So here is my story. Some will relate, some won’t, but I think we could all do with a bit of mindfulness when Aunt Flo comes to visit.
When I was younger, my periods were a relatively easy affair. I didn’t get debilitating cramps or suffer from wild mood swings, nor was I particularly emotional before getting them (at least I don’t remember things being overly divergent from my regular emotional state - which could be quite wild! Youth, eh! What a ride!). I thought I was pretty lucky (especially when I saw how horrible menstruation could be for some of my friends), and so I thought that was how I would remain.
Not so as it turns out! Because, as it turns out, surprise surprise: the body changes! Who knew!? Given the amount of available literature at the time (and even today), it was difficult to find out what the changes would be like or even that there would be changes. Menopause seems to still be a murky area for many women and as it fast approaches me at 47 years old, I am none the wiser and also pretty nervous about it!
But this post is not about menopause. It is about the onslaught of PMT and painful periods as I get older. If you already suffer from PMT then you will be familiar with this lurking monster. For me, it actually came as a surprise, however over time I started to join the dots between my deep monthly depressions and the uninhibited rage that would seemingly come from nowhere … to be followed a few days later by, “Oh. I got my period … perhaps THAT was the cause!”
What can I say; I was a bit slow to catch on. Or maybe I did just not want to admit to myself that my menstrual cycle had turned against me. My partner tried helpfully to point this out to me on occasion, to be met with an indignant “how DARE you reduce my emotions to a sexist cliché!” followed some time later with “perhaps you were right but you know, even if you are right I don’t advise letting me know right at that moment … I can’t be held responsible!” So there he was, trapped between the devil and the deep blue sea. Respecting me, and my cycle, but knowing that each month he would be the metaphorical punching bag for my uncontrolled emotions.
After one particularly weepy session where I apologised for my angry and depressed mood and admitted that it was probably PMT, he made the very brave and brilliant suggestion of writing down on the whiteboard when my next period was due (I’ve never been a cycle diarist) and then that way we would know it was coming and could prepare for it.
Something in what he said rang a bell in my head. Where had I heard something like this before? Oh that’s right, Mindfulness! Staying mindful and in the present moment when strong emotions hit can help shine a light on your pain and can help you examine it. When you shine a light on a monster, we all know it loses its power.
I was also reminded of Eckhart Tolle’s Power of Now and his descriptions of the collective pain body:
“Almost every woman has her share in the collective female pain-body, which tends to become activated particularly just prior to the time of menstruation At that time many women become overwhelmed by intense negative emotion.”
I won’t go into to now but suffice to say it basically means that at least some of the “tension” in PMT is psychic: a resonance of collective pain from the suppression of women throughout time!
I know, I know, it sounds very new-agey and kinda out there but my other studies into trauma and the body also revealed the phenomenon of Generational Trauma, a trauma that is passed down through generations of traumatised families and on even larger scales of whole cultures and peoples. So after centuries of being denied equal rights, kept or bargained away as chattels, burned as witches, raped and beaten, women have inherited a collective trauma - and when we are about to experience one of the most feminine of all phenomena, menstruation, we can quite rightly get depressed and a little bit angry.
However, as with so many symptoms of trauma, we don’t remember why we are being triggered. But the good news is it doesn’t have to be that way! As Tolle says, PMS can be “an opportunity for the most powerful spiritual practice, and a rapid transmutation of all past pain becomes possible.” An awakening to all things female! The secret is staying present.
It all sounded pretty spot on in theory, I thought, so I was ready to give it a try.
May 8th started looming up. My partner and I would mention it. I was ready for Aunt Flo and for once I wasn’t going to greet her as the enemy at the gate but as a the crazy, loving woman she is.
I got my first inkling when a friend discussed getting my headshot for my counseling service promotions and I got a little angry and a little teary. “I don’t want to see my face on a postcard”, I cried. I don’t even remember when I started hating photographs of myself but I decided to sit with that feeling and investigate it; a lot of pain, and a lot to do with being a woman, aging and social expectations of beauty. “EEK!”, I thought, “I’m repressed”! But that’s good. I shone that mother-flipping light on that monster and … I welcomed her in and gave her a hug. It felt good. It felt right. But my pain body was not through with me yet. Oh no!
Next came a midnight fear session, but in a state of mindfulness I put my miner’s light on, girded my loins and went in. Breathing deeply into the sensation, using my breathe as a anchor, I felt my anxiety leap as in rebellion. I felt a fluttering in my chest, panic and breathlessness. “Breathing in, I’m breathing in. Out, I’m breathing out!” I chanted to myself to steady my breath and mind.
There were worries about my ability to help people in counselling … was I really any good at it … maybe it’ll just end up on the stack of failures piling up in the corner of my mind that I have come to know as my life! … In mindfulness I caught myself there. WOW! What the!!? Come on in, you poor bedraggled thing, fancy sitting out there in the cold on your own, here’s a hug for you too! (I’m tearing up as I write this, remembering the warm sensation of self love that followed!)
I can’t say I caught all my negative thoughts, and my partner would certainly point out I was no gentle Buddha, but I had felt a change. I felt relief and I felt like I was coming home at last. My partner also felt as if he was no longer on the outside, I had invited him in and made him part of the process, to help when he could.
My periods are now on their last day and, bizarrely, I’m almost sad to see them go. I have learned so much about myself this time through staying present and practicing mindfulness. I am actually keen for next month to come around again so I can learn more about myself. We have jotted the date on the white board. We’ll be hanging out the bunting and welcoming Aunt Flo and the painters in for some redecorating!
Here is some more gold from Eckhart Tolle on the pain body! Get ready for an A-ha moment!
If you want to read more about Mindfulness, I have a previous blog ‘ Mindfulness and how to get it!” above with some very useful links!