What I wish I learned...
You may have seen a wonderful campaign going round on Instagram called #whatiwishilearned, instigated by Endometriosis UK, along with a petition to help change the way that menstruation is talked about in schools.
When I was at school I remember two distinct times that periods were discussed. Once was at primary school, when we were sat in a hall all together and someone came in to talk about the difference between boys and girls and basically what sanitary products could be used - by that time a few of my friends had already had their first period and I can remember the boys who were in the talk with us sniggering.
The second time it was talked about was a few years later when I was at secondary school, and it was all focused on not getting pregnant, contraception and STDs. Those were the only times anyone mentioned periods to me during my educational years.
Despite this I had so much curiosity and fascination around this bodily process, and actually couldn't wait to begin my period. I even went out and brought the necessary products I might need and patiently (or perhaps impatiently) waited and hoped to cross over this wonderful threshold from little girl to womanhood.
I talked quite a lot about my own experience in this blog here about honouring my menstrual cycle, but I felt compelled to write a little more on the subject after I saw the #whatiwishilearned campaign. Even though I don't have endometriosis, I have had my own set of chronic menstrual issues and feel that we all need to play our part in shifting this educational awareness.
There are two resounding messages that I feel were associated with periods as I grew up, coming from different sources...
Amongst my friends periods were discussed as inconvenient, a bit unpleasant, painful, uncomfortable and something we had to put up with. They were a great excuse to get out of P.E. lessons, and they were referred to as... the curse, the blob, having the painters and decorators in, and other very disempowering statements.
From the media, mostly via sanitary product manufacturers, I felt like the message was very much about being able to pretend periods weren't happening. Still run a marathon. Still get sh*t done. Carry on life as though your body wasn't shedding or going through a massive process each month. It was effectively telling us to ignore our body telling us to rest or slow down.
Both of these associations have lead to big problems I think.
Firstly - the shame and embarrassment around bleeding and menstruating that has come from simply feeling as though it is disgusting or dirty to bleed. As though it was something that happened to us, rather than FOR us. Because as Lara Briden discusses here, the hormones our body releases in a healthy period do WONDERFUL things for us each and every month.
Secondly - our hormone levels and our body moves in cycles for a reason - not so that we can pretend we are the same all the time. By ignoring the signals - the need to rest at some times, the energy we have at others, the sexual desires peaking and then dropping at different stages - it can lead to total depletion.
Yes... you can run a marathon if you really want to while bleeding - but will your energy be at it's best? Will you feel more exhausted after than if you had run it at a different part of your cycle? What will you have to sacrifice to make that stuff happen when your body instinctively needs to rest? You will have to disconnect from the clever signals that it gives you and probably rely on external sources such as sugar and caffeine to get you through it. These aren't sustainable solutions - I can tell you that because I have been there myself and the fallout is not pretty!
So we have two big problems here, the mental and emotional associations of shame and disgust around our bodies and then the physical and energetic exhaustion that comes from moving against our natural rhythms.
So what do I wish I had learned growing up about my magical menstrual cycle?
There are many, many things, but a few of the things are...
... that my curiosity about periods was not to be ashamed of and that I was right to be excited to start my periods, and that it is a hugely important part of womanhood.
... that when I went on the pill at the age of 15 someone had told me that the monthly bleed I was having was not a real period and was not a sign that my periods were regular, and therefore was potentially masking issues in my body that I couldn't 'see'.
... that when I watched my friend crippled with pain, vomiting and being in so much agony each month - it wasn't normal no matter what the doctors said, that it was a sign that her body needed something.
.... that the fluctuation of my emotions wasn't a sign of me going totally crazy or being mentally unstable - that it was in fact hormonal shifts as my body changed and if I was mindful, I could actually use these to my advantage.
... that I could work WITH my cycle to enhance my own productivity and wellbeing, but that it did mean that I couldn't be in 'go' mode every single day of every single month.
... that my cycle was not something to take for granted, it wasn't something that was sent to me to make life hard, that it was in fact an honour and a gift and a sign of my health and vitality.
... that I could eat different foods to help support my body throughout the month, and that nourishing myself in this way could have such an impactful effect on my energy.
... that it is OK to talk openly about periods, that there is no need to shame them or feel mortified if someone knows you are bleeding.
What about you? What do you wish you had learned?
I could talk on this subject for hours and hours. And I will at some point. I am even considering creating a course for women to learn more about the way their body works and how they can work WITH their cyclical nature to feel fuller and more vibrant in their wellbeing (email me if you would be interested in this), but for now I would love to turn this over to you...
What are the beliefs you hold about menstruation?
How have these beliefs impacted your life?
What is your relationship with your menstrual cycle now?
I really urge you to check out and sign the petition here to help ensure that young girls and women growing up have greater understanding about their own menstrual wellbeing, and empower them to consciously choose to work WITH their body, to speak up when something doesn't feel right, and to eradicate shame around this longstanding 'dirty secret', that women have held for decades.