Every women has at one time or another experienced her menstrual cycle. Month after month for the great majority of our lives we experience hormonal fluctuations which cause changes in our bodies and shifts in our moods, sometimes drastic. Despite the fact that every woman has experienced this fact of life, our culture barely acknowledges it. I have realized that as a result, even though we all experience our periods, many of us don’t have a good understanding of our menstrual cycles. I certainly didn’t. But let me tell you that once I learned, everything changed.
We live in a male-led society with zero sympathy for what women deal with as a result of their cycles. Furthermore, there is a booming business centered around minimizing the significance of our natural cycles; discreetly sized sanitation products and pills to treat our symptoms just to name a couple. Like most women I know, I dealt with what I considered a monthly inconvenience to the best of my ability, and kept the matter to myself. But on this journey of self-understanding I was led to a better understanding of the menstrual cycle, and then my own personal natural rhythm. As a result, I have learned so much about myself and things I always thought were beyond my control, like fatigue, cravings and moodiness.
It turns out that with the right knowledge our menstrual cycles cease to be so much of a nuisance. Instead, they become a resource; predictable monthly calendars with a wealth of knowledge we can use to our advantage. We just need to learn how to read them and where we fall on any given day within our cycles.
Ironic that a man would express a women’s monthly rhythm in a way I identify with most. John Gray, author of Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus (which I highly recommend), explains that women are like waves. We gain momentum and build ourselves up and experience high energy and then, at the end of our cycle, we crash. And then the cycle begins again, slowly building back up again until inevitably crashing again over and over… just like the waves in the ocean.
Sometimes, depending on a myriad of factors hormonal, emotional, external and the like, seas are calmer and the waves don’t grow as large or break as hard. Yet other times, our waves grow enormous and crash devastatingly hard.
Since January 2 my wave had been building with incredible force and energy. I rode my monster wave for weeks until CRASH! Without notice, the crest caved and all that energy collapsed. It was January 22. I barely left my couch. It is now January 27 and I am still held under whitewater, coming up for air as often as I can to go to work, exercise, and do chores, before resorting back to my bed or the couch for a nap. Additionally, my food cravings are incredibly intense.
It took a day or two after I crashed to realize what was going on. Ahhhh, PMS, there you are. I should have begun preparing last week, but I kept forging ahead with full intensity, focused on other things. Is it any wonder I crashed so hard? Had I been more mindful of the calendar and my cycle, I would have begun to slow down, wrap up some projects, increase my calorie intake, and buy the appropriate food to nourish me yet satisfy my coming cravings.
I didn’t do those things. And so when I crashed, there was nothing to cushion me. But now that I know what’s going on, I know how to take care of myself. I know what my body needs during this phase of my cycle and how long it lasts. I know that I will start to bleed Saturday or Sunday and that I’ll turn inward for a day or two. I’ll need extra rest and won’t feel like being social. I also won’t feel terribly creative so best not to try to force it. This weekend is definitely not one for projects or parties. Luckily I have few plans and can get some rest and enjoy reading and Netflix. That’s what this time in my cycle calls for.
The Water Rises
By the middle of next week my energy and creativity will spike and so will begin my favorite nine days of my cycle where productivity becomes my middle name. This is the time to start new projects, tackle cleaning and get as much work done as possible. It’s a short lived time and I take advantage of it. I can because I am aware of its power and when it arrives. My mood is optimistic and friendly, so it’s also a good time for socializing.
The Southern Swell
After those nine days I will begin to ovulate. This is a time to give of myself and be nurturing to my friends and family. I may experience cravings and need to increase my calorie intake since my body will be exerting more energy. Many women also desire greater intimacy during this time.
The Crest and the Crash
After ovulation the wave begins its final turbulent surge as it rages toward the shore. This is a creative, yet emotional and sensitive time. Energy is waning and the dynamic becomes destructive and descends inward. The immune system lowers and near the end of this nine day phase our crest curls and crashes and we often experience cramping, bloating, fatigue, tender breasts, intense cravings, hostility and mood swings. This is a time to choose our interactions with people carefully and be sure to incorporate plenty of alone time.
Once you learn to track and understand your cycle, rather than forge on ahead as if everything is level, you can plan around these various phases. For example, this is a good time for the children to go to Grandma’s for the weekend so you can have some quiet, undisturbed time.
The crash is followed by blood time which lasts approximately five days. This is a time of quiet, comfort and reflection. Only do what is absolutely essential and avoid making any important decisions or stressful appointments. Oftentimes bleeding is accompanied by the continuation of cramps, migraines, and exhaustion. Rest. Dr. Christiane Northrup, women’s health expert, says that in a perfect world women would not leave their beds on their first day of bleeding.
We are not afforded the luxury of staying home once a month or scheduling all of life around our cycles. But we can be more mindful and manage things within our control. You may not be able to schedule a board meeting when your wave is rising or surging, but you certainly can schedule dinner with your in-laws for that time. Plan parties, projects, decision making, your meal plan, physical activities, etc. accordingly around your cycle. If you’re going to Mexico for a week and will start to bleed, don’t plan to walk the Mayan ruins on that particular day.
Although it may seem that the expectation is for you to be energized and “on” every day, the truth is that that is not how we women were created. The native Americans believed that menstruation was a gift from the moon so that a few days every single month women were given a chance to rest. Embrace your cycle. Roll with your wave and experience it. Use it as the wonderful resource it can be to help guide you through these years of your life.
This post is only meant to be an introduction to the idea of understanding menstrual cycles to the point of using yours as a resource. I didn’t touch at all on what happens physically in the body during each phase, the fascinating cultural histories of women and their cycles, or tracking your cycle. If you’re interested in learning more and really getting a better understanding of your cycle, I highly suggest you read Moon Time by Lucy H. Pearce. This short book is wonderful and eye-opening. There is also a version written for young women, which I think is lovely! Buy it for your tween and teen daughters, nieces or sisters. Help them mature with an understanding that many of us lacked. That book is Reaching For The Moon by Lucy H. Pearce.
Additionally, let us women talk more about our cycles! During PMS and blood time, women crave sisterly communion. Let us aid one another to ease the shifting tides of our cycles and be a support to one another. Since every one of us experiences menstrual cycles, let’s not continue to experience them so alone.
And lastly, please be kind to yourself and your body. Nothing in nature blooms all the time.