Guest blog by Maisie Hill
To mark the launch of Maisie’s amazing book ‘Period Power’, she has written this exclusive blog post for Bloody Good Period.
Getting to know the rhythm of your cycle is a self-care technique that’s easy to start, implement and maintain. It need only take a minute to do every day, it won’t cost you anything, and in all seriousness, it’s likely to change your life.
Keeping track of your menstrual cycle is like knowing the weather forecast in that it helps you to know when the darker stormier days will happen, and although there will be times when you’re able to cancel your plans and stay inside, most of the time you’ll just have to crack on. But through charting your cycle you’ll know what you need in order to get through the day, so in the same way you’d take an umbrella when it’s forecast to rain, you might need to prioritise getting a good night’s sleep and not skipping meals.
Working with the menstrual cycle and attuning daily life to it, where possible, may seem impossible at first, but everyone I’ve worked with has managed to successfully negotiate what they need on some level, even if all they can do is understand where they’re at and talk to themselves with more kindness. In fact, working with the menstrual cycle is an easy way to support mental health, because it allows you to feel and respond to your changing mood and energy, which, in turn, creates inner flexibility and stability. Above all else, it helps you to speak to yourself with kindness and understanding.
Practically, it gives you a fabulous way of organising your diary - whether that’s booking things in for the days when you’re on fire or creating softness and space around the days that may well feel disastrous. And keeping track of symptoms over the course of a few cycles means that you’ll be able to give healthcare professionals a detailed and accurate account of what you experience, which can enable them to identify conditions like endometriosis, adenomyosis, and premenstrual dysphoric disorder, and determine an appropriate treatment plan.
Charting your cycle is not about trying to conceive - though it can help to develop a more positive relationship with your body if you’re experiencing or have experienced fertility issues.
All you have to do is keep track of what day of your menstrual cycle you’re on and write down how you feel physically and emotionally, any particular insights that occur to you, what you struggled with and what went fantastically well. This gives you data, data that can be compiled into a blueprint that’s specific to your experience of your cycle, and one that you can reflect on by yourself or choose to share with others in whatever way feels comfortable to you. You might just write down one word that sums things up (ideal if you’re short on time or have trouble committing to self-care practices, and yes, that’s most of us), or a sentence… or a page might feel more appropriate on some days. Just start with something.
Once you’ve been charting for a few months, you’ll probably start to spot patterns.
You’ll notice that there are days when you tend to:
· Feel quick-witted and articulate, ready to take on the world.
· Crave time alone - to focus on projects or to switch off.
· Feel horny.
· Have no interested in sex.
· Are tired AF.
· Feel highly productive.
· Just want to potter and sort odd jobs out.
· Would prefer not to talk to anyone.
· Want to get out and about and do all the fun things.
· Are of full of ideas and creative solutions.
· Feel irritable / anxious / depressed.
You’ll realise what days are suited to particular activities, and perhaps more importantly, you’ll get a sense of when to ease up on things; when to avoid cramming extra meetings into your day, when it’s really not the right time to do your monthly shop with kids in tow (not that that is ever a wise move), and when it’s a bloody awful time to have your in-laws stay with you.
All you need to do is:
Check in with yourself once a day, perhaps before bed, or throughout the day if you’ve got the sense that you’re on a data-rich cycle day. Keep note of your feelings, experiences and insights. Write down what’s working well or not-so-well for you. Just. Keep. Note. As you accumulate more data, you can start to reflect on previous cycles and begin to notice patterns, and from there you can plan your life accordingly, where possible.
That’s it. Told you it was quick and simple.
Everyone’s experience of their cycle is different; what matters is your experience of your cycle. Whatever it’s like, I recommend using the framework of the four seasons of the year to understand how you evolve through the four phases of the menstrual cycle.
At the beginning of the cycle, hormone levels are low. Some people might not be affected by this, but others will feel it acutely and may feel a deep need to lay low. This is a time for you to rest and recalibrate, and to focus on activities which centre your interests and needs. From day 3 there is a gentle upswing of oestrogen which some menstruators are sensitive to, resulting in an increase in energy and positivity. If this is you then I recommend not putting your pedal to the metal just yet, your energy is gathering and if you can hold back from expending it all, it will continue to grow so that in the coming weeks you’ll be able to make full use of it during the subsequent seasons.
Is there a seed of something within you – an idea, an insight, or calling – that is vying for your attention? Be aware of it and get curious, acknowledge its presence even if you have no idea what to do with it. It is enough to notice it. This isn’t about forming a plan that can be followed and completed in one cycle, it is simply the act of noticing what rises to the surface in you during this phase and deciding to work with it as you move through the phases of the cycle.
Around the time that your period ends, you’ll enter the Spring phase of your cycle. This is where oestrogen really gets going which will hopefully leave you looking good and feeling good! In every cycle, oestrogen’s plan is to get us laid and knocked up, regardless of whether that’s something you want or not. Oestrogen does this by making us interested in other people and this is often the phase of the cycle where sexual desire increases too, because oestrogen stimulates blood flow to the genitals which can result in tingles when you least expect them and an increase in cervical fluid which is what that wet patch in your underwear is all about. Though interestingly and unsurprisingly, research tells us that feeling desire in the run up to ovulation doesn’t always result in sexual behaviour with others #girlswanktoo
This is the phase of the cycle where ideas might pop into your head and you could feel curious about all sorts of things, so it’s a great time to experiment and have some light-hearted fun.
If you are tired in this phase of your cycle, then something has gone awry. It may be that your experience of bleeding leaves you in a depleted state, in which case, please seek out help from qualified professionals and prioritise your very real need for self- care throughout your cycle – this is non-negotiable.
As oestrogen peaks – around day 12 in a 28-day cycle – you transition into the Summer phase of your cycle. Your ability to communicate with the world is heightened, making it the perfect time to speak publicly, schedule an important meeting or interview, go on a date, showcase your talents, and generally let the world how friggin’ amazing you are. Testosterone also arrives on the scene for a few days which can make you more likely to take risks and try things you haven’t done before, and it can also contribute to an increase in desire. Summer is the season to stretch yourself somehow – to push things forward and take them to the next level, and to be visible in the world before entering the more introspective seasons of the cycle.
For the day or two after ovulation, hormone levels are low again and some menstruators find that their energy and mood plummets, the high of ovulation suddenly feeling distant. But once progesterone – the hormone which dominates the second half of the cycle – gets going, and oestrogen rises again, you’ll hopefully feel your energy returning and your mood calming.
Progesterone peaks in the middle of the second half of your cycle (the luteal phase), which is around day 21 in a 28-day cycle, and often results in a need to sort things out and get shit done. That might mean focussing on a project, editing and refining it so that it’s in a finished or good enough state before this cycle comes to an end, or it might be about getting on top of life admin so that you feel a sense of completion before the cycle ends and perhaps go to ground in some way when your period arrives.
Feeling angry, sad, frustrated, and depressed are common in Autumn, but when we write them off as PMSing we do ourselves a disservice. What you feel here is real, and what bothers you here probably bothers you all the time. Anger in particular can instruct us that something isn’t right, and that change is needed. But in the first half of the cycle, we gloss over the little (and large) things that bother us because oestrogen doesn’t want you to be disgusted by your other half talking with their mouth full – oestrogen wants us chatty and horny, so it’s the second half of the cycle when the rose-tinted glasses come off and you find yourself wanting to stab your other half with a fork.
Maisie Hill is a women's health practitioner, birth doula, writer, and leader of the Womb Tang Clan, based in Margate, UK. She has been specialising in women's health for 10 years and has a BSc in Chinese Medicine Acupuncture, as well as six diplomas in other therapies and specialities.
Read more about Maisie and her practices on her blog maisiehill.com