Each month my period hits like it’s the end of the world.
Earthquakes ripple through my body, womb-spasms hit on the hour, pains, crying, sickness - all erupt at once. As I’ve gotten older they’ve become less explosive and slower in their assault, but there are still some months that are volcanic in their eruption that leave a trail of exhaustion, sadness and unwashed bed sheets leading all the way to next Monday.
Somehow, I find the sadness the easiest part to manage. When the first emotional pang of an existential crisis hits or where I notice myself being triggered by the smallest things, I embrace those moments as an opportunity to practise the wisdom of the womb: shedding. I utilise my mindfulness training and practise letting go of whatever emotional build up there is inside me, allowing my emotional walls to break down as the walls of my womb do the same. Framing the emotional experiences that accompany my periods in this way stops me from being frustrated about how I’m feeling, and creates space for me to learn about the emotions and let them flow rather than judging myself for them. I approach them with curiosity instead of dread, wondering ‘what will come up this time’, looking forward to the exploration as an opportunity for growth.
However, outside of those emotional experiences, I’m still left with the very real physical experience. I’ve experimented over the years with different methods of womb-quake management to mediate this, falling into a routine of ibuprofen, mindful breathing (which can help to ease pain), hot water bottles and special teas. I've also recently begun the process of probing a little further, exploring whether there are any underlying medical issues such as endometriosis or fibroids that could explain the experience I have during my periods as these medical conditions are common in black women.
Part of me is frustrated at all this. It almost feels annoying to have to take all of the steps of learning about teas and medical conditions and hormones and whatever else just to be able to function when people around you are able to function easily during their period. On a long list of things that people with wombs already have to be responsible for: taking care of general health, exercise, therapy, healthy eating, making money, cleaning, managing our relationships, cooking and so on, having special things we need to do to manage our periods on top of this doesn’t help. How are we supposed to remain on top of all of these things?
Slow living influencer Destiny Joelivia speaks often on her platforms about caring for yourself during your period and general ‘cycle care’, and I wanted to ask her how she manages to make space for cycle and period care amongst all the other demands of life. I began by asking how she got interested in cycle care and how she shows up for herself during her cycle.
Destiny: I began my cycle care journey fully, during the first lockdown of the pandemic. It was then I noticed my symptoms either getting worse or not changing, and it was also affecting my mental health. This was the year I married my husband and I knew I wanted to start looking after myself better if I was going to begin a life with him and consider children in the future.
I stopped looking for quick fixes to solve my period problems on the day I would
experience them, and started educating myself on what it means to have a cycle and what it
looks like to seek holistic support for all systems rather than just the reproductive one.
In short, the way I show up for myself now is: I rest when my hormones indicate I should, and I embark in the moments I'm more energised. There are four stages to our cycles, which I like to call seasons. When we bleed, from day 1 of our cycle to the end of bleeding, I allow myself to turn inward. Much like a winter hibernation, this is a time for warming and nourishing, warming herbs & spices, easy digestible foods, heat and comforters, Netflix and lots of rest.
After bleeding, up until ovulation, is considered inner Spring. Where Summer is on her way, I like to move my body a lot more and get myself ready for going out-out. I schedule ahead of time, the meetups and more extroverted work tasks. I also continue to nourish my body with herbs and foods to support it for coming ovulation and generally start to crawl out of hibernation.
Then comes Summer, 'ovulation,' and usually I can feel much more energised, sociable and sexy. Based on how my overall cycle has been, I will literally divide all tasks and conquer. I film, I go out and explore, I start projects and fuel myself with lighter foods. My diet changes according to each phase so I just listen, I will usually crave the freshest salads and fun dishes during this time.
The Luteal phase is known as Autumn, where we prepare the body and mind for winter again. It’s a sigh of relief usually but it can sometimes feel stressful for me. Our hormones change after ovulation and this causes a reduction of energy and motivation - which is okay I believe, but we are so conditioned to be on the grind, sometimes you want to keep going. I’ve learned how to wrap up my work and my environment ready for a calming period. I do this by ‘nesting’ making sure the house is super clean, the bedroom is calming and I don’t have any super sociable or hard tasks in the diary. I start to double up on my supplements and my self care get turned up a notch, aiding myself to be less stressed.
Mica: Is it difficult to keep track of the phases and show up in specific ways for each? Are there barriers to consistently showing up in this way?
Destiny: There are definitely barriers. I'm fortunate enough to be self employed and work from home, which means I can fit my work around my cycle. But if you work a 9-5 everyday I can see how this may be hard. Do what you can. If in your mind you are being true to what your body needs, that’s the first big step. Adjusting your self care at home, or asking for different hours, getting out in nature often, or saying no to extra activities, these things make a huge difference.
It can also be easy to become stressed if your cycle care doesn't look like what you think it needs to. I get this. In my luteal phase I become overwhelmed because I want my house to be spotless but I'm simply too tired to go crazy on house work. So I rest, I ask for help, and I journal to remind myself that I am doing well by listening to my body. It’s okay!
Mica: It's reassuring to hear that cycle care can look different depending on your circumstances, because not everyone does have the privilege of being able to easily adapt their lifestyle or work flexibly. A lot of conversations about mindful cycle care I've seen online can often be steeped in the privilege of being able to afford expensive period underwear and teas. It's important to take in your own circumstances and think about what changes you might be able to make in your own life that will work for you.
I'm curious about how emotions change during the phases and whether there are some specific things that you do to manage your moods on your period and look after your emotions as well as your body?
Destiny: Holistic practises for me will always begin with nature, because I love nature and it’s like a reset button. Playing nature sounds in the home, or going into the forest to forest bathe, or taking my bike to the lake. Nature engages all of our senses, and instantly sends signals to the brain which reduce our stress hormones and bump up our happy/ relaxed ones. You feel rested, but energized and you will hopefully have tuned into all of your senses.
I love to tap into what are called The 8 Laws of Health to secure a holistic approach. The 8 laws of Health consist of NEWSTART; Nutrition, Exercise, Water, Sunlight, Trust (in God & the natural rhythms of my body) Air, Rest, Temperance. Its crazy how much water we don’t drink, and how that helps with so many ‘off’ feelings. Or rest, sleep hygiene and true rest is almost a myth these days!
Mica: What advice she might give to someone experiencing pains - which don't necessarily go away once you've taken a walk, but may very often stay with you during that experience?
Try to relax, and keep a journal of what you're experiencing. Like a journal. Your pain is valid and it’s important you know what YOU feel, where, how when, so you can take ownership of what happens next.
See a specialist. I sought help from a medical herbalist and we soon free from painful periods. However, I did the work before, during and after. I educated myself to ensure I knew how periods work, why one might experience pain and how the natural rhythm of a cycle ought to run. Then you can consider if whatever treatment or aid you’re using will support these natural rhythms or not.
Use natural remedies, whilst doing the above. Ginger tea can be underrated, Chamomile too, but what you do each day of your entire cycle, impacts your period. It's not just about the days you bleed. So assess your daily rituals, what does work look like, what is your body telling you when you lay down at night? Could you be over doing it?
Reflecting on that last answer made me realise that making space for my cycle care is not any different from making space for self-care at any other point of time. It is part of my general self-care.
I realised that I often view my period as this thing that happens once a month to disrupt my life by taking all of my energy, but this conversation made me realise that it’s not something that's not true. The phases of my period go beyond the days that I’m bleeding and are in my everyday life. Cycle care is my everyday self-care, my diet, my stress management, my walks outside, my exercise, my working conditions, my relationships, my paying attention to how I feel in body and mind and responding to that. How I make space for myself during my days of bleeding might look different, but it's the same practise of making space for my wellness that I do on other days.
I also realised that somewhere in me I believed that if I didn’t have pain I would have more energy to be more productive, and while that is true on some level because pain can be very debilitating, my energy levels would not necessarily be as high as during the other phases of my cycle because of the phases of my cycle, and that’s okay. There are ways to shape my life around the natural changes that my body goes through, rather than me trying to shape my period around the things that are happening in my life and judging myself and my body when I can’t comply.
I left the conversation understanding that my period is not a one week event but part of an everyday process that my body does. My period isn't this separate or additional thing that happens to disrupt my life, but something that is simply a part of the process of my body and the process of me, and making space for cycle care simply means listening and responding to that.
Destiny will soon be launching Chamomile Corner - an online and irl wellness experience for Cycle Care Education + creative and calming events. If you'd like to join Destiny on her journey through whole-self-care, cycle care & more, sign up to her brand new mailing list. https://chamomilecorner.substack.com/welcome You won't want to miss out on her exclusive experience.
What is your relationship with your period/cycle?
Are there any experiences you have during your cycle that might require a specialist opinion?
What does cycle care look like for you?