I had a full-on mental breakdown a few weeks ago. The ugly-cry, maybe I should stay home from work kind of breakdown. There’s a lot going on in my life and a lot of changes happening and I hit an edge. And I couldn’t pull it together.
I also started my period that week, which isn’t unrelated. There was a little voice in my head that was telling me that what I was feeling wasn’t real. It’s just hormones, it said. You’ll be fine in a couple of days.
It was true. Hormones were definitely a factor. After a few days I no longer felt that I was about to have a panic attack or crawl straight out of my skin.
But that voice in the back of my head—the one that was trying to discount how I was feeling—was the thing that wasn’t real. Hormones or no, the feelings were 100% real.
If you’re a woman, you’ve likely heard this story before: our hormones make us crazy. We can’t trust ourselves during our periods. It’s just PMS.
It’s taken me over thirty years to realize and to own that there is nothing “just” about it. Anyone who tells you otherwise probably has a penis, and has no idea what it feels like to have their body, mind, and emotions taken over for a week every month.
And it’s getting worse as I get older. Or maybe it’s just that I’m more aware of my body than I’ve ever been. Either way, the week leading up to my period and the week of my period are no joke.
But what I’m learning is that my period is not something I just need to get through. There is wisdom in a woman’s cycle. There are messages.
I first heard about this concept several years ago in Rebecca Campbell’s book Rise Sister Rise, and was reminded of it this year by Kate Northrup. She writes about it in her book, Do Less, and dedicated an entire podcast episode to the idea that each week of our cycle has its own energy, and therefore its own suggested activities. (And if you are non-binary, or a woman without a uterus, or are in menopause or on birth control, then you cycle with the phases of the moon.)
Here’s how it works (paraphrased from Do Less):
Week 1 – Follicular phase/Waxing moon: Time for planning, brainstorming, new beginnings
Week 2 – Ovulation/Full moon: Time for communicating, collaborating, attracting, being out there
Week 3 – Luteal phase/Waning moon: Time for focus, details, finishing projects, putting in the work
Week 4 – Menstrual/New moon: Time for rest, reflection, evaluation
I’ve been paying attention to the phases a lot this year and have begun planning my life around them. I’ve started saying no to invitations based on where I am in my cycle, and really taking advantage of the energy I have in the first phases of it.
And I kept this concept in mind during my breakdown. I knew it wasn’t just hormones. I knew I wasn’t crazy. I was keenly aware that something was trying to get my attention and that there was a message in the messiness. I knew, as Northrup writes, that whatever my emotions were during my period, they were a guidance system for what needs attention in the next cycle.
This isn’t some woo-woo B.S. There is science to back it up. Don’t believe me? The U.S. Women’s National Team has been working with a similar concept, and if this summer’s World Cup is any evidence—it works. And, men cycle too, but they do so in 24-hour cycles, rather than four-week cycles.
I only wish I knew all of this earlier. I sometimes think about all the cycles I’ve had and wondered how much wisdom has passed me by. I wish I hadn’t been taught by our culture that my period was a terrible thing, a shameful thing, a thing that must be tolerated. I wish that the narrative around women’s cycles wasn’t so informed by male science. But I’m glad it’s starting to change.
Femininity is a powerful thing. It is strength, as Northrup writes, not weakness. I think it’s a little bit magical too—how much my body has the power to tell me. And how, if I work with its rhythms, rather than against them, everything opens.
Try it for a few months, see what happens. I don’t think you’ll be disappointed.