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Period Story Podcast, Episode 2: Fiona Grayson, Periods Don’t Have To Be Painful

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For the second episode of the Period Story podcast, I had the pleasure of speaking with Fiona Grayson, the founder of She can. She Did. We talked about periods as a sign of good health, the way Fiona looks at her health holistically, stress and how it can affect female entrepreneurs. Fiona says periods don’t have to be painful and that’s definitely a message I agree with!

She can. She did. is a platform that puts the spotlight on women in their teens, twenties and thirties who’ve dared to go solo and launch their own businesses throughout the UK. Praised for its honest, raw and often amusing account of what it takes to launch a business as a female founder in the UK today, She can. She did. champions female business owners and encourages aspiring female entrepreneurs through a combination of down to earth interviews, the candid She can. She did. podcast and its informal event series, She can. She did. – The Midweek Mingle! which takes place in cities around the UK.

Find She can. She did on Instagram @shecanshedid and Twitter @shecanshedid

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SHOW NOTES

Dame Tampon Applicator

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SHOW TRANSCRIPT

Le’Nise: Welcome to the Period Story podcast. Today we have Fiona Grayson, the Founder of She Can. She Did., a platform that puts a spotlight on women in their teens, 20s and 30s who have dared to go solo and launched their own businesses throughout the UK. 

She Can.She Did. champions female business owners and encourages aspiring female entrepreneurs through a combination of down to earth interviews, the candid She Can.She Did. podcast, and its informal event series She Can.She Did. the midweek mingle which takes place in cities around the UK. Welcome to the show. 

Fiona: Thank you for having me, I’m so excited to chat! It’s so weird hearing that little intro back, I love it. 

Le’Nise: Well you’ve done so many amazing things so it’s nice to remind yourself of it sometimes isn’t it? So let’s start off by getting into the story of your first period. Can you share with us what happened?

Fiona: Of course, yeah so I’m an August baby so obviously in schools that meant I was the youngest in the year. So all of my friends and close friends, they were all about 7-8 months older than me so they were September/October babies and I remember being in Year 8, in secondary school, and all the girls started coming on their periods. 

I remember just feeling that that whole time, they all kind of dropped like flies and everyone started their periods and it was this big thing. I was panicking, genuinely so worried that something was wrong with me because I was 12 and I still hadn’t come on my period. I remember my Mum being like “Fiona, its normal, everyone’s different” and all of this. At 12, I remember just lying awake worrying about the fact that I was abnormal. I remember I had my first holiday abroad, like first school trip abroad, in like 2004 and I needed a passport for the first time and also remember being a 12 year old worrier, panicking that my passport wouldn’t arrive in time for this school trip and I remember for a good few weeks there was all these worries and I remember on a Friday I got home from school, my passport had arrived, I went to the toilet and I came on my period. I remember the two came on the same day and I was like “this is a miracle”. 

I remember Mum was out and I’ve got such close family and I remember coming out of the bathroom and being like “Dad, I think I’ve just come on my period” and Dad being like “oh, uh uh” so yeah that was it and I remember literally then for a good few months being so proud every time I came on my period but never had any pain or anything for a good few years and I remember some of my girlfriends got really properly hit by it and I remember thinking through my teenage years, “God, I must be so lucky” because to me it came and went, quite light, regular, just off we went. 

Le’Nise: So you said that you come from an open family. How did your Mum teach you about your period and was she having that conversation with you before you got your period? 

Fiona: I have a big sister, she’s 2.5 years older than me so I knew it was coming; I think my sister started her periods a bit younger. For a good few years wed been talking about it and also it was at that time where at school we were learning about it and it was just, Mum would kind of bring it up if Caroline was on her period. I was so aware of I, I think having a big sister forces you to learn about these things probably sooner than if you were the older sibling. I’ve always had a close relationship with Mum and Carrie so we always talk about that kind of stuff, it was never secretive, I never felt uncomfortable asking her any questions, and I think I got really lucky.

Le’Nise: It’s really interesting, the women I have interviewed, generally speaking the conversation have been quite open and actually I’m a bit surprised, I was expecting more kind of learning about your period from the leaflet and the Tampon pack.

Fiona: Really? Is that your experience?

Le’Nise: Yeah pretty much I kind of cobbled things together and I really suffered. So you said you were really open with your sister and your Mum, what about your friends? They all got their periods before you so…

Fiona: There was one friend that hadn’t yet and I remember we were in it together and then I remember when I came on my period, she was just panicking even more. It’s crazy what we worry about, I think she got her period maybe 8-9 months after me but she was so upset during that time that she was abnormal and it’s just one of these where you just don’t know when you’re going to start, there’s no kind of give away. We used to talk about it; at sleepovers we used to talk about periods like we were growing up, it was just boys and periods, that was pretty much the conversation. They are still my best friends today so we still kind of chat about that kind of stuff. 

Le’Nise: You said when you got your period it was kind of smooth and easy until you went to university and then you started to change.

Fiona: Yeah definitely, I don’t know what it was, whether it was stress related or what is was. My periods changed within a few months and I was getting severe back pain, my boobs were always a tell-tale sign of when I was about to come on because I remember they’d get so swollen. I mean I still get that but my back pain was excruciating, it was always the day before I came on and the day I came on, my back was horrendous and it was one of those things where you just couldn’t get comfortable, you’d want to lean back but then you’d cramp and you’d want to learn forward and I’d never feel comfortable. 

I remember I used to work in retail in my summer holidays off uni and I remember working at John Lewis on the shop floor having to stand up all day and my back, my period, I’d have to be fighting back tears. Funny story, my sister came and visited me on the shop floor and she had some Cocodamol because she had a really dodgy injury at the time and she was like “I’ve got some really strong pain killers if you want” and I was like “I’ll take anything” and she gave me this cocodamol but there was no water and I remember putting it in my mouth and then a customer came up and asked for some help so I had this horrendous cocodamol taste in my mouth like burning my mouth whilst I tried to serve this customer. Basically, that went on for a few months but I’ve always been brought up homoeopathically so I was treated homoeopathically for my period and al the stress at the time and everything and over the course of a few moths it’s kind of got it back to normal. 

Le’Nise: So you had a few months and then it just stopped?

Fiona: Yeah so I say stopped, obviously I get treated every couple of months just generally I see my homeopath, that’s the thing with homoeopathy it’s not like a quick fix because its holistic, they treat everything going on. I wouldn’t be able to give you an exact timeframe but I’ve been okay for a good few years. 

Le’Nise: Having gone through that gradual shift of the quality of your period and lessening the pain, did it change the way you felt about your period?

Fiona: Yeah because I remember during that time I used to dread coming on my period and it was so weird because it was only really that concentrated time and then once my first day was over, I didn’t even know I was on. The next few days, it was like you just deal with it but the pain in that first 24 hours, I dreaded each month and I’ve always been pretty much clockwork, it would be odd for me not to be 28 days now, sometimes 1 day over or under but I am 28 days. At the time I really did, because I’d gone from not caring about my periods or not noticing it, it was just part of life, to having that thing a month it was just so painful and now its gone back to, I mean to me it’s a sign of good health, it’s a big relief every time I come on like “that’s good, I’m not pregnant” so it’s good. 

Le’Nise: You said it’s a sign of health so that’s really interesting and it’s the first time I’ve heard someone say that on this podcast.  Can you say more about that and what that means for you?

Fiona: My Mum worked in the NHS for 30 years and she had endometriosis so she turned to homoeopathy just before my sister was born so about 32-33 years ago, turned to homeopathy and she was treated homoeopathically and she worked her way up in the NHS and became a homeopath herself about 10 years ago. I’ve grown up with the notion, she’s just enforced that it is a healthy thing to have so I’ve never been on the pill, not because I’m anti the pill but just because I’ve chosen not to and so to me, when I come on after 28 days, I’m not suppressing anything in my body, it’s showing that everything in my body is working properly and I generally feel really grateful for that so to me it’s my body doing what it’s supposed to be doing and I’m grateful its plodding on the way it should. 

I think when I was having all that pain, at the time of my life it was just a really stressful period for a number of different reasons and that’s when my periods were more painful and they weren’t as regular and because everything was a bit up and down and I think now they’re stable and that’s because I’m ok, I feel good and I feel healthy and I’m just very aware of what’s going on in my body and I try and link things up quite holistically so if all of sudden my periods were really early or really late, my immediate reaction would to “ok, what’s going in my body, what’s going on in my mind” that kind of thing. I know it sound woo woo to some people but to me it’s like, that is the first tell-tale sign to know something is up.

Le’Nise: I don’t think it sounds woo woo at all. You said it’s a sign of good health and actually it’s a sign for women or for people who have periods, it’s one of our vital signs so when it’s really early or when it’s really late or when it’s really heavy or painful, that’s a sign that something isn’t going as it should. I think it’s really important that you have that connection with your body. When you notice something has gone a miss so it’s either a day early or a day late and you say you check in with your body, what sort of things do you do to course correct?

Fiona: I mean a day either side I’d be like ahh that’s give or take. For instance, if for some reason I had a 3 week cycle, I’d be like “oh, somethings up” and everything from stress, eating, sleep, what’s going on work-wise, relationships, everything, like am I pushing my body too hard, am I feeding it the right foods, everything. In general, I feel I’ve always had a good relationship with healthy eating, like balanced eating and exercise so that’s not normally it, it’s normally, if anything was to go amiss, it would be stress related from work or a relationship thing or something. So yeah, all of that.

Le’Nise: That’s so interesting because we know now that stress is a driver for so many different diseases in our society, in western society and I see that a lot in my practice where women, they’re coming to me with terrible period problems and when we kind of unpick what’s going on with their health, they’re under huge amounts of different kinds of stress, whether it’s work stress, relationship stress or even the physical stress they’re putting on their body through excessive exercise or restrictive diets.

Fiona: It’s interesting you said that because I was interviewing a female founder a few weeks ago and she regularly promotes how much exercise she does to her audience each morning and every day she gets up at the crack of dawn and heads straight into a high intensity workout and then works out afterwards and she was getting really ill, she had a cold but a really heavy cold that just wasn’t shifting for about 3 months and then went and checked in with her doctor, basically he said “well, are you exercising?” and she proudly said “yes I exercise every single day and I do XYZ” and he said “well that’s the issue, that’s such high intense workouts that your body can’t distinguish between good adrenalin and bad adrenalin and it just sees stress, it just sees 17-18 hours of constant stress and you can’t cope with it, that’s why your body…” and to me that’s so interesting, like to me that’s just a given but to some people don’t connect those dots.

Le’Nise: I think that’s really interesting but it’s a kind of symptom of this high intensity culture that we live in and you’ll know this from interviewing female entrepreneurs that go go go and this idea that we need to be on all the time and we need to behave like men and be on all the time when actually our bodies don’t work like that. 

Fiona: Yeah definitely, it’s so so true. Don’t get me wrong, there’s times where I notice that I’m working harder than sometimes but there the ties when I notice my energies dipping and that’s when I’m like “whoa, step back, just take the night off, look after yourself” and run a bath and just chill. Sleep in, don’t work out the next day, and just give yourself that time. I do get it, it’s so easier said than done, I’m so lucky that I’ve been bought up to connect all those dots but it’s so hard and life is busy sometimes, it’s just making sure that you prioritise yourself and I think that  can be so much easier to say but can be so much harder in reality sometimes.

Le’Nise: So what are the ways that you prioritise yourself?

Fiona: Well tonight for instance, it’s been a really busy couple of months and I’m so looking forward to tonight.  I love my own company and I’m quite happy, I don’t need to go out all the time and I know full well tonight is pyjamas, I’ll make myself a hot water bottle and I plan to just chill and put on a face mask and just have a Friday night to myself. I do exercise but to me exercise is my switch off, I love it. I exercise about 5 times a week and I really check in so if I do feel that I’ve got a lot of energy, to me, running is everything, I’ll quite happily go for a big run but equally if I know I just need to clear my head I’ll do some Pilates or something, to me that’s an hour in a day that I just love, just for everything, not just for body but to clear my head. 

I love cooking, to me, it’s my ultimate good food, all my friends and family have said since I’ve been little I’ve had a really big appetite but I don’t ever crave rubbish, I crave really hearty, good food so to me a night in the kitchen chopping away is just perfect. Just seeing friends and family, as I said I’ve got a really close family, they live 10-15 minutes down the road, friends, we are all quite similar in the sense that we all love going out and letting our hair down but mostly girls nights in are our favourite. 

Le’Nise: We talked a little bit about culture earlier and around female entrepreneurs. What about culturally, kind of the cultural narratives around periods, what would you change about that?

Fiona: It’s such a hard one because it’s such a sensitive topic for a lot of people. I think that it’s not spoken enough that you don’t have to go on the pill, for me I think that’s something that’s really pushed. Every single one of my friends, without fail, went on the pill straight away. It was kind of a next step, GP said, let’s go.  I’m conscious about talking about all the things why I believe in, I just think that it’s doesn’t have to be that way. There are other ways to manage different symptoms, period pain for instance. 

I do think that in general I love all the movement going on with different business cropping up trying to tackle all the period plastic waste, I love that that’s up and coming. I interviewed the founder of Dame, which is the world’s first ethical tampon applicator and they do ethical tampons and stuff because I had no idea, I didn’t know why I didn’t know because when you think about it, of course period creates so much pollution when you think about all the different wrapping and how many women there are in the world. That movement, I could not be more behind it, I think that needs more focus and kind of educating women about the different types of menstrual products, all the different alternatives to just going to your bog standard Tampax and whatever brand sanitary towels that you use that are wrapped in plastic and plastic everything. 

So I definitely think more can be done for that but in general I do think that, I don’t know but from my own experience, my school was so good at talking about it in a practical and non-intimidating way and I can only imagine that, I mean I was at school in 2003, secondary school so I imagine its only come of further since then for UK schools. I think as a society we’ve got quite an open approach, you know when you don’t know if I’m just living in a bubble and your like “yeah my school was really good, it’s just matter of fact, it is what it is”.

Le’Nise: I think that I wish more school and more parents would be more matter of fact because we use so many euphemisms and there’s so many things that we don’t say about what’s normal and what isn’t. I just want to go back to what you said about so many of your friends were on the pill and that was sort of pushed on them, why do you think that was?

Fiona: Well I don’t know if it was pushed on them it was just like they came on their periods, they had pains, they went to the Doctor, the Doctor put them on the pill I don’t know what the conversation was but that’s basically what happened with every single one of them and I think that’s for the most part every single women in the UK that’s how it goes. I don’t want to get into why I believe in homoeopathy but it’s so subjective, everyone has different beliefs in what’s right and wrong but it gets so much stick and always say I have never been to the GP for any symptoms or for anything in my life, I’m still here, I still feel like I’m healthy and I’ve only ever been treated homoeopathically so to me it works.  I think it’s detrimental to wash any idea, any alternative medicine, to just rule it out completely. We’ve all got our own lives, we can all use our brains to research and I think there could be more done in the UK to promote other options, that’s all it is. 

Le’Nise: Really interesting what you said about alternatives and promoting other options. I had an interesting conversation with a female focused technology company yesterday and they were saying in the user research that they’ve done, the majority of the people that they’ve spoken to, do not want to go onto the pill and they are looking for alternatives. They’ve spoken to thousands of women and I found that really interesting, and I see this a lot in my practice where, generally speaking, women generally don’t want to be on hormones and kind of say “I don’t want to put artificial hormones into my body” so I think the times are changing, gradually, through the movements that you mentioned earlier and its really positive. 

Fiona: Yeah I hope so. To me it’s just a case of being handed a box of pills with a list of side effects: weight gain, or bad skin, or depression, they can mess with your head, can’t they and I think that’s there’s other options basically and it doesn’t have to be like that. I think periods in general, when you’re healthy they don’t have to be something that you dread or cause you so much pain. You know what, going back to your question, that as well, I wish there was something to be done in the mainstream media that you don’t have to dread your period, like it doesn’t have to be this scary thing, it’s such a natural cycle in your body, just embrace it. I do think there’s so much about them being this “uh, it’s that time of the month” or “uh, here we go again”. It’s so crazy! 

And was it Heather Watson the tennis player that when she finished the match and she lost and she was being interviewed and she was like “you know, I didn’t play my best today, it that time of the month” and the amount of uproar that caused, like this sports woman had admitted to being on her period and it’s like of course, exercise is horrendous when you’re on your period like of course she’s allowed a bad day, like God forbid this women had voiced the fact that she was feeling off because she’d come on her period. So many women have their periods, it’s just mad that it’s such a taboo subject sometimes.

Le’Nise: Yeah it is and I think conversations like this and statements like that help normalise it. We have to know that 50% of the planet gets a period so why don’t we talk about it? Why don’t we learn what’s normal and what isn’t normal? You said periods don’t have to be painful and I think that’s such an important message, its normalised this idea that you have to be really uncomfortable, in pain or a moody cow and it doesn’t have to be like that. 

Fiona: I mean sometimes I can be a moody cow if I’m on but yeah you don’t have to be. Exactly, it doesn’t have to be like that. 

Le’Nise: If you think about your period now and everything we have talked about. What do you wish you knew back then that you know now?

Fiona: It’s so hard. If I could go back to that time at uni, I’d let myself know that it’s not going to be a forever thing because I honestly thought I had plummeted, I think this is karma for having such easy periods as a teenager and suddenly being I so much pain. I’d probably go back and be like “no, just have a look at what’s going on around you, you’ll be alright, I’ll just sort that out and it’ll go back to normal”. Other than that I do think that’s I’ve been really lucky with my Mum being there to just normalise it and let me know that’s it’s a healthy, I’ve always had quite a healthy relationship with it. 

Le’Nise: If our listeners could get one message from our interview today about their periods, their menstrual health, what would you want them to take away with them?

Fiona: That message that they don’t have to be painful, you don’t have to dread them and to really look at all of the different things if they are that way and assess all the things in your life that’s going on, all the different factors and just take that holistic approach and view all the different things going on in your life and maybe see if the dots connect there because I have sneaky suspicion that they will.

Le’Nise: Where can our listeners find out more about you and what you’re up to?

Fiona: There’s obviously the website so shecanshedid.com, I’ve got the She Can.She Did. podcast where I interview any your female founders in the UK about everything that they’ve been through the ups and downs, of launching, running and growing their businesses and then just on Instagram and Twitter @SheCanSheDid. I didn’t realise I’d get to plug that, thanks Le’Nise.

Le’Nise: Thank you so much for coming on the show; it’s been so nice to speak to you and thank you for sharing your story.

Fiona: No, thanks for having me it’s been a kind of therapy, it’s been good to chat about it all. 

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