At the time of writing this, I’ve literally just spent three hours alternating between being curled up in excruciating pain in fetal position and being spread out in starfish position (to distribute the agony?) in excruciation pain, all with a heating pad shoved into my abdomen, falling back asleep at 11am as a form of cramp/nausea management – then waking back up an hour later in absolutely zero pain whatsoever. The body is weird. And cool. And weird.
[Guys, hopefully I haven’t lost you yet and you’re still hanging in here for this one. I understand if you’re like, this piece doesn’t pertain to me at all. I don’t have ovaries. But I feel that it is extremely important for men to understand what exactly happens during this weird-cool-weird time of the month, because it’s so incredibly intricate. If the roles were reversed and men went through some crazy change every month that everyone knew about but no one really talked about pragmatically and was viewed a certain way by mainstream culture, I would 100% want to know about what was really going on so that I could support my partner, my brother, my dad, and all the males in my life as they were experiencing this roller coaster for themselves.]
It still baffles me that at pretty much all workplaces, your menstrual cycle (or as my mom used to call it, The Curse) is not considered a legit medical excuse to take the day off. Some environments – usually super relaxed, super empathetic, and super run by women – have managers that will understand, but there’s still this feeling you get that maybe I shouldn’t be taking off because maybe I am just supposed to deal with this because maybe this is just how it is.
Which is not the case: You don’t just have to deal. This is not just how it is.
I don’t know about you, but my negative self-talk muscles go into overdrive about 7-10 days before I start my period. Sometimes more, sometimes less. I have a horrible first 24 hours….and then it’s like my body is back to its normal self again (besides the fact that there’s the 3-5 days more of my uterus doing its monthly striptease). So basically, my mind and body are on a roller coaster for a total of almost two weeks out of the month.
Here’s what the notables of my cycle look like, usually:
- 14-20 days before P-Day: I feel like a sexy goddess woman. Ain’t no stopping me this time, menses!
- 10ish days before P-Day: super excited about being active. Usually my best running times/speeds and most consistent workouts.
- 7ish days before P-Day: starting to feel poofy-bodied, start to feel extremely tired all the time.
- 5 days before P-Day: my digestive system seems to stop working for 5 days. Real fun, since this is when my appetite seems to let on that I must be mutating into The Hulk or something.
- 2-3 days before P-Day: I hate everything. I want to quit my job. I want to confront all the people who bother me. I cry. I get angry. My workouts are crap. I’m still eating.
- 1 day before P-Day: little cramps start to come in and I’m constantly saying “I think I got it” to myself, much like the opening number of A Chorus Line but definitely not as joyous. Feeling either a major surge in creativity or frustration with all the things.
- P-Day: sharp, painful cramps during my morning workout. P-Day begins later that day, sometimes even in the evening. DMS – DuringMenstrual Syndrome – begins now.
- First 24 hours: WHY GOD WHY
- Everything after: What just happened
With so much going on, whether the “journey” (let’s call it that) lasts a few days or a few weeks, it’s understandable that we spend a good portion of that time feeling uncomfortable and unlike our usual selves. We speak about how to tame cramps, cure cravings, and soothe an achey back, but it’s not often we talk about how to manage the way we view and talk to ourselves during this crucial time of month. Hopefully, this is a start. Share it with your friends. Share it with your family. Here’s how to handle negative self talk during your cycle:
1. MANAGE YOUR EXPECTATIONS.
Remember the timeline I laid out above? That sequence of events took me a while to lock down, but once I started paying attention to my physical, emotional, spiritual, and creative self during the two weeks leading up to my period, I started to notice patterns. It happened once. It happened again the next month. And then again the next month. And the next. I realized that although how I was feeling and responding to the world/myself felt completely random each month, it really wasn’t random at all. My cycle is pretty regular, but it used to be all over the place. Still, the same patterns would apply even if the time of the month that that-time-of-the-month came around was different. I learned to read my body’s cues and predict my period even when my cycle wasn’t exactly 28 days long every month.
To help yourself get familiar with your own patterns, download an app like iPeriod which allows you make notes, rate your symptoms, and assign fun emojis to how you’re feeling (because everything’s more fun with emojis, even your period). Once you’ve taken stock a few months in a row, you’ll start to recognize patterns and be able to manage your expectations each month. That day you’re absolutely loathing life? You’ll know you just need to feel it out, and that it’ll be gone soon. Because it always is. And you knew it was coming.
2. HAVE A STASH OF FEEL-GOOD FOODS/SNACKS AT THE READY…
…and I don’t mean feel-good-now-hate-yourself-later foods/snacks.
You know what I mean. Not the stuff you rhetorically ask yourself “WHYYY” about two hours later. If you’re not already, cut out refined sugar and eat a plant-based diet the week before/of your period to quell cramps and other period funsies. I am about 80% plant based in my own life, which is what works for me and gets me feeling at my best. But right before I start my period, all bets are usually off. The craving struggle is real. But I know if I eat a lot of processed sugar or dairy right before my period (exactly what usually sounds good), I will not only feel like hell in the moment, I’ll be in for a good few days of pain.
When it comes to that time of month, it’s when we’re not prepared that we end up grabbing what will make us doubled over in pain later, saying horrible things to ourselves about how “I’m so F-Word” and how “I should have known better.” That’s not necessary. Know yourself and stay prepared.
Sugar and dairy are especially inflammatory and irritating to your delicate body right now, as well as other processed or non-planty foods. Keep food around that is anti-inflammatory and won’t make your body go even more haywire than it already feels like it is. I keep a huge bag of blueberries in my freezer at all times, and double up my back-stock right before my period. I’ll fill up a big old bowl and douse it with coconut yogurt, sliced bananas, and this superfoody granola – feels decadent, substantial, is ridiculously easy to prepare (I’m more of a “creative arrangement” girl than a recipe maven most of the time) and doesn’t make my symptoms even worse than they are.
3. KNOW YOUR GO-TO HAPPY PLACES/PEOPLE/SITUATIONS WHEN YOU’RE FELLING LOW.
Maybe you love to run for exercise, but during your period, upright high-impact activity sounds absolutely dreadful – so the indoor cycling bike is your best friend for a week. Maybe you’re an extrovert who likes to keep her calendar full with all different kinds of plans, but during your period there are some relationships that are too high-energy – so your fellow introvert friends are a nice balance and speak to your need to be calm and grounded right now. Is there a restaurant, coffee shop, or little nook of town that feeds your heightened creative, reflective state right now? Go there. What and where and who you love to be involved with when you’re feeling “normal” is not necessarily what and where and who you’ll love to be around when you’re PMS/DMS’ing, and that’s okay.
I’m currently at The Springs in DTLA – the perfect balance of inviting, airy, and introspective that I need right now. Usually I’m perfectly happy lounging on her couch reading Tiny Beautiful Things essays, but right now, I need to feel a part of something bigger than myself out in the world. Or bigger than my uterine striptease, rather.
4. RECOGNIZE THAT WHAT IS HAPPENING IS NOT PERMANENT.
It seems like such a “duh” thing, but constantly reminding yourself that this is just for now does wonders when it comes to keeping your negative talk at bay. Usually when we’re speaking negatively about ourselves, it’s with an assumption of permanence: ownership statements instead of observational statements. Instead, observe what is happening like you’re a second party. What’s going on physically, emotionally, cretively, and spiritually? This is where managing your expectations comes into play: if you have at least a vague idea of what to expect when it comes to your cycle, it’s easier to view these changes as temporary occurrences that pop up once every month. Especially when it comes to your body.
For example, I know that around 5-7 days before my period starts up until day two, I gain anywhere between 3 and 8 pounds (yes, specifically *that* range every single time). My chest grows, my body slightly poofs, my digestion slows, and my hips become like one of those expanding dining room tables that you’ve added an extra leaf to in order to fit eight people instead of four. I used to say horrible things to myself about the way I looked, the way I felt, and the way I could feel my body changing by what seemed like the hour. I’d convince myself I needed to work out harder or eat less, which was all the more frustrating because I was too fatigued to hit the gym hard and my body was craving extra nourishment as it was working overtime to get my ladyparts ready for their monthly piece de resistance.
And then one month, I realized that this happened every single month like clockwork – and went away every month like clockwork, too. I was simply retaining water, inflammed, tired, and my gut was fast asleep. Of course I felt icky for a few days in a row! These are all completely normal, and are completely predictable. Berating myself for simply being a healthy, functioning woman was no way to live. And so I decided to cut myself some damn slack. I didn’t wear clothing I knew would make me uncomfortable. I invested in a top-notch heating pad. And I told myself that I am a lucky, lucky woman to be as healthy as I am, and that it sucks in the moment, but it is not for always. It’s just for now. Once I accepted that as my truth, the negative self-talk and bullying started to subside.
The body is weird. And cool. And weird. That weird-coolness is what makes it so fascinating. Click To Tweet
We’re supposed to suck it up once a month and just deal with this chain reaction going on inside of us – but sucking it up is not the answer. Knowing ourselves is. You’re not “cursed” – you’re functional. Please don’t stress too much over it. But if you need to, you need to. Just do it mindfully. We’re all in the same boat. This too shall pass. Let it flow.