My Body – For Better, for Worse…(Part Two)

Sunday 8th Feb:


And now, as I slowly deflate back into my old shape – the rash an unthreatening pink and down to one brain-numbing Piriton a day – I slam hard into excruciating menstrual pain, no swelling to ease the collision.


As soon as I get out of bed, I feel the familiar pain low in my groin, sharpening and intensifying. It escalates alarmingly and I know that I need to get back to the bed before I pass out. By this time my whole body is covered in sweat. I can’t feel my hands or forearms; in their place is a peculiar buzzing sensation; it resonates frantically in my ears until I feel nauseous. Laurie brings pain killers and a hot water bottle. At this point the pain is all that I am; body and being pure and unavoidable pain. I am excruciatingly present in my own body and unable to reach my awareness outside of it. At this point I am usually sick; extreme pain brings with it diarrhoea, vomiting, a complete emptying, as if the body needs more space to contain the unbearable ringing sharpness of spasm building upon spasm.


Sometimes it can be like this for hours, the painkillers failing, endless refills of hot water bottles, repeated vomiting. Today I am lucky, the tablets gradually softening the wrenching in my womb, the whirling chaos in my head settling into quiet. My night shirt is drenched; I feel drops of sweat trickle through my wet hair onto my neck and the sun floods in through my window covering me with warmth and light. My awareness unclenches from its tight, internalised focus, seeping out softly beyond my boundaries: the clouds morphing in the wind; grey roof tiles; the heat of the sun easing the chill of my damp skin; the sunlight turning the darkness of my closed eyelids red; my breathing, steady. I feel that strange euphoria, the utter gratefulness in the absence of pain; I feel peace, and the blissful slipping into sleep…  


My paganism has led me to challenge our culture’s negative associations with menstruation. I have striven to engage with its gifts and challenges in a nourishing way. Through our menstrual cycle we become intimately connected to the growth, blossoming, shedding and dying of the natural world; the waxing and waning energies of the universe. The menstrual cycle enables us to merge with the dance of life in all its beauty and joy, pain and struggle, destruction and creation. Our wombs become a spiralling galaxy; the turning wheel of the seasons; the waxing and waning moon; the breathing in and out of being. Within our bodies the whole extraordinary drama of living, dying and rebirth takes place every single month. The Goddess is immanent, indwelling; moving through our bodies and beings and our menstrual cycle is a very tangible reminder of this blessing. I have written, performed and shared rituals that celebrate this with other women, and yet I know that my experience of menstruating is actually quite different from most. The celebrating has a bitter sweet ring to it.


Over the years, I have always made the assumption that this ‘problem’ of mine was the result of something I was doing, as if some fine tuning –  or even radical adjustment – to my diet/behaviour/psychological state might bring me back into perfect balance with myself, and thereby eliminate the worst of my symptoms. Five years of a vegan diet; twenty two years of vegetarianism; giving up caffeine; even starting to eat fish again after a lifetime without meat… drinking more water; experimenting with every suggested herbal or alternative therapy; yoga; relaxation; meditation…


There was inner work to be done too. Had the psychological impact of the damaging sexual relationship of my teens left a physical scar, manifesting in the rather graphic metaphor of a heavily bleeding and painful wound? Had my mother’s horrendous menstrual problems shaped the expectations of my own? I even explored the notion that my blocked creativity might be causing stress in this area of my body, our wombs being the creative centre of our physical selves. Working through each of these issues as creatively and sensitively as I could, my general physical, emotional and psychological state seemed to benefit enormously but my periods stayed the same. In fact, as I have reached my forties, teetering on the hormonal edge of my peri-menopausal years, the pain and the bleeding have become increasingly worse.


Smear tests, pelvic exams and scans, show no obvious signs of organic malfunction. Doctors seem to be saying that this is the way I am built. To accept such a statement is a major paradigm shift for me; after years of assuming that this was the result of my ‘doing’ or not ‘doing’, this new possibility has seeped in around my reluctant edges. Perhaps this really is my ‘being’, a part of who I am. Perhaps I was born with this, my mother and my grandmother too. Something in us has shaped our cycles in a particular way; perhaps genetic or hormonal – ‘something’ not academically sexy, interesting, or life-threatening enough for modern medical science to study. In the spectrum of menstrual experience, this ‘something’ means that I function from its extreme.


So where do I go from here? I have stopped yearning for early menopause and have made, for me, the unorthodox decision to shake hands with the synthetic progesterone devil that is the Mirena coil. A life without extreme pain and excessive loss of blood is an attractive prospect; the Mirena holds out some promise of this for women like me. I have a deep distrust of the pharmaceutical industries and have held onto the treasured belief in a ‘natural’ remedy. But I have also reluctantly come to accept that life gives us all experiences that are ‘natural’ but not necessarily desired.


Pain can be psychologically crippling. I have given a million prayers of thanks that my own experience of pain allows me to have sizeable breaks from it; periods of time when my awareness is not squeezed by it. My sister’s illness brought her ultimately nothing but physical pain. It distorted and internalised her personality and perception, destroying her ability to cope and tragically accelerating the conditions that led to her early death. Of late, I have realised that I need not be nailed to this burden – unlike my sister, I thankfully have a choice.


I have decided to give myself permission to do something that normally I would say ‘no!’ to; in doing so, a whole world of new possibilities potentially opens up. I do not yet know what the results of this experiment will be. It’s a risk; life is full of them. For better, for worse, my body and I are in this together.






  1. trish said,

    February 10, 2009 at 9:19 pm

    so well written an di am sure a lot of women would agre wth you and feel the pain with you. You ar erigh tthat given a choice, why nowt at least try it? Im so gald you are feeling better agin. Have just finished reading a book called “Broken Angels” about a woman who woke up to living wiht pain. Its veyr well written and your description of becoming your apin is eveiden there too. With me it wa sliving with my dizzinees. You know my fears baout our changing bodies too and our identites. Hope to see yoi soon and pain free. XX

  2. trish said,

    February 21, 2009 at 12:31 pm

    mmm one day i will remember to proof read!! 🙂

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