Fitting our bodies into modern life…
I don’t know about you, but I haven’t found our modern pace of life conducive to the demands of my menstrual cycle.
I have found myself often blaming my body, rather than how we live, on its inability to keep going every day without a break, expecting myself to be Supermum and Wonder Woman without interruption.
The internal dialogue goes something like this ‘God I’m tired, why am I so tired? Last week I was fine, I did all that work, and today I can barely wash the dishes! Where’s the chocolate?’
Or the other version – ‘Got to go to that party later. Oh no. Last thing I want to do is see anyone but it’s Anna’s birthday and she’ll be gutted if I don’t go, can’t face it and just want to crawl into a hole. I’m so antisocial, why can’t I just go out and enjoy myself like everyone else? What the hell is wrong with me? Where’s that wine?’ Etc…
I guess it starts in school. Once you start your cycle, it’s not like you can call your teacher and say you’re not coming in for the next three days because you’ve got your period and you need to rest. Or that your homework will be late because your brain won’t be any good for maths until next week. It is sometimes possible to miss games or swimming, but only really if you’re doubled up with cramps. And once school is over the workplace is no different. If you have children they don’t go away once a month, nor do their demands slow down as your body does.
I think we can forgive ourselves for turning the issue inwards and seeing it as our body at fault. Life is not conducive to listening to its signals and acting accordingly. And alongside all of this of course is the promise of hormonal treatment to give us the predictability we crave, and even get rid of all the mess and fuss altogether. Not surprising the pill (and other hormonal contraceptive methods) are so popular.
But at what cost I wonder?
I could go into the effects of hormonal contraceptive methods and doubtless will in another blog (for now though I highly recommend Alexandra Pope and Jane Bennett’s great book The Pill, Is It For You? for a thorough view on the subject). But right now I want to look before that, at how we’re affected by this assumption that it is the body that is wrong, rather than the way we are living.
Despite the many, many ways we have progressed as a society, one of our last remaining taboos is still the menstrual cycle. The advertising industry has in no small part contributed to our collective sense of shame and secrecy around the messiest time of our month (see Chella Quint’s awesome video Lifting the Lid for more on this), but I believe it’s also our desire to be continually doing, creating, producing – and available – that allows us to be tricked into this belief in the first place. Blame it on puritan work ethics, the endless march of capitalism and exponential growth, or women’s need to be seen as equal to men (and don’t get me wrong – this balance has long been in need of addressing). Whatever you see as the reason, the result often ends up with us expecting our bodies and minds to be high functioning every day, and with us feeling let down and a failure when we can’t meet our own high expectations.
The menstrual cycle is just that – a cycle. There are many cycles in this beautiful life and world of ours, and all of us, whatever our gender, are affected by them all the time. We all go through cycles of contraction and expansion, of focus and relaxation, of energy and rest. When we start looking at the cycles within us, and how they affect us personally, we have the key to unlocking a fascinating view into how we really function, and how we can really work at our best. The menstrual cycle is no different from any other life cycle, with its high and low points, its inward and its outward times. And just as we don’t judge the seasons as they turn through the year (though of course we may prefer one or the other!), if we can learn to accept our own seasons (even if we still have a favourite one) then we can start to work alongside and with our body, rather than against it.
So next time you (or a menstruator in your life) are railing against your apparently failing body, consider asking ‘What phase of my cycle am I in? Might I just need to rest?’. And if you take note of this as the months go by, and go so far as writing it down in your diary or calendar, you might just start to see a pattern forming.
Life isn’t slowing down any time soon. Schools and work places won’t allow time off for menstrual leave (yet!) and kids don’t tailor their demands according to how their parents feel. But inside, we can stop the fight. We can stop the judgement and name calling, and see it for how it really is. We can say ‘Ah, I’m in the trough of the wave. In a week or two, or a few days, I’ll be riding the crest again’.
So that’s alright then.