Round and Round We Go: How My Menstrual Cycle Affects My Writing
By: Linda Villamarín
When I started writing my master's thesis, it was clear to me that I wanted to write something about menstruation and how it was seen socially in different cultures. Or at least that was my plan. As I researched further and talked to different women about their “menstrual stories," it came to my attention that many women's daily lives changed from heaven to hell when they had their periods. I wanted to gain a deeper understanding of these changes and how it affected their routines, personality, and relationships with the world. I talked to a lot of women, and all of them had something to say about their periods, but they were usually uncomfortable, painful, or embarrassing stories.
For my research, I started looking for artists or writers whose object of study was menstruation. I did find quite a lot of information about it, but somehow, I never totally related to what I found. I understood that if I wanted to talk about this, I’d have to start by understanding my own cycle much more intimately. For several months, I kept a notebook with me. Every day, I wrote a little paragraph about how I felt that day. I started writing on the first day of my period, and continued every day after that until the 28th day when my cycle started from the beginning again. Not only did I write down my emotions, but also some dreams, thoughts, physical sensations, things that happened to me that day, etc.
By doing this exercise for several months and then going back and re-rereading it, I saw trends reoccurring on some of the days of my cycle. I noticed, for example, that on the 18th day of every month, I had very good ideas and that I could work all day without getting tired. On the 24th day, I argued with my partner, and on the 7th day, I had nightmares. As I reviewed all of this, I came to realize that I’m much more cyclical than I thought, and that the things I did or felt on a daily basis were heavily influenced by my cycle. In considering all I’d written, longer pieces, shorter pieces, over the top fantastical, or really pessimistic, I saw that this cycle also affected my creative process. It wasn’t a huge discovery to see that my menstruation changed my routine or my physical condition, that part I was already accustomed to, but I was really surprised by how my writing style changed. This was something new.
It was fascinating for me to see how much my writing shifted between a wide range of styles, ideas, and topics. Besides the fact that I noticed changes because I was literally noting them down, I saw that the way I wrote, the length of the texts, the words I used, even the order in which I wrote, and my handwriting would all vary. These writings became the proof that my writing itself, a very important part of who I am, was also cyclical, and that both style and results were subject to change, depending on the phase of my menstrual cycle. By analyzing myself for several months, I came to the best conclusion I could think of at the time. I wasn't going to fight against my period nor complain because it was uncomfortable or painful, instead, I was going to ally myself with it in a way I should have done years ago, in order to get the best out of myself.
Understanding my body helped me work better with my mind. I understood that I would have days during my follicular phase, right after my menstruation ended, in which I would write pages and pages without stopping and would be really productive. I discovered that during ovulation, I had the best ideas and carried out important projects that I cared for and protected as if they were my children. And I also had to accept that, in general, in the days before my menstruation, my luteal phase, the most likely thing would be that I would barely write a paragraph and perhaps not connect my ideas very well. I had to accept that that was okay.
I don’t want to pigeonhole myself or simply surrender to the circumstances, nor is this meant to say that all women go through the same situation or have the same symptoms. I simply came to view and accept myself as a cyclical woman and that allying myself with that cycle allows me to get the most out of who I am and my work. Now I try to accept the days when I may not have the best results. I try to give myself a break and take advantage of this phase to rest, breathe, be kind to myself, and not be overly demanding of myself when I know I just won’t be able to give more. On the other hand, on the days when I know that I will be productive and awake, I take advantage of it by doing all my work, writing all the papers I have, and writing down all the ideas that cross my mind.
The result has been that my writing and my style has reflected exactly what I wanted. I was able to take advantage of my creativity when I needed it and let it rest when it was necessary. Understanding that made me see that it was better for me to allow my menstrual cycle to be an element of my work, my creative process, rather than to demand 100 percent of myself every day, as if I were a robot. Our cycle is the result of who we are; it is literally our blood. Though it might be uncomfortable, painful, or badly affect our lives, there’s so much more to it and how it affects us than just that particular week of menses. If we can learn to track how our cycle affects our minds and our lives, we can get to the point where we appropriate it in order to make the most of it in our daily lives.
As I think more about this topic, I realize that many women have very painful and uncomfortable menses that leave them largely incapacitated. I'm not a menstruation expert, but I am a woman who learned how to ally herself with her cycle and reap the benefits of doing so. So, as much as is within your power, give yourself the opportunity to study yourself, to write about your body, to understand it and to give it a break from time to time when necessary. Our bodies, who we are, and what we produce belongs to us, and we can feel proud of getting the best out of ourselves.