I often get asked why women have to go through so much pain and struggle throughout their lives. This is usually meant to do with hormonal problems, terrible PMS, fertility challenges, a difficult birth or exhausting process towards the menopause (menopause means the end of bleeding, so it’s technically not the process leading to it).
The question is complex, and yet the answer can be quite simple.
For a few lucky ones all that is needed is better nutrition and self-care. In this case more protein and some supplements (most commonly magnesium, vitamin D, B-complex and omega 3’s) combined with more sleep and gentler physical activity would do the trick.
For most of us, though, more than just nutrition and sleep is required. There are mental, emotional and physical causes in play that need to be addressed.
Growing up in the mainstream world
I believe it all starts with growing up in girls’ bodies but trying to fit in the masculine world we live in. Perhaps I should use the word ‘patriarchal’ rather than masculine. I don’t mean to offend men or sound prejudiced against them. After all, I am a mother of three boys myself. But although men are not entirely free and empowered in our society, they are much more favoured than women.
When watching small children (especially before starting school), little girls will naturally want to sit down more and do quieter activities. On the other hand, it’s usually the boys shouting and running around, only taking a break to eat – or just stuffing their mouths and running off without stopping. Small children have their innate instincts. However, once we start school, things change. All children are asked to sit and listen, study. Over time this translates into hours and hours spent on a flat, hard backed chair, legs hanging down. Many experts out there can verify how damaging sitting is, especially for children who naturally need movement and unstructured play.
In this case, a teenage girl who is maturing into a woman, will significantly reduce the blood flow to her female organs by prolonged periods of sitting.
When we look at the more natural cultures (called primitive or developing in our society) in South America, Africa and Asia, people don’t sit for long periods of time – and certainly not on chairs. Although, they may not have the means to buy a chair, it’s more likely that they instinctively understand how much healthier and even more nourishing sitting cross-legged on the floor can be.
(Apparently, our sedentary lifestyle is also responsible for the change in women’s shape – nowadays more resembling boys’ figures with the hips becoming narrower and waist wider.)
The emotional and mental aspects are mostly caused by time pressures and pressure to perform, be active, constantly plan, organise and execute. Staying overwhelmingly busy at all times is not only unnatural, it’s very unhealthy.
When I was a teenager I felt vulnerable and quite sore on my period – I just wanted to curl up into a ball and be quiet, not do running or contact sports. We were not allowed to miss a P.E. lesson and were told there was no physical reason why we shouldn’t exercise.
I never saw my mum rest (only later on I learnt that she had the most awful cramping for days) – the only time she slowed down a little was when she had the flu or was just after an operation (i.e. when she COULD absolutely NOT get out of bed!). If a girl sees all the women in her family and neighbourhood running themselves ragged, she will do just the same later in her life – it’s an unconscious thing. (Unless, she is conscious enough to notice and break the habit, of course.)
While we all need to socialise and learn to read, write, count, have a broader knowledge of the world and different aspects of it, the school requirements of academic excellence and constant thinking leave us all ‘stuck in our heads’.
The mind is a great tool but a terrible master
When we are slaves to our mind, we constantly think we must and mustn’t – and there is no time. Just look around – how does this reflect in our society? We don’t take time off when sick or when women have those terrible cramping days. We take a painkiller or two and soldier on.
When I was studying at university I had a truly terrible time every month. On day 1 I had to take a painkiller or two and struggle through my busy timetable. After 2 or 3 hours of unbearable physical suffering I couldn’t take any more – my mind simply clouded over. I had to go home, curl up in my bed and sleep for a couple of hours, under the influence of yet more painkillers. I called this the periods from hell… Looking back now I see many things that would have contributed to this: drinking alcohol and eating way too much sugar, skipping meals and lacking certain nutrients as well as protein, lacking sleep and fresh air, spending hours indoors – sitting and bending over the desk (cutting off the circulation from my pelvic bowl), ignoring my body’s clues. I was an intellectual – I lived in my mind and by my mind. I had no time or desire to dwell on something so trivial as my own weak and annoying body… My body was trying to tell me something, yet I was too busy and ‘stuck in my head’ to pay attention.
The four seasons
A woman’s body is like a compass. When balanced and pointing true North, she will be healthy and balanced. If she is mostly ‘feeling’ rather than constantly thinking she will intuitively know when to be active and when to slow down. She will be closely tuned to Nature (and her own body) rhythms.
When our monthly cycle starts, we are tired and fragile, we are in our winter. Nature looks dead on the outside in winter, yet there is a lot going on on the inside. If we manage to rest during this time, then we can emerge re-energized and full of inspiration in our spring.
The spring and summer of our cycle is the most active and productive time – perfect for some mental work, too.
As we approach the autumn of our cycle, we start sorting through things and slowing down. Just like Nature sheds old leaves and branches, we get rid of the old and no longer serving us (friends, habits, clutter…) so we can lighten our load and dive deeply into our winter hibernation.
If we are not used to voicing our needs, saying empowered ‘no’ or taking time off, the autumn time can be really tough. We can end up moody, frustrated or overly critical. Cramping and body aches can accompany this time, too. It’s partly due to not expressing our needs throughout the month and partly to starting our spring season depleted (‘running on empty’) after not taking any time off during our winter.
When I talk to women in need of a menopause relief they usually say they never had any issues with their monthlies, yet as soon as they hit the menopause, everything went wrong. Often it turns out they had to take a painkiller every month or simply went on ‘the pill’ because they didn’t want to deal with ‘all that stuff’.
If we had never given ourselves self-care and self-compassion, our body will eventually ‘scream’ for attention. Usually at the time of the great transition – the menopause.
And what about ‘the pill’? When on the contraceptive pill, there are NO cycles. A woman, a cyclical reflection of Nature, simply stops cycling. Altogether.
The question is – do we want this as women? Some women do. I personally feel so blessed living in a woman’s body – now that I finally got to understand it. But it wasn’t an easy journey and many women are unwilling to go there or are ‘too busy’…
It saddens me how often and how many women get dismissed by a doctor saying– “It’s all in your head, there is nothing wrong with you”. And then they get offered some pharmaceuticals (antidepressants, anti-anxiety pills, painkillers, sleeping pills or the contraceptive pill...). That’s it.
This dismissal couldn’t be more unfair – it’s not in their head, it’s in their body, whether it’s an underactive thyroid, PCOS or fibroids. It is because they are stuck ‘in the head’ they have these challenges and don’t intuitively know how to help themselves.
The feared woman’s power
I have often wondered why we women get dismissed so quickly as hysterical and our very nature is still such a taboo.
Perhaps it’s the idea of blood…
Or the changing nature of a woman throughout the month – four different expressions in one.
Or perhaps it’s the essence of death and rebirth which is so scary to the patriarchal society. The society which is all about building, improving, repairing, increasing and rigidly holding onto what is – even if broken, yet the only thing we know…
Or perhaps it’s because as women we don’t appreciate our own power – in fact, we seldom know about it.
The very nature of women is to build and destroy, create and let die. We do this with our uterine lining and it reflects in every aspect of our lives. Just like Nature cannot be controlled – neither can a woman’s cycle. Unless we use invasive chemicals (contraceptive pills and HRT in women or powerful pesticides and other agrochemicals that alter all the Earth’s ecosystems).
To be able to accept breaking down on every level every month, to embrace being fragile, vulnerable and overly sensitive, and then rise from the place of destruction and build something new and meaningful, only to let it die again, it means POWER. Not clinging – but flowing with what is in the moment, softly and without rigidity, can be a scary scenario for those who wish to keep their rigid status quo.
Taking time off on day 1 and 2 of the cycle shows ultimate personal power, it’s the ultimate expression of self-care. It means saying ‘yes’ to myself, to who I am and what I need to stay healthy and nourished. It means laying the foundations for my future creative projects, for more inspiration and increased energy later on. And what is more, by learning to say empowered ‘no’ to people and things that do no resonate with me (any day – not just on day 1 and 2!), I am consciously creating space for people and things that do enrich me.
Why do we women have to go through so much pain and suffering?
We don’t have to if we are able to practise compassion and receptiveness to our own bodies and our needs, although many of us have not been raised this way, unfortunately.
Let’s not be afraid of challenges, though. Remember that ‘the more we go through in life’ the more opportunities we have for personal transformation. Transformation leads to a more fulfilled and meaningful life. It makes us better humans – humbler, wiser, more compassionate, more receptive. I think we can all agree that our world needs humble yet wise humans who are deeply connected to the Earth and instinctively feel her needs.