[Redrafted post originally published June 19, 2014 elsewhere]
Over a homemade taco lunch, I broke down crying in the middle of a conversation with a friend. It surprised me. I’m not a big crier and it was while discussing a familiar topic. But this time, I couldn’t stop crying, dabbing my eyes as I choked out the words. It was annoying. It felt like an exaggerated response to how I was actually feeling.
I was still embarrassed the next day while I was reflecting on how once a month my emotions emerge in raw and unfiltered ways. I’ll begin crying or get visibly impatient with someone. My response towards myself is shame, frustration, and negative self-talk. “How could you let this happen? You were being over dramatic. How exposing! Why can’t you keep this under control?”
With the rhythms of my hormone cycle, my body goes through obnoxious shifts: my acne flares up, I feel bloated, my energy decreases by 50%, I have at least one epic emotional outburst, and am in severe pain for a few days. This is my reality, and —as you have read — there’s no hiding how I really feel about it.
My therapist friends say that the problem or question that clients come into session with has little to do with the actual issue. The therapist’s real focus is on how the client talks about the problem/question. I know that I can be hard on myself in a lot of areas. I know the quiet voice of the Spirit is inviting me to talk differently to myself. My spiritual direction training kicks in at this moment and asks, “What’s the gift in this? Is there a way to live into the words of Jesus when he says ‘You’re blessed when you’re content with just who you are—no more, no less. That’s the moment you find yourselves proud owners of everything that can’t be bought’ (Matthew 5:5 MSG)?”
I’m attempting this new way of seeing and speaking to myself by reframing something I normally see as a shortcoming of mine: my menses.
I’m grateful for my friend, Jari, who suggested this lens to view PMS, described by comedian Roseanne Barr:
Women complain about PMS, but I think of it as the only time of the month when I can be myself.
Once a month, the heightened hormones get me in touch with what’s going on within. Like being drunk or sleep-deprived, my defenses are down. My unfiltered honesty surfaces. Like a child having a tantrum, maybe the embodiment of my feelings is a bit brash, but the feelings are legitimate. So, what do I do with this?
The roller coaster emotions are an opportunity for me to pause, notice my thoughts and feelings, and listen to that quieter voice of the Spirit calling me “beloved.” If I’m a child of God, how might my divine parent respond to me? How can I speak to myself in that same way? “I’m sorry you’re sad about this situation. That is sad, and you clearly are feeling it more than you’ve admitted.” It’s a chance to be tender with myself.
For the past week, I practiced self compassion. Rather than previous months where my emotions snowballed from sadness to embarrassment to shame, I did not attempt to fix. I simply observed my thoughts, feeling and bodily reactions (racing heart, tears, exhaustion). In the midst of the storm, I felt content, at ease, and grateful.
It’s a similar opportunity for the debilitating abdominal pain I experience. Well, almost. The pain itself is actually quite unwelcome and unhealthy, and I’m currently working with a doctor to figure out how to resolve this situation. In the meantime, I have to wrestle with the frustration and guilt I face when I have to take 1-2 days off of work or cancel plans with friends because the pain is too much. It again is an opportunity to practice self-care. I have to say to myself “You can’t work right now and that’s OK. You need to rest and it’s okay to do this. You’re not worth any less for canceling plans.” Through embracing rest, I more fully value myself.
Previously, this once-a-month annoyance inspired me to make hateful declarations towards my anatomy. I’ve sworn up and down “I better have kids, or else this is a waste!” With this reframing, though, I see a set apart time for re-engaging with self-care and connecting to my true source of identity. It helps me remember I’m already the beloved and my worth won’t be lost because of tears, cramps, and cancelled plans.