Friday, 25 June 2021

Day 20

    I think I'm finally discovering what seasoned menstrual trackers have been saying for quite a while. During the first week or two of my cycle, I felt emotional and philosophical. Everything carried meaning and I was so invested in curling up and writing things down. Something startling happened on Day 14 which has always happened, but I never understood why. 

   I have periods of feeling a little 'down'. For lack of a better term, and it's always felt so cyclical and related to my period. Then one day, I wake up and I feel suddenly much better. I feel more explosive and energetic. My skin care and exercise routine enthusiasm returns. I want to talk to people. I want conversations that span into the early hours of the morning. I want to share my ideas. I want to get more stuck in. This month I noticed it kicked in dramatically on my 14th day and has continued to buzz all week. I am so much less emotional and feel far more extroverted, analytical and energetic. I have been talking to my family non-stop all week. I have been able to keep talking and talking to students and colleagues all day. 

   I feel happy putting a pause on my menstrual blogging for now. I'm going to continue charting in private, and I'll be interested to see if the pattern remains the same and if I feel better knowing the changes are going to come like clockwork. 

   I hope that this window of openness and focus on periods is as helpful for you as it has been for me. Thanks, again, to Jenna for inspiring the activity!

Take care saplin's.

Sunday, 13 June 2021

Day 8: keeping my feelings in mind

    When I started this exercise, charting my cycle for a month to see what might happen, I was unknowingly holding on to a misconception. I think it's one we all hold at times until we are reminded otherwise: the menstrual cycle is all about the period. It felt highly necessary to track during Day 1 and 2 because those are the days that feel so heightened. There's nothing like bleeding to get you to pay attention to how your body feels and the emotions that come with it. Now that I have stopped bleeding, I would usually continue to enjoy the Spring and Summer of my cycle. Increased energy and motivation, higher focus, more easily regulated body temperatures, and much nicer underwear. This time, however, because I am attempting to track my cycle and I've been making notes on it, I've realised that there is so much importance in the changing seasons. 

   Over the last few years, I have worked really hard on my mental health. I have been through Cognitive Behaviour Therapy and have seen a drastic improvement in my anxiety overall. This has meant that although my periods can still cause some pretty unpleasant emotional symptoms, I have had a much better time recognising them and processing them. 

   One of the most poignant lessons I have learned in my reading has been this: your thoughts and feelings are not always (and usually are not) the same thing. When I first came across this idea, I saw it as nothing much more than a concept. We're all used to seeing phrases like these spread across sparkly backgrounds and uploaded to instagram. They sound good, they're easy to like and share because they're vague enough to interpret however you need to, and you get to feel as though you've got some kind of control over yourself. However, it is only during these periods of self-improvement and soul-searching that I have come to realise what those words truly mean. 

   Now, more than ever, we see and hear phrases that have been born to validate and support victims of any description: "you are not to blame", "it is never the victim's fault", "don't victim-blame" etc. Like many others, I believe these statements wholly. The blame should always lie with the perpetrator. However, after some slightly difficult discussion, my therapist helped me to uncover the way in which my feelings were not matching up to my mind. I might say to her, "yes, I know it was not my fault and I don't blame myself. I was 15 years old and I didn't know what I know now". I truly believed that, but I also believed deep down that my 15-year-old self could have and should have done things differently and that perhaps that manifested as self-blame. This degree of cognitive dissonance went completely undetected by me for years and has shown me how far I have to go in the way of self-compassion and forgiveness. Whilst I work on this, it has also really helped me to look critcally at my thoughts and feelings as separate entities and has given me permission to assess my feelings honestly instead of trying to force them to align with what I think I should be feeling. 

   In part, this is something I really needed to write about right now whilst I'm thinking and feeling it. However, it's been highly relevant to tracking my cycle and thinking about my emotions. Getting my period and experiencing the rollercoaster of feelings has always been something I've joked about as I said in my first entry. However, I notice now that it is also something that I have squashed, ignored, and demeaned and I want to do that less, and hopefully not at all, in future. This is really just a post to say, let yourself feel what you're feeling instead of trying to cover it with what you think you should be feeling. Be angry at things you don't think you're supposed to be angry at, be sad about things you think are ridiculous to be sad about, and let anything and everything fill you with joy in an ever-increasing cynical and gatekeepy world. 

   I wasn't going to write anything today, and then I decided to clean up some folders on my computer. I came across some writing I did when my therapist taught me that there are five basic emotions: anger, joy, guilt, fear and sadness. She taught me that joy is just a fifth and that there's no sense in feeling ashamed for feeling the other ones too. When I wrote these notes, I remember feeling ashamed about the way each emotion feels for me. When I re-read it today, I feel empowered at my ability to recognise and describe the way I truly feel, and not distort it with what I think the correct/healthy way is to articulate them. I will share this with you, and hope it inspires you to do the same. Take care, saplin's.

When I am happy, it shines out of me. I know because everyone else around me starts to feel happy too, and I can see the starlight shooting past their faces and gleaming in their eyes, just like mine. The electricity is complete and unapologetic, and I can feel nothing else but its bursts in my heart, and light in my head.

   When I am sad, it starts small. A small, cosy, familiar flicker. I can hold it in one hand. But it can grow. It can engulf me, and I will boil and bubble over. It can roar, it can seethe, it can latch onto anything and anyone who comes close. It can go on burning for days and days and days.

   When I am guilty, it stings. I am paralysed by sharp spines that sink into my skin and pin my bones together so tightly I cannot breathe. Shoulder blades sawing, ribs protruding, teeth bared. It is ugly and unbearable and unrelenting. When I am guilty, my face looks pinky-yellow and swollen and monstrous and I banish every mirror from my memory.

When I am fearful, I am at home. I swaddle myself in the comfort of preparedness, knowledge, and the loneliness of knowing I can only trust myself again for a little while. Fear is being on your own. It is flying away from the world around me and swooping into a darkened cavern, making up the twists and turns as I go along. Fear is my penalty for ever allowing happiness to come in.

   When I am angry, I scoop its viscousness up into a bottle, a stopper sliding neatly into place. I tell myself I will open it again, but I gather more and more in my arms, scalding my skin, soothing the burns with my sadness and guilt. When it gets full, I quietly spill it away, the fumes intoxicating, igniting my wounds. Nobody must ever see. Anger is only for me.

Friday, 11 June 2021

Day 6

    This week I have emerged from hibernation and walked into my spring. I've been so bouncy and full of energy, that I've found it really difficult to want to slow down and focus on anything like writing a blog post. On Day 3, I was snowed under. It felt like I was lying face down under a thick blanket of heavy ice and I poked out my nose only to take in melted water and heat from the glow of nearby light. I blame it somewhat on being on Day 3, but mostly because it was a Tuesday, and Tuesdays are the worst. 

   On Day 4, the tight, fetal branch of my spine suddenly unfurled and extended and everything was blossoming again. I can only speak for myself, but I never took notice of how I naturally connected my desire to hibernate and comfort myself during Day 1-3 as a result of bleeding. However, I have continued to bleed up until today, which is just a whisper. For the first time, I have realised that bleeding isn't necessarily the cause of my withdrawal from emotional and physical sensations and that the return to exercise and other good habits have come about by pure motivation and desire to do them irregardless of the current. This discovery feels like a good outcome of this exercise so far.

   Day 6 brings freshness, a brighter outlook, smiles, energy, and the lack of motivation to write a lengthy blog post. So rather than force myself to do that when I don't feel like it, I can just go ahead and leave it here. 

Take care saplin's, 

Monday, 7 June 2021

Day 1 & 2: pain


   One of my friends, Jenna, is an infinitely calming and grounding influence on my life. She just seems to understand what's important and ultimately why we should care about anything and why we should keep caring. Do you ever meet people like that? People who are super validating of you and your experience by embodying self-possession and who inspire you to be the same? I just think she's really cool like that. 

   Recently she has been doing excellent things with her blog, The Red Circle. Where she charts her cycle. I've been reading the blog, reading about the charting that others have been doing, reading recommended stuff, looking into the theory. I'll level with you, I never thought I'd be remotely interested in doing this, but something clicked recently that has been in the process of clicking for several years. 

   Yesterday, I found myself lying on the bed, my legs hanging off the edge and my pyjama bottoms dangling around my ankles. Groaning, rocking back-and-forth, pressing a heated neck massager into my pelvis. I am, of course, talking about period cramps. Last Christmas I bought my partner an electric neck massager. Everything is stressful 'at the moment', by which I mean for the last few years, so I purchased a nice, warm shiatsu experience without realising the cramp-busting potential.

   I've always made light of periods. Not in any attempt to degrade or humiliate or otherwise depict it as something disgusting or private, but really just to frame it as an annoying companion who knocks on the door once a month and insists on crashing with me for a while. In a way I've attempted to make it kind of cute, even. Just my uterus playing up because I've not provided it with a lodger, oh bless. Sometimes it's still fun to do that, and I would encourage anybody who experiences it to process in any way they deem fit. It is especially true that with people who experience, we don't always need to get into it any more than that. 

   However, I have noticed that making light of it to myself has started to feel really invalidating. Yesterday, I lay there with red, mottled skin because I'd burned it with a hot water bottle. When my partner suggested I use the massager (t h a n k y o u !), I was unable to stand, knees pressed into the carpet, face planted into the sofa as I cried. It was a cold-sweat pain that hurt so much it was difficult to talk through it. Everything inside me felt like it was pulsing. My head throbbed and everything felt uncomfortable and heavy. I recognise that not everyone wants to discuss periods in detail. If you're squeamish, if you rank periods as scatological, or you're really just trying to eat your lunch - I get it. However, I want to get into the habit of at least calling it what it is. Menstruation, period, bleeding. A conscious effort to avoid calling it Aunt Flo or the monthly visitor, because who are we doing that for? Maybe I used to do it for myself to avoid shame, but I'm feeling tired of being embarrassed. If I have to lie there in agony, tears running into my ears and crying out because I don't know what else to do, I'm going to address it by name. 

   I realise I might seem woefully behind on this. Haven't feminists already done this? Haven't we already addressed period stigma? In my echo chambers, it feels this way. But pipe up in any group of people that you're on your period or, god forbid, retrieve a sanitary towel from your bag and you're still going to get mixed reactions. I've stopped hiding my sanitary towels and stopped using the cute little codenames for my period, and every time I feel validated, and closer to the self-possession I want to feel. A few weeks ago I openly told my coworkers I was having a 'bit of a week' due to being on my period, and both the honesty and the supportive reactions felt like a weight lifted. 

   This ramble is the kind of thing that makes me feel better when I'm bleeding. I feel hot and frustrated and claustrophobic. I'm wearing two pairs of underwear and my self-esteem plummets to it's lowest. It arrived 4 days early so I'm annoyed that the plans I made for my annual leave weekend were clouded with my period causing a migraine flare up. So whilst I'm sitting at my desk, working on spreadsheets, taking and making phone calls, dipping in and out of various instant messaging services and emails - I know so many others are doing it whilst bleeding too, and I'm tired of pretending it isn't worthy of words and expression. 

   On Jenna's advice, I am expressing whatever I need to in this ramble after a very painful Day 1 & 2 and also resolving to focus on my needs. Look inwards, focus on what I'm pulling away from and what I'm drawn to. Let myself indulge in what I need, let myself spend whatever time I need alone. Let myself be open and honest that bleeding really sucks, and it's okay for me to say that instead of needing to make it comical for the comfort of others. Day 1 & 2 are balls of rage and pain. They're "I'm sorry I didn't answer your call right away I was just finishing something (read: I was just crying on the toilet). They're the days I want to hibernate, and the days I feel angry at the world for not letting me slow down and do it. They're the days I worry that I'm lazy or failing as a human for not being able to brush it off and carry on. They're also the days I give myself permission to just let things go, and pick them back up tomorrow. They're the days that have been the very best opportunity to learn self-compassion, and I hope that tracking the cycle with its ups and downs will solidify this learning. Let's see where we end up saplin's.