I woke up this morning with a scratchy throat and a fog in my head. “Well, my time to succumb to the rona has finally come,” I gloomily accepted. I chugged an Emergen-C, ate an omelette atop toasted challah, cleaned my room, and went right back to sleep. Upon reawakening, I drank the Irish breakfast tea I made during breakfast but still felt lethargy weighing me down. 50 mg of caffeine couldn’t even put a dent in my headache.
Good thing I don’t have any commitments today! I opened Instagram and flipped through NYT’s stories like I do most mornings, and something within the content reminded me of the existence of periods. Ah, the good ol’ menstrual cycle that I had long forgotten (my Mirena stops periods). I opened my trusty Clue app from the Extras folder of my phone and despite not bleeding for 487 days, Clue still knew that my “period” would begin tomorrow. Now that I don’t have a 9-5, I have the luxury of researching a topic when curiosity strikes. Today I dug up a piece from NYT Well and if this isn’t data to support that being a woman is challenging…well I’ll be damned.
The week before my cycle is something I’ve talked about with my therapist extensively. Women accept hormone fluctuations and PMS as normal occurrences. But hardly do we discuss the psychological effects on ourselves and our loved ones, with the exception of being accused of menstruating any time we act “emotional” (sometimes jokingly, sometimes by ignorant men). My therapist taught me new words to describe some of my feelings and normalized talking openly about them. But how do we tackle the dreaded symptoms of PMS? Since I have a high pain tolerance from martial arts, the physical effects are negligible to me so I will discuss the mental effects only.
Here is a vivid memory of a PMS moment. One day during my past corporate life, I had back to back meetings for a few hours. At some point I got sick of sitting at my desk so I moved to our patio for a change of scenery during my standup. We lived in sunny San Jose at the time and of course the AC whirs to life 3 minutes into the meeting. I hastily gathered my belongings to go inside – I knew I had to speak soon and had forgotten my Airpods in my room. I yanked the sliding door and it didn’t budge at all. How strange, I thought…who would lock me outside when I’m clearly working and it’s scorching today? I knock on the glass until my partner comes over to let me in, chuckling. “You think this is funny?!” I narrow my eyes and storm upstairs to my office where I remained until I finished working.
“It sounds like you spiraled,” my therapist observed when I relayed this incident during my next session. I apologized that evening to my partner for snapping at him. I knew he would never intentionally lock me out, and that he has a habit of locking every door he sees unlocked after growing up in a crime ridden neighborhood. He already knows when I am behaving out of character, but he hadn’t realized at that point that it was a monthly occurrence.
I thought more about the word “spiral” after our session. Something goes wrong, and I feel the need to blame somebody. Sometimes that person is myself, and sometimes it’s whoever is closest to me during a precarious situation. If it’s myself, the negative self talk begins, and it keeps spiraling downwards until I end up in my own mental hell. Usually I’ll self medicate or hit the gym. But with my demanding corporate job, I didn’t have the freedom or time to do either. And so my relationship with myself and my partner suffered.
So what is my solution to the downwards spiral that I frequently found myself in? The answer for me is meditation. Yes, it’s a buzzword that has been floating amongst techies for years, in addition to crypto and microdosing. The meaning has evolved quite a bit for me though; it took me a whopping 6 years years to get past the superficial layer of meditation. Things like Headspace or guided visualization videos were nice but I didn’t gain anything meaningful from pretending that my thoughts are clouds. It wasn’t until the pandemic hit that I realized I needed to get my act together or I’d lose my best friend due to my angry tendencies.
I started going to Ocean Beach every morning at 8am with my fleece, beanie, airpods, mittens, wool socks, sandals, bearz tarp, and of course my meditation pillow. The last item is crucial because if meditating isn’t comfortable, I will quickly give up and move on with my day. My pillow elevates my hips a few inches above where my feet rest so that I don’t hunch awkwardly, and my feet don’t fall asleep. Thankfully I only had to cross one street to get to the beach since the Great Highway had been shut down. Once I settled against my normal spot against a washed up log, I breathed my way through some pranayamas before diving into a RAIN or a loving kindness meditation.
It wasn’t until I committed to going daily that I truly noticed a difference in my behavior. My thought patterns didn’t change as much; the spiraling still happened. However, my reaction to the thoughts changed drastically. Instead of hopping on the train into mental hell, I could watch the thunderstorm go by from the safety of my umbrella. The simple act of focusing on my breath is now the most helpful tool in most situations. I gladly bid farewell to the snappy “demon” Jenny that had no place in my life.
I began using my nose as a barometer of when to wrap up my meditation in order to push myself past the initial 10 minutes of pranayama that I started with. Only when my nose started running would I return home, because for some reason I never remembered to bring tissues to the blustery beach. Over time I began reflecting on how much energy I wasted riding the train to hell and sometimes dragging my loved ones on board. My partner went from feeling like he was walking on eggshells around me during times of stress, to simply carrying Tcho chocolates in his backpack for quick tryptophan boosts during my times of angst <3
Meditation is obviously not the end all be all of mental health. Speaking with a licensed mental health professional on a regular basis is also necessary; not only is an objective point of view always valuable, but it’s crazy to think that one can or should work through life’s challenges alone. If anyone has lived through multiple years of this pandemic without falling into depression, either you are very privileged or a monk!
I am forever grateful for my partner and all of the friends I have made through meditation and yoga for always encouraging me during my grueling mental health journey. You are the reason that I will remain happy and grounded no matter where I am 🙂