Shifting the (menstrual) mindset.
Periods are normal and healthy; part of the company we keep. If we get to know them a little better and shift our thinking, our wellbeing might be better off, says author Jane Bennett.
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If we’re taught that menstruation is something to be ashamed of – to hide or to manage in secret – then our ability to understand the process, practice self-care and to ask for support when we need it becomes seriously limited. On the other hand, if we’re taught and shown that periods are healthy, normal and important, then our menstrual (and overall) wellbeing might be improved.
As part of researching and writing the book About Bloody Time: The menstrual revolution we have to have, we spent several years gathering and studying women’s and girls’ menstrual and menopausal experiences.
Again and again we were struck by the isolation, discomfort and lack of useful information that so many women reported; whether the women were talking about their first period or their last (or the many in between).
Numerous women expressed their embarrassment, anger and frustration at not understanding their bodies better. Then, having devoured information later in life, they wished they’d had better support from the beginning. The sense was that this might have transformed their life.
Many women are confused about what it means to have an irregular cycle. Is their period irregular? How long should it be? How much blood, how much pain, how many pads are normal? What is it that causes menstruation? What does it mean if my period stops? If I’m not pregnant is it harmful that I don’t have a period? Does hormonal contraception affect my fertility? What happens at menopause? Is this normal? Am I normal?
Is it a lack of information, or is there something deeper and more complex going on? Of course, thoughtful, up-to-date information is needed and valuable, but it’s not enough.
As we delved further in the research, it seemed that the true culprit in all of this is menstrual shame; the hard-to-articulate cultural fog that leaves us with the feeling that there is something wrong, dirty, shameful and ugly about menstruation, which leads to judgement, loathing and isolation for many women and girls.
For menstrual education to be of use, the taboo must be seen, disentangled and replaced with healthy curiosity, pride and openness. Even awe, for the extraordinary and intricate ovulation-menstruation cycle – it is central to our very existence!
Periods can be difficult, and period pain is period pain. But we do know that attitudes, beliefs and expectations can impact our experience of pain. As does shame, isolation and secrecy. Our personal attitude toward our period can stick for years, and decades. This is something worth thinking about, and seek to change if we feel the need.
If you average it out from the first period until menopause, in our lives, we bleed for one day in five or six. There is much we can do to make this a better experience for ourselves, for our daughters and our friends and colleagues.
Let a little menstrual revolution into your life!
Try the following:
Notice how you think and feel about your period. Pay a little extra attention to get to know your menstrual cycle more. For instance, note symptoms on an app, journal your mood through the month or learn more about your cyclic biology.
Ask yourself how you can make friends with your period, your cycling-self. What would help?
Find a simple doable thing that would signal gentleness, care and respect. Practice empathy for yourself when you have your period or feel tired or emotionally fragile before your period starts.
Do this for a month or two, and see what changes. Then, choose someone you trust to share your experiences and discoveries with.
With Karen Pickering, Jane Bennett is the author of About Bloody Time: The menstrual revolution we have to have.
We’ll be running a giveaway of some copies of this fantastic and important book soon!
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