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I met with my sister the other day to catch up, connect, and spend time together. It had been many weeks since we’d seen or talked with each other. It was so good to hear what she’d been up to and how she’d been doing. After she shared about what was going on for her, she asked about me. 

I could have started with a long list of all the happenings. I could have talked about my recent trip, updates about my work, plans with my partner, or upcoming trips. I could have talked about the latest books I’m reading, shared about the crazy patients I’ve cared for, or doted on spring. 

I could have dove into any of the above. But that didn’t feel right. What felt most important was to acknowledge how I felt in my body and where I was at in my cycle. I started by saying, “Well, I’m day 32 in my cycle, premenstrual.” We both laughed because we know what that means.

In those few short words, a world of meaning was conveyed. While I can only assume what she heard when I said those words, based on past conversations and shared experiences, I know what I intended to share. My intention was to share that I was feeling drained. I was feeling down and a little drab. I was feeling potentially irritable, emotionally labile, and sensitive. I was feeling fierce, intolerant, and edgy. And I need a little space and wiggle-room.

I could have gone on after my original statement to explicitly state these feelings. I could have even summed it up in a word or two, as is my practice normally. But it seemed she knew what I meant. And once that was out on the table, I felt better.

It felt important to say because it was the thing that was most present for me. When I enter my premenstrual phase I enter into a deep self-reflective period. My energy begins to withdraw. And my attention goes inwards. There’s a strong state of “beingness” that emerges. Everything else falls away and the overarching desire for me is to simply be. 

For example, I’ve noticed that I no longer want to listen to music, podcasts, or the news when I’m in the car. My mind doesn’t want to analyze what I’m hearing. And if I share something important with others during this phase, I don’t want feedback, advice, or an analysis of events. I only want to be heard, seen, or felt. 

Plus, I don’t like to have pointless conversations. I become fierce and protective about my engagement, ensuring that interactions I do have are meaningful and worth the limited amount of energy I have at this point. Which comes across as being less responsive at times. And, depending on the person, it could be interpreted as being upset when that’s not the case at all.

While I can still be happy and have a lovely time with people I’m with, more often than not, I’m less outgoing, less excited, and potentially moody. Moodiness, such as irritability, is a protective mechanism. It’s a tool used by our cycles to create spaciousness. 

During the premenstrual and menstrual phase, we require a much greater amount of space for ourselves, whether we get it or not. That requirement is a standing requirement. And irritability is a sign that we aren’t giving it to ourselves.

When you get better at tracking your menstrual cycle you can get better at taking care of yourself during each phase. You can ask for what you need in relationships with others and make your current state known. It’s clear communication and understanding of your needs that makes more difficult phases easier to move through.

So when I mention to my sister, “Hey, I’m premenstrual,” it’s a warning sign that my needs in my relationship with her are different at this time. It’s also a warning not to take how I’m being personally if for any reason I come off as quiet or irritable. While it’s certainly a service to myself to make myself known in this way, it’s also a service for other people as well.

Fortunately, when I state my needs upfront either explicitly or implicitly (which one depends on who I’m speaking to) the conversation or interaction goes so much smoother. While with my sister I can keep it short, with my partner, simply saying I’m premenstrual won’t do the trick. He’s never been premenstrual so while he has a lot of observational and conversational knowledge he won’t always know for sure what it means in terms of needs and expectations. 

So, to be on the safe side, I’m explicit with him. I say, “Hey, I’m day 29. I’m feeling sensitive, intolerant, and serious. Please don’t do anything that we both know would be annoying to me during this conversation.” Meanwhile, I also hold the phone away from my ear five inches to accommodate my increased aural sensitivities. He doesn’t need to know that part though. It’s just an action I take to accommodate my needs. 

Working with my premenstrual phase has been a long journey over the last several years of paying close attention. It started with first learning about when the premenstrual phase was in my cycle. Then I committed to observing how I felt during that time. 

I came to realize that I felt different each time even though, for a while, I expected to feel the same and anticipated the phase as though I would. Which only led to suffering. Instead, I learned that meeting my premenstrual phase anew each cycle was important. Now I understand that rolling into the premenstrual phase with as much loving awareness as possible is paramount. And tending to my needs for space is key.

When I speak up about where I’m at in my cycle it helps me to stay oriented to my needs while also laying the groundwork for healthy interaction with others. It certainly isn’t appropriate for me to discuss my day of the cycle with everyone I encounter so I don’t recommend doing that. But it’s super helpful in intimate relationships and with people who are more sensitive to your fluctuating moods and states of being. If they would notice a mood change, then it’s probably a good idea to mention where you’re at in the cycle.

Of course, you have to know where you’re at in your cycle to know what you need and when you need to share it with others. How is your cycle tracking? Do you track your cycle? If not, what if today were the day you started? 

It’s easy. The first day of your cycle is the day you had the full flow of your period. Spotting doesn’t count as the first day. If you know when that is, then great. Count the days from there. If not, then guess. And when you start your cycle next you can begin with exact days from that time. 

Cycle awareness is simply noticing how you feel emotionally and physically on each day of your cycle. The real magic happens when you can start to tailor your days to meet your needs given the day of your cycle. And when you’re premenstrual or menstruating, this becomes life-changing!

Photo by Lavinia-Elena Mihai on Unsplash