Seeing that March is Women’s History Month, this week is Endometriosis Awareness Week and today is International Women’s Day all got me thinking about just how powerful women are. And, as balance proves, just how much we have to bear. For many women including me, one of the toughest things to get through each month is our menstrual cycle. It creeps up around every corner. Blindsides us with pain, fatigue and sadness. Unorganized thoughts and paranoia. And for some, a desire for it all to end. But we fight through. Because we're women and that's what we do.
I started menstruating when I was 10. I’m now 38. So for 28 years, I’ve dealt with premenstrual syndrome (PMS) beginning 14 to 16 days into my cycle and lasting until day 25 to 32 when I get my period. So for half or more of every month for as long as I can recall, I lose time. I am forced to slow down and to take even better care of myself. Acts of self-care that I already struggle with accomplishing in a day. I have to limit my interactions with others and constantly work to reframe my unhealthy thoughts. Not to mention the cramps, fatigue, food cravings and mood swings. Insomnia, hot flashes, digestive issues. Or the weight gain from the water retention and bloating, but that could just be the endometriosis I also suffer from.
Endometriosis pain is unlike anything else. Thanks to public figures like Lena Dunham and Padma Lakshmi sharing their stories, endometriosis is finally being recognized for what it really is: an extreme physical, emotional and mental health issue. It’s even been given its own week, March 3rd - 9th, to raise awareness and to draw attention to the severity of the underlying issues with endometriosis.
Endometriosis is difficult to describe (which is probably why it is so often overlooked), but I will do my best. It’s as if some tiny alien lifeform attacks your body each month. Taking up space. Creating their own landscape. Setting up shop. Attacking your body. Not only shooting sharp pains throughout your body, but establishing camps. Even in your brain. Distorting your thoughts and making everything feel foggy. Pushing out the lining of your uterus to make room for themselves. Bloating you and inflaming your tissues to the point where it’s more than just painful, it’s immobilizing. Leaving you lying there bleeding or clotting or dodging exploding cysts. Making you wish you’d just throw up or pass out to have some release. They even take over the weather inside. Like there’s a thick, dark cloud that refuses to pass until they've finished what they came for. And there’s nothing you can do to fight it off. Only sit there and take it and pray it will get better someday.
I recently learned that feeling this way, and why it is so different from PMS, is also partly due to my premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD). Another disorder to add to my forever evolving list of disorder diagnoses.
Within about seven days before my period, my symptoms become increasingly worse. A different beast in itself. With PMDD, my life no longer feels like my own. It’s beyond an alien-like lifeform taking over where I may still have some control. Instead, I can’t see myself at all. I become the alien.
My thoughts are scrambled and my anxiety and depression rise. Instead of struggling to get my work done or to socialize, I feel like I can’t do anything. Like something is preventing me from everything I try to accomplish. Like there is nothing but darkness and I should just give up.
I become angry. Violent. Toward others and toward myself. I have to fight off the thought that I should stop it all. End relationships. Leave town. Take my life. For it feels like there is no reason to go on any more. Like I’m a burden. Like there is no point in trying to make it better because it will never get better. Like the only way to make it better is to end it altogether.
And then the cloud lifts after my cycle ends. Where I get to see my life and myself for what it really is and for who I really am instead of what and who my period self shows me. A brief respite. A time to enjoy life. Before it all begins again. It is, after all, cyclical.
I've been searching for ways to make my menstrual cycle more bearable my entire life, and, aside from the birth control pills and chemicals that every doctor has tried to shove down my throat (none of which ever worked), I have found some ways to cope with my cycle that have greatly improved my life. I hope they will help you or a loved one who suffers too:*
Exercise in some form every day. I run or walk when I’m feeling energized and meditate and do yoga when I need to re-energize and to connect my body to my mind and soul.
Drink more water even then usual. I aim for 80 ounces each day during the last week of my cycle. Fueling my second chakra where our uterus and reproductive organs are located.
Drink ginger tea for at least seven to 10 days prior to menstruation. It reduces bloating and inflammation like nothing else I’ve tried.
Eat more fat and carbs, and of course, protein.
Take fatty oil supplements, especially if you’re a vegetarian, and vitamins and minerals. I take flaxseed oil, evening primrose oil, a multivitamin and an herbal and botanical hormone-balancing formula called FemGuard+Balance. I also take probiotics twice a day to maintain my gut health.
Take a magnesium supplement. I take Natural Calm every night, sometimes doubling up during tough days, and keep Good Day Chocolate - Calm with me for an immediate magnesium fix during stressful times.
Take (magnesium) Epsom salt baths. I also use a bath gel called Dragon Time (Young Living brand blend) to help balance my hormones.
Use CBD. I also use medical marijuana. Sativa helps boost my mood and Indica helps soothe my body.
Use essential oils, especially if you have endometriosis as oils like thyme, Dragon Time (Young Living brand blend), Digize (Young Living brand blend), and lavender reduce pain and swelling.
Write down your thoughts during your cycle so after your cycle you can see how drastically your mood changed, so you don’t beat yourself up about it, and so you know what to expect the next month.
Keep track of your symptoms on a calendar so you can track each phase of your cycle — so you can prepare for what’s coming.
Retreat from social engagements if and when possible. Don’t interact with others more than you are able to. Do things you enjoy on your own. Try to use it as a time to reconnect to yourself.
Learn where your emotional pain stems from and give it a voice. Work through it with the help of a healer. Don’t let it fester and destroy your insides. And as always, treat yourself with love and compassion. Especially during this difficult time.
*You are different than me. The information I provide is meant to help you learn about your mental health through my experiences. Always consult your intuition and your team of experts regarding your own heath.
This story originally ran on Psych Central on March 8, 2019. Since Psych Central has been sold, the link to the original is no longer available.
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