finally found the right week in the month where I can actually wear my red lipstick without feeling utterly ridiculous. I might even graduate to my jumpsuit, next cycle….
Look lively, lads.