I’ve had a challenging few weeks.
I’ve taken on some extra jobs recently and have been running on adrenaline a bit too much than is good for me. My body has been showing me it’s not happy.
Today I’ve come to a crashing realisation. I can’t do it all. And I so, so want to.
On May 28th it’s World Menstrual Hygiene Day.
At the Real Period Project, we REALLY want to do something for this day. I really want to do something! I’ve been making all sorts of plans, having all sorts of ideas.
And today, I realise I’m going to have to let it go.
Next week I am away on a course. The week after I’m away with my daughter on a school trip. This weekend my period is due.
Once upon a time I would have spent today phoning round and sussing out how best to make my ideas happen. Then I would have spent the weekend getting it all ready, because there won’t be any time after next Monday until the day itself.
I reeeeeeeeeeally REEEEAAALLLY want to do something for Menstrual Hygiene Day! I want to arrange a pad donation drive, I want to run a webinar or an educational session here in Bristol. I want to kick off a survey we’ve been wanting to launch. I want to do so much.
And, somewhere between now and next Monday I have my other jobs to finish, my family to hang out with, and most importantly – I have my period. I have to stop, even if just for a few hours.
At the Real Period Project we see the menstrual cycle as an ally. As a gauge of how we’re living our lives. When I get really bad cramps, or severe anxiety in the days before my period, I know I’ve been doing too much. It’s not always easy to change anything, but the message is loud and clear. Over the years, I’ve learned that when I listen, my periods are ok. When I don’t, they shout at me and get me to listen some more.
We teach that the period is, ideally, and if possible, a time to let your body have a rest, because for many people this is exactly what it’s asking to do (heavy, foggy & unsociable anyone?)
There is a lot of great work going on right now around the menstrual cycle. There are increasing numbers of books and courses on the menstrual cycle. There are many really great resources being created, that are hugely helpful, to some people. I for one am someone who has come from having a horrendous time with my periods, to using my whole cycle as a guide in my life, and definitely now an ally.
However, this just isn’t the case for everyone.
So we also want to explore, and get talking about a question we’re really interested in – just what IS a ‘real’ period?
- If you have a regular cycle, perhaps you’re self employed & you don’t have children, maybe it’s a welcome chance to take a conscious rest each month.
- If you have young children maybe it’s just one more thing to deal with, and any thought of rest is a bit of a joke.
- If you get crippling period pain, or very heavy periods, maybe it’s something you dread.
- If you’ve recently started your periods, maybe it’s something you get teased for at school, so you try and hide it from everyone.
- If you’re transitioning to a man maybe it’s a traumatic experience you’re looking forward to being rid of.
- If you’re a trans woman maybe it’s a time in your cycle when you feel bloated and sore (see this great article for more on one trans woman’s experience of her cycle).
- If your cycle is not always regular, maybe it’s something that crashes into your life with little notice at times when you can’t rest, even if you wanted to.
- Maybe it’s something that doesn’t bother you either way – it just happens.
- If you’re trying to get pregnant perhaps it’s yet another heartbreaking time you’re not.
- If your period was late & you were getting worried, maybe it’s a cause for celebration.
- If you’re on the pill, or other hormonal contraception, maybe you hardly notice it.
- And maybe it’s one of your last periods, or the last one. Maybe you’re happy about this. Maybe not.
I could list a hundred more. Not in this list are the experiences of homeless menstruators, those in refugee camps, those who have to miss school because they don’t have access to menstrual products, those of other non binary and intersex folks whose experience isn’t recognised in the usual menstrual discourse. And all the countless different ways periods are felt, experienced, talked about, kept secret, shamed, forgotten and survived throughout the whole world.
I live in a (so-called) developed country. I have access to clean (& hot!) running water. I have a stock of washable pads, and easy access to disposables for when I’m away from home. My daughter is at school. I work a lot from home. I am one of the tiny minority of menstruators around the world who has the ability to listen to my body, hear its call to rest and heed it (some of the time at least).
However, for my whole life, society, culture & the media have been telling me that
- my menstrual cycle is something I need to whisper about & keep secret
- any symptoms I feel are to be expected & got through, not something I should make a fuss about
- there is something wrong with me for not being able to function at full capacity every day of the month.
So it’s not that easy to take that time out that my body so loudly asks for.
But as one of the privileged few, I’d better start appreciating what I CAN do, and taking that rest when I can. I feel I owe it to my body, and to every hormonally cycling body (yep – that’s all of us then!) to take some time out when I can, and to stop pretending I’m a super being who can work endlessly without stopping.
So I’m really sorry Menstrual Hygiene Day 2017. I truly am. I can’t do all the things I wanted to do, this year. I’ll start planning now for next year and be ready for it, whatever’s going on in my cycle!
If you’re interested, and your life allows it, here are some things you can do:
- Contact your local food bank and/or homeless shelter, and ask them if they need donations of menstrual products, & if so what they most need. Then, start a collection near you – ask your friends and work colleagues to donate packs of whatever is needed and take them along.
- Talk about periods. With your kids, your friends, people at work. If you have your period & you feel rubbish, don’t feel like you have to make excuses for yourself, or hide it. The more we talk, the more normal it gets, the more we break down this insidious secrecy thing.
- Find out about menstrual hygiene projects around the world – donate to them or support them however you can if you feel drawn to.
- Check out NoMoreTaboo’s Period Poverty Package
- If you have kids, talk to them about periods. Don’t just talk to girls – talk to everyone. Tell them what a period is, how it fits as part of the menstrual cycle, how they’re managed, what they mean. Get books about puberty if you’re shy or don’t know where to start. Check out this great guide to puberty books for each age.