Last week was… rough.
It was the last week of my godforsaken menstrual cycle, and I was too busy surviving to think of anything brilliant to write about.
So I’m just going with the flow (ha!) and share the personal story of me and my period today! Yay!
(Please stop reading if this topic makes you uncomfortable. You’ve been warned.)
When I was 11 or 12, I got my first period. I knew all about menstruation from my anatomically correct (and sex-and-body positive) mother, so I was prepared.
I knew it was my uterine lining, which had prepared to make a baby, being shed.
I knew it was normal, natural, healthy, and a symbol of me entering womanhood.
But I also knew it was disgusting and mortifying.
When it happened and I told my mom, she left me a nice little gift of a mirror with a handwritten note on it, welcoming me to womanhood.
While I can look back and recognize how lovely that was, at the time all I felt was embarrassed. I even begged her not to tell my dad, because I couldn’t bear the thought of him knowing I had blood coming out of my vagina.
Because oh god so personal!
I remember when one of my girlfriends in high school called her dad to bring her tampons at work and I was astonished. Like: she knows that he knows what tampons are for, right?? EW!
It went on like that. For years, my periods always had the same feeling of secrecy and mortification.
It wasn’t shame exactly, because I knew periods were normal and fine.
But I couldn’t help feeling yucky and uncomfortable about someone else knowing that my uterine lining was pouring out of my vagina.
It was so horribly private. So unbearably personal.
And worst of all, it felt like irrefutable proof that I was a “woman,” which was unacceptable, because that was the last way I wanted to be seen.
Being a woman meant being fundamentally unsafe.
Being a woman meant every man staring at my boobs, and making comments about my body. It meant boys being super nice to me, but then trying to cop a feel.
Being a woman meant I was supposed to want to get married and have babies, and both of those things made me want to scream and run away.
Being a woman meant I was supposed to be cheerful and polite and “ladylike.” It meant wearing pantyhose and high heels and mascara, and sitting properly in chairs. It meant getting rid of most of the hair on my body, taming the curls on my head, and constantly be called things like “crazy” and “needy” and “emotional.”
So yeah. I harbored a lot of resentment about being female, and that resentment got transferred onto the “proof” of my female-ness: my breasts, my vulva, and (duh) my period.
As such, I spent years dismissing, denying, and hiding my period when it came– including the fact that I refused to buy or use tampons or pads. Instead, I either just stuck a wad of toilet paper into my underwear, or let my underwear get ruined and threw them away.
My period could not have been less of a self-loving or celebrated experience, and when it finally disappeared with my IUD, I was thrilled.
I even managed to hide my femaleness from myself. I’d hear other women talking about their cycles and feel bewildered. They knew things I couldn’t even begin to guess, like when they were ovulating, and how long their period would last, and how to cycle with other women.
Despite being confused, my outsidership to the female conversation also made me feel a bit smug. As though I was straddling some invisible line between genders, and had somehow escaped the burden of being “as female” as everyone else.
To make a long story short, somewhere along the way (thanks in part to the work I do with women) I forgave my body for it’s female-ness, and decided to reconnect to my own female power.
I wanted to know when I was ovulating, and bleed with the full moon, and cycle with my sisters!
I was really excited to do all that and more when I removed my IUD this Spring. I expected to feel amazing, finally hormone-free! I hoped to feel even more at home in my body; I even bought Thinx panties to honor and celebrate my monthly bleed, and prepared to receive the moon’s wisdom.
Instead of wisdom, though, I found a fucking hurricane.
It took months to get my period back at all, and when it finally came back it was like getting hit by a truck:
Mood swings that struck lightning fast between depression and euphoria.
A crushing fatigue that kept me in bed for days.
Memory gaps, mental fog, difficulty focusing (constantly forgetting words, keys, names, where stories were going, or why I entered rooms).
Crying, crying, crying, crying.
Cramps (both the regular physical pain kind, and the kind I call “existential cramps” in which my whole body seems to be doubled over in emotional pain).
Insane hunger, cravings, and a desire to binge eat.
A disconnected and disembodied feeling, as though I’m not welcomed in my own body.
After months of escalating brutal symptoms and really struggling to stay positive about my female power, I recently realized that something is wrong. This isn’t my “natural cycle,” this is a hormone imbalance. (I’m finally working with a doctor to set things right, huzzah!)
Despite this year’s setback, I am still hoping to commune with my cycle someday, to honor my body’s rhythmic wisdom and receive my monthly downloads from the Universe.
In the meantime however, I’m committed to bringing menstruation out of the shame shadows.
I want to live in a world where teenage girls don’t have to hide their tampons to keep the boys from knowing their vaginas are bleeding.
A world in which your dad finding out you got your period isn’t mortifying.
A world in which the vulva and clitoris are widely discussed and understood, the menstrual cycle is celebrated, and femaleness in general is acknowledged and honored.
Until then, I’ll keep writing emails, sharing personal stories, creating courses, coaching clients, and running live workshops.*
Because being female should not be something women have to spend their entire lives healing from.
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