It’s crazy that, as young girls and women, I wasn’t taught more about just how much my hormones and tracking my menstrual cycle affects, well, our everything.
I am no exception. It took me 31 years to put two and two together and realise the birth control I was taking, largely to help with the symptoms of endometriosis, were hugely affecting my moods. And it’s taken me almost another two years to understand the cyclical seasons my body goes through each and every month.
Last Christmas I was introduced to a wonderful woman called Claire Baker, a menstrual educator based in London, by my friend Laura Jane Williams. On meeting Claire I started following her on Instagram (as you do) and, though I didn’t initially think her posts about cycles and menstruation were relevant to me I started taking more and more notice of the things she was saying. Her words went from seeming a little woo-woo to making complete sense, as the slowest uterus-based penny in the world finally started dropping.
I realised that so many of my difficult physical and mental times were down to my monthly cycles.
I downloaded Clue (an app to track menstruation) as well as Natural Cycles (an app that relates your daily temperature to your periods) and started noting information about my wellbeing. How I was feeling, how my body was acting. How I was sleeping and how I was eating. I continued to devour the information Claire shared and, within a couple of months, the learnings were enlightening.
Today my office was my bed: and that’s OK
Things I’ve Learned About Myself Since I’ve Started Tracking My Menstrual Cycles
It’s OK to feel tired once a month – I’m not lazy!
It took tracking my cycles to make me realise that, for one week pre-period, my energy levels flatline. The old me used to beat myself up for being ‘lazy’ during this time, for wanting to hibernate my low-motivated self with a duvet and Gilmore Girls (weirdly, a show I watch only at these sleepy times). I used to fight the dip and try to plough on with normal life, getting upset and cross when I couldn’t get anything done, but now I just go with it and slow down, knowing it’ll pass soon. Which is why I happily worked from my bed today (and I know how lucky I am to get to do this!).
It’s also OK to crave (and eat) what I want…
I try not to eat too many carbs day-to-day because the bloat is real (hello, pizza baby), but all bets are off when it’s near the end of my cycle. Sometimes I crave sweet things and sometimes I crave stodgy things: I am happy to give in to these stomach grumblings because now I know it’s my body asking for what it needs. And sometimes what it needs is a big fat steak followed by apple cake, and now I am tracking my menstrual cycle I know that’s OK!
Cycle-based rituals are a great idea
Claire wrote this blog post recently about cycle-based rituals, and I think implementing this practice is such a good idea. For me that means a clean house, candles and hunkering down towards the end of my cycle, bright dresses, salads and lots of exercise in the middle. It’s not that I haven’t been doing these things prior to tracking my cycles, but giving more thought and mindfulness to them feels like a real act of self-care.
I’m not mad
A couple of days before my period I get when I like to term ‘the rage’. That is, an intense and often completely irrational anger directed at whichever poor soul crosses my path over that 48 hour period. It used to make me feel confused, sad, and really really angry, and to be honest, at more than one point I’ve felt like I’ve been going slightly bonkers. Until I started tracking my menstrual cycle and noticing that – durrr – this happens on the same two days each and every month.
I still get the rage at this point in the month but it’s infinitely easier to deal with now that I know when it’s coming and why it’s there. I can be kind to myself instead of being mean to others, and every time I feel negative emotion bubble up inside of me I can take a deep breath and consider my actions instead of just reacting. It’s been life-changing, not just for me but for my fiancé and my kids, too.
I WILL have motivation/ideas/energy again
Right now I’m on day 1: I slept seven hours last night then had a lunchtime nap, and have spent the rest of my working day sitting at my computer trying to muster up the energy to respond to emails, write interesting things and complete simple tasks (this blog post took ONE WHOLE DAY to write; the me of 7 days ago would have bashed it out in an hour).
And I just can’t do it, I just can’t master productivity. My head feels full of syrup, my droopy eyes won’t stay open and my stomach cramps are otherworldly, and it’s hard not to look back on the skipping, productive and chirpy version of myself from last week and wonder where she’s gone. But it’s OK to acknowledge that fact and know I’ll be back to my happily skipping self in a day or two. It’s frustrating, but it’s OK
A short time on from tracking my menstrual cycle and, though I may not be able to control my body’s hormonal processes, I can now control my own reaction to them.
I can – and have – stopped giving myself such a hard time that I peak and trough, that I find some days so much harder than others. I am kinder to myself now and am more able to read the cues my body gives me, the ones that tell me to slow down and relax (or speed up and enjoy!).
It’s been a revelation in not just learning about myself but stopping to look around at the women around me and think about how strong we really are. It makes me think about the quote I come back to when I’m having the roughest time on my period:
“Anything you can do, I can do bleeding”
Because I bloody can.
Just maybe tomorrow morning after a long bath and another good night’s sleep.