Penny

                " I will never doubt my mental wellbeing again, which is massive. So many women go through their lives being told there is something wrong with them and that’s not to say that women don’t have mental health problems, anybody can. But there are other things that need to be explored, there is knowledge that if you have a cycle and you embrace it you can understand the link, the connect between you cycle and your mental health.

I suppose I can just tell you my story and my understanding and how that has grown and evolved. Going back to when I was first menstruating and cycling I didn’t have much of an understanding as a cycle or a whole, it was that you have a period and then you are not on your period and that was it. This is a thing once and month, its not very nice, its not pleasant and you don’t talk about it and then you are fine for a few weeks.

 

Simultaneously I would have really high highs and really low lows, thinking that I had some really serious mental health problems and I couldn’t understand why sometimes I had so much energy, feeling great and then feeling miserable and not understanding why I have no energy and feeling crappy, to the point that as a teenager, my doctor said you have anxiety and depression and you need to go on the pill because your hormones have something to do with it.

 

So from a young age I was on the pill. Likely she put every teenage girl at my school on the same pill for the same reasons, because that was the done thing and even through my university, it was a hazy time. I don’t remember having a relationship with my cycle, it wasn’t a priority, but something to manage. Another thing to deal with, but not an internal part of your being, but something that happens. I was more preoccupied with sex and how to manage it around sex. Like ‘night out this week and I am supposed to bleed, I’ll just run two pill packets, if I pull’ and then do that two or three weeks in a row. It was inconvenient to being a student, to partying, to that high energy time.

 

I have a distinctive memory, of moving to a new house with a friend that had a lot of mental health problems and was very vocal about them. The constant conversation made me feel like maybe I have serious problems again. I’m up and down and I am talking about this topic all time. I thought to go to the doctor, it was around this time that I decided to come off the pill, it took quite a few month to settle into a cycle, and then it was like clockwork.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

There is so much in our collective psyche about hysterical women, if have strong emotions as a woman you are taught to think you are crazy, unbalanced or something is wrong.

 

Many psychological studies in Victorian times were done on women and that’s where hysteria comes from. If you are a woman and not operating as a man you may be diagnosed with mental health problems that you don’t have, that are just part of your cycle; feeling the natural changes in hormonal levels, energy levels that need to change. It was a mind-blowing moment to connect the dots and understand that I am not mentally unwell and possibly have never been, a narrative that I have carried because of a male perspective that was put on me through our society.

 

Now I understand my body and my cycle and I am so typical, I have a 26-28 day cycle, the phases of my cycle textbook, to the point that the highs can be very high and the lows very low, but now I understand I don’t lay awake wondering what is wrong with me. I know what I need, I feel like X and its because I am here in my cycle. You can’t always choose when you work or have responsibilities, but you can choose to be kinder to yourself, to push yourself when you know you can be pushed and particularly create when you know you have the capacity to be creative and plan times for planning rather than fighting it.

 

 

 

 

 

It is not something you have to work at forever, you have to work initially. In my adult life I think it is one of the most valuable things I have done because I understand myself more than I ever have done as well as generations before me ever did, more than my mothers relationship to her body, her cycle, her hormones, to my friends around me.

A close friend is currently unsure if she has started the menopause and I can’t image being in a situation where I am unsure if something that big has started to happen in my body and being that disconnected. I remember her being agitated just before my period last month and she said the said thing this month, she clearly still has a cycle but doesn’t even know its happening in her body. I can’t imagine going back to being disconnecting. I will never doubt my mental wellbeing again, which is massive.

So many women go through their lives being told there is something wrong with them and that’s not to say that women don’t have mental health problems, anybody can. But there are other things that need to be explored, there is knowledge that if you have a cycle and you embrace it you can understand the link, the connect between you cycle and your mental health. If you are fighting your cycle all the time, you are going to feel like shit, you are. If you are not giving yourself what you need, you are not going to feel good all the time. So if you move with it, you are likely to feel better, equally that knowledge allows you to know what I happening in your cycle and what may also be happening that’s not to do with your cycle. But if you cannot decipher one from the other you may be medicating yourself for something you don’t even have.

 

Your winter may be so deep, that you feel low, you medicated yourself and you don’t know what you need. So often I think women will get diagnosed with anxiety and depression together, because you have this phase in autumn and winter where you may feel very low and energy you don’t know what to do with in spring and summer and if you don’t know what is happening and why and how to channel it you will feel depressed and anxious and depressed and anxious and not understand why. I am not a psychologist, I am not saying everyone has been wrongly diagnosed, but I think there is so much that is being missed and not being explored.

 

Many many many women would benefit from understanding their cycle and making the link between mental health, wellbeing and giving your self what you need when you need. How can you feel good when you can give yourself what you need?

 

By comparison I feel great, I can wake up and say why I feel how I feel, for so many years I was so confused, for so long. I am sure being an angsty teenager has a lot to play in that, but now in my mid-twenties I feel settled in my body and my life.

 

The earlier you know this, you don’t have to fight. We are taught it is totally fine to suppress, something we are told is a weakness, but it is our strength. I know that if I do this type of thing at this time, I can be the best me. The fact we are not given that knowledge as a young adult is wild, it makes you wonder how many people are living the same thing. What they are going through is real, but this could support them to understand their way through it. How to live in your cycle rather than against their cycle.

 

I feel strongly about making this connection between mental health and the cycle, it is worth exploring this way of managing your life rather than medication and ways to suppress what’s happening in your body. You are not someone with a cycle, you are someone in a cycle.

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I didn’t understand anything outside of actually menstruating, I didn’t know what the other parts of it were and what they meant. It took a while to figure that stuff out.

 

It wasn’t until you started learning and sharing with me, that I started to connect the dots between what was happening and my mental health over many years, to what is happening in my body all the time and normalising what is happening in my body all the time.

My life has changed so much, being able to recognize what is happening in my own body and what I need.

 

If you just read the information and leave it, it can be really easy to just fall back into not being conscious and aware of your cycle, fighting against it, it would be really easy to read the information and walk away, not taking it on. Even if it is a couple of months that you are aware and chart, I don’t chart every month now, but I know where I am in my cycle because I have done it previously. Because you can learn your own patterns, if you fall into a textbook cycle, it makes the resources available easier to understand. But even if you have an irregular cycle and you chart enough you will learn your unique cycle, you awaken an instinct, you realise ‘I was there the whole time, I just wasn’t connected’.