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Category: Period Story

Period Story Podcast, Episode 14: Molly Fenton, Love Your Period

On the latest episode of Period Story podcast, I was so pleased to speak to Molly Fenton, the 17 year old Welsh campaigner who started a movement to help people love periods, called aptly, the Love Your Period campaign.

Molly shares the story of her first period at just 8 years old in year 4. She said because she was so young, she didn’t really understand what was happening and wasn’t prepared.

Molly says that starting the Love Your Period campaign motivated her to better educate herself about periods and menstrual health. Listen to hear what Molly was surprised to learn is and isn’t normal.

Molly talks about the work she’s been in doing in schools in Cardiff to educate different year groups on menstrual health. Molly also shares how she been campaigning the Welsh government to improve menstrual health education in schools across Wales.

Inspired by the work of Amika George, who has been campaigning for free periods in England, we talked about how Molly started a campaign  asking menstrual product companies to remove the plastic in their products. Go to the link in my profile to sign the petition!

Molly talks about the change in her periods after she switched to plastic free products from brands like TOTM and Hey Girls. She says that her allergic reactions stopped and her period pain drastically reduced.

Molly says everyone should know that periods are normal and that no matter how much we try to ignore them, they are always going to be there, so the best thing that we can do is accept them and learn to love them. I completely agree!

Get in touch with Molly!

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MOLLY’S BIO

After coming across the work of Amika George, campaigning for free periods in England, Molly started talking to people around her about period poverty and stigma, something she’d never thought about before. People called the topics inappropriate and disgusting, and she felt that she couldn’t sit back and let this happen. At just 17 years old, Molly started a social media movement to aid everyone to help love periods called the Love Your Period campaign. Today, the campaign has over 5000 followers across social media pages and is nationally recognised.

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SHOW TRANSCRIPTION

Le’Nise: On today’s episode we have Molly Fenton. After coming across the work of Amika George, campaigning for free periods in England, Molly started talking to people around her about period poverty and stigma, something she’d never thought about before. People called the topics inappropriate and disgusting, and she felt that she couldn’t sit back and let this happen. At just 17 years old, Molly started a social media movement to aid everyone to help love periods called the Love Your Period campaign. Today, the campaign has over 5000 followers across social media pages and is nationally recognised. Welcome to the show.

Molly: Thank you very much.

Le’Nise: So, let’s start off with a question that I ask all of my guests. Tell me the story of your first period.

Molly: So, I was eight years old when I had my first period. So, I was in Year 4 when I was in primary school and it was my break time. So, I was out in the playground and something didn’t feel right. I felt I’d wet myself, which, you know, that’s not cool when you’re 8, you’re pass that. So, I went to the bathroom and when I wiped, I had blood and I didn’t quite understand. It was quite scary, but I wasn’t going to tell anyone about it because I have no clue what it was. And I was scared they were either going to send me home or to the hospital. So, I had to go about the rest of the day with this uncomfortable feeling. And I was very lucky because when I got home my mum was brilliant. And I was able to show her, and she explained to me what it was and that it was a period and showed me how to use a sanitary towel and I could get on with my day like that. So, it didn’t start great, but I was lucky that my mum was really good with me afterwards.

Le’Nise: You were eight years old. Wow. So that’s very young. I think that’s the youngest that any of my guests have started their period, we had someone who started at 9 in the last season. That’s very young. You’re 17 now? Knowing what you know now. Do you think you were ready? Was it overwhelming? You said you were scared and uncomfortable. Just talk me through what was going through your mind when you first discovered you had it.

Molly: Well, ultimately, I didn’t have a clue what it was. I haven’t actually come across periods before because it’s not something that’s ever bought up in school briefly, until the last year of primary school. So that’s 11-12 year olds and it hadn’t been touched upon. My mum hadn’t spoken to me about it because I was still at quite a young age for it to come about, really. And you know, all I had was this association of blood and death really or blood and something very, very wrong and something isn’t right with my body. So, it was really scary. And so, I definitely wasn’t ready, and I wasn’t prepared whatsoever. And that’s I think that’s why I like to do what I do, because I don’t want anyone to be in that position because it wasn’t nice. It was scary. And I could have definitely been a lot more prepared for my first periods. And I wish I was.

Le’Nise: When you had it, did you eventually start talking to your friends about what was going on with you?

Molly: Not at all. I’ve never spoken about my periods about my friends until I started this campaign at all. It’s never been a topic of conversation in my friendship group.

Le’Nise: Even as they started getting their periods?

Molly: Yes, which is surprising. And now I look back on it and now we speak about it. And I think, why didn’t we? But I guess that’s how the stigma must’ve affected us. So many of us feel that we should no matter how close we were, it was one thing that we just never spoke about.

Le’Nise: Getting it at 8 and then not really getting any education at school until you were 11-12 years old. You said your mum was really supportive and she helped you get menstrual towels and all of that. How else did you start to try to educate yourself?

Molly: I kind of let my mum tell me what to do. I could have come across this a bit better. I know my mum bought a book, one of those, your body is changing books. So, I spent a lot of time reading through that with my mum. I remember the book very well and it didn’t make a lot of sense to me. You know, there were these diagrams and pictures and all sorts. But it really it didn’t come across to me the way that it would have now. So, I don’t think it was really until I got to high school maybe, I was about 12, 13 that I really started trying to look into it. So of course, you start learning about it a little bit more in science lessons. But I’d say my education properly really didn’t start until I had to, which is when I started this campaign because people have to trust me, and they have to know they can trust me. I feel like I took a degree in menstrual health before I started this company. And I learned so much that I didn’t know that I should have known. Considering I have periods for almost 10 years, and I surprise myself with learning what’s normal, what isn’t, what I should be concerned about and what I shouldn’t. And all these different things that really everyone should know but we don’t ever get taught.

Le’Nise: What was surprising to you?

Molly: That we don’t actually lose that much blood, considering it looks like an awful lot and that your cycle doesn’t always have to be every month. If it comes a little bit earlier or less a bit late, it doesn’t mean something is drastically wrong. And I learnt also as well, which really did help, stomach cramps being a little bit more than just discomfort isn’t right. So I went to my doctor because my cramps would keep me off school and I thought this was normal, I couldn’t get out of bed, they were making me throw up and now I’ve got the right medication, I’m able to do my exams and things normally. Whereas before, I know so many of my GCSE exams were affected by my period because I thought it was normal and that every single person in the hall around me that was on their period had to deal with the same thing. And then I learnt through my research that really, I shouldn’t be experiencing the pain that I was. So that was the biggest shock that I had. But I’m glad I had it because I was able to get it under control and get the help that I needed with it.

Le’Nise: Why did you think the cramps were normal?

Molly: I don’t know. I’m guessing because I was still functioning, and I’ve had a period every month for so many years that I thought this is the way that my body works. And because I knew everyone’s period was unique. Then this is just how my body does it. And I assumed that it was the right way because I was still alive and still going despite, you know, now I look back and see that that totally wasn’t normal, and I shouldn’t have left it like that. But it was something that myself, my sister and my mum just thought was part of it for me.

Le’Nise: So, your sister and your mum also have period pain, period cramps?

Molly: My mum used to yeah, really badly. So, she put it down to, “Oh, yeah, that’s something I had”, and my sister does suffer really badly as well. She’s younger than me but we’ve managed to find natural ways that relieve them for her, but she has exactly the same symptoms as I had. So, she can’t get out of bed, makes her physically sick sometimes. It’s something that’s been in the family unfortunately.

Le’Nise: That’s really interesting that all three of you thought that it was normal and that, you know, you just accepted that that was your normal. I hear this a lot. I hear that period pain is normal, just part of having a period. And I really love the fact that you’ve educated yourself and you learned that it isn’t normal. So, what were the tools that you used to educate yourself about your period and about menstrual health?

Molly: So, I first started with my biology teacher. I approached my teacher in school who is good friends with my mum. So, I felt fine speaking to her, and I said, “Look, I’ve learnt all about period poverty. Looking at this online, I cannot sit still about it anymore. What can you tell me about it?” And so, she basically taught me about periods, which I felt like it was exactly what I needed to know when I was 11 years or well, younger for me. But when I was in year 6 and we were having that education as a class, that 15 minute whistle-stop talk. It would have been really useful to have that lesson. And I then took that on in a debating competition to speak about period poverty and through education and my research for that, I spoke to different organic pad companies, so, Hey Girls, Luck Store Organic and TOTM about how products affect periods as well. So that way I was able to learn about the obvious things like I didn’t think the products we use are absorbed into our bodies and I didn’t think that before. But now it’s such an obvious thing to think about.

And more books, I’ve got Natalie Byrne’s Period book, which was possibly one of the best books I ever got. She gave it to me herself when I met her, which was really kind of her. And after reading it, it just simplified everything and it’s friendly for everyone. So, anyone that needs to learn about periods, it’s definitely the book to read. So, I kind of just accumulated knowledge from every corner that I could. And even today I’m still learning things. Every day I’ll ask a question that I won’t know the answer to. So, I’ll have to pass them on to someone but as I’m passing them on, I’ll be going, “Oh, can you tell me the answer too please,” so that next time I’m able to help that person? Because there are so many things we don’t know. And I feel like we all have to learn together, we all have to educate ourselves, but work as a team to do that. And I think that’s the way to start this education off properly.

Le’Nise: Do you say you get asked a lot of questions? Is it typically from other girls or do boys ask you questions as well?

Molly: Boys, girls, mothers, lots of people from the LGBTQ+ community who feel they can’t ask questions to anyone else and wants an anonymous space. We really have a broad range of people that message us on Instagram daily asking questions, which is lovely to see.

Le’Nise: And can you share the types of questions that you get asked?

Molly: Sometimes it’s little things that I laugh at and I think I actually feel really sorry because I would’ve asked the same question. So, I remember I’ve had some like, “why is my period clear?” That’s not a period, that’s discharge and it’s something like no and or “my period’s been going on for two months and it’s clear” and they thought it’s their periods. And of course, haven’t seen that that’s what it is. But that’s completely understandable because I didn’t have a clue what discharge was, I didn’t know the name up until about six months ago, if I’m perfectly honest with you. So we have a lot of things like that from younger people and we have a lot, unfortunately, of people going, I’ve been following your page for a while and I think I’ve just started my first period but I can’t tell my mum or my mum’s not around and I live with my dad and my brothers, I can’t tell them. Or people at break time and lunch time in school who even go to my school and they message me or go through their period and say, can you come to the toilets with products, please? I started my period. Can you come help me? I don’t know what to do.

So sometimes it’s really upsetting to see the questions or the things that people ask me to do. But unfortunately, the taboo around menstruation has kind is been implanted in everyone’s brains, so some of us have really got to go over the top to try and remove it. You know, sometimes we have some great questions that make me think, like I said, I’ve got to pass people on and they’re like, right, so if my period blood is this colour, what does this mean? And I’m like, oh, brilliant, I don’t know. So, I’ll like, start a group with someone else that I know so it’s the three of us and I’ll ask the question and I’ve been educated as well as the person that’s asked the question. So, we have once again, a really broad range of different scenarios to deal with every day.

Le’Nise: So, based on the questions that you’re getting asked and the experiences that you’ve been having, so friends in school, people in school messaging you and asking you to come to the loos with them. What do you think needs to change about menstrual health education in schools?

Molly: Firstly, we need to have it properly. Menstrual health education cannot be defined as five minutes with a random teacher that was unlucky and drew the short straw. It cannot work that way. We need proper menstrual education, whether that be through PSHE lessons, whether that be through talks or assemblies, which I’ll be doing in my school now, I’m going to be doing groups with all the year groups, with packs of what periods are and we’ve got leaflets explaining what discharge is, what a period is, the different changes, how to check their boobs, different things that they need to know. It really needs to be implemented into the curriculum because it’s not properly and it’s something I keep pushing with the Welsh government. And so many people are. And I think they’re coming around to listening. They definitely are. We’ve just got to keep pushing them because until it’s actually stuck in the curriculum, there’s not a lot we can do about it. And when it is when it’s got its place, then we can build on it and say, right, these are the points we need to cover and it’s really important that we do.

Le’Nise: Tell me more about your campaigning with the Welsh government. So, you’re based in Wales and for our listeners who aren’t in the UK, different countries in the UK have different education systems. So, there’s England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. So, tell me about what you’re doing in terms of campaigning with the Welsh government or to the Welsh government.

Molly: So, with education, I’ve seen a lot of the ministers with Welsh government since I’ve started the campaign and local MPs and assembly members and things like that about various different things. But every time I’m there, I kind of bring in the comment, “oh, well, you know, we need to bring in the education about this.” I came along across a group and I know they’ve got a petition, I think it’s on change.org, I can’t remember the name exactly, who are trying to get it into the curriculum. And I know there was talks saying right, by 2022, menstruation education is going to be a thing. I love that menstruation education, it’s brilliant, brilliant words.

I’m still trying to work out with my team whether we can start a full-blown petitioning campaign on the side with it, because I think it needs to be done. What I’m doing it at the moment is I’m in the experimenting stage by doing it myself, my own school, like I said. So, we’ve been sent by Always, these packs and they’re be like a girl packs and they’ve got pads and tampons inside. And then like I said, they put the leaflets with all the information possibly need to know. So, we’re going to do these assemblies and I’m going to hand out this education, as I’ve done in primary schools across Cardiff. And we’re going to see how that goes. And if it goes well, I’m going to take the evidence and then say, right, this is how it works. This is the feedback I’ve had. These are my suggestions to say, well, I’ve basically done half the work for you now I need you to implement it. So, at the moment, I’m doing more of the practical side because of course, there are a lot of petitions, there are lots of campaigners. So I’m trying to go a different way about it to try and prove the point that it is needed and get the feedback on girls aged 11 to 18 saying that, yes, I think this needs to be implemented in within education and I need to be taught about this. So, yes, definitely at the practical stage at the moment and then hoping to really take it back to the Welsh government again then and present them with my findings.

Le’Nise: So, you’re doing that, and you also have your other campaign, which is about removing plastic from menstrual products. So, you’re very busy and you go to school, you’re 17, you’re doing your A-levels. So, tell me how you started looking into the plastic in menstrual products. So, tell me about that campaign.

Molly: So, when I was having my bad period cramps and before I went to the doctors, because of course if you book an appointment it takes about 6 weeks until you can get one. So, during that time I was trying to actively research myself what the issue could be. So, I spoke to lots of different people and I went back to people that I’d spoken to before and had a great phone call with the founder of Luck Store Organic, an organic cotton sanitary product company based in London, husband and wife, they’re really lovely. And they spoke to me, said, “Right, so what products do you use?” And I was like, “Oh well the cheapest ones I can find in the shop.” So, I got them out and she said, “Well, do they have ingredients on?” I said no, and she went, “So how do you know what’s in them?” And I said “I don’t know.” And so, she spoke to me, said, “Well, you know, try and look into what’s in there, maybe, because that’s causing.” So, I was always having the allergic reactions to products as well and they were really bad. And they would make me really uncomfortable and sore. And it was just a really uncomfortable time, possibly one of the worst places you could have an allergic reaction to something. And I was looking into the research and found that I couldn’t find these ingredients anyway, no matter how deeply I looked, all I found was that it may contain rayon and that was it. Couldn’t find anything else, so I went back to the woman and then spoke to Hey Girls UK as well. And back to Time of The Month, and then approached lots of different organic cotton companies globally. I even spoke to one from Australia and said, “So what is it about this organic cotton that makes it different?” Everyone was explaining, right, so we don’t have plastic in our products, and I was like, “What do you mean plastic?” And they said, “Well your pads are 90% plastic.” I was completely shocked. I didn’t know. One of the companies, like said, “Right, we’ll send you two of our boxes, try them out, tell us what you think.”

So, they sent them to me, and I tried them. My rash completely cleared up; my stomach cramps weren’t gone but they were very slightly better. And then, of course, looking into these products, I saw they had ingredients on the back, there wasn’t all this plastic in. They clearly saw what I was using and what was being absorbed into my body. So, as I used these products more and more, my allergic reaction completely cleared up and now I don’t have one at all. And alongside the medication I was on, I’ve been able to almost completely eradicate my period pain. So, I use the same with my sister who was also having allergic reactions and her rashes completely cleared up as well. And so then, of course, I recommended to other people and 100% I’ve had the same feedback from them, of course it won’t be the same for everyone, but from the people that I’ve recommended it to and have tried it for reusable period pads and pants or menstrual cups, have all said I’m not having the allergic reaction I’ve had before. So, I was thinking, why aren’t these companies telling us that they’re full of these chemicals or plastics if they are potentially harmful and clearly harmful to our body?

So, I was aiming towards the, you need to tell us the ingredients so we can make an informed decision because there are lots of campaigners, one amazing one in Cardiff is Ella [Daish] and she does the End Period Plastic campaign, which is huge now. And she’s really fighting for that. And she meets with the companies themselves, properly campaigning, and she’s an inspiration in this campaign, definitely in all the work that I do. So we’re looking at the, we want you to tell us the ingredients and we want it to be a legal requirement that these ingredients are on the packaging because we have every right to know what is in these products so we can make our own informed decisions about what we are using and work out what’s possibly making such an issue for our bodies. Because, you know, we use shampoo and conditioner and everything, they’ve all got the ingredients on. And sometimes if we’re looking for ingredients that we don’t want to use for our bodies or for our scalp, we don’t use them. So why shouldn’t it be the same for such an intimate area of our body?

Le’Nise: Amazing. What you’re doing is so amazing. And, you know, certainly I see it in my practice where as soon as the woman that I work with, they change the menstrual products that they’re using, whether they switch to organic tampons or they make a switch to a different type of menstrual pad, they see a change in their period, generally their period pain reduces and they see other benefits. So, the campaign is primarily about that menstrual product manufacturers need to show the ingredients in their products. So, transparency, which is super, super important. Have you spoken to any of these kind of big menstrual product manufacturers?

Molly: At the moment I’m aiming to get 10,000 signatures on my petition. Unfortunately, I became ill just after the summer holiday, so I had to kind of put it on pause. But now I’ve picked it back up again as I’ve finally gotten everything back on track with the campaign. And I’m really pushing now, on paper and online we’ve got over 2,000 and we got that really quickly in like a month. So, I’m going to push that again and get even more, which I know we will. And I’ve emailed and the best way to get through to these people sometimes is messaging them on social media because they reply easier. So, I’ve spoken Lil-lets and Always and I’ve said, “Why aren’t these ingredients on your packaging?” And the most interesting response I have was that of Bodyform UK who came back and said, “Hi, Molly,” and I did it off my personal account so they wouldn’t make an association with Love Your Period and said “Unfortunately, we do not have enough room on our products packaging to be able to list the ingredients.” And I was thinking, “how many ingredients do you have to not be able to fit them on that packaging?” So, it was crazy. So, I’ve done that much. And then when I’ve got the petition, I will be booking in meetings and all sorts, I’ll be going all the way. I’m not going to be dropping this one until it’ properly set in place.

Le’Nise: What’s really interesting is that you’d think that they would have started to respond to this because there are so many new companies coming up in this kind of menstrual health fem tech space. So, you’ve got the brands that you’ve mentioned, you’ve got the likes of OHNE, DAME, Daye, who are all really proudly talking about no plastic, organic cotton. You’ve got all the different menstrual cup companies, period underwear. So, you’d think that, you know, these companies would respond because they’re losing sales from people, switching from, you know, always using Tampax or Always or Bodyform to these other products. So, I think the work that you’re doing is absolutely amazing. How has all the campaigning that you’ve done, and all the educating that you’ve done, changed your relationship with your period?

Molly: I found that I’ve learned an awful lot about my period, my whole body through the work that I’ve done, whether it be learning about periods themselves in the first place, learning about other people’s periods, finding about other people’s experiences. I feel also as well, the thing that’s really made a difference in my life is, I’ve learnt the proper ways to cope and manage with my periods. So, yes, I did have to have intervention when it came to the pain I was having because I couldn’t function normally with it. However, I was able to find ways that I almost have been able to work with my period instead of against it, which is something I would have laughed out about a year ago. And I remember it sometimes and it makes me laugh. And I think, how does that work? I don’t understand. But now I do understand, I’ve learnt the right way, So I increased the right food, so I make sure I’d stick spinach in every meal when I’m on my period and I eat dark chocolate in the evening and I find that really actually helps my energy levels and changing my products, using different oils and things and essential oils in order to keep me calm and mood swings and also with any discomfort I do get, I found that I managed to finally find a way that works for me after so long of trying to find something that helps through recommending and hearing so many different suggestions of how people cope with theirs. I finally found my personalised way to work with my period and now, whereas before it was a burden, I really kind of hated it more. I’ve now managed to love it. Hence the campaign, because now that I found the right way to work with it, it works, and it makes sense because it’s your body. It’s part of you. You need to work with your body. So, it makes sense that by working with it, things will become a lot easier. So, I think I have the campaign definitely to thank for that. I finally found a way to live life normally and be thankful for my periods and realise that it’s a gift.

Le’Nise: So, having said all of that, you know, working with your period, seeing it as a gift, seeing loving your period now. What would you say to someone similar to you who got her period early and knowing what you know now, what would you say to her about her period?

Molly: Keep going with it. Of course, you have to just keep trying all the different alternatives you can. Don’t give up on it. Don’t let your periods take a week of your life away from you. So many of us for so long go well, that’s it, I’ve started this week, I don’t care, I’m going to be self-destructive, I’m going to eat everything I want, I’m not going to do any work. I did that so long, my excuse for not studying was I’m on my period this week. I kid you not. I did not study for a week. And that was my excuse because the discomfort of sitting there for so long and you felt like you could feel you’re on your period and I just let the mood swings without doing anything and them really control my life almost. So really, you’ve just got to try and find the best way that you can to continue your life the best way that you can and to the best quality that you can whilst you’re on your period and realise that your body doesn’t hate you. It’s not doing this because it’s trying to punish you, it’s doing this because it’s giving you a gift. Isn’t it amazing that we have these periods and what they’re able to do? We were able to bring life into this world. How incredible is that? I took A level of biology and it’s my favourite, I’m a real science girl. The fact that the human body can do something like that, it completely fascinates me. So really do see it as a gift. Do see it is something you should be really lucky to have and stick with it because it will get easier, definitely.

Le’Nise: So, what’s next for you? So, you’re in the middle of your A-levels, do you have any thought about what’s next with the campaign and where you personally?

Molly: So, I’m hoping to get my A-levels and then I want to go off to university. And I think I want to do nursing. Something period related. For the campaign, I’m definitely going to look into this education now as I’m starting the practical stages with the Welsh government and fight more with this ingredients petition and really just building up on this stigma as well. So, on the social media pages, we have a Twitter, Facebook and Instagram and you know, we’re starting a Tik Tok account just because so many people use that. And you know, if it’s going to help people, then I’ve got some girls in my team who want to start that. We’re going to be starting a Snapchat account as well. We’re really trying to go through ways that people see as normal everyday life in order to talk about periods, if that makes sense. So, we’re trying to incorporate it into aspects of everyone’s lives. So social media at the moment is the way that we’re going. I’m leaving that to the rest of the team because I can work Instagram, but that’s about it. I’m not very good with anything else, which is quite funny considering I’m a teenager. But yes, so they’re doing all that. So really, it’s just our main focus will always be spreading the word and just getting as many people as possible to, even if it’s not love their periods, just accept their periods.

Le’Nise: Brilliant. I think you are amazing and what you’re doing is amazing. Where can people find out more about the campaign? And where can they sign the petition?

Molly: So, our Instagram page is @loveyourperiod. Both petitions are in the link in the bio and they can be signed from anyone all over the world. We have a Twitter page, @loveyourperiod1 and then our Facebook page is The Love Your Period Campaign. But whichever one you go on to, you’ll be able to branch out to any of the other pages from there.

Le’Nise: Brilliant. So, if listeners take one thing away from everything you’ve said, what would you want that to be?

Molly: Periods are 100% normal, and no matter how much we try to ignore them, they are always going to be there, so the best thing that we can do is accept them and learn to love them.

Le’Nise: Brilliant, wise words from a very wise lady. Thank you so much for coming on to the show, Molly. All of the details about the campaign will be in the show notes, including a link to the petition. I really encourage you to sign what Molly is doing and what her team are doing is so, so important.

Period Story Podcast, Episode 13: Jasmin Harsono, Honour and Embrace Your Period

Period Story Podcast Episode 13 Jasmin Harsono

It’s Endometriosis Awareness Month and for the 13th episode of Period Story, I was so pleased to speak to Jasmin Harsono, a reiki master and teacher, sonic artist, intuitive wellbeing guide and founder of Emerald and Tiger. Jasmin shares her 20 year journey to getting an endometriosis diagnosis.

Jasmin talked about feeling like her first period was very strange and unnatural. She said that she was able to piece together what was happening to her from conversations with friends and then just got on with it.

Jasmin shares the journey she’s been on with her period, menstrual health and wellbeing. She says that she now feels very empowered by her period and feels the wisdom and power in it.

Jasmin says that it took her over 20 years of tests, back and forth with her doctors and a trip to A&E to get a formal endometriosis diagnosis. She says this has empowered her to share her period story so that others don’t have to go through what she did.

She says that sharing her story has helped others, when they’ve discovered their symptoms are similar to hers, to reach out to their GP and get help. Jasmin says that anyone with period problems needs to keep going back to their GPs until they get referred or the support they deserve.

Finally, Jasmin talks about her work as a reiki master and how this has affected her relationship with her period. She says that having awareness of universal energy within has helped her get unstuck emotionally, physically, spiritually and mentally.  Listen to hear the beautiful reiki treatments Jasmin gives herself everyday.

Jasmin says that we should share our period stories to help empower others and help break taboos around menstrual health and I completely agree!

Get in touch with Jasmin:

Website

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JASMIN’S BIO

Jasmin Harsono is an Author, Reiki Master Teacher, Sonic Artist, and Intuitive Wellbeing Guide. Jasmin shares a wealth of healing experience offering transformational tools that can be used in everyday life. She is the founder of Emerald and Tiger, a conscious lifestyle brand promoting positive awareness through vibrant connection to the body, mind and spirit. Jasmin has collaborated with brands such as Goop, Selfridges, and Crabtree & Evelyn and has featured in Women’s Health, Vogue, and Forbes publications. Jasmin’s practise is based in London, where she offers one-to-one treatments, training, wellbeing guidance, creative consultancy, group and corporate workshops and retreats.

SHOW TRANSCRIPT

Le’Nise: On today’s episode, we have Jasmin Harsono. Jasmin is a reiki master and teacher, sonic artist, and intuitive wellbeing guide. She is the founder of Emerald and Tiger, a conscious lifestyle brand promoting positive awareness through vibrant connection to body, mind, and spirit. Led to reiki through her own experiences of ill health, Jasmin now supports others, guiding them to tap into their true self and to understand they have everything they need in order to live well and feel whole from the inside out.

Welcome to the show.

Jasmin: Thank you so much for having me.

Le’Nise: This is a question I always start every podcast off with. Tell me the story. Tell me about the story of your very first period.

Jasmin: Well, I remember it was my first year in secondary school. I was aged 11, and I remember that morning before going to school, feeling a little bit off, had pains and sensations that I hadn’t really felt before. And yeah, I guess my mood was a little bit … I was feeling a bit low. And then I went to school. And then after school, I remember rushing all the way to home and dying to go to the toilet. And I thought, “Oh, what’s going on,” had these cramps and stuff. And I went to the toilet. I went to my grandma’s house, my nana, and I went to the bathroom and it was my first bleed, discovered my first bleed.

I remember it quite vividly and very instantly feeling a kind of a shame attached to it. I don’t know why, but it was just like, “What’s going on? I’m bleeding.” It just felt very unnatural, my first bleed. And I felt very shy about it and I didn’t really discuss it with my family, as such, not that I can recall. And we didn’t really have talks about it that much before, either. It was just kind of a weird thing to happen. But yeah, that’s what I recall from my first period.

Le’Nise: If you didn’t discuss it with your family beforehand, how did you know what it was?

Jasmin: I’d heard about it through conversation. I’ve got two sisters who are older than me. It’s not that it wasn’t unheard of, but when you just don’t know that knowing or feeling of what it’s going to be like yourself and it wasn’t a conversation that we had had in the house, like a sit down conversation. But obviously, it was going on and I’d seen sanitary wear and stuff like that around the house, so I was aware of what I had to wear for my period and those kind of things. But it was just not something that we would sit down and discuss as a family. And at school, there was a little bit of education in school and conversations within friendship circles. It was kind of that’s how I knew about it.

Le’Nise: When you had your first period, did you go to your sisters and say, “I need a tampon” or “I need a pad”?

Jasmin: No, I can’t actually remember where I got my sanitary wear from, but I don’t recall going to anyone. Maybe we had some around the house, I would imagine, because I had my mom, my two sisters. And so I’m pretty sure there would probably be some sanitary wear around the house.

Le’Nise: Okay. And so you went and you figured it out on your own. And at what point did your mom or your sisters discover that you had had your first period?

Jasmin: I actually don’t remember the conversation I had probably because it may have been a passing conversation. My mom had five children, so it was probably not something that I felt called to discuss. As I said, I was feeling a little bit strange about it as well. I probably internalized a lot of that and just got on with things. And that’s the kind of thought I remember with my period, just getting on with things and just dealing with it on a monthly basis.

Le’Nise: Why do you think that … You’ve mentioned a couple of words that are quite interesting and actually thread through a lot of the conversations I’ve had on this podcast. You’ve mentioned shame, shyness, feeling strange. If you think back now, where do you think those feelings came from?

Jasmin: I think through conversations in school with friends and the conversations that we had around periods was always … It was periods were gross almost. It was like, “Oh, no. You’ve got your period.” There wasn’t really an empowered message behind having a period. It was more like blood is yucky. It was that kind of thing, your smell, those kind of things. And I had that kind of connection to it. And I suppose I attached to that trail of thought for so long and that’s what I thought about periods. Every time that it would come, it was like, “Oh, no. Here’s my period and here’s a couple of days of really embarrassing moments to come,” almost. That’s how I felt about it.

Le’Nise: You think all of your friends at school felt embarrassed about their period?

Jasmin: Pretty much the conversations that I had. And embarrassment or that it just wasn’t … When you’re on your period, it’s not the great few days. No one would tend to enjoy their period or embrace it.

Le’Nise: Do you think that’s changed for you?

Jasmin: 100%. That was a very long time ago. I’m 38 now. I’ve been on such a journey with my periods, my menstrual health and wellbeing. And I’ve come around full circle. I talk about my period a lot to people and have discovered the reasons why I had so many awful symptoms for many years and suffered. And I am now feeling very empowered by my period. I honour my period, and every month I feel that I see the power and wisdom in it. And I use that time when my period comes as a time for reflection, connection, and self-love and healing. For me, it’s completely different. Before, I used to absolutely avoid any period talk or really feel disconnected from it, and now it’s a time to honour and embrace.

Le’Nise: What created that shift in you to go from almost this embarrassment and shame to the other end of the spectrum, feeling really empowered and honoring your period?

Jasmin: Definitely through knowledge and education, my own curiosity. I suffered with chronic pain from my periods. It would last pre, during, and post. I had severe heavy bleeding. I would flood. I would bleed all the way through my sanitary wear, my pants. That would happen to me every month. I used to go to the GP regularly, inform them of all these symptoms I was having, and it came to a point where I really wanted to know why this was happening to me because the more conversations I was having with other people, I realized that actually my period wasn’t the same as other people. Theirs were shorter. Mine were longer. My periods were heavier. Theirs weren’t so heavy. There was lots of things I was like, “Okay. Mine’s not the same.” And I think through my own curiosity, I began to really learn about myself, and that was in itself kind of empowering.

Le’Nise: How long do you think this journey took for you?

Jasmin: Yes. Yes. I went back and forth. I got my period at 11. I pretty much got the symptoms of heavy bleeds, chronic pain straightaway, and I lived through that for years until I was in my late 20s. I couldn’t go on the pill or anything like that because it caused me severe migraines. I had to really go through this cycle every month. And I had very long periods. They would be around 10 days of bleed, heavy bleeding. And I couldn’t get any answers. I had tests done, and it was kind of like, this is what periods are like. That’s what I was told. And I kept thinking, “This is not it. This is not it.”

But I had an incident where I had a cyst rupture. I didn’t know it was that at the time. But I had this. I went to emergency A&E, and then I had some other tests done, scans. And I was told … I was diagnosed with endometriosis. By that time, I understood. I had a level of understanding that my whole life, all these experiences with my period were because I had endometriosis. Then I had a link to that and the more knowledge I had, the more power I had and the less blame I had on my period. It was like, “Oh, I actually had something wrong with me all this time. I had this condition.” And then I wanted to support myself in getting well. That’s how it became full circle in the end.

Le’Nise: How long did it take for you to get your endometriosis diagnosis? So that-

Jasmin: Over 20 years.

Le’Nise: 20 years. Oh my gosh. And you said that at one point you were told, “This is what periods are like.”

Jasmin: Yeah, the norm.

Le’Nise: And how do you feel about that, knowing what you know now and your experience of your period now?

Jasmin: Now, as I said, I share my period story a lot. I really want the next generation, our youth to be empowered by their period, talk about it, don’t be ashamed by it. And so really now I’m not angry or anything about my life or what happened because I can’t really do anything about that. But what I can do is bring my story to the forefront and like other women, just share my story and hope and enable that that helps to start to strengthen the education system because sexual menstrual health needs to be so much better. It’s more pointed towards men than women. And yet women have our periods every month. That’s something that I think needs to change still.

And then, really, I really honor my period now, as I said. I feel completely different to how I did before. There’s a whole change in me physically, mentally, and emotionally towards my period because now I have the awareness. That’s really powerful.

Le’Nise: What do you do to honor your period?

Jasmin: I use an app so I can really focus on my cycle, my moods. And so I know when I’m due. And so I use that time to reflect and connect to myself. I know that I need to slow down. As I said, I have endometriosis and so I don’t have a normal period as such. I still have symptoms, although I manage them much better. I have to use that time to slow down and rest. And so I use that time to tap into my creativity and really just look after myself. It’s all about tapping into self-care and self-love during that time.

Le’Nise: You’ve really taken a lot of learnings from what’s best for your body during this time. And what do you find that your period is different? If you notice that throughout your menstrual cycle, you’re pushing yourself a lot more, do you see the effects of that in your next period or maybe the one after that?

Jasmin: Yes. For example, last week, my period was late and I very rarely have a late period. And I know that the month before, I was under a lot of stress and I put a lot of stress on myself because I was very busy with my work schedule. I worked through quite heavily through when I had my period, which works against me and can cause fatigue in my body that can be long-lasting. My period came late, and I had a feeling this would happen. Period came late and then I had really heavy bleed on Friday, last Friday gone so that I couldn’t even walk down the road for a few minutes. I kept bleeding through and flooding, and it was just very awful experience.

And that’s the learning in it because I know next month I have to really schedule my work so I’m not doing so much during that time. I need to really honour, embrace that time to slow down. That is the part of the month for me, personally, that I need to slow down and not do so much so that I can honor the bleed that’s happening and just allow myself to take some time out. Yeah. There’s always learning in every month. Every period, there’s something to take from.

Le’Nise: And it’s almost a counter-cultural message where this idea of slowing down for however long your period is and connecting and resting and reflecting because I’ve talked about this before, but I know you have your own business and we get told as being entrepreneurs, it’s this hustle, go go go all the time. But this idea of taking a step back, just even a tiny step back, just you almost feel … Sometimes, for me, certainly, I feel a sense of, “Maybe I shouldn’t be doing it” even though I know it’s the best thing for my body.

Jasmin: Yeah. There’s shame attached to that as well, I think. All of these things like, “Oh, we shouldn’t take a break. We need to work really hard.” I think that’s the system that we work on, definitely in the Western world. It’s like go go go. The harder you work, the more that you achieve and more success you’ll get. It’s that mentality. But I do work for myself and I work seven days a week. But I know that in my body if I don’t take a rest, the consequences are much more, the knock-on effects means that I could then be out, have this chronic fatigue for weeks and weeks and weeks, which means I can’t really function 100%. And so then my work is not … I’m not really doing my work to the best.

I think it’s really good that if you really honor what’s happening with you during your cycle every month, you can see and be aware of how you personally function, to be aware of that, and then work around that. It really benefits you much more. And so the time that you can put into work where you’re energized and you can put 100% into that time and then know that that works for you. I think that’s the best way in terms for me, that’s the best way that I work. Now, that feels very powerful to do that. I don’t have anyone to answer to, so for me, it’s a little bit different.

If you’re in a workplace, I definitely think more and more now with their having discussions within work about period health and so hopefully, you can go to someone in HR and say, “Look, this is what happens during my period. And so can I take a few days to work from home or can I work shorter days so I’m not traveling during busy hours, the commute hours?” and stuff. That’s why sharing and having the conversations are really important. I definitely would be having those if I was working for someone else.

Le’Nise: And March is endometriosis awareness month and you said that you’ve been sharing your stories a lot, your story of endometriosis diagnosis and you symptoms. Have you heard any feedback about the impact that your story has had on others?

Jasmin: Yeah. I think through several talks that I’ve given, lots of people have felt more empowered to share their own story. And also, have discovered that their symptoms are very similar to mine, and then have gone and reached out to their GP and got some help and really gone in there and said, “Look, I’m not leaving until I get seen by a specialist.” They have this information now where they feel like, “Well, she did that, so I’m going to do that” kind of thing. And I have a Facebook group I started a couple of years ago, a community group that’s now grown to 6,000 women across the world. And I know that my message in a subtle way has empowered other people to get their story out. And in my heart, I feel like that they’re sharing their story, that they’re helping someone else, too. Even if it’s one person, you feel like you’re spreading the word. Word of mouth is really strong in this kind of area where women don’t have a strong platform. If we can just do a little bit each, I think that will make a difference.

Le’Nise: Absolutely. One story has the power to change so many other people’s lives, absolutely.

Jasmin: And I’ve also connected with so many people that are studying endometriosis, studying the pain, the science, incredible people that are doing so much work behind it and haven’t got much funding and are just so passionate about really helping people because endometriosis, adenomyosis, lots of PCOS, these conditions are relatively high. There’s lots of people, there’s one in 10 people have endometriosis. It’s something that we should all be talking about anyway, but yet, there’s still a lack of information, a lack of knowledge. People are being diagnosed every 10 years or something like that. It takes 10 years to get diagnosed.

I think it’s really important that we just keep sharing our story. And that, for me, starts an opening where hopefully you’ll get to the point where in the UK, the government will listen to this more and realize that women’s stories need to be heard, whether it’s endometriosis or a mental health condition or something else. Yeah.

Le’Nise: What would you say to someone who comes to you and says, “I went to my GP, but I just felt a bit fobbed off”?

Jasmin: I would tell them to go back and go back again. That’s what I did. I did that for years and years and years. I said to you I had problems since I was age 11 and had gone to the doctor’s regularly. I had been told to go on antidepressants, I had IBS. I had so many different diagnoses and went down different routes until I had my cyst rupture. I know what it’s like to be fobbed off and told, “You’ve got this” or “There’s nothing wrong with you. It’s a normal period.” But now, knowing this information, I can’t really stand for anyone just to sit back and go through it. The message is just keep going back to your doctor. You have the information. There’s an incredible lady called Nancy Nook who shares really all of the best consultants to seek around the world. And so you can go to your GP and say, “This is who I want to see.”

Or the other route is, if you have the money, you can go and book an appointment with a private doctor, have a consultation with them, and ask them to refer you back onto the NHS to see this specific consultant. And this really works as well. Say you pay £150 to see a private consultant and then get yourself back on the NHS to see the consultant, this route works really well as well. And that helped me when I was diagnosed with cancer, which was years ago. But I know that there’s ways of getting to your consultant much faster than through your GP, and that’s one of them.

You just have to keep supporting yourself and know that what you’re going through is something that you really need to support. If I had known how much it had affected my fertility, for example, I think I would’ve been at the GP every day knocking down the door, but I just didn’t have awareness. And so now, I just … The most important message is to get seen and be heard.

Le’Nise: And what would you say, once they’ve got the appointment, they’re in the door, how would you suggest that they prepare for that appointment?

Jasmin: The most important thing is to keep a journal, to really write down all of their … keep a diary of their symptoms, what they eat, their cycle, how long a cycle is, what their bleed is like, what their mental health symptoms, what their digestive experiences are. Just keeping a journal of everything so that they have that information before they go and see the consultant and therefore, they can pretty much show them everything they’re going through on a monthly basis. And that really helps them to be, “Look, I’ve got all the information here. This is what’s going on for me.” So they can’t be told that their situation is that you’ve got a normal period because there’s evidently not if they’ve got all these symptoms connecting them to whether it’s endometriosis or something else.

I think keeping a diary is the most important thing. And then to maybe bring someone with you at the appointment so that they can hear everything because sometimes you’re digesting information and that’s all you need to do. And someone else can just sit there and take the notes for you. Yeah, and just make sure that you stay with that consultant if you’re happy with them. Make sure you create a relationship with them because that really helps. And usually, my consultant was also the person that was operating on me. I think it’s good to create a relationship with someone knowing that they have your best interests at heart.

Le’Nise: Can you talk a little bit about your work as a reiki practitioner and how that has … We talked about energy and slowing and how that’s affected maybe your relationship with your body and your period.

Jasmin: Definitely having the awareness of universal energy within, which is this chi, this life force energy, has helped me to get unstuck emotionally, physically, spiritually, and mentally. I always have this feeling of never feeling alone. I feel empowered by what’s going on in my body. By that, I mean that I have this awareness that, okay, I’m not feeling so good today and I can check in with myself and see why, and I can bring together this timeline and knowledge of why I’m not feeling well. And reiki helps me with that. It just helps to open up this awareness to all that’s going on within. And so you have, in fact, a natural ability to heal yourself because you are not being this person that’s stuck and not doing anything about it.

When you’re more open and embrace what’s going on within, you’re able to really understand that information, that your personal information of what’s going on inside your body and therefore do something about it. It really just helps me to be more aware and in that, I’m able to take something from that and do something about it. It’s the awareness and the action that goes afterwards, if that makes sense.

Le’Nise: And so do you have any particular tools that you use that you would be willing to share with the listeners?

Jasmin: I use clary sage oil on a regular basis to relieve the inflammation, and I massage that into my womb, into my hips, into my thighs, and my back, my lower back, the areas where I tend to get a lot of pain from the endometriosis and keeps everything really moving. In Chinese medicine, they talk about that area, if it’s cold, that you’ll more tend to have the pain and inflammation hanging around in those spaces, so massaging the area regularly keeps it nice and warm and helps everything to stay in flow. That really helps me, and it feels really good. It also feels like I’m honoring my womb as well. It’s kind of like an offering of self-care to my womb.

And I give myself a reiki treatment every day. That’s with my hands placed on my body, scanning the body and just placing the hands where it might need some reiki. That’s just tapping in to see where in my body I’m feeling stuck or I’ve got any pain. And then I place my hands on that area and send reiki there. And reiki is always within you, but the touch element, it just helps to support you more and feel really connected. And it’s a really nice way to meditate, I find. I bring in the breath, take some deep breaths and just allow this healing process to happen.

And I think food is really important to mention. We’re all very different. It’s really important to know what foods you digest well and to digest warming foods during the cold months. I always find that that really helps me to feel better. Soups and stews when it’s cold help me to, again, warm up the body and keep everything in flow. But just making sure that you’re eating well, drinking lots of water. And for me, I have a daily meditation practice, which really helps me physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually to stay connected.

And I think also, a period tracker. I use an app called Moody, which is amazing because you can track your moods, you can track your period, your cycle. You can also leave notes in there. You can journal. Anything that might be a little bit odd that month, you can write about it. And really generally, keep a daily journal of how you’re feeling, checking in with yourself. I’ll do a daily check in, “How am I feeling today?” And then I’ll just check through physically, mentally, emotionally how am I feeling. And that, I really find really powerful because I can look through that and just see if there’s anything that’s spiked, that’s peaked, that might not feel right, and then I can look into that more.

And I think also having conversations with others. If you’re feeling like something is not right or you feel … Yeah, it’s just basically sharing with other people, I think is really important, to find your trusted circle that you can talk about these things and not feel any shame or embarrassment. I called my sister on Friday and said, “I’m walking down the road. My period … I’m flooding through. It’s a nightmare. I’m not feeling well. It’s making me feel quite anxious.” I had all these conversations. And just in having that with someone who can relate with me because I know that she’s gone through that herself, then we have this connection where I feel like it’s not just me. And then it’s like that feeling of oneness, and I’m not going crazy. This is happening to someone else. I think connection with a trusted person who will relate to your story is really important.

And you can find that through Facebook groups or it doesn’t have to be a family member because it can be someone else, a stranger. You can find people online that are going through this, too. If you don’t have a community near you in person, you can find someone online to talk to about it. But I think that’s really important as well, to stay connected and talk about those things.

Le’Nise: You have quite a rich practice of honoring your body and staying connected with body using lots of different methods, which obviously I loved hearing about the food side of it, the meditation. Are there any specific, say, reiki techniques or meditation practices that you would share with someone who is going through something similar?

Jasmin: The most beautiful practice that I have is just a reiki treatment where I place one hand on my womb, so my right hand on my womb, my left hand on my heart, and I breathe into those spaces. I lay down, find somewhere comfortable, and I usually do this before I go to bed and in the morning when I wake up. But I share reiki in those spaces and I breathe into my womb. I just allow my breath to go in there and expand the breath into that space. You can visualize light, bright white light coming into that area, just receiving renewed energy into the womb. And then when you breathe out, you’re letting go of any tension, any pain that you’re holding onto. You’re breathing into the womb and then taking the breath into the heart space and just really opening and expanding these areas. And I find it really comforting. I find it really beautiful to connect in that way, and I see both spaces, I visualize roses in those space to … just an opening of beautiful red roses, which really helps me to feel like I’m loved.

And I think that’s really important for me in particular because sometimes we take on so much of the external world. And so this just gives you this time, even if it’s five minutes in the day, just to reconnect back and realize that your womb is creating so much beauty for you, and sometimes we get attached to, oh, this heavy period every month and that can really bring us down, like it did on Friday. When I reconnect through meditation, I bring an offering back to my womb to say thank you, in a way, for my bleed, for maybe being able to birth a child in the future or for me to connect to my creativity. It’s those kind of practices that I really embrace. And that’s one particular one that I will do on a daily basis.

Le’Nise: I think that’s so beautiful and it really shifts the narrative from … Certainly I see this with other women that I work with who have endometriosis. It’s the shift from this feeling of fighting with your body to honoring it, and that whole visual of visualizing roses, I just love that.

Jasmin: Yeah. Because you can go even further and use your senses. You can smell them and journey with the roses, which is really beautiful and you can extend into a meditation. And that’s just so beautiful when you can just visualize them growing and growing. And rose tea, which I drink regularly, is really beautiful. You can also honor your womb in that way, of just creating, making a little bit of time, a mindful moment of boiling the kettle, putting some rose petals in the cup, pouring hot water in, waiting for that to cool down, taking some deep breaths, and drinking that tea slowly. And just visualize that rose tea moving through into your womb space. Rose is really great for digestion and for your health of your skin and stuff like that. It’s got great qualities to it anyway, but that’s a really nice mindful moment of having a tea ceremony for your womb, which is really beautiful.

Le’Nise: Yeah. Wow, so lovely. Can you talk a little bit more about your work as a reiki master, your business, Emerald and Tiger, and maybe talk a little bit about your amazing book that has just come out?

Jasmin: Self Reiki came out in December in the UK and January, US, Canada. And it’s a book that focuses more on one specific area of reiki, which is hands-on healing and the power of touch. And hands-on healing has been around for a very long time, way before reiki has, the system of reiki has. But what it is in the book is just gives you these tools, these 40 exercises and meditations around health and wellbeing to help you to tap into your natural ability to heal yourself. In reiki, we do give achievements to awaken you, to bring this awareness of life force energy moving within you. But we know that we were all born with this energy. We are all created by this energy.

And so, really, the book gives you a little bit of this background information of what reiki is, history, and insights, and then there’s so many different exercises that you can follow. The wellbeing ones will be … For example, today’s a full moon, so there’s a full moon meditation in there so you can really exercise the process of writing down all the things that you want to let go of under a full moon and feel empowered to let go of those. That’s a really nice exercise to do. Or there’s ones around if you have chronic back issues, you can follow a reiki treatment to help to relieve that pain and see why that pain’s coming up for you because often when we talk about working with reiki, we find that the roots of the problem isn’t the physical back pain, that there might be an emotional attachment to why that back pain is coming up.

Yeah, there’s lots of exercises in there that would be for everyone, generally, on a daily basis. And so it’s really about creating this daily treatment for yourself every day, a little bit of self-care to really honor yourself and be more in tune with yourself personally because although I feel that we’re all connected and we are in so many special ways, we all individually go through things personally. And so it’s really about tapping into that and finding why that is, who am I, what’s going on with me today and having that check in.

Jasmin: And my business, Emerald and Tiger, I offer one-to-one guidance, corporate group workshops, events, retreats, and products such as my book. And Emerald and Tiger fuses the synergies of modern life and conscious living and ancient practices, so practices such as reiki and sound healing to help people to tap into their natural ability to heal. Really, I am the facilitator to help to bring people … come back to their true self. And I offer, for example, a session called Breathe Love, which is about people breathing love back into their bodies. It starts with a breathing exercise for 20 minutes, guided meditation and then lots of sound healing. And all of these tools help to bring us back to the energy that’s within us, that life force energy. All of my work always comes full circle back to the essence of who we are, what we are made up of.

Le’Nise: If someone wanted to get in touch with you … As someone’s listening to this podcast and really connecting what you’re saying about circling back to the energy and the ability to heal yourself and the meditations that you talked about, how would they connect with you?

Jasmin: I have a website emeraldandtiger.com. They can reach me at hello@emeraldandtiger.com, send me an email if they’re curious or have any questions. And I’m also on Instagram, Emerald and Tiger.

Le’Nise: Brilliant. One last question, if listeners, if they take one thing away from all of the beautiful things that you’ve talked about, what would you want that to be?

Jasmin: I would definitely start with keeping a journal of their period and creating their own period story, so really finding out on a daily basis what their mood’s like and tracking their period and understanding their particular cycle because everyone’s is different. That’s really the key thing. But also, if I can add to that, is to share their period story, to have those conversations because that really empowers other people, the youth, the next generation that are coming, we hope that they’ll be talking about it more and more and more so that it doesn’t stay a taboo subject anymore, that we can really honor our full femininity and the amazingness of our womb, that we don’t often do.

Le’Nise: Beautiful. Thank you so much for coming on the show.

Jasmin: Thank you so much for having me. It was a pleasure. Thank you.

Period Story Podcast, Episode 12: Toral Shah, We Need More Diversity In Healthcare

For the 12th episode of Period Story Podcast, I was honoured to speak with Toral Shah. Toral is a nutritional scientist, functional medicine practitioner, food & health writer & consultant and the founder of The Urban Kitchen.

Toral shared how a family holiday to Egypt ended in a surprise from her first period and how supportive her mum was. She says her mum had made sure to educate her about menstruation beforehand, so when it arrived, it wasn’t a complete shock. 

She said her mum’s openness helped her see her period and menstrual health in a matter of fact way, which was quite different to her friends.

Toral shared her experience of medical menopause after her breast cancer treatment. She shared the side effects she experienced and how she believes more needs to be done to help women with the side effects of breast cancer drugs.

Toral says that more women need proper education on what menopause and perimenopause actually is and how it can affect them. She says that many doctors aren’t educated in menopause, unless they have specialist menopause certification and believes this needs to change.

We also had a great discussion about the lack of diversity in healthcare, health and wellbeing. Toral talked through research by Dr. Adrienne Milner that shows that BAME community isn’t being represented effectively at consultant levels, which means that they aren’t necessarily being reflected in policies and structures. 

Toral says that we need to listen to ourselves, our bodies and give ourselves what we need and I completely agree! 

Get in touch with Toral:

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Toral’s Bio

Toral Shah is a Nutritional Scientist (MSc Nutr Med), Functional Medicine Practioner, Food and  Health writer and Consultant, as well as the Founder of The Urban Kitchen. She originally went to medical school with a view to becoming an oncolgist but when her mother was diagnosed with breast cancer, she realised that this was not the career for her. After completing her BSc in Cell Biology, specialising  in cancer, she worked in research, winning a presitigious Royal Society internship where she worked on SRC oncogenes. Toral then went on to do an MSc in Nutritional Medicine at University of Surrey.

She specialises in optimising health and disease prevention through  improving food, diet and lifestyle. She uses evidence based science knowledge along with lifestyle medicine and cooking skills  to help support others to lead a healthier life by eating delicious and nutritious food. She is particularly passionate about cancer prevention and completed her MSc thesis researching the foods that prevent recurrence of breast cancer. As a breast cancer patient and survivor, she understand how patients might want to change their diet and lifestyle post diagnosis.

She also works with a large portfolio of brands, press and individuals within the food and wellness industry from hosting supper clubs, speaking at large health and corporate wellness events, festivals and private events, developing recipes and creating nutritional content for brands sharing her knowledge of nutrition and science.

Toral is also passionate about combatting the lack of diversity in healthcare and ensuring both doctors and patients from BAME groups are equally represented within the NHS and healthcare systems. Currently, BAME  people have poorer health outcomes, even when you take into account socioeconomic factors, and are often diagnosed with cancer later and at later stages. Toral is working with several charities and organisations to ensure that they are creating more inclusive health promotion campaigns with more diversity and inclusivity so that all communities know that cancer can affect them.

She is currently  the process of writing her first book which explores the latest science behind foods that optimise health and illustrates them with some of her favourite recipes. 

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SHOW TRANSCRIPT

Le’Nise: On today’s episode, we have Toral Shah. Toral is a nutritional scientist, functional medicine practitioner, food and health writer and consultant, as well as the founder of The Urban Kitchen. Toral specialises in optimizing health and disease prevention through improving food, diet, and lifestyle. She uses evidence-based science knowledge, along with lifestyle medicine and cooking skills to help support others to lead a healthier life by eating delicious and nutritious food.

Le’Nise: Toral is particularly passionate about cancer prevention, and completed her MSc thesis in researching the foods that prevent recurrence of breast cancer. As a breast cancer patient and survivor, she understands how patients might want to change their diet and lifestyle, post-diagnosis. Toral is also passionate about combating the lack of diversity in healthcare, and ensuring both doctors and patients from BAME groups are equally represented within the NHS and healthcare systems. Welcome to the show.

Toral: Lovely to be here. Thanks for having me.

Le’Nise: We’re going to talk about your very impressive resume later on in the show. But first, I want to ask you about the story of your very first period. Can you tell us what happened?

Toral: I was actually one of the lucky ones. My mom had shared with me what exactly happens before you have a period. So I wasn’t completely surprised. But I was actually in Egypt on holiday with my family, so I wasn’t quite expecting it then. I had just had tummy cramps, and I hadn’t felt great for a couple days. I actually attributed that to some fish we had eaten. So I was like, “No, the fish has made me really ill.” And then obviously, I started my period.

I think the thing that was difficult about that was, we weren’t back in London. We were in Egypt where it’s a slightly different country, where you don’t know where you need to buy what you need to buy, like sanitary products and things. It’s also an Islamic country, so it’s harder to ask someone for help to where to go buy that. I felt sorry for my mum in hindsight, now that I’m older. She had to magic some things up to help me. I know I was really lucky, it was a light early period. But I was only 11, so it was probably a little bit earlier than I had probably anticipated having that happening to me.

Le’Nise: So how did you feel when you got it?

Toral: Surprised, but not… I didn’t know what it was. I didn’t realize that I had to have stomach cramps. No one had actually mentioned that part to me. I understood what it was from a biological perspective. But I didn’t realize that I was going to have it like I thought I’d get. I wasn’t going to feel very happy, and I was going to feel slightly miserable, a bit grumpy. And also, just not being at home. Being in a hotel was a little bit challenging for me. But having my mum there with me all day made it so much easier than if I had been at school or somewhere else.

Le’Nise: You said that your mum talked to you about it beforehand. So you weren’t completely surprised about what you saw.

Toral: No.

Le’Nise: What sort of things did she teach you about it?

Toral: So I think for my mum, it was really important that someone told me… Well, she told me about what a period was and why you had it, and what was going to happen. Because she had such a terrible experience, herself. My mum’s actually one of five sisters. And despite being number four, no one had really explained periods to her. She knew something happened. She knew there’s something mysterious. She knew that there were times of the month where her sisters were a bit grumpy, and things were happening. But she didn’t really know.

So when she started her period, she was actually the same age as me, she was 11. She was at school and she started bleeding, and just literally thought she was dying and didn’t know what to do, and just ended up using loads of tissues and things like that. Then obviously… This in the times before we had all the amazing sanitary products that we have now. So they used to use towels and rags. They used to buy these pads where you used to have to put them in some sort of special contraption so they could stick to your pants, and things like that.

My mum said she just didn’t want me to have that experience, and not know. And also, I was quite precocious. I had already had a really high reading level, and knew a lot about biology. So it made it a little bit easier for my mum. Just to be able to understand what was happening to me biologically, made a difference.

Le’Nise: And then when you got back from holiday and you went back to school, what was it like with the conversations with your friends?

Toral: Interesting. I was one of the youngest ones to start her period. And it was a bit like, “Oh my God. I am so grown up. I’m better than you guys. I already started my period.” It was that kind of conversation. In those days, that was like who grew boobs first and who had their period. That made you just sort of a grown up girl, as opposed to a little girl.

Le’Nise: When you were talking to your friends, you said that your mum had already talked to you about it beforehand. Were you kind of the educator amongst your friends?

Toral: We had already had some sort of sex education and talk about periods at school by then. So whilst I may have talked… I don’t remember talking. I do remember talking to my friends about it, but I don’t remember getting into detail. I think we were already all… Whether our parents had done it or whether it was the school, we had had some information at least. So it wasn’t completely… Actually, I didn’t have a terrible experience. It wasn’t something we talked about a load. It was just more, “Oh, I had it.”, rather than anything else.

No, no, no. It was only I think a little bit older, that we started talking a little bit more about it. I think at that first couple years, it wasn’t something that we maybe talked about.

Le’Nise: So as you got older, you started to talk about it more. Was it starting to be in a context more of sex and relationships with boys, or was it quite more still on the biological functional level?

Toral: I think it was more on the biological functional level. I think it depends on who everyone is friends with. Most of my friends were not the people having sex at 14 or 15, and things like that. There were some in my school. But it was more about like, what can you use? Does it feel great? Does it dirty? What about swimming? What about the gym? This is when there wasn’t much choice of products then. They were very thick. There were tampons with applicators. So it was before the smaller… Shows my age, this does. It was before the kind of smaller little tampons came out without applicators.

I remember when Always came out with the pads with wings. So that was a revolutionary new thing, when I was maybe about 14 or 15. So that was something new, and we were all a little bit, “Oh, this makes it so much better.” It doesn’t fall off, and things like that. We would talk more about the practicalities of it in that way. And obviously as I got older, I think the sex and relationship part didn’t actually come into conversation with the periods part. They were two quite separate conversations. Even though they’re obviously inextricably linked, we didn’t talk about it together that way.

Le’Nise: You said that when you got your first period, you said that you had a stomach ache. Was period pain a part of you having a period?

Toral: Yes, period pain has continued to be a part of me having a period. It is something that I have lots of conversations about, because it’s something that we didn’t talk about. I’m on day five, so I’m going to be very honest about that. I was going to meet a friend on Friday, which was day two, and I messaged him. I said, “I’ve got period pains, and I’m not feeling great. Let’s not meet for a coffee.” Well, I probably wouldn’t have done that with boys before. Ironically, it’s a very good friend. But even then, I think how much more open, just because we as a society, we’re talking a bit more about it. We’re talking more about it being a normal bodily function. Before, we just hid it. It wasn’t something you would ever tell. I think my brother was aware of these things, but he’s definitely much more aware now.

Le’Nise: Why do you say that?

Toral: Because he has a wife. Yeah, he has a sister. He doesn’t have any daughters, he’s got sons. I think we’re much more open to talking about it. Whereas it wasn’t something I would necessarily have said to him when we were 13, “Oh, this is what’s happening.” He must have known, but he didn’t… And again, it was a bit confusing for him too. So again, we need to educate the boys just as much as we educate the women.

Le’Nise: Why do you think society is more open about periods and talking about periods now than it used to be?

Toral: I don’t know, actually. I don’t know if it’s just because we’ve become more open about talking about so many thing. We talk about relationships more. We talk about sexuality more. We talk about sex more. We talk about… I think the world has changed so much. I think particularly in the U.K., where we are a very kind of closed, stiff upper lip society. I think things are changed. The society’s just changed. I think we also understand things a bit more from a biological perspective. There’s a lot more science and understanding all sorts of things around the period. Whether it’s the hormonal and the emotional aspects, or the physical aspects, and what we can do to support ourselves.

I think it’s also having a whole society of women, like my mum, who wanted their daughters to have different experiences, and talked about it. But yeah, I was out with my sister-in-law the other day, and she’s from a different culture. She’s from Kyrgyzstan, and they didn’t… Her mum didn’t explain anything. Her mum gave her a book. So I think it really depends on the other things. From my mum, my mum’s hugely, hugely open. My mum’s also quite scientific, and she works in the healthcare industry. For me, I think that was because of her passion, she wanted it. I’d be really interested to speak to my cousins to see whether they had the same experience, even though their mums were all brought up with my mum. I feel like my mum’s slightly different. I will actually ask them this next time I speak to them, because I think it would be an interesting conversation.

Le’Nise: Do you think your mum being so open about periods and menstrual health in general, changed the relationship that you had with your period?

Toral: I can’t say it did or didn’t, because obviously, she was always like that. For me, it was a part of biological life, and that was what happened to girls. And we always talked about it. I didn’t have to hide it, and I didn’t have to hide buying products. I think it only made it easier. When I hear about some of my friends’ stories, then I think that at least I had someone who was actively engaged in the process, and explaining and buying the products and doing things, and making sure I had everything I need. Obviously, I can’t imagine what it would be like if I had not known. And I do know from friends and family members, that they didn’t really know what was going on. They had to try and find tissues and towels and rags, even in those days. Even now, I feel like when you think about people from different countries, they still don’t really know. So for me, I’m just grateful that I had my mum explain what it was before it happened.

Le’Nise: Yeah, I think that’s very… It’s very different to a lot of the other guests that I’ve had on the show, where shame and secrecy is a big theme. It then translates into the relationship they have with their period. A lot of them have said as they get older, it’s only now where people are more open, that they actually feel like, “Why am I so ashamed of this?” It’s nothing to be ashamed of. I think it’s amazing that your mum’s openness and not having to hide it, has just made you… It sounds like you have a very matter-of-fact relationship with your period.

Toral: I do now. But I do think there was shame and secrecy. I would have told my female friends. I would never have told any male friends. My brother and my dad knew, just because our family is quite open. That’s the way it is. But I wouldn’t have told maybe even boyfriends and male friends, and other family members. Because they’d say, “Why don’t you want to go swimming?” And things like that. You’d sort of make something up. I think that society has changed now. So we are able to talk about it more. The fact that you’re even doing this, I love that you have a whole podcast dedicated to getting your period, because this happens to half the world. Literally, half the world. We’ve shrouded it in secrecy and shame for so long. I still think for me when I think about it, culturally, there are so many aspects of that.

I’m Indian. One of the things about when you have your period is, you can’t pray and go to a temple. You’re not supposed to cook for people. You’re not supposed to use certain things. Yeah, and there are so many things you’re not supposed to do. I can understand why. In some aspects it’s to give people rest, so they can actually rest. And then it became something dirty and something secret. Actually, the whole point of why these rules are created, to give people some time to rest and recuperate while these things happen to their body. It had become something nasty and dirty and secret.

I think it’s partly the whole patriarchal nature of culture and religion. I could go on about that. That’s been forgotten. I think for me, when I hear these stories still in the news of places like Nepal and India, where people are made to sleep outside and are not given food… People are dying. I’m thinking, it’s 2020. This is ridiculous that we are… Well, society and patriarchy is punishing women for having a natural bodily function. It’s ridiculous. It still happens in so many countries and cultures, where you’re not supposed to go to wherever your area of prayer is. Or eat with other people or touch other people, and things like that. I find that horrible.

Le’Nise: Even in yoga actually, they’re still talking about culture. There is this kind of old school mentality where you hear male practitioners say, “You shouldn’t do yoga on your period.” I actually find that quite frustrating, because it’s basically saying that you’re not allowed to listen to how you feel and what your body is telling you. And actually, yoga is amazing when you have your period, especially have things like period pain and cramps because it can ease a lot of that. What you’re saying about patriarchy and cultural experiences drifting into how people talk about periods, goes into loads of different areas.

Toral: Well, I think you have to remember that yoga comes from India and the Hindu culture. That’s part of why male practitioners say that, because they do not want to have people essentially making their yoga place dirty. They don’t want anyone not to be purified. It’s ridiculous, because… You’re absolutely right. Yoga is amazing for period pains. For me, I’m really conscious about how I look after my body and what I do. So yoga is one of the things I’ll do. I will go and do some cycling, but maybe I won’t go and lift really heavy weights the last couple of days, just because it makes me feel really tired. But I think we have to look back at why did this happen. Men made rules about women’s bodies for so many years, and still do. I mean, think about it.

What’s been seminal in the last couple of weeks is that certainly in the U.K., Scotland is going to provide free period products to school, and that England’s following suit. But we pay a tax on these things. Why are we paying tax on sanitary wear, which is an essential item? We’re paying tax as if it was a luxury item. I find this incredibly patriarchal and kind of ridiculous, because it’s not a luxury item. We need it. And actually, we haven’t educated people to understand that. There are still so many things around period pains and work and stuff. People just don’t talk about it. Some women are debilitated with these pains, or whatever’s happening around that. So for them to go to work, they can’t even say anything. It’s not built into our structure.

Le’Nise: There are lots of signs that this is changing, but not as fast as it should. I’d say that it’s certainly when I speak to younger people, people in their teens and 20s, they are much more open, men and women… about periods, menstrual health, sexuality and all of that. I think that’s forcing older people from 30-plus, to start to change their attitudes. I want to talk a little bit about your cancer diagnosis, and how that changed your period. Because I know some cancer patients, they go into medical menopause. I wondered, was that your experience?

Toral: I have had a bit of both. It depends on your cancer. Firstly, I had breast cancer, which was very hormone related. So basically, it grows in response to estrogen and progesterone. What happens in those cases, which is a lot of women, is they want to give you something that will reduce the amount of estrogen in your body or stop your ovaries from producing estrogen. So they’re two different kinds of things. One is by taking Zoladex, which is an injection. The other one is taking a tablet like Tamoxifen. I have avoided Zoladex for a long time. I have an appointment on Friday, where I’m sure we’re going to have the conversation yet again. But I have had Tamoxifen. It has stopped my period, because it’s an estrogen blocker.

It is interesting, because it’s such a part of being a woman. It feels very different. So part of me is like, great. I can just do whatever I want to do. I could swim all the time. But actually, blocking your estrogen and not having estrogen changes your mood, changes how your body works, changes how your brain works. It also increases your risk of certain diseases and things like that. So whilst it does help you when you’re on medical menopause to reduce your risk of having breast cancer again or certainly any hormone-dependent cancers, it does change so much of your body. I think this leads us back to menopause where again, this happens to half the world. We haven’t been talking about it until the last year or so, which I find amazing. Because women are such an integral part of our society and our workforce now. And we’re not actually allowing them the space to understand the menopause, and work through it and make allowances for some of the really big changes that happen in your body.

Again, as a cancer patient, when you go through medical menopause, people just think you’re being a little bit difficult or you’re being hard or something like that. It’s so debilitating, some of the side effects. For me, the hot flushes were one thing. But I had some of the rarer side effects, including… You just seem to have a very, very, very sore and dry vagina. And other parts, the vulva. It’s something that we’re starting to talk about. It happens in normal menopause, too. But because this happens really suddenly, I was in absolute agony. I literally couldn’t walk or do anything, to the point where I can’t take this job anymore.

Not only does your period stop which is a small thing, but it’s actually, why do they stop? It affects all your hormones, because it’s blocking the estrogen. For me, it just ends up being… Both times I tried it, because I had breast cancer twice, it hasn’t been something I could actually tolerate for more than a few weeks at a time because it’s so painful. And we’ve still not really researched or found a cure to help women with these side effects. It’s something I talk about. I’m sure if it had been for men, like Viagra, we’d have discovered it quite quickly. But because it’s for women, the research just hasn’t been there.

Lots of women have to go through medical menopause with different types of cancer, because the chemotherapy can just also stop your ovaries from working and things like that. But there are so many other reasons. And we’re not really still researching what we could do to help. Every time I go to a conference… I went to a conference for young women with breast cancer last year. They were talking about how women, there was such a reoccurrence in younger women because they’ve stopped the hormone treatment. I kept putting my hand up after every single lecture I spoke, and said, “But you’re not helping us with the side effects.” I mean, I know I can do for myself and I work in nutrition and lifestyle medicine. But then there’s very little, and they’re insisting that we keep on these drugs, and I totally understand why. But actually, it’s much, much harder for younger women. And you’re not helping us and we’re finding it really difficult, both emotionally and physically.

Le’Nise: What was the response of your doctor when you went to them and talked about the side effects you were experiencing?

Toral: My own GP this time around, I have a female GP who’s absolutely phenomenal, who used to actually work in AIDS research, also has had some experience of women who’ve had AIDS treatment with exactly the same side effects, because they suddenly go into menopause too. So she had loads of ideas and things to help me, including taking some vaginal estrogen suppositories and cream, and all sort. And just the conversations, and just actually listening to me. That was amazing. The previous time, they just all seemed to be really baffled that this was a side effect. I did end up seeing a gynecologist at Chelsea and Westminster. But again, we kind of agreed that let’s just stop it, and we didn’t know what to do. I think I’m very knowledgeable about hormones and how our body works, so I have a little bit more say in my own treatment with my cancer. So it has been a little bit easier to have those conversations. I’m also quite strong. So in fact, I’m not taking something because it’s making me feel horrible, then I’m not doing it and I can explain why I’m not doing it. But I think a lot of women suffer in silence.

I was at an event on Tuesday about medical menopause and the side effects for younger women, with a charity called Trekstock. So many women had no idea there were things that could help them. They could take some forms of HRT, or they could take some of these creams or patches and things like that. I think again, we need to start educating women. We need to talk about these things. If it’s shrouded in secrecy and again, don’t talk about how it impacts our society and our workforce and women, then we’re not going to help them.

Le’Nise: What do you think your experience of being in medical menopause would do for your eventual journey into perimenopause and menopause?

Toral: I think a little bit of understanding about how difficult it might be, and preempting that I’m going to need some support around this. I’m also conscious that a lot of things that can help people through perimenopause and menopause may not be suitable for me, just because I’ve had an estrogen dependent type of cancer. But I’m also conscious there are people who are interested in this and talking about it. There are things that we can do from a nutritional lifestyle medicine perspective. So at the moment, I am spending a lot of time researching and understanding the estrogen system, we have an estrogen detoxification system in our bodies. So perhaps it’s for me and my body, it’s not all about removing estrogen from my body, but it’s about helping my body and supporting my body to naturally detoxify that estrogen and go through that system.

What’s really interesting about the perimenopause and menopause is that we’ve not talked about this to women. We’ve never ever talked about this in school. We’ve obviously talked about periods and stuff, but we’ve never educated girls to talk and understand what menopause is. We sort of just say, “You have menopause, and you’re period’s stopped.” But we’ve never really educated. So maybe that’s an area where we are… I know that’s on the curriculum now. That will make a difference to women. My own personal journey, I’m just conscious from now on. Being in my 40s, perimenopause may happen soon-ish. I don’t know when I would go through natural menopause. Because my mum had breast cancer too, and she had chemotherapy and suddenly went into menopause, from having her period and being actually quite normal. So we don’t actually know what the natural age of my mum having menopause is, and that’s really the biggest indication for when you would have menopause. So I’m really interested to see what happens in the next 10 years.

Le’Nise: It’s interesting that you’re talking about a mix of HRT and also nutrition and lifestyle intervention. I think that’s actually really positive to hear. Because in the conversations about menopause, they are very dominated right now of HRT, HRT, HRT. I do find it frustrating, and that’s not just because I am a holistic nutritionist. It’s because I just know that HRT, it’s a solution, but it’s not the only solution.

Toral: As long as there is a solution. But from my perspective, when I think about the side effects of the body not having estrogen, how it increases your risk of cardiovascular disease. It affects your brain, so you’re not working as well and have brain fog. And all the other different risks. And osteoporosis, things like that. I do think I kind of want HRT, to continue for my own health. But, agree. I think there are so many things. One of the things I wrote about last year is that there’s been some research on the Mediterranean Diet. It’s a diet full of vegetables and fruits, legumes, a little bit of dairy, lots of fish. It can actually help to delay our menopause by up to three years.

Delaying our menopause is actually healthy, because it means our body has estrogen for longer and will reduce these risks of having cardiovascular disease and osteoporosis. But also, when we’ve reduced our estrogen, we also become a little bit more insulin resistant. We’re already becoming more insulin resistant as we get older, particularly if we’re putting weight around our midriff area, which often happens as our estrogen levels decrease. So if we can help people by eating a little bit more differently, then that will make a difference to their long-term health. So it will help because hopefully, they’ll help not put on so much weight by putting on that fat in the midriff area by having… Because if we’re insulin resistant, then we’re going to process our food in a slightly different way. So insulin is not going to work as well, so we are more likely to store extra fat. By understanding that, that helps hopefully for us to understand how to eat.

Also, we need lots of fiber to help detoxify estrogen from our body, and it helps our gut health and everything anyway. And having these kind of legumes and things, we know that there’s so many good things for heart health, for our… There’s lots of good protein in them, there’s lots of really good fiber. So maybe it’s about doing a little bit more research to understand how that’s going to help our bodies. I think that having a slightly lower carb diet can help some women. And again, we’re looking… I think it again, that works again, without insulin resistance. I wrote about this a couple of days ago. So maybe it’s just understanding this a bit more.

Doctors aren’t really educated in menopause, that’s the other thing. Unless you’ve got a specialist menopause certificate, your GP won’t know that much about menopause and what the different options are.

I find it quite scary that lots of GPs aren’t trained in menopause. Unless your GP has a specialist menopause certification, they may not know that much, even if they’re women. Given that half of the population are women and will go through menopause, I find that quite terrifying. So why isn’t nutrition, why isn’t menopause part of the general GP training given that it’s important to everybody, and menopause is going to affect half their patients.

Le’Nise: It’s actually quite frightening sometimes, what you hear secondhand about what GPs have said about menopause. I was working with someone last year, and her GP said to her perimenopause isn’t real. It’s not a real thing.

Toral: Oh my God.

Le’Nise: And that’s actually not the first time I had heard that. It was only when I got her to do some tests, and then she went to her GP with the test results and said, “Well actually, this is what my tests are showing.” And the GP was like, “Oh. Actually, this might be perimenopause.” But then it started being a conversation about HRT. HRT is fine as I said. But I think there are other things, because this client was so young, that could have been done first. That education piece is so important. I know that you’re involved in a lot of campaigning. Have you done any campaigning around more education for GPs within this area?

Toral: Not in the menopause areas yet. It’s something I am constantly talking about, though. You have to pick and choose the campaigns that you do. But one of the things I have talked about is, why are… I would love doctors learn more about nutrition. So I’m really supportive of an organization called Nutritank. They’re trying to get nutrition onto their curriculum for medical school. Obviously, it’s the same with Culinary Kitchen and Dr. Rupy. There’s definitely that.

As far as menopause, for me, it was really getting my head around… I didn’t really realize that doctors weren’t educated until I investigated it for myself. I try to help women with a particular medical menopause. I work with a lot of cancer patients. But also, some of my cancer patients are post or during menopause. And they’re not getting any support. So I think it’s not even the difference between male GPs and female GPs. It’s just that people aren’t understanding. I do think I need to start campaigning for this, because it’s such a simple and natural bodily function and part of life. If it affects our workforce, then we need to support that. I think that’s the interesting… Anyway. I think that’s what will make a difference.

Understanding that people who are most productive, whether they’re male or female, are between 45 and 64. They’re the ones that make the most money. So understand that women who go through menopause are normally within that age frame, and that’s going to impact our economy and our workforce. That is what I think will actually push people into looking and helping people through menopause more, because it affects our workforce. I don’t think the actual fact that women just having menopause, it being difficult, is something that’s encouraging people to necessarily research or learn more. And it’s a shame. Because why must it have to always have to be about the economy?

Le’Nise: I want to just talk a little bit about one of your other passions, which is about the lack of diversity in healthcare. And I wondered if you could speak a little bit about your experience as an Asian woman in having dealt with the NHS with your cancer treatment. Did you feel that your ethnicity affected the treatment you got?

Toral: Actually, I’m going to say no. I am very lucky. I have a really amazing team, they’re quite mixed. I’m also very understanding about my own body, and what wasn’t working. So when I was diagnosed with breast cancer, it actually took me quite long to be diagnosed. Not because of my ethnicity, because I was young. I was 29, and no one really believed me. So I was very lucky that my mum believed me. My own GP at the time didn’t believe me. So I have a new GP who did take into account my history, and then I was diagnosed and looked after. I think why I’m involved with this, is just understanding the statistics. For me, I come from… I went to medical school, my mum worked in healthcare. I understood how the system worked, so I knew… We knew that when my GP wasn’t taking it seriously, what we needed to do to be taken seriously so that my mum would help me to be diagnosed. And actually, I have to be all credit to my mum. It’s because my mum worked in a hospital and she asked her radiologist friends to help get me diagnosed. That wasn’t a problem.

But going forward and working with cancer patients and having lots of friends who have had cancer or have cancer, there is a real discrepancy. So many other women that I meet, are diagnosed much, much later. Because the statistics show that women on average, have to go at least two to three times more to their GP if they are from a Black Asian Ethnic Minority to be taken for their symptoms, to be taken seriously, til they have tests done to be diagnosed with cancer. This means that women are often diagnosed later. Men, too. BAME men, too. The BAME community is generally diagnosed later, at a fairly later stage, which means that they may not respond to treatment because it may have spread. For me, that’s a problem. That’s really scary.

When we come back to the actual research, there’s been some really interesting research that came out in the last couple of weeks in the BMJ. A friend of mine, Adrienne Milner, did some of the work. She looked at representation in the NHS. And despite there being so many doctors who have British Indian, or Chinese or other BAME populations, white men are still over represented at consultant level. Which means they’re the ones forming the policies and the structures around what’s happening in and around different things. So if women aren’t being represented and the BAME community isn’t being represented, then our needs aren’t being looked after. So Chinese people, there are more Chinese people working in NHS, ethnicity wise, than any other group. And yet, they’re not represented at the top, which is really sad.

As far as cancer in particular, I’m lucky. Don’t get me wrong. I have an amazing team, and I have a very mixed team. My main doctor is of Chinese descent, my breast cancer nurse is of African descent. That’s not really a problem for me. My main problem is for other people who are not getting diagnosed, or are being diagnosed very, very late and at a point where it’s not actually able to help them. And they’re not being taken seriously. And the provision of care is less. I was reading something about transplants in the Muslim community yesterday, and over 38% of the people waiting for transplants are of the BAME community, and they’re way less likely to get a transplant. And organ or whatever, partly because of matching. But partly, they’re just lower down the list. So it’s really interesting that we still have this really inherent racism in the medical part of healthcare.

Now I’m going to flip it on its head and talk about the other part. The other part of health and wellbeing is the people like the fitness trainers and the yoga teachers and the nutritionists, the holistic carers. Again, that’s very dominated by white females, despite people having the knowledge. If you look at social media, it’s massively over represented… If you’re Caucasian, female, of a certain age, particularly if you’re blonde. It’s ridiculous, because this doesn’t mean you know more. In fact, a lot of the time you know a lot less, I would say. Not because you’re not educated, but because people are listening to you because you look a certain way. You’re slim and you look healthy. That doesn’t mean you’re healthy.

I find that terrifying that we’re taking… The society is taking advice just from the way people look rather than what they understand and what they know. And actually, how you look. Just because you’re slim, doesn’t mean you’re healthy. For example, how often you get a cold or infections. That’s a good sign on whether your immune system or you’re healthy. How much energy you have, that you’re not feeling tired, that you’re not feeling very moody and depressed. All of these things are much better indication of where your health is… your mental health, your physical health, your social health, than how your body looks in a bikini. So that’s a big thing for me.

Why don’t we have more representation? Because I know so many amazing women and men who are of the BAME groups. Again, they’re not promoted in all these events like Live Well events and all these shows. It’s still very much run by white women for white women, and so are magazines. Health is for everybody. It’s an integral part of society. It’s an integral part of balance. It’s an integral part in equality, equanimity. So why don’t we have that?

Le’Nise: What do you think can be done to change that?

Toral: That’s such a big question. I think firstly, to us talking about it. I’m really privileged that I’m talking to you about this. I’ve talked to Vicky Shilling, who runs a podcast. So many people who have picked up on this aspect of there is not equality between all the different groups. Remember, London is a… And I’m talking about London, in particular. It’s a very mixed group. You know, 52% of people identify as BAME in London. So we should have that kind of representation. Whether it’s in the medical healthcare or whether it’s in the holistic space, we don’t have that.

What’s the answer? I think education, talking about things. I am actually talking to a lot of cancer organizations, because their campaigns are very much using white Caucasian men and women. But cancer doesn’t discriminate. It affects all of us. So one of those things that I’m doing is requesting that they have campaigns which are very inclusive and diverse, of different people of different races, different body shapes, different ages. Some people do it better than others. Also, the information and the literature that’s produced should be inclusive too, because that’s not at the moment. And certainly, I’m thinking about more of the diet and the nutrition literature for both cancer and diabetes is very much based on white Caucasian people and their diets. And remember that different ethnicities have very different diets. If you look at diabetes, we have a much higher proportion of ethnic groups who have… BAME groups rather, that have diabetes. The dieticians aren’t providing them with advice that’s appropriate to their ethnicity and their culture, and the food they eat. I think that’s really important.

So I’ve been doing a project with South Asians since 2004 with a friend of mine, Dr. Natasha Patel, who’s a consultant endocrinologist at Guys. We’ve been working at that. We’ve been changing the food so it reflects the ethnicity and the culture of people and what they like to eat. And how things are very much in the Asian and Indian community. Yeah, celebrations are all about food. So how do you tailor it to help people, given that there seems to be something every single day? How do we then help people? So these are the kind of things where we need to really start asking for things, making a difference, talking to organizations. And there is some white fragility in there, I’m not going to lie. I had a meeting recently with an organization, and they kept insisting that they were doing things. But I’ve asked for examples, they haven’t been able to provide me with examples. I find that ridiculous. I do keep saying, “What’s happening?” They said, “We’re looking at our organization.” If nothing happens in the next few weeks, I’m going to take it to their CEO.

I realize I’ve grown in my own confidence that I know enough about this. I know enough about the stats. I know enough to help people. Before, I felt like I’d often get pushback because I felt like I was bullied back. And there was a lot of pushback, because people didn’t want to do it. Now I’ve just become stronger within myself with my own self development. So I’m able to have those conversations. I’m not saying that I don’t go and have those conversations and then go home and cry. I will. I’m not going to lie, because it’s very emotional. But having groups where… I’m in an amazing group called Yogis of Color, and I know you’re in that group too. For me, just to be able to talk about these things and ask for support, has made a huge difference. Because I think energetically, I have this massive group of people backing me and who have got my back all the time. That makes a difference. I think we need to… There’s a long way to go.

I mean, even right now, we’re at the midst of coronavirus. I’m absolutely disgusted with some of the racism we’re hearing towards Chinese and other Asian people with the coronavirus, because some of the things I’ve heard are absolutely horrific. They’re telling them to go back to their own country. They don’t want to be treated by Chinese doctors. It just shows that we’re actually in a world at the moment where the governments… and I’m going to blame the governments, people are really just trying to divide us. Because they don’t know what they’re doing, they’re trying to divide us and separate us, and make it about us than them. And it’s not. We’re all the same. If you take our skin away, we’re all exactly the same underneath. We’re exactly the same. We’re made of blood. We’re made of muscle. We’re ourselves, we have nerves. And it’s terrifying that we still see the outside skin differences as being so important.

You know, we all have this. I had someone who tried to collect something the other day, and they were really late. I looked at the name, and I was like… You know, culture. I was like, “That person’s just going to be late.” Because I knew that it was about the person. I was like, “Ah.” And I caught myself. I just thought, “Toral, you can’t think like that. This is really part of the problem.” That person was really late. But I was thinking it, not because before they were late. So I think we all have to be conscious where we’re discriminating in our head, and just acknowledging that means it goes away. Just being open about it, being brave to it, being vulnerable. I think Brené Brown has some fantastic things she talks about racism and differences between people in her book, Braving the Wilderness. I highlighted some bits, I’ll be sharing bits and pieces. Because we’ve got a world where we’re trying to be in a tribe. It doesn’t matter. We’re almost believing what the tribe… If we come up with veganism, if it were a vegan tribe, and people were saying things that make sense and not sense, and you just want to fit so badly in that tribe, you’re basically then trying to distance yourself from other people.

But actually, we’re all the same. The person next door who’s your best friend, who’s not vegan, is still going to be the person that’s going to be sitting at your bedside if you happen to be in the hospital or anything like that. I think we’ve forgotten the basic humanity of people, and that’s so important. Does that make sense?

Le’Nise: No, that was brilliant. There are so many amazing things that you said there. I think that one of the main things is supporting other people, having your network, knowing that there are people who have your back. But also, I think what’s really interesting is… and I’ve seen this a lot, is knowing if you have a big platform, being able to lift up other people. So talking about in social media, how it’s a very white space in terms of health and wellbeing, being able to lift up if you have a big platform, lifting up others. But I just want to as we round off the podcast, I want to just take it back to your experience and the way you feel about your body now, your period. What do you know now that you wish you knew back in the beginning, when you were an 11-year-old girl in Egypt, having your first period?

Toral: That’s a difficult one. I think how normal it is. It’s okay to give yourself a bit of space and time on those days, to rest and relax on the day, and listen to your own body. What’s amazing to me is, I’ve had my period for 30 years now, over 30 years. How I feel about it each month, hasn’t really changed that much. But understanding that it’s not dirty, and that you can talk about it, and you’re allowed to say, “I’m not doing that today because I’ve got my period.” It’s okay.

Le’Nise: Brilliant. Where can podcast listeners find out more about you?

Toral: I do a lot of work… I’m going to start again. Thank you so much for asking me. I’m on social media. I’m on @theurbankitchen. I’m on Twitter, but not so much. I also have a Facebook page. Most of the time, I’m sharing ways of how people can eat healthy, nutritious but tasty food, that will make a difference to their health and wellbeing. I am doing some research at the moment. I’m actually putting together a proposal for a PhD, which is very exciting. I’m also talking at lots of events around cancer and the BAME community, and on nutrition and how we can make a difference to our health.

So I’m all over the place at the moment, which is really exciting. I’m working a lot with cancer organizations to create not only this element of inclusivity and diversity, but also it’s talking more about the nutritional lifestyle aspects of what we can do to help prevent any type of cancer, but also particularly, with breast cancer and things like that. So I am working with the Royal Cancer Research. I work with Breast Cancer Now. I work with Trekstock. I work with lots of charities to look at how we could help educate people, and actually support them through that journey if they’ve already got cancer, and to help prevent. So for me, that’s a really big part of my life. So yeah, that’s all that I do.

Le’Nise: Brilliant. If listeners take one thing away from everything, all the amazing things that you have said on this podcast, what would you want that to be?

Toral: In relation to what aspect?

Le’Nise: Any of it. Anything, any nuggets that you feel like you just want to stick in their minds.

Toral: As a woman, and I’m assuming most people listening to the podcast are women, remember that our bodies are so much more than our bodies. And we are so much more than our bodies. But do listen to yourself, do listen to your body, and give yourself what you need.

Le’Nise: Amazing. I think that’s such valuable advice. Thank you so much for coming on the show, Toral. It’s been amazing. You’ve certainly given me a lot of food for thought.

Toral: Thank you so much for having me. It’s been an absolute delight that we’ve finally got to connect after knowing each other for a while.


Period Story Podcast, Episode 11: Angelica Malin, We Need To Define Our Version Of Success

Period Story, Episode 11, Angelica Malin

Welcome to season 2 of Period Story podcast!

For the 11th episode of Period Story podcast, I had a wonderful conversation with Angelica Malin, the editor in chief of About Time magazine and the founder of About Time Academy.

Angelica talks about why she was so shocked and appalled by her first period and how poorly prepared she felt for it.  She says for her, getting her period signalled the start of a horrible time of discomfort.

We discussed the shame Angelica attached to her period and how talking about periods at school almost felt like a curse word. She says that in her mixed sixth-form college, women’s hormones were used against them as a way to call them out as crazy and this created a lot of stigma and shame around periods.

Angelica says that the real turning point in her being comfortable talking about her period and menstrual cycle was in her last long term relationship. Have a listen to hear the very funny term her ex gave her period and how having a laugh about it made her feel much more at ease.

We also talked about creating safe spaces in the workplace and the need to have more senior women to help make decisions that are made with women in mind.  Angelica says that she’s created a culture in her business and team where they can talk openly about periods and how they’re feeling.

Angelica says that big companies could do a lot more to make women feel comfortable at work and to encourage a happier workplace culture, like providing free tampons and pads at work and menstrual leave. 

We chatted about all the innovation in femtech, including brands like Moody, Ohne, Daye, Freda and Elvie that are creating high quality female focused products. Angelica talks about her experience speaking to female founders who are trying to raise investment and trouble they have when speaking to male VCs. She says we need more women to be starting businesses and more female VCs. She says that it’s so important for us to define our own version of what success looks like.

Angelica says that it’s important for us to be a friend to ourselves and speak to yourself as you would a friend and I completely agree! 

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Angelica’s Bio

Angelica Malin is Editor-in-Chief of About Time Magazine and Founder of the About Time Academy. Angelica studied English and Drama at the University of Bristol, gaining a 2:1, before deciding to embark on a career in journalism. After a stint at a fashion and travel magazine, Angelica decided to pursue a career as an entrepreneur – craving the freedom and creative possibility of working for yourself. Angelica launched About Time Magazine in March 2014, having spotted a gap in the market for a really well curated, personal lifestyle site, dedicated to discovering everything it’s about time you tried in London and beyond.

Having launched her business straight out of university, Angelica has built up a monthly audience of over 85,000 readers worldwide, with 100,000 followers on social media. About Time has since grown to become one of the capital’s most-loved lifestyle websites, with a team of 90 writers across the globe. In March 2019, Angelica launched the About Time Academy, having seen the demand for high-calibre live events through her successful reader events and festivals over the years. The Academy hosts weekly panel talks and masterclasses, inviting entrepreneurs, experts and authors in to discuss everything from self-kindness to nutrition for mental health. In September 2019, she launched its first festival – #SheStartedIt LIVE, a one-day festival dedicated to the future of women at work. Angelica is passionate about female entrepreneurship and empowerment, and recently launched #SheStartedIt – a new podcast and platform to celebrate the success of female leaders in the UK. Listen here.

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Show Notes

About Time magazine

About Time Academy

She Started It Live

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Show Transcript

Le’Nise: On today’s episode, we have Angelica Malin, the editor in chief of About Time magazine and the founder of About Time Academy. After a stint at a fashion and travel magazine, Angelica decided to pursue a career as an entrepreneur, craving the freedom and creative possibility of working for yourself. Angelica launched About Time magazine in March 2014, having spotted a gap in the market for a really well curated personal lifestyle site dedicated to discovering everything it’s about time you tried in London and beyond. Welcome to the show.

Angelica: Hi. Thank you for having me.

Le’Nise: This is a question I always start each episode with. Tell me about the story of your very first period.

Angelica: So, my first period was when I was at school and I’m not sure exactly what age I was, but I remember being really shocked, really kind of appalled that I was like, what is my body doing? What is this? Being quite horrified. It felt quite violent in a way. That was kind of my first real memory of it.

Le’Nise: Why were you so shocked and so horrified?

Angelica: I think I wasn’t really prepared for what to expect, that was probably the main thing, no one had really told me what to imagine. And that was probably why, and also, I remember thinking that it wasn’t the colour that I thought it was meant to be. I remember it not being like bright red and me being like, oh, there’s something wrong with me because it was a darker colour and thinking I was broken. Yeah, some kind of shame in my mind, something had prepared me for it being bright red and it wasn’t.

Le’Nise: So, you were shocked, you were horrified, you weren’t prepared. What did you do in that moment when you got your period?

Angelica: So, I did a classic which is, I hate saying this as I’m 29, but it still happens, it catches me off guard and I shove some toilet paper down there and hope for the best. I got to the end of the day and at the end of the day, I think my mum must have collected me from school and I said, ‘this is what’s happened’, and she said OK. And we went and we bought a whole load of stuff and it was totally fine. But I was poorly prepared for what you actually do when it happens. I didn’t use tampons for years, actually, I only used sanitary pads because I was kind of scared of them, I didn’t really know how to use them.

Le’Nise: When told your mum, how did she react?

Angelica: Oh, I remember her being like, ‘mazel tov, you’re a woman’. She was delighted. And I was like, I hate it, it’s horrible, it’s so messy. I had really bad period pains the first few years. My period pains were totally out of control, it was awful. So, getting my period really signalled a horrible time of discomfort.

Le’Nise: And how did you learn about what was normal and what wasn’t normal with regards to having a period?

Angelica: I don’t have any strong recollection of an education in a formal sense at school about periods, to be honest. It might have been that when I got my period, I was at a mixed prep school and it wasn’t till I went to all-girls school that I started to get any kind of good education around female hygiene, about sex. So, I think anything I gleaned, was socially. I learned what was normal in a period and I learned how other people, other women had their periods through school. So, it came out of conversations rather than top down from any authority figures, really.

Le’Nise: And when you think about what you and your friends were talking about at school, was there anything that you think about now that like, oh, that was absolutely wrong or that was crazy that we thought that?

Angelica: I think we were all just quite confused by what was normal. There was quite a lot of panic and uncertainty in those years for me of like was I normal? was what was happening to my body normal? So, I remember kind of comparing how long my period was compared to other girls’ periods and things like that, ‘was my flow normal?’, ‘was it was normal that I got cramps in the way I did?’, all of that. And also, mood changes like, I suppose, you know, hormones are very off as a teenager anyway, but I wasn’t sure what to expect. And I think it is a bit of a rollercoaster because it is so personal and so different to every woman. And we do have the sense of like, is what I’m experiencing normal? I think that goes into adulthood because there’s not enough conversation about it. And it’s only for me really, the last few years that this kind of period awareness has happened. But I was kind of uneasy about myself because of it.

Le’Nise: Do you think that it had an impact on the way that you thought about your body?

Angelica: I think there was still for me, quite a lot of shame attached to it, actually. I remember when I went to mixed school for sixth form, having, you know, all-girls school for years. And I went to a mixed school where they only let girls in at sixth form. So, the boys were kind of not emotionally ready, quite emotionally immature. And I remember feeling shame around my period, I remember it being like, almost like a curse word, someone saying, ‘oh, you’re on your period’. And it was like women’s hormones were kind of used against them as a way to call them out as crazy. Yeah, there was a lot of a stigma attached to it. I felt like it wasn’t an environment where there was a real knowledge about female bodies, and they were used against them. I think girls are made to feel ashamed for what happened to their bodies.

Le’Nise: Where do you think that shame comes from?

Angelica: I think partly it’s a lack of conversation and a lack of understanding. I didn’t get the sense that the boys that I went to school with ever had an education about the female body. So, I think that’s quite a big part. It’s not only women not educated about their bodies or young girls aren’t, but men aren’t either. And I think for me, the real turning point was probably in my last long term relationship where I was with someone for so long that I was very, very comfortable talking about my hormonal cycle and my period and that was the first time, really, that I felt I had spoken to a man about it. And he actually said whenever I was on my period, he would say I was ‘on chess’ because it was like Chessington because it was a world of adventures. It was the first time I was able to kind of laugh about it with anyone and feel comfortable with, like, this happens to my body and like for a week of the month, I feel really low. This is just how it is for me and having this conversation with men, I felt more comfortable having that conversation with lots of friends and I have some friends whose hormones cycles are so bad that they are self-employed or freelance because they don’t want to work in an office because it affects them so much. It’s that extreme. And I only know that because I’ve been comfortable enough to actually speak about it with my friends now.

Le’Nise: So, it’s been a real journey for you, going from this feeling a sense of shame and stigma to now being able to talk about it with friends and partners.

Angelica: Yeah, definitely, and with the work I do, we host female empowerment festivals. And I think that was a huge thing that came out of it for me was that we were still not talking enough about women’s health and the emotional impacts of women’s health and women’s health in the workplace as well. And I think I felt like if I was going to host these festivals and I was going to fly the flag for female empowerment, I had to assess everything and all areas where we need progression. And actually, women’s health was a big one.

Le’Nise: So, what do you think that we can do, based on the conversations that you’ve had and the work that you’re doing, to progress the conversation around women’s health in the workplace?

Angelica: Well, I think the first thing that comes to mind is creating safe spaces where these things are discussed. I think a lot of the problem is top down leadership can be quite male heavy and the people that are making the decisions, often aren’t women. And so, they don’t connect, they don’t understand. I had a friend I was talking to the other night and she works for a law firm and she said that she tried to get her company to provide free tampons, it’s a huge law firm, she asked her company to provide free tampons in the loos and it was shot down by C-level. They said, ‘oh, it’s an expense that we don’t need and it’s not necessary’. Half the people that work there are women and obviously it would be great and a great benefit. But that’s a big problem, is that I think unless you have more women at the top, the decisions aren’t being made with women in mind.

And then I think it starts young, doesn’t it? I think that the conversations need to happen at a younger age about education, what’s normal? Just taking away so much of the shame is the secretive nature of it. I just felt like I had to, like hide that I was on my period. And even now, I sometimes feel uncomfortable saying it, but I’m trying to because I want to get past that. So, if I’m with a friend, I’ll say, ‘oh I’m knackered because I’m on my period’ and I’ll say that to male friends. And I just want to get rid of that embarrassment around the whole thing.

Le’Nise: Do you think that that sense of kind of secretiveness and shame still lingers for you? Is it around not really wanting to have those conversations with men or being uncomfortable with having conversations with men about it?

Angelica: I think I am a bit uncomfortable. I think there’s an element that feels like weakness, that is subconscious. I think by saying I’m having a bit of a bad work week because my periods just made me feel really down, I don’t know, I think maybe that’s a bit of me that feels a bit embarrassed by that because, I’m like this badass entrepreneur and I want to rule the world, but sometimes it just floors me and it’s annoying. I also feel like there must be something chemical that makes you forget because I swear every month I get really down and then 3-4 days in, I’ll get my period and then I’ll be like, ‘oh, it was my period making me feel like this’, but I seem to forget every month. So, like however many years, I’ve said that to friends, and they said, yeah, that’s exactly what happens to me. There’s something in our brains that just kind of tricks us to think that it’s just situational and it’s not hormonal.

So yeah, I am trying. I’m trying with my male friends, I like to just throw it in every now and then and just throw them off guard and be like yeah, I’m having a really heavy period and then they look really uncomfortable drinking their beer. But it’s important isn’t it, sometimes you have to make people feel uncomfortable.

Le’Nise: Yeah, absolutely. Because, you know, they’re 50% of the population. And, you know, they not only might have daughters or wives, but, you know, they have mums and all of them at one point will have experience having a period or will experience having a period.

I want to go back to what you said about the hormonal cycle and what you said about this shame, because you feel like you need to be always on like this badass entrepreneur. I interviewed someone last year and she was talking about how she was speaking to another entrepreneur who had real shame around having her period because of what you said, this feeling like you have to work in a very male way where you’re always on, like that kind of hustle culture. Can you just speak a little bit about the work that you’ve done with female entrepreneurs and whether you think this is a common theme that you see? 

Angelica: I think it depends, really. I think for me, one of the reasons that I seem to have only hired an all-female team is because we connect with this stuff loads and we have a culture where we can say, ‘I’m just not feeling great, so I got my period, can I work from home?’. And that stuff is so much easier to talk about because we are all women. I think there’s two schools of thought with it, I think some women feel like they don’t want things like their period to define them and their hormones and they just want to power through as it were. Ignore that it’s there, go to work as normal, be a badass. For me, that attitude feels like suppression a little bit. Not that I need to totally give in to it, but I just genuinely I’m not willing to push through certain emotions. Sometimes I want to just sit with how I’m actually feeling. So, I don’t really subscribe to school of thought of being super strong the whole time, I try and track my cycles, so I know when I’d be more up for certain things. I try and plan my schedule in a way that’s gentle and soft for me. But that’s taken me years to kind of hone to get to a place where I actually even understand my body to that extent and when I’m on good form and when I’m not. So, I think it’s all about awareness. I found apps are a really good way of trying to get in touch with what’s going on in the body.

Le’Nise: What apps do you like?

Angelica: I’m currently using Moody Month, which I’ve used for a while, which I really like, but anything, I’ve used Clue in the past as well. Sometimes I felt like I don’t really understand when I’m up and when I’m down and I often know when the down bits were because I know that around my period, a couple of days before, I would feel really low, sometimes a couple days after, and that bit I’d understand. I think the other side of that is, when my hormones are up, when am I feeling good? I didn’t really understand that side of my cycle at all. And now I know that there’s a week in particular where I feel really strong, really confident, I just feel good, and that’s when if I have a big meeting, I’ll take it or if I have a big event, I mean, I totally ruined next month because we have our festival over the first two days of my period. It’s like, why am I doing this? I think that that’s really healthy. That’s why fem tech is so amazing, because for years none of this stuff existed that actually allowed women to understand their bodies more. I want to see more of these tech solutions to women’s health.

Le’Nise: So, you said that using apps like Moody Month help you understand that kind of full hormonal cycle that happens across the however long your menstrual cycle is, it’s changed the way that you plan your life. What else has it changed?

Angelica: There’s certain things that I didn’t realise were linked to my hormones that I only realised when I started jotting down symptoms in the app, for example, like noise sensitivity. Its funny, noise sensitivity affects me during my period, which I didn’t realise, and I started to write it down and I realised that street noise would bug me. But then on the other side, I also found that during my period, I really, really connected to music in a way that I don’t for the rest of the month. Just very strange, but I get for a week, I constantly want to listen to music, when I listen to music, I feel really good, I feel really connected to it, it really moves me. It makes me realise that women are just magical, we’re these magical beings. Like, what is this? It’s so cool.

And I remember once, I was on my period and I was feeling so low. My boyfriend at the time came over and I was sitting on my sofa, I was so, so low. And he came over with a bar of chocolate and he made me a cup of tea, and I got a little bit of chocolate and I went and sat on my floor and I dipped my chocolate in my tea, the chocolate melted and I had a little bit and my face was just like beaming and I was radiating, I was so happy. And he looked at me and he is like, it’s unbelievable. Like the way that women from one moment to the next, like your moods can change so much. He was like, it’s really special, but it’s just not something I ever experience. I never experienced that high and that low where I was on my cycle. I was just, you know, a bit crazy in a way. And he’s like, it’s really quite cool. And I was like, yeah, it is quite cool. But it’s also quite crazy that this is what happens to us. And for men he was like, I wake up and most days I’m the same. You know, day to day,

he was the same person. And that’s not how I feel. I feel like I’m on an emotional rollercoaster most of the time.

Le’Nise: But you seem like you become quite positive about the changes that happen to you.

Angelica: Yeah, I think so. I think the thing with being on a roller coaster is that you get these amazing highs. I think that’s sometimes what we forget is, yeah, we get PMS and we get really down. But then when our hormones are up, we feel amazing. And I think the thing with periods is it makes you want to connect with your body a bit more. I think it forces you to practice more self-care, it forces you to be kind and gentle, like making myself a hot water bottle, getting my favourite thing on Netflix and having a cup of tea when I’m on my period. That’s an act of self-love. And I don’t think I would do those things if it wasn’t for my periods. I think being grateful for that is quite nice.

Le’Nise: I love that. I think that more women could look at their period like that because I think a lot of women, they tend to just focus on the week of the period or the few days before their period where things for them aren’t great. And then they define their menstrual cycle like that. And putting it on its head like you’ve done, is really positive. And I love what you said about, you know, the magic of having a hormone cycle. But I wanted to just also go back to what you were saying about the way that your team adapts to having a period and you kind of work around your teams’ period. Maybe that’s not the best way of putting it working around their periods. But you’re flexible. You said that the week you have a week in your menstrual cycle where you feel really strong, really powerful. Does that change? Do you find that you changed the way you relate to your team during that time?

Angelica: I don’t think I change the way I relate to my work in that time. I have to be a bit careful sometimes because it can make me feel so confident that I’ll take meetings and walk in and just say yes to stuff that a week later I’m like, ‘oh, I can’t actually do that, why did I promise that?’. I have to be a bit careful with it. I think the thing is, I don’t necessarily work around the periods of my team, but we talk really openly about it. And I think just having a culture where, if I know that they’re really tired, I’m going to go a bit gentler or I’ll let them work from home, I think that’s important. There’s a fine line, I think, as an employer between pandering to certain things and being a bit too pampering and being respectful and understanding of where someone is at. So, there’s a fine line in it. But I think big companies could do a lot more to make women feel comfortable at work and to encourage just a happier workplace culture. But like I said about the tampons thing, I think even just an employee being like, you have a period and I know that, in itself is empowering.

Le’Nise: So, having free tampons, menstrual leave, what else do you think employers can do to be more flexible around menstrual health?

Angelica: I think there’s a big link to menstrual health and mental health. And I think the whole thing is just about creating a culture of openness and conversation and dialogue. I never learnt how to be a boss, I just had to work it out in the years I’ve run my business. I think one of the hardest things I’ve learned is that you have to have the uncomfortable conversation sometimes and you have to make yourself a bit uncomfortable to get the best out of your employees. So I try as much as I can to sit down individually with them, be like, ‘how are you feeling and how is your head?’, ‘how are you feeling about this work?’ and all these kind of questions that maybe make us a bit uncomfortable, like we’re British, we don’t really want to talk about our feelings very much. They are there and they matter. It’s all related to me, mental health, menstrual health, and also a few people that work for me do suffer with mental health and it very much flares up around their period. So, for me, it’s something to keep an eye on.

Le’Nise: You mentioned the importance of femtech. You talked about Moody Month which is an amazing app. What other examples of femtech have you seen that you think are important to be aware of?

Angelica: There are a couple of things that I think are really cool. Elvie is another great brand that lots of people are talking about. They have a breast pump and they have a pelvic floor trainer and they did an incredible raise of investment, which was history making. And then I’m seeing lots of new young tampon and sanitary product brands. One called Ohne, another one called Daye that does CBD tampons. I’ve seen quite a lot of innovation in that space. And again, not a conversation I’d had when I was younger, but I’m starting to realise that we need to look at the quality of the products that we’re putting in our bodies. And I just blindly picked up Tampax because that’s what everyone did for years and sometimes, I still do. But now I’m starting to question, is these the best quality products I could be using? And it’s like going inside me, like what am I putting inside me, and I just didn’t know at all. So that’s really important. And then I’ve got friends who are experimenting a lot more with how they manage their periods and friends that love moon cups, so are using those as a more sustainable option. And I have a friend who free bleeds, who uses period underwear because she finds that tampons make her period pans a lot worse, so just for her whole cycle, she wears period underwear and free bleeds. I’m enjoying seeing people try these things because that shows that we’re progressing, because we’re willing to question what we’ve been doing, basically.

Le’Nise: So, have you changed the menstrual products that you’ve used?

Angelica: Yeah, at the moment I’m using Daye, the CBD tampons and they also have regular ones as well. Also, because they’re like a young start-up run by a woman, I just wanted to support an independent brand. I was like, why am I giving so much money to Tampax? There’s another great brand called Freda that does similar and they have a subscription service, which I think is really cool. For a while, I used Pink Parcel, which is a period box delivery company and every month they would send you things for your period like products, tampons, sanitary pads, etc, as well as things to make you feel good, which I think is quite nice. But I found that actually sometimes we can play into a bit of a cliché with periods, and I don’t think necessarily think that tea and chocolate is always what we need.

I would say on the femtech front, having hosted so many panel talks about it, I think one of the really big issues that I’m seeing is that basically when a lot of women are going to get investment for these kind of companies, they’re sitting in a room full of men and the VCs and the investors or private equity, they don’t connect to it, they don’t get it. And then they’re not willing to put the investment money forward. So, I think what’s really impressive about Elvie, is they raised a hell of a lot of money. There’s a lot of difficulty because very often I’ve heard these anecdotes about men being like ‘oh, we don’t really get it because we don’t get where it’s for, we don’t understand it because they don’t have periods’. They don’t understand why you’d need this kind of business. So, this is a real problem I’m seeing, is that fem tech can’t get past a certain stage. In the UK, 40% of female businesses don’t get past the stage after they get investment, they just burn out really early. And I think this is one of the reasons is that men aren’t connecting. So, we need more female VC’s, or we need more aware men.

Le’Nise: There’s a big movement in the US where there are a few really prominent female VCs and I think there is a big female focused VC. What do you think needs to happen in the UK for that to take hold over here?

Angelica: I think it’s similar. We do need more female VCs. It’s all problematic because, you know, often VCs are people that have started businesses and then sold them and then gone on to be an investor. So, we need more women to be starting businesses and they need to be successful in selling, you know, said success rates. And it’s also a cultural shift. I think usually I find that the cultural shift happens and then the policy shift changes and then you see it kind of reflected in the corporate world and in policymaking. So, I’m hoping that the more that we talk about it, the more light that you can shed on the issue that the better the situation will be, I hope. I’ve noticed a lot more female only VC companies popping up. But I mean, women do more crowdfunding for their businesses, partly for this reason.

Le’Nise: So, tell me a little bit about the festival that you’re putting on. When is it?

Angelica: The 13th and 14th of March. So, it’s in a couple of weeks’ time and it’s to celebrate International Women’s Day, which is on the 8th of March. And we’re putting on a two-day festival, it’s called She Started It Live and we have 75 speakers across two days. And it is absolutely everything to do with female empowerment and entrepreneurship. So, everything from starting your own business and getting investment, to having healthy hormones and healthy relationships, it’s just a real mix of different things. I think for me, female empowerment isn’t just looking at the world of work, it’s the interrelation between everything, like how does our health affect our work? and how do we feel about ourselves? So, it’s a mix between kind of intuition and mind body stuff as well as practical career knowhow.

Le’Nise: What made you decide to set up this festival?

Angelica: So, we did our first one in September. We were doing similar stuff, but we are spreading it out across a number of weeks. But we’re doing lots of panel talks about female entrepreneurship. And I thought, wouldn’t it be great just to bring all those panel talks into the one day? And that’s what we decided to do. So rather than have it spread out across the season, we put it into the one day and, you know, it wasn’t actually different, it was something I had mentally had to get over because it scared me to be honest, I was putting on a festival, it felt like a much bigger thing. We did our first one which was one day and now we are doing our next one which is two days. So, this is how we grow as businesspeople. I just think that it’s really important to create physical spaces for women. Like I love having digital communities. I think it’s great that we have Instagram and that we have all these social media platforms to connect with other people. But I don’t think that should be at the cost of the physical. What I’m trying to do is bring everything back into the physical space because there’s something very powerful when you get women together in a room and take it off the Internet, into the physical space so they can network, they can connect, they can  chat, they can make friends like god making friends in London is hard. Anything that we can do to bring women together and to empower them, really.

Le’Nise: So, you had your first festival in September. What were some of the outcomes that you saw from that festival?

Angelica: I mean, it was amazing, we’ve had so many women contact us afterwards saying, ‘I launched my own thing off the back of it, it gave me the confidence I needed’. We had a lot of people coming who I think where just at that sweet spot of being almost ready, but not quite ready. And then they kind of took the leap, having heard from an inspirational speaker or met someone on the day. So, we had lots of people contacting us afterwards.

But it was also a great opportunity for us as a business to listen to our audience and to learn what it is that they’re struggling with, what it is they want to learn about, and the barriers in place for them. So, one of the things that we’re offering at this festival is that we have free childcare for both days. And that really came about from having conversations, the last festival where women were saying to me, ‘oh, I had this friend that she wanted to come, but she’s got a kid and she couldn’t bring the kid along’ or ‘I came but I had to leave my kid with my husband and he’s annoyed at me’, whatever it is. And I just thought, well, there ought to be some solutions to this, so we really quite easily sorted out childcare for the festival. And I was almost embarrassed by how easy it actually was to sort out. We worked with a great company who are providing it for us and that was a big thing. And I’ve realised that this is what needs to happen, basically, the structures need change around women so that they’re able to progress, there aren’t just these barriers that are stopping women at achieving this full potential or even just coming to an event.

Le’Nise: So, you’ve launched this festival and you launched the website in 2014 and the academy. What are some of the lessons that you can share with female entrepreneurs who, as you mentioned, are in that sweet spot of being on the cusp of starting their own business?

Angelica: Look, it’s a scary time and I think that nobody goes into anything feeling 100% confident. I think that we need to rewrite the rules with business a bit. That the attitude that you’re always going to feel totally committed to what you’re doing, full of bravado, full of confidence. That’s for me, quite a male energy, it isn’t how I’ve done business. I’ve done the journey and I’ve been full of self-doubt at times and I’ve wondered whether it’s going to work, that’s what helps you build up your resilience, really, because you sit with that discomfort and you do it anyway. And I think if more women could understand that that is totally normal, like, I’ve run a business for six years and I did an interview yesterday where she said, ‘do you have to have moments of self-doubt?’ And I was like, ‘running your business is hour by hour you’re flipping between, I’ve got this, to oh I don’t know if I’ve got this’. And that is what it is and that’s totally fine and everything you’re feeling is so valid and is so normal. But the thing is, is that you don’t have to act on it just because you have a moment of panic, it doesn’t mean the project’s not right, it doesn’t mean it’s not working.

The other thing I would say, especially to women starting their own businesses, is work out what success looks like to you, because I think for women, it’s a very different set of ideas often. And we don’t have one single yardstick to measure success. It may be a certain number that you might want to make with your company or a certain number of employees, but it might also be, being able to only work three days a week or look after your kids, it might be a totally different thing. And I think getting rid of some of the structures in place that tell us that this is what success looks like, will be really beneficial because I think you have to be gentle with yourself. For me, it’s being able to do this podcast at home wearing my running kit so I can go for a run afterwards. Like that for me feels like success because I’m able to look after my schedule and do what makes me feel good. So, you know, be honest with yourself and work out what those values are to you.

Le’Nise: I want to go back quickly to what you said about self-doubt and being able to identify it in the moment. What would you say to women who do experience that self-doubt and they actually find that it cripples them?

Angelica: Yeah, it’s difficult because I think a healthy amount of self-doubt is good because it makes you question things, it makes you push yourself harder and ask yourself questions. But then you don’t want so much self-doubt that you’re just unable to do anything. I find often that self-doubt with women is linked to imposter syndrome, so not feeling like what they’re doing is valid, feeling like they’re fake or a fraud, that they don’t have all the tools in place to do the thing.

What I’ve learned kind of anecdotally with women, is that they often don’t want to do things when they don’t have everything in place, or they don’t feel like they’ve learnt all the skills yet. Whereas men will very often just want to throw themselves into something and are quite happy to learn on the job. And I think that we have to have an element of that, like I’m going to just figure it out and I know I’m not ready but that’s OK, you can kind of get too prepared and then you kind of freak yourself out. So learn about your industry but even if you’re trying to do something totally new, like I didn’t know anything about running a magazine and like, I’m 6 years in and I’m still learning new stuff by having that attitude of playful curiosity, you’re willing to be curious and learn to pick stuff up like that. So, you’re not going to have arrived yet, you’re never going to have arrived.

Le’Nise: Playful curiosity, I love that.

Angelica: Yeah. And also, I think that’s important for what direction you end up taking stuff in? Because we ended up going down this route of doing festivals that six years ago, I had no idea that that’s what I would end up doing. But it kind of came out of a bit of a curiosity where I was like, ‘oh, there seems to be that there’s not enough conversations happening about what it’s like to be a woman in business, we will put on an event and then a we’ll put on 6 events and then we’ll turn the events into a festival then we’ll turn into a two day festival’. And now have plans next year to do festivals all over the UK. And I think that only happened because I was quite playfully curious. I was like, let’s follow where this little seed of excitement goes and when we talk about purpose, I think that’s what purposes is, is that it’s kind of following breadcrumbs a lot of the time, rather than waking up and having some lightning bolt that is like, this is my purpose in life. Now I feel like I have a good sense of what my purpose is. I don’t even know that a year ago I did, so like just being curious and allowing yourself to question and to follow your instincts.

Le’Nise: You’re 29 years old and you’ve accomplished so much already. If you think back to where you were, say, 10 years ago, or even when you got your period, what would you go back and say to that young Angelica?

Angelica: I think I tell her to be a bit more gentle with herself. I think I wasn’t kind enough to myself; I think I rallied against my body quite a lot. I also had problems with food when I was at university and I went off to university, I was overwhelmed by the experience. I felt far from home and I just didn’t eat for a year,  I wouldn’t say I have an eating disorder, but I felt disordered with it and it felt like something that I was trying to control to make myself make sense of the world, if that makes sense and that had an effect on my hormones for six or seven months, I didn’t have my period because I was underweight basically. And I wasn’t treating myself with love or respect or kindness at all. And I’ve now come to really love what my body does. Like when I get my period, I feel grateful for it, I feel thankful that my body is able to have a period. I think going through that experience and getting to a place that I so wasn’t caring for myself, that my body just didn’t have it. It was a wakeup call, actually, of what love and nourishment looks like.

Le’Nise: If listeners take one thing away from what you’ve said on this podcast, what would you want that to be?

Angelica: I think we just like to say that I think you need to be a friend to yourself. Is that going through life and having a voice in your head that is one of friendship to yourself and kindness and softness is so beneficial for everything, for work, for relationships, for your hormones and that’s what I’m really trying to do, is speak to yourself as you are a friend.

Le’Nise: That’s really lovely. Be a friend to yourself. I think a lot of us really need to take that message on. So where can listeners find out more about you, the festival, the magazine?

Angelica: So, they can find out more about the magazine at abouttimemagazine.co.uk and we’re abouttimemag on all social media platforms. And then the festival is called She Started It Live and you can find that on Eventbrite.

Le’Nise: Thank you so much for coming on the show. Thank you.

Period Story Podcast, Episode 10: Lauren Derrett, We Need To Be Better Informed About Menstrual Health Products

Period Story Podcast, Episode 10, Lauren Derrett

For the tenth episode of Period Story Podcast, I had a wonderful conversation with Lauren Derrett, the founder of Wear ‘Em Out reusable period pads.

Lauren shared the shame she felt about her first period and why she kept it a secret. She shares a funny song her friends used to sing and says that her friends used to joke about periods, but that she couldn’t remember any proper menstrual health education.

Lauren credits her 15 year old daughter for giving her the impetus to learn more about menstrual health. She says that she knew that her daughter needed to be better educated than her in this area and more equipped to deal with her period when it arrived.

We talked about periods as a feminist issue and Lauren says that we are duty bound to educate and support each other in order to make this a normal conversation and share our knowledge.

Lauren talks about how she tracks her menstrual cycle, notices the shifts in her energy and how she’s got her husband to pay attention to where she is in her cycle. Wonderful!

Lauren uses a powerful mantra, that she’s passed on to her daughter, that helps her reconnect with her body and feel more grounded. She says that she maximises her self-care right before her period and allows herself a timeout.

We discuss Lauren’s new reusable menstrual pad company, @wearemout and she shares some powerful statistics about disposable menstrual waste and the chemicals in them.

She says that each year, over 200,000 tonnes of menstrual waste is sitting in landfills, each disposable pad has the equivalent plastic of 4 carrier bags and 4.8 pieces of menstrual waste is being found in every 100 metres of beaches. Don’t flush your pads and tampons!

Lauren says it’s so important for us to educate ourselves on the menstrual health products we’re using and I completely agree!

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Lauren’s Bio

Lauren Derrett is a mother of four, a public speaker, a published author, podcast host and founder of Wear ‘Em Out reusable period pads. Lauren is a lover of all things female empowerment and is sharing her message, via her podcast Periodical and social media, that any change we can make individually to help make our personal and planetary health better is a change worth considering.

Get in touch with Lauren:
Website
Instagram
Facebook
Twitter

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Show Notes

Maisie Hill – Period Power

Women with Sparkle

Suzy Reading The Self-Care Revolution

Three Sixty – Tamu Thomas

 Flo period tracker app

Put a Cup In It

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Show Transcription

Le’Nise: On today’s podcast we have Lauren Derrett, who is a mother of four, a public speaker, a published author, podcast host and founder of Wear ‘Em Out reusable period pads. Lauren is a lover of all things female empowerment and is sharing her message, via her podcast Periodical and social media , that any change we can make individually to help make our personal and planetary health better is a change worth considering. Welcome to the show. 

Lauren: Hi! Thanks for having me on Le’Nise, it’s great to be here. 

Le’Nise: Thanks for coming on. So let’s start off by getting into the story of your first period. Can you share with us what happened?

Lauren:  Oh my god, do you know what? I’m one of eight children and I have three older sisters and I still had no idea what was going to happen or when it was going to happen. I was so ill equipped for it and all I remember, this is really weird, I don’t remember the blood. I don’t remember any physical symptoms, the only thing that stays with me, bearing in mind I’m 45 now so it was quite a while ago, 30 years because I was 15. The thing that has stuck with me the most is I remember going into the bathroom and thinking, ‘Jesus what do I do with this’? But I can’t see the blood in my head but anyway, I remember there being some tampons in the cupboard under the sink and I mean your first experience with a period and you going straight in for a tampon is pretty brave, I’d say, but it was all I could find, there was no pads so I got the instructions out, I navigated this tampon in and I felt smug as hell because now, not only was I a woman, like I’d caught up with all my friends but I’d also managed to get this tampon in which meant I was really grown up.  

I felt very alone to be honest, because I didn’t think I could tell anyone or share it with anyone and I just had to navigate it myself but it was a real moment of crossing over and a real moment of ‘I’m now part of their gang’, I suppose, my older sisters, that would’ve been and my friends because they all started really early and I started relatively late, so it was that moment of ‘I’ve made it’. It was quite a positive thing but I did feel really lonely and isolated, it was a secret that I kept, which felt a bit ick.

Le’Nise: Why did you think you kept it a secret?

Lauren: Shame I think, just embarrassment. I’m a very lone creature anyway, which is weird now because I will tell anybody anything, I’m not ashamed of anything anymore. We just didn’t talk about it, there was never a conversation about it, there wasn’t a segue way to me talking about it, you just tidy it up and get on with your day. It wasn’t ever something that was discussed, apart from around my mates jokingly, but I’d already pretended I’d come on about three years before I did, just to be part of it. So there was no big reveal.

Le’Nise: You mention the word shame. Where do you think that shame came from?

Lauren: A lack of knowledge, a lack of understanding, a lack of conversation like this, Le’Nise, thank you so much for holding this podcast because my daughter is going to be listening whether she likes it or not. There was not enough conversation around it, back then there wasn’t even adverts I remember, you know, all these new funky adverts with the hot pants and DJ and all that, none of that was available back then. It was really shrouded in mystery and when it’s something like that, you know, you have to assume there’s shame to be applied to that because why is no one talking about it? It’s just a really natural thing that it must be shameful because no one talks about it. 

Le’Nise: You mentioned that you put on a tampon the first time that you got your period which is amazing.

Lauren: I mean that’s pretty hardcore now looking back, it’s like wow. 

Le’Nise: And so if you didn’t talk about it to your sisters or your friends, how did you learn about kind of the admin around menstrual health?

Lauren: From that tampon leaflet, really. Thinking back to our sex ed classes which were minimal let’s say, I remember there being a banana representing an erect penis for us to put a condom on, I remember that. I do not remember any education around periods at all, like I said my friends used to joke about it. I had one friend who made up a song about it which was just hilarious and we used to sing it all the time and I played along like I was part of that gang although I wasn’t, and I had another friend who always used to talk about her pubes being stuck to the pad she was like “Oh God, my pubes have got stuck to my pad again” so I heard that and I started saying that and I hadn’t even got my period at that point but this was kind of the education I had. A song about lily of the valley, Dr Whites’ came along, it was like all the branding back then was that so she took all the branding, and made this little ditty about it that we used to sing and then the only other association I knew about periods was “oh I’ve got a bit of cramping and my pubes are getting stuck”. Do you know what Le’Nise, when my friend was saying that, I didn’t even have pubes, I was a late developer but I would be going around going, “my pubes are stuck to my pad”, because that was the education that I had, it’s what happened when you had your period, it’s what you talk about. But beyond I literally, I’ve wracked my head ahead of this podcast and I don’t remember ever having a conversation about it or knowing anything about it other than the box of Tampax in the bathroom cabinet, that was it, that was my education, that’s shocking. 

Le’Nise: I think that’s quite common, I hear that a lot, women read what’s on the back of sanitary towels or the leaflet in the box of tampons and then that’s it, there’s no conversation. What about as you got older? Did things change or did you just go on the knowledge you gained from when you were a teenager?

Lauren: Yeah, I kind of just learnt to facilitate it once a month and that’s it, it was just like oh it’s here, deal with it, get over it and it was just really a separate part of my being. I didn’t consider it part of me, it was just an inconvenience that would just rock up every month, do its thing and then leave, but I didn’t have any understanding about what it was for, I mean obviously I knew, actually I don’t think I had any idea it was linked to having babies, actually if I’m honest. It just came and went and it was just one of those things, swimming got a bit trickier, but it’s not until I’m older now and I think one of the biggest impacts for me about learning about this stuff and getting fully involved in it was my daughter, having my daughter. 

So I’ve got a 15 year old daughter now, around the same kind of time I got my period and I knew that she had to have a better education than me around it because it’s only me and her, she’s got three brothers and she lives with her dad half the week. So I knew that she had to be really well equipped to deal with it because she wasn’t going to go into the bathroom cabinet and find tampons. I found it was really important that she had a better education and she understood the power of it and what I do now is kind of make allowances for your cycle and for what your body needs during the month not just deal with the blood and get on with it. She’s leading me really, I’m looking at her and thinking what does she need, which is sad because we never consider what do we need? It’s taken my daughter to wake up to the fact that you know, I don’t want her to feel shame around it, I don’t want her to feel like she can’t ask me anything, so yeah I’ve been doing the reading for her really, which is kind of sad.

Le’Nise: Did you start having this conversation when she got her first period or before that?

Lauren: Before that. I was always really open about it. I think as women, we have a personal duty to all the women in our lives, I really do. We all know women get the real rough end of the stick, we all know we are living under the patriarchy which is a whole other podcast and I think we are duty bound as women to educate and support each other through all the feminist issues. Periods being one of them because if you look out into the wider world, you’re going to get a male slant on it and that’s what happened to me, that’s where the shame sits, that’s where you feel kind of lesser of a person, when actually it’s a bloody powerful force and if you use it right it could really propel you as a person but if you look out into the wider world and look out into the patriarchal state as to what periods are and why we have them then you’re kind of scuppering yourself so I do feel that that as women we have a duty to our sisters, our children, our friends to make this a normal conversation and share our knowledge, which is what you’re doing perfectly and I applaud you. 

Le’Nise: So you mentioned the shame around when you had your period as a teenager, do you think your daughter feels those similar feelings with the conversation with her friends or has that totally changed?

Lauren: I think there’s still an element of secrecy around it, I do, I mean they’re much more liberal than I ever was at that age for sure, around these topics but it’s still such a personal experience, you’ve got to kind of want to go there to share it on a level that you’re actually living with because like me you can pretend your pubes get stuck to your pad but that’s not really what’s going on. 

I wouldn’t know how deeply she shares with her friends, I know they’re very open, I know she’s very open with me but it doesn’t come easy to her. I think she’s open with me because that’s what I promote and because I create a space where she feels safe enough to start opening but I think as a 15 year old girl, often it can still feel that you’re exposing too much of yourself, that vulnerability and again, and us as olders, older women, we have to create that space for our young girls to be able to explore and to converse and to share but I don’t think it’s her natural state, to be honest, I think it’s a lot of me not forcing the issue but opening the conversations and kind of backing her into a corner with it so she does share, because the more you share, the easier it becomes, this is something  that I have learnt through life so it’s kind of like eking it out of them a little and saying “look, the word didn’t stop turning, let’s keep this conversation going “. So yeah, I think she’s kind of begrudgingly open but that’s where we all start right? You’ve got to know that you’re safe and that safety takes time to build so let’s keep building on it. 

Le’Nise: So the ongoing conversations that you’re having with your daughter and the way that you feel about what you know about your period now, what do you wish you could change about your experience as a teenager with regards to your period?

Lauren: I think I just knew, this is a game changer that your period isn’t just for 7 days a month. Like I said, we compartmentalise this week and everything changes in that week but actually it’s happening every single day of the month, there are hormonal shifts, your body is changing. Now, I’ve got to the point where I can tell when I’m ovulating just by the physicalities of my body or where my hormones are, or if I’m a bit hotter, or if I’m feeling a bit sexy which only happens a couple of days a month if I’m honest. I can tell from my physical symptoms and my emotional state where I am in my cycle and when you lock that stuff down  and when you become aware of those times, you can really use every single day of the month to propel you, like I said, rather than just locking yourself down for one week of the month and struggling through the rest, not knowing why you’re feeling XYZ but just feeling grotty, it is kind of a superpower and I’ve spoken to a lot of women who are now doing the cycling and the charting now where there actually curating their month’s work around their cycle and becoming much more powerful because of it.  

I wish they talked about things like that, I wish it wasn’t just a rag week, you know when I was growing up it was rag week that was it, not really, actually you’ve got a month where you can utilise every day of your cycle and work with it and support it rather than just dread that one week a month where you’ve got to go underground and just hate everyone. I think we need to talk more about the power in it. 

Le’Nise: I think what you’re saying is so interesting and this idea of it being a superpower and you being able to know how your body changes and your mental state changes throughout your cycle and not just thinking about your menstrual cycle as just your period, it’s more than that and you mentioned that you know exactly when you’re ovulating and the power in that. Can you give us some examples of how you might structure your life around the feelings that you have around each phase of your cycle?

Lauren: I think firstly, you’ve got to start and charting and you’ve got to start being aware of it. I will get to that, but the reason that it is so important, this charting and acknowledging every part of your cycle is because the current climate would have us believe that we are weak and that our periods weaken us. We have to change that story, we have to take the power, now this sounds like a feminist rant, but it’s not about that it’s honest. We have to start looking at ourselves as powerful humans and the one thing that we’ve got above everybody else is that fact that we have these cycles. And we have to rewrite that whole internal monologue that we have going on: ‘oh God, it’s shit being a woman’, ‘oh God, the curse’. Every time we give power to those stories, where we are the underdog and ‘FML, it’s shit being women, I’m coming back as a man’. Every time we reiterate those stories, we give them power and we become the victim. Actually, we need to use that and rise above and say do you know what, actually, fuck you patriarchy because I bleed, I can create, I can do all of this stuff. 

So, your original question was how do I know the signs? Well, I know that the week leading up to my period, I have to stop, the overwhelm becomes extreme. I know that I can’t book a lot of stuff in, I’m an emotional wreck, I’m very emotional around that time so I have to be very, very careful with my energy because I’m a natural empath anyway and when you’ve got a really heightened state of emotions, as an empath, it can take you down. I’m really aware of the week leading up to my period that I have to really up my self-care game, I have to be really choosy whose energy I’m in because if it’s a negative energy, it will take me down. I have to ground; I literally have to stop because otherwise I lose myself for 3 days in just a heap. Once my period comes the relief, I get that ‘huuuuhhhh’ it’s here, my hormones are shifting again, I’m feeling a lot brighter, I’m feeling stronger, my brain feels clearer but I know that the week leading up, not to plan too much stuff because I cannot cope and it’s ok to say that because the rest of the month I am kicking it. One week a month I have to be really mindful of my energy and energies that I’m absorbing from others. 

Le’Nise: How long did it take for you to acknowledge the shift in your energy?

Lauren: Do you know what, I’ve only just started noticing this about a year ago, that’s the tragic thing, I’ve wasted so much of my adult life, I’m hitting perimenopause now, so all this newfound knowledge is going to be wasted on me but like I said, I’m passing it to my daughter, I can see her cycle, I can see her moods change, I can see her energy shift, I can help support her though it so the other day, she had massive overwhelm, she was crying and she didn’t know why she was like ,“I don’t know why I’m crying” and I’m like, “you don’t need to know why, just allow it to happen” and I said when I feel like that, I get in the shower in the morning and I, sounds a bit weird, but I touch my whole body and reconnect with my body, kind of absorb all my energies. I’m literally like: ‘I am safe, this is me, this is real’, because when you’re in that overwhelm and you’re stuck on Instagram or whatever and the whole world is in your head, you need to bring it back to you as one single human being and I tell her to do that. I asked how she’s getting on with the shower thing and she said “I’ve been looking in the mirror every day at my whole body and just saying this is you, you are safe” and that’s what we can pass on, and it’s a shame I’ve only learnt that in the last year but I think it’s only just becoming available and accessible now that you didn’t see this stuff before. Amazing women like you and Maisie Hill are talking about period cycles, who else is there? Women with Sparkle, she’s an amazing advocate for it all, it’s so accessible to all different people now that different people that are listening and are absorbing it. For the younger generation, whatever we learn, just feed it back to them so they’ve got it early door, you know?

Le’Nise: I think that’s such a powerful gift that you gave to your daughter, the knowledge that it’s ok to connect with your body because thinking about back to when I was a teenager, there was no connection to my body, I hated my body and to have something like that where it’s been just looking and the mirror and saying ‘this is you, you are safe’, I think wow, it gives me chills just thinking about it.  

Just going back to what you said about your energy and how you’ve been able to connect with it. Do you ever feel you resist this time of either slowing down or on the other side thinking about when you’re ovulating when your energy is at its highest, do you feel like you need to fit everything in to that week?

Lauren: Do you know what I’m human and sometimes life is busier around that week where I’ve got nothing to give, I just have to really up the self-care. Everybody has just one minute a day when they can just lie flat on the floor and actually Suzy Reading who wrote The Self-Care Revolution, I had her on a podcast once and she said to me, “Everybody has a minute a day when they can lay on the floor and say, ‘For now, the world can wait’, and that’s for one minute a day the world can wait”. It’s about those tiny moments of joy that Three Sixty [Tamu Thomas] talks about, that finding your tiny moments of joy and maximising your self-care when you can, I’m not talking about hot baths, I think we’re well beyond knowing that self-care is not just about a bloody bath with petals in it, I’m talking about making a nice cup of tea and sitting in silence with my favourite mug. 

The most simplistic acts of self-care can still have some kind of impact. When I’m in that slow week and I’ve got a load of stuff booked on, I have to do it, I still have a life I have to live out,  but I also have to be really mindful of just lying when you can. The ovulation thing, yes I do feel like when I’m in my spring/summer cycles [follicular and ovulatory phase], I know I’m so creative then that I do try and bulk load a load of work content and stuff because I know that it’s going to dwindle out which also does bring with it a frustration, don’t get me wrong, I’m not the biggest lover of the cycles the whole time, sometimes I’m like ‘… sake, I can’t afford to crash right now’,  I’m too busy I can’t afford to have winter [menstruation], but I got to keep going and can be like you said, a bit of resistance, not so much resistance but frustration that I can’t just keep charging ahead 24/7, 30 days a month, that I do have to allow myself a time out, but do you know what, what are we going to do? It is what it is, we have to expect it, we have to acknowledge it, we have to respect it, it’s not going anywhere babe, work with it, don’t work against it, there’s no point, it’s futile. 

Le’Nise: I think it is really powerful and I think that we wouldn’t be human if we didn’t have some sort of resistance, especially knowing that the culture that we live in really puts a lot of emphasis on this work, work, work, the entrepreneur grind and so taking a different perspective on that there’s going to be resistance probably not only from inside yourself but others saying, ‘why aren’t you working right now’, capitalism demands it.

Lauren: Not just capitalism, feminism demands it. Feminists, we are all fighting to have it all, I question that I want it all actually, I don’t think that I do want it all I think I’m quite okay just having bits of it because to be what is expected of us as women is pretty unachievable when you can factor in our cycles. We cannot be on it all day, every day, we can’t and actually I use the Flo app and on there, you can give them your partner’s email address. This is the best piece of advice I can give to anyone, you give your partner’s email address and they work with the cycles and they will email your partner where you are in your cycle and how best they can navigate that, and that has been an absolute relationship game changer. One, in that he completely understands that it’s not biased information, it’s not me going, “I’ve got my period, be nice to me!”. It’s proper education for him and it’s non-biased, so he knows it’s not me just pulling on him. 

Secondly, for me to be validated in my feelings, you know because can quite often we dumb it down and say ‘for God sake, I can’t just take a day off work because of my period’, it sounds ridiculous blah blah blah but actually validates what you’re feeling it’s like of course you’re tired, your body is doing overtime right now, trying to release these eggs and doing what it needs to be doing, your uterus is twice the size, you’re lugging that around, that’s why your belly feels like it’s exploding, but it validates everything that you’re feeling which gives you then the permission to say okay, this is why I’m feeling like this, it’s okay for me to stop or slow down but the genius, the other day I was totally woman down, I spent the whole day on the sofa, I was fortunate enough I could block everything, I spent the whole day on the sofa eating digestives, my husband comes home and he’s gingerly around me because he knows something’s going amiss and he said something and I snapped at him and he was like “jeez are you alright?” and I said “did you not get your email?!” and that’s it, the conversation could end there because he’s like “I’ll just go and check my emails now” and it gives them a really good understanding, so for a relationship, it’s genius in all areas. 

Le’Nise: I think that’s really interesting and I love the idea of the email being sent to the partner. The other thing is sometimes, it can lead to the area that creates expectations around behaviour, so we’re supposed to be moody cows before we get our period and ‘oh I just got the email so you’ve just got your period so I’m just going to watch what I say around you’ and some of the work that I do is really focussed around the fact that you don’t have to feel like that, you don’t to be a moody cow, your energy might dip but it’s not necessarily inevitable. So, I think it’s such a fascinating way for your partner to have a better understanding of what’s going on with you and your cycle, but sometimes what I see, and I’ve seen this is workshops that I’ve given is this expectation of, ‘I’m supposed to be in pain, I’m supposed to be moody and that’s just the way it is because I am a women and I have a period.’. 

Lauren: Yeah, you’re so right and I’m just sat here wondering if, and sometimes I do use it as an excuse, I may not even be feeling those things and especially with him because I’ll just be like “Bloody men, you don’t have to deal with this” and I do ham it up a bit sometimes that’s for sure and sometimes I’ll be like you need to go and get me a Big Mac because I feel really rubbish. Yeah, you’re right, that’s given me a new slant on it for next month so thank you but let’s not tell him. Can we not tell him please because I quite like the martyrdom sometimes? 

Le’Nise: So you mentioned that you use the Flo app as kind of what I call part of your menstrual health admin. Are there any other things you use as part of your menstrual health admin that you’d like to share?

Lauren: To be honest, no. I’m reading Maisie Hill’s book. I’m just getting involved I think, just read whatever you can, follow the accounts that, I mean your account’s amazing and you know that I love what you do. Your little tiles about nutrition, you know, just absorb information when and where you can, there’s so much accessible information available to us about our menstrual cycle. Podcasts. There’s loads of amazing podcasts around menstruation. Just find those people and educate yourself and be willing to listen to what’s going on with you and like you say it’s not a one fit fits all, we all fit differently. 

Definitely some kind of charting, however you choose to do that, there’s loads and loads of different apps out there, I know there’s drawings you can do, mindful colourings in and stuff like this. Number one is chart, chart your mood, chart your discharge, chart your libido, and chart your food, everything just to get an idea of who you are and how your body is functioning. But I like to keep it basic babe, I’m Instagram and Flo app

Le’Nise: Is there anything else you’d like to share with our listeners about what you’ve learned about your period or what else you want to know about your period?

Lauren: Do you know what? And it’s an obvious one I really want women to be talking about is the disposable menstrual products. It was obviously about to come up in this podcast; I am just about to launch my reusables

Since I have started the process about having my reusables designed, which are made in the UK by the way, they are manufactured in the UK, I’ve got a designer, we’ve laboured over the design for the last 9 months, and we are just about ready to order the first lot. The research that I’ve done in that time about the effect of disposables is horrifying, horrifying not only to the planet which is where I started, I was all about the landfill and oh my God in the UK alone, per year 200,000 tonnes of menstrual waste is sitting in landfill, which when you consider the weight of a tampon or a pad that’s a huge mass of substance sitting in landfill, emitting to the atmosphere. They take 500-800 years to decompose; those figures alone are enough to make you think, ‘Jesus, what are we doing’. Four carrier bags per period pad, if you are not using carrier bags with your supermarket shop because of the guilt, really consider that there are 4 carrier bags worth of plastic in your sanitary pads, the current disposables. 

The other option is of course is the organics which biodegrade in 12-18 months and don’t have all the chemicals but we need to talk about these chemicals. There are up to 3,000 chemicals in disposable products, there are micro plastics being absorbed into our bodies by our vulvas and vaginas and we are taking them in as a chemical disruptor into our endocrine system, which I know you know about and that is affecting our personal and feminine health. 

It is a massive massive issue that we need to start looking for alternatives around, now I’m not like ‘buy my pad, buy my pad, buy my pad’, my message is, have the conversation with women, make informed choices. If you are happy to use those disposable products and you can get your head around all of that then knock yourself out my darling, I don’t judge, this is your life.  But if you’re open to the idea of looking for alternatives, menstrual cups are not as scary as they seem. There’s an Instagram account called Put a Cup In It and it’s completely unbiased advice, in fact my daughter done there little quiz and got herself a cup and she bloody loves it. 

There are obviously the period pants and the reusable pads which I’m bringing out; by the way, Wear ‘Em Out pads by the way

But please please educate yourself on what menstrual products you are using. The impact that’s it’s having on your body, sitting on those chemicals and those plastics, every single month for up to 7 days is having a detrimental effect on your feminine health, there’s no two ways about it. Also, cocking up the planet big time, so you know your personal responsibility on the planet but yeah that’s a conversation I really want being shared. We’ve got to stop looking away now; we’ve got to stop trusting the big disposable brands and actually start saying what’s best for me on a personal level. 

Le’Nise: I think what you’re doing is amazing, but you already know that and I think this is such an interesting angle to get people thinking more about what they use because before it was about ‘try these different period products’ because they are better for your menstrual health and they are, but I think the environmental angle is interesting and I think that actually has the chance of getting more women interested or people who have a period interested in shifting what they use, because when you put it like that, the amount of products that are sitting in landfill, the amount of tampons, women still flush them down the toilet. Don’t flush!

Lauren: Don’t flush. 4.8 pieces of menstrual waste are being found in up to 100 metres of beaches. For every 100 metres of beach, 4.8 pieces of menstrual waste is being washed up because people are still flushing and not only the beach issue but actually that means that it’s getting into our water systems, that it’s getting into our water ways.

Your water bill is paying for emptying the sewers of fricking menstrual waste, so let’s just stop flushing. Don’t do it. I’m so surprised how many women still don’t know that, innocently, and in a completely no judgmental way, because the information isn’t being shared. There’s a little line on the bloody Tampax box, ‘oh by the way, don’t flush’, that should be the very first thing. Toxic shock syndrome and do not flush, that’s the two pieces of information that you’re going to make an informed choice around. Don’t flush it because that’s costing us all a fortune in the old Thames waterways.

Le’Nise: Not to mention that the water needs to be cleaned, all the chemicals, the tampons and even women are flushing pads which I can’t believe and all of these have an impact, the health impact and the environmental impact. I think this is a great angle to get women thinking about what they’re using in their bodies, on their bodies and actually having this as a starting point for thinking about other products that they are using. This whole area, I find it so fascinating because I’ve seen the shift from it being very hippy, the products not being very good, people using crocheted pads, which, more power to you, to it being more professionalised, sleek, better options, more absorbent options. Make up is better, skin care is better in this whole natural green space. So I’m really excited about what you’re doing and I’m really excited about the changes that are happening in this area. Where can listeners find out more about if they want to order your pads?

Lauren: We are doing a 10% off of your first order which is a great saving because we need to honest and realistic as well they is an initial outlay to this change but it’s about prioritising, looking at your life as a whole and prioritising and making a shift where you can and like I said I think your menstrual waste is the environmental and physical shifts you can make, I therefore think it’s worth investing it but just to help you out, 10% off your first order if you go to the website which is wearemout.co.uk and I’m all over the socials at @wearemoutpads so come and find them. 

My podcast is Periodical which is on ITunes, Spotify, Podcast, Acast, and Podbean. Just come and talk to me, I’m open for any kind of conversation, no question is too stupid and I’m not going to give you a hard sales pitch, I just want women to chat about these topics and then make their decisions beyond that, it’s entirely up to them, no shame babe.

Le’Nise: No shame, no judgement, I love it. 

Lauren: Absolutely. Who am I to judge? 

Le’Nise: Who are any of us to judge? Well, thank you so much for coming on the show today, I’ve really loved chatting to you.

Lauren: Yeah, cool. Amazing. Thank you so much Le’Nise.

Period Story Podcast, Episode 9: Susan Sheehan, Find Your Own Rhythm

Period Story Podcast, Episode 9, Susan Sheehan

For the ninth episode of Period Story Podcast, I had the pleasure of speaking with Susan Sheehan, the founder and CEO of Back Yourself Mentoring, a women’s circle and network of women backing themselves and each other.

Susan shared the story of the tough first few years of her period and what she did to cope with the pain and migraines she used to have. She says that this was her normal and considered this her normal until it changed.

Susan says she had to work around her menstrual flow, under it, over it and it was something she had to tolerate. At the time, she accepted that this was part of being a woman, but definitely didn’t embrace the pain she was experiencing.

It took a pivotal moment for her to realise things needed to change. Susan talks about waking up in the middle of the night and being in such agony that she spent hours on the bathroom floor. It was there and then, Susan decided she never wanted to go through that again.

Susan embarked upon a journey of educating herself about her period and using journalling as a tool to understand what she was experiencing in each phase of her menstrual cycle.  She says she started to see patterns in the foods she was craving, the emotions she was experiencing and how certain things such as stress affected her period.

Susan says that journalling has helped her find a deeper understanding and the patterns she was able to spot through journalling helped her change her nutrition and lifestyle and she no longer has migraines, cramps or PMS.

Susan shares the journalling techniques that worked for her to change her period for the better. She says that this is such an important way for us to find our own rhythm and I completely agree!

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Susan’s Bio

Susan wants every woman to connect with herself, returning home to listen to her intuition and be empowered to take action for her life ambitions. In today’s culture of fully scheduled lives, she knows what it feels like to feel overwhelmed and disconnected while knowing you have so much more to offer to the world. By connecting to herself (including embracing her menstrual cycle!) she has changed her lifestyle to enjoy heightened energy, making more conscious life decisions and focusing on what makes her soul sing. She now invites women to live with more ease, while inspiring them to make the changes they desire. 

Susan is the Founder and CEO of Back Yourself Mentoring, a women’s circle and network of women backing themselves and each other. Through mentoring, both mentor matching women 121 or through her group mentoring programmes, she knows that surrounding yourself with creative, generous and life ambitious women enables you to thrive consistently in your career and life. She hosts women circles and mentoring groups in London, Ireland and Mallorca empowering women to create tangible change to lead a purposeful life, with ease and a smile.

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Show Notes

Claire Baker

Red School

Wild Power

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Show Transcript

Le’Nise: Today’s episode we have Susan Sheehan. 

Susan wants every woman to connect with herself, returning home to listen to her intuition and be empowered to take action for her life ambitions. In today’s culture, of fully scheduled lives, she knows what it feels like to feel overwhelmed and disconnected while knowing you have so much more to offer to the world. By connecting to herself, including embracing her menstrual cycle. She has changed your lifestyle to enjoy heightened energy, making more conscious life decisions and focusing on what makes her soul sing. She now invites women to live with more ease while inspiring them to make the changes they desire. Susan is the founder and CEO of Back Yourself Mentoring, a women’s circle, a network of women backing themselves and each other through mentoring, both mentor matching women one to one or through her group mentoring programmes, she knows that surrounding yourself with creative, generous and life ambitious women enables you to thrive consistently in your life and career. She hosts women’s circles and mentoring groups in London, Ireland and Mallorca. Empowering women to create tangible change, to lead a purposeful life with ease and a smile. Welcome to the show.

Susan: Thank you Le’Nise. Hello.

Le’Nise: So let’s get into the story of your very first period. Can you share with us what you remember that happened?

Susan: Oh, I actually do not remember having my first period. Let me share with you a little bit of background in terms of culture and where it was coming from. As you can tell from my accent, I’m Irish, born in the late 70s in a small community, raised Catholic, went to a secondary school with the nuns. So it’s a conversation and a topic that wasn’t something that was discussed or brought up. And when I got my period, I was about 13, maybe 13 and a half, actually was probably I’m sure if there was a therapist on here, they would probably say that I’ve blocked it out. Maybe. 

My introduction in to my period for the first year or two was one of pain. Incredible cramps, being doubled over, being looked after by my mum, hot water bottles and hot drinks and migraines. And for the first couple of years, I used to take a day off school. And while that probably sounded like fun to some young women or girls. I liked school. So it was a very mixed introduction. I would love to be able to share what a wonderful opening and blossoming experience it was, an empowering experience. It really wasn’t for me, which is why I speak about it a lot now. Though that experience continued from 13 to my probably mid 30s actually, and not consistently, thankfully. And my first two years, or I would say probably first year or two  was a day off a month. And it was probably irregular. It’s still irregular. And it was one of cramps, severe cramps and migraines. Yeah, it’s not the experience. It’s experience ahead. Really. And also, which I find really fascinating now, as I embrace it more and more and look back more of my life is that my mum was the same. So we didn’t really know between us, this was normal as well. Right. Even though my sister didn’t necessarily, well I’m not too sure, but she certainly didn’t have the experience that I had. So I think that’s interesting in itself, I think.

Le’Nise: So given that you said that your mum was the same, had the same sort of period and she thought it was normal. Is that how you grew up? Thinking that period pain was normal?

Susan: I think it is more that, obviously I had friends at school and their experiences would have been different because we spoke a little bit about it. I think especially initially it was when we all got it, I can remember there being a little bit of flurry of excitement in the cloakroom and stuff, and remember, it was all girls as well. But then I think less and less we spoke about it. But I do remember there was a certain like almost I don’t know what a badge of honour, but I guess I’ve just used the phrase, around, you know, the different stories. So I knew there were different experiences. But my experience was my experience and my mum’s experience because it was similar; I guess that’s what both of us knew, right? But obviously I was aware that there were other women not having the same experience. And then to go throughout my, I guess, you know, early teens and into my twenties and thirties. I certainly knew that that was not normal, but it was my normal and your normal is just your normal until it changes, I think really.

Le’Nise: So going back to being at school, you said that you were raised Catholic, you went to school with the nuns. Dare I ask if there was any sort of education around menstruation, around periods that you would have participated in?

Susan: No. I was in school from ’89 to ’94 in secondary school. So, no, there wasn’t. I do remember there being Sex Ed, which would definitely not have been sufficient either, so, you know, there was a nod towards that. But I really don’t remember and we certainly wouldn’t have had any of the, you know, there was no products, menstruation products either. When you think about that now, you think, oh, wow. What? What were we supposed to do? And we were a school full of young adults, young women, girls and women. So, no, there wasn’t. There wasn’t any.

Le’Nise: It was the conversation that you were having with your friends and it kind of almost a whisper network of, oh, well, I’m using pads, and I’m using tampons. Was it that sort of thing?

Susan: Yeah. And like I say, initially it was probably more when we were like in the first year. Well that’s what it was called in Ireland right, first year was when you were 12-13 and it was when everyone I guess was flurrying too. And literally it was flowing right? And the conversation started then but after that initial flurry and I guess it was the circle that I was in as well, there was quite a big circle of us. But I guess once it started, then it was just like, now life is like now we get on with things, right. Like just we move on. And, you know, I guess you talk about maybe, maybe boys and maybe or maybe girls or you’re playing, for me I was playing sports and stuff. So I kind of got on with life and so I know that my attitude was very much like, this is it and yeah, that was something, I guess, for me, personally, it was more about, I worked around my menstrual flow. I worked under it, over it, around it on. It was something that I got on, you know, to use these words now pains me a little bit. But it you know, I tolerated it. My attitude was one of, so this is necessary, it is part of being a woman, I was certainly not embracing it. And I was just I guess, putting up with it, you know, like that was the attitude. I’m a very, quite pragmatic woman anyway at the best of times, though, that is to a different level, I think. My approach to it was very much like, this is happening to me and I very much just want to get on with life. I used to play team sports, like I said; it’s called camogie, which is an Irish sport. This was an inconvenience, if anything and very much just treating it as an inconvenience or pain and therefore, let’s make the most of it, I guess.

Le’Nise: So how did you go from seeing your period as an inconvenience and tolerating it to, as I said in your intro, to now embracing your menstrual cycle? That’s quite a big leap. So tell me a bit more about how you got there.

Susan: I was hugely and thank you because it’s quite nice to move on as well, I think it’s important to reflect back but as well. There was a pivotal, so like I said, throughout my teens, that was my experience. There was a pivotal moment, probably about three and a half years ago, so throughout my 20s and 30s, the pain would come and go. I didn’t always have the migraines, they more or less left after being a teen and then in my 20s and 30s, it was more about, I would get cramps and the PMS was sky-high. But about three and a half years ago, I woke up one night in the middle of the night and I got my period and I went to the bathroom and I literally could not get off the bathroom floor. I was in such agony and that was the worst I had ever been, like ever and I just remember lying there for hours and even my husband came in to me, I’m like, you can’t do anything to help me, but he stayed with me that night. And I went I’m never going through this again, I need to find a way through this right? I need to find a way that I am more at ease with this and I would use that word ease now. And so I started looking into it and I started looking for, I guess I just started putting it out there and going, I need to find another way to be around this. 

And I came across a woman called Claire Baker whose teachers are; I’m not going to remember their names now but they’re with the Red School and some people will know their book, Wild Power. I did an eight week online course with her and I started journaling and since then, I have been journaling. And I think just before I get into that, which has been a part of my healing journey and what I would now call a spiritual journey, if you wish, you don’t have to call it that. I think even turning my head towards it put a little bit more kindness and I mean, just even honestly like a little millimeter of more kindness and more acceptance and wanting to understand, I think eased the pain a little bit, like genuinely. You know when you have the outside tap on, outside and it’s really, really tight and it’s the tightest it is, so it’s not leaking during the day. It’s really tense and you’re holding it all in and literally you’re holding it all in and then you just release it, just a tiny, tiny bit. I think that’s what I did. I mean, literally, I can feel it now releasing my body, that little bit allowed some of the pain to go away, not just the physical, but the emotional and the mental as well. And so it was a start of a journey and it is a journey because I’m still learning something new every month. 

So what I started to do was, I learned to start journaling and I’m not a consistent journaler, for anyone listening, this was not my practice of journaling. I had tried and it and never got into the habit but what I would do is get out a notebook and I tried several different ways but at first it was like put down the headings of ‘physically, how do I feel?’ And I might only start with one word and then ‘emotionally’ and I actually put in emotional and mental, it’s better to get into the habit of actually even writing the words associated with it. And so every day I used to do this, so I wait for I think I waited until the start of my next period because I had no idea, by the way what day I was on or anything. I was not tracking in any way. And so I waited until the first day of my period and I started writing down day one physically how do I feel? Emotionally, mentally, how do I feel and choose to spiritually and at that time I was still on the start of my journey. This is really the start to even my spiritual journey, a very conscious start to my spiritual journey. And so I just write down a word or two, that’s where I started. Like literally that’s where I started. 

But of course, once you create a little bit of space and start writing a little bit, you might write, I found myself writing another few words and then another few words. And so, you know, if I’m in spring [follicular phase], I was like, oh, I’m feeling like I’m going back out into the world. And it seems to be a little bit more life around, oh, and I’m getting different ideas coming along, so I did that for a couple of months. And then I started to expand it out because I wanted to see the trends. I guess I started to see a few trends, literally, even after two or three months. This is what I always say to women that I speak to, like even after two months, I started to see these trends and like, oh, my gosh and so I added food because I’ve always been into food. So I wanted to know why do I want certain foods or what would be good for me to have? But it was more about like, what’s going on in the different phases and I’m sure some of your other guests talked about the phases and it was it was so fascinating, like after about four months, I used to go back and day 16, I’d really want leafy greens like I was craving avocados and leafy greens. Isn’t that incredible? So I started adding foods and then I recognised that coming into my period that I really wanted sugary, like really sweet stuff. And look, I’ve always had a bit of a sweet tooth, but I would want sweet stuff and then, you know, I had a conversation with a woman a few months ago at my yoga teacher training and she went, oh, you’re going from yang energy of being out there, performing and to do list and you’re going into this sweet, softer, yin energy and I was like oh! And the sweet stuff is taking me into that Yin energy, that’s why we crave it, I’m like, wow, and then I added… 

So this is the joy of journaling, right, you can journal whatever you want. This is your life. We’re all unique. We’re all individuals. We all have our own challenges. If you’re a mum, you can maybe, you know, look at it from how are you feeling towards your family and juggling stuff? But I also did it for Back Yourself Mentoring because I found myself like literally in Summer going out there and talking about it and Summer being obviously ovulation and going out there and talking about it and being on calls and enjoying it and loving it and loving the community and the circle and the wisdom and the nourishment I was receiving and the other women are receiving. And then literally within, you know, a week or 10 days, I was like, I didn’t want to pick up the phone. I didn’t want to talk about it and the contrast and the swings and the pendulum of going from ‘wayhey I love my business, I love these women’, to; ‘I don’t want to talk to anyone. I want to lock myself away’. I thought it was Back Yourself Mentoring, and I was getting literally so confused by this and it was causing angst as well. So I started journaling it and then within two to three months, again, I was like, OK, this is my cycle. I’m cyclical, I’ve got a rhythm, it’s not linear and my background is high, I mean, I was a CFO in finance, right? So it’s binary, like, you know, one and one and it’s linear and it’s a little bit black and white. The journals are the journey and the lessons from this are forever. I’m learning. 

I learned that I was just going through a normal cycle. I was really creative after coming out of my menstrual flow and I’d have loads of new ideas and often I would go off on tangents and then in summer [ovulation] I was out there sharing it and hearing from other women and then, you know, really enjoying life and bringing to fruition a vision that I would have set. And then in Autumn [luteal phase], to do lists where I literally just, I just ran through those and I was, of course, with the sweet beauty of autumn as well that you come back to yourself, you’re starring to come back to yourself and I think for me, what I found is there was inner truths there that I didn’t know about, like that I hadn’t appreciated before. And this is something I’m more and more in tune with. And it’s when I know that I can almost wait for my autumn now, to go back to my intuition. When it’s something that’s really important that I’m trying to make a life decision on, I wait for autumn to have that little conversation with myself. And I know when I’m in it because I have the most thoughtful, the most heartfelt conversations with my husband or my close friends as well. I’m like, going, either that I’m really struggling on something about where I’m going or I’m trying to let go of something or that I want us to maybe, you know, just to shift or something that might have been bothering me, that’s when I have those conversations. 

And of course, for me, the biggest learning, I suppose, was to let go during winter [menstrual phase] to honour my menstrual flow. I spent years not honouring that, honouring the process of letting go, of avoiding burnout, because like many of us, it was burning the candle at both ends and recognising that it was the time that I could come back to myself, come back home and to allow things to, yeah, to let it flow and to allow myself to have a little bit of time. And I know it’s not realistic for everyone to be able to stay in bed and pull the duvet up and to let that go but even there’s still days like I’m in day 37 at the moment and I’m very irregular at the moment. Actually let me clarify that, I don’t know what my normal is because I only started journaling a few years ago. So I think I’ve always been in irregular. So I can go from being 28 or 30 days for a few months and then going from 22 days to 40 days. There’s no, I guess what I like to say is, there’s no normal there’s only change and there’s awareness. So that’s a long answer. Le’Nise to your question but it was a journey and it was a few years journey and I’m still on it by the way, like I’m completely still on it, I’m still recognising like, I love listening to my favourite podcasts at different times of the month, and which podcasts I listen to at different times in a month. In Summer I love lighter books, I love learning, really, really learning in spring especially, and autumn. There are so many areas; this is what I love about the menstrual cycle. It has so many beautiful ways of teaching us about ourselves, about reconnecting with ourselves.

Le’Nise: I just want to jump in and just to clarify for listeners, because you’ve talked a lot about seasons. So if they aren’t aware of this, the correlation of the seasons to the different phases of the menstrual cycle. So this is something that is developed by the Red School and it’s an analogy looking at so winter is when you’re on your period and then you go into spring, which is the follicular phase so, you’re feeling, your blooming, you’re feeling more energetic and then ovulation is summer and then you go into the different parts of the luteal phase. The second part of the luteal phase is the fall where people most associate this with PMS. And I love how it’s so natural to you that you’ve just peppered this into the conversation and it shows me what a deep connection you now have with your menstrual cycle and how it’s influenced your life in so many different ways. So you’ve said all of this work has revealed some inner truths to you. I also did want to go back to how you were feeling at that moment three and half years ago where you were on the bathroom floor to how comparing that to how you feel now, what changes do you think that this whole process of journaling and being more aware of the connection with food and how much you work? What changes do you think that has made in your menstrual cycle and your period?

Susan: Thank you for asking that. Allow me to join the dots. In the last, let’s say two years, in the last two years, I’ve had two migraines. I don’t have cramps. I don’t have cramps anymore, any and I can’t remember the last time I’ve had period pain, genuinely. PMS was one of the biggest things, especially because, like, you know, I was a c-suite, I was in meetings, just nine to five every day. And I used to have a small level of awareness in that, when I would be coming into my menstrual cycle, that I would sometimes go into the office and go, can you please clear my diary? Like, just get me out of every meeting that I have because I knew that I would be so grumpy. And it would tip over into like taking it out on other people. I really struggled with PMS, if you had my husband on the conversation here, he would confirm that for us. I genuinely have very little these days. I completely contribute that to embracing it, getting softer with it, connecting with my cycle, understanding it. I’m not saying that everything, like I’m not saying that everything is rosy and perfect. When I have a level of stress that I can look back on, I can recognise that I go out of whack. Right. So I know that like in February this year, I had some stress from work and that I remembered that I had some pain and I had definitely PMS and I could just find that the stress levels were raising me a bit. 

It’s about acceptance. I was accepting my body and I was also accepting that I can’t be Wonder Woman or anyone out there that remembers Wonder Woman, I loved her. I can’t be Wonder Woman all month and I love it when I’m up during summer and during ovulation, but I also accept that I can’t and I’m not her all the time and acceptance of that, means that I allow myself to slow down coming it, coming into my period. I also attribute it to tweaking my diets and my food to this day, towards nutrition. So I believe that some of the migraines were due to stress because of, you know, I have tested this out over time and watching and reading back my journals and caffeine, so I’ve never been a coffee drinker, but I was a big black tea drinker, and I knew it was more about the ritual of holding in my hand, but I was drinking it as if I just held it in my hand. So I stopped drinking it in the week before my periods and that made a huge…see I was feeling the waves, it’s almost like there were waves that were going through my head, and there were waves of the hormones. I don’t know if anyone else or if you recognise it, Le’Nise, but when I would get those headaches, and sometimes it didn’t develop into, like I said, most of my migraines were really around my younger years, but I would get them now and then and I would literally feel the hormones going through my head but stopping the caffeine the week before was crucial to that. It’s this reinforcing circle, right? I started looking after myself. I started watching what I was eating. 

I would exercise, do the relevant exercise at the relevant time. So I would slow down, I love running, so I really got running in spring, late spring and summer and so on the middle part of my month and then I would do a slower yoga. I still struggle a little bit with Yin because I am more of a you know, I study Ayurveda at the moment, I’m more pitta, more outgoing, more like I like to be, ah, you know. So I have to really, really focus on when I need to drop my energy. So my relationship is incredible and I know that if I can do it and if I came from that place of, you know, I learned really early on that when I drank alcohol, that if I had one drink or two, my period would stop, right, it would stop, because obviously I now know that it could only detoxify one thing and obviously my liver was detoxifying the alcohol, so it couldn’t do both and then it would return a few days later and I actually used to remember deliberately having a glass of wine or two just to stop it because it was such an inconvenience to have it. Imagine! What a terrible thing to do to yourself and I do feel that when I see someone that I know going through their periods and I see them having a glass of wine, I’m like, oh, just wait a few days because your poor body cannot cope with it. So I don’t drink alcohol anymore, actually, at all. 

I’m vegetarian now. I’m plant-based, actually. I know that the journey that I’ve been on, that it’s set me off on, has been one of self-care, emotionally and physically, and that the ease which it has allowed me to have around my whole cycle, not just concentrating on fixing that few days, that it’s about the whole cycle. So if I look after myself in winter, take it easy, or even by like I said to women, even slow it down to 75%. Right. We’re all going to 120 miles an hour anyway, right? So even if we could slow it down to 75 and to allow it to happen, to allow it to flow, to say, OK, I’m here, I’m here, I’m at ease, the month ahead is better. And I know when I try, and I do this still at times, and I’ve learned this over and over again, that if I push through in winter that the month is a little bit tougher, it is genuinely tougher. So my awareness and my practice and I do call it a practice, has completely changed my whole month. Those 3 days that I have, my period, obviously, women have them for different lengths of times, but those 3 days that I have mine is completely different, as is my whole month, as is my life.

Le’Nise: It’s amazing what you’re saying and you know, it’s a journey and you’ve been through a lot but doing a deep dive into so many different areas and this real self-awareness of how different things affect you. So you talked about alcohol, you’ve talked about caffeine; you’ve talked about the changes that you’ve made in what you eat. I think all of these have created a real difference in your menstrual cycle. So if someone is listening and they really connect with what you’re saying and they say, well, I’m having issues with my period, I want to try this whole journaling practice. Where would you recommend that they start?

Susan: Yeah. So a start is the start, I guess, if you know and you’re somehow, you know, you’re tracking on apps and you know what day you’re on, start today, fill out a little notebook that you liked to write in and get something that you actually really like to pull out, it can just be a little one. You know, that’s nice and soft and a nice pen to write in it and put it by your bed or maybe in your most comfy chair. So if you know where you are already, I didn’t, you can start on that day, if you don’t know where you are, waiting till day one, so day one is the first, it’s not spotting but the first proper bleed. And you can do this in different ways. So what I did was at first I put the headings down so I would put down how I’m feeling physically. You know, if you want to know how you are around your nutrition, put a little header down on the page. 

I used a small little notepad, so this can be really as bullet points as you want, or as beautiful and elaborate or an essay as you want. Pick a couple of ways, a couple of headliners. Do pick about your emotions, because that’s a big one of the biggest things. And you can put down spiritual now because, you know, do you meditate or do sit in silence. What are your spiritual practices? So pick. Maybe if you’re starting off, pick 3 things because 3 is a lovely number, right? And especially when you say it in an Irish accent, pick 3 things that you want to track. And every day at the end of your day, just write down how you’re feeling. So, you know, I mentioned tonight I’ll be writing down that I feel clear because I feel quite clear today and I feel quite grounded, actually, as well. Like I say, if you don’t journal, this might be a bit of a task for you right because you’re like you might be resisting a little bit. Write a word. Start with one word. Ideally three words per each like, you know, if it’s physical or emotional or food or how you feel about your business or your kids, if there might be, you know, whatever way you’re feeling and then if you miss it, do it every day. And if you miss a day, don’t worry about it. I don’t do it every single day. Sometimes I go back to it and I write a couple of words and if I forget. But when I was especially when I was starting out and for the last, you know, the initial two years, every single day but the most important thing is that you’re tracking it. Well, I guess the nicest thing to think about is, I’m going to have this wisdom next month, so I’m going to be able to flip back pages and look at this next month. 

There is another way you can do it as well. You could take one page split it in four so you can actually split it in four and put what day you’re on that page and then you could use it for the next four months. So you could use that 4 quadrant and then use it for four months. Find whatever way suits you best, so each woman will have a preference. And for the more creative women, they might want to draw something. But I think the words are really, really important as well, because you want to really remember. You think you’re going to remember, you don’t, there’s too much going on in our life. So, yeah, and enjoy it, I think, like have a sip of hot water and create a ritual around it. Or if it’s literally I don’t have time for this, I’m really going to have scribbled down a few words, then so be it. I think the best thing to do is start and look forward to your own inner wisdom and intuition and empower yourself by starting.

Le’Nise: Great. And so just start. I think that those are really wise, wise words. So, they start journaling and then they get a set of information. What would you say to the woman who is two months from now said, ‘Okay, I listened to the podcast episode, and I’ve started journaling and now what’?

Susan: I guess, what do you want out of it? So maybe like with the starting, what is it you’re looking for? I’ll look at two schools of thought on this. One is that the women that will take it up fastest will be women like me that want to find out and to solve it. Your trigger is usually if you’ve got some pain or angst or anguish around it. Right. So there’ll be the women, that, like they will have a very clear purpose from what they want, a desired outcome from what they want from it. So you will start to see trends. And for the woman, that’s like, OK, I’m going to give this a go because I want to know more about myself. It’s the same answer, actually. 

Flick back through your journal. So when you’re at a certain point in time, you might be on day four or five, actually, let me give you this, either four or five is when we, it’s a beautiful time, it’s a brilliant time to set your vision for the month or might even be a vision for the next six months, because you’ve got incredible clarity about what is important to you. Once you got past this, all the creative flow comes in. That’s one reason to look at it, right, to go, OK, when do I want to set my vision for my life? It’s looking back at your trends really. So you’ve done two months and you’re like, OK, what now? Start to look back at it and start to reflect and start to look at the trends and the passions that are happening and go, oh, this is interesting. 

What it will do is, it would spur you on, and it’ll spur you on to keep going and to keep doing it. It might create new ideas around, oh, what else would I like to know about? I think it’s nice to read back over it. It might be that you want to change something in your diet, change something in your lifestyle, change, you know, bring in a new habit, maybe you want more sleep. Can you see any new patterns of where need it? Actually, if you’ve been writing that you’ve been tired a lot at different places, I can guarantee that most of us are more tired than we think we are. And sleep will always, always make your periods a little bit and life easier. So I think it’s like picking up little nuggets of wisdom that you’ve shared with yourself and say thanks very much for doing it and hopefully encourage you to keep doing it and to take what you want out of it. I think that’s most important… You will glean whatever intuition that you need. It’ll be individual to each of you.

Le’Nise: Can you tell us a little bit more about Back Yourself Mentoring and the work that you do with women to get them connected with their ambition?

Susan: It’s actually this time two years ago; I set up Back Yourself Mentoring. So it is, specifically, it’s all around empowerment. And, you know, the irony of all of this is that the menstrual cycle is now very much part of it as well. 

So where it started out from was to offer women the opportunity of having a mentor, because sometimes it is really difficult to find another woman and it’s all women. So it’s mentors, matching women who are career women that are looking to make changes in their career and it can be stepping up, stepping out or stepping back in, it can be running your own business, freelance or whatever it is, it is actually empowering her to give new opportunities and new ideas. And that’s what other women gifted me throughout my life and career and so I create relationships between mentors and mentees. And obviously, as I have journeyed over the last two years, so has the circle of women and community and what we’re doing. And I now speak to women in the women’s groups around menstruation because it’s part of the empowerment journey. Unless we accept ourselves and look after ourselves on self-care, you’ll burn out, right? You will be disconnected, which is where I was. So the idea is that we come back to ourselves, we come home and we feel more empowered. 

And so I go into businesses and talk about menstrual cycles and empowering women, about reconnecting with ourselves through different practices, which ultimately will allow women to choose work and life ambitions that are right for them, rather than maybe what they’re being given or maybe having to just take or receive. So the platforms are different, I have group coaching and mentoring programmes for women and women’s circles to do online or face-to-face. But the key for me is that the empowerment journey started with my menstrual cycle, I think, and then came in to Back Yourself Mentoring with the whole premise about we back ourselves and each other and empower each other to choose the life that we want.

Le’Nise: What a beautiful mission. Listeners, if they take one thing from all of the wise words that you’ve shared, what would you want that to be?

Susan: Follow your own rhythm. Each one of us needs to follow our own rhythm, and that rhythm is your inner rhythm and the inner cycle and your inner flow and the outer cycle that have happened. My outer rhythms that are happening all the time. Part of my journey has been to reconnect with the planet as well. So if we care for ourselves and follow our own rhythms, you’ll always choose what’s right for you. You’ll choose what’s in alignment with your body and with your soul. Follow your own rhythm.

Le’Nise: I love that. Follow your own rhythm. If listeners want to find out more about Back Yourself Mentoring and want to get involved with what you do, how would they connect with you?

Susan: You can email me at hello@backyourselfmentoring.com. Our website is the same www.backyourselfmentoring.com. And you can find me on Instagram, it’s @_susansheehan_. Yeah, just drop me an email; I’d love to hear from you.

Le’Nise: Thank you so much for coming on the show, Susan.

Susan: Thank you Le’Nise, I’ve had such good fun. Thank you. What you’re doing is fantastic. Thank you.

Le’Nise: Thank you.

Period Story Podcast, Episode 8: Kat Horrocks, Coming Off Hormonal Contraception Improved My Mental Health

Period Story Podcast Episode 8 Kat Horrocks

For the eighth episode of the Period Story podcast, I had the pleasure of speaking to Kat Horrocks, a women’s life coach and fellow podcast host.

Kat shared the impact of getting her first period at 10 years old and how by default, she became the one that all her classmates went to for advice and with their questions. Kat says that even now she’s the person in her friend group that gets asked all the period questions.

Kat talked about her journey with hormonal contraception and why she decided to come off of it after 7 years. She says that a conversation with her partner about the impact the pill was having on her emotions and their relationship was the wake up call she needed to make changes.

Kat says she wanted to have a period and now that it has returned, she knows her body is healthy and operating in a natural way. Kat uses her period as a marker of where she’s at, physically and mentally and says it keeps her in check to make sure she’s looking after herself.

Kat discusses the research she did when she decided to come off hormonal contraception and how she geeked out on all the new information.

Kat says that we shouldn’t underestimate our bodies; they’re amazing and they work. She says that listening to our bodies and learning what our bodies are saying is really powerful and I completely agree!

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Kat’s Bio

Kat Horrocks is a women’s life coach and host of the Put Yourself First Podcast. She believes it’s time for you to start putting yourself first and achieving your goals! Her work offers 1:1 coaching and online resources to provide you with practical and emotional support to do just that. You can also hear inspiring stories from badass women on her podcast every Monday morning. From business and careers to personal development and self-care, you’ll get the resources and guidance you need.

Find Kat at kathorrocks.com and on Instagram @kat_horrocks.

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Show Notes

Taking Charge of Your Fertility by Toni Weschler

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Show Transcript

Le’Nise: On today’s episode, we have Kat Horrocks, a woman’s life coach and host of the Put Yourself First podcast. She believes it’s time for you to start putting yourself first and achieving your goals. Her work offers one to one coaching and online resources to help provide you with practical and emotional support to do just that. Welcome to the show. 

Kat: Hi. Thank you for having me. 

Le’Nise: Let’s start off by getting into the story of your first period. Can you share with us what happened? 

Kat: Yeah, and I really have to think back to this, because I’m sure like many women being asked this question, you’re like, oh, that was a long time ago. But I do remember being at home, and I think I just went for a wee. I went to the toilet and my mum was, you know, around the house, luckily. And I just wiped myself and there was blood, and I was like, oh. I knew what it was. I knew that it was a thing. So I just remember opening the bathroom door and saying, Mum, I think I’ve started my period. So, yeah, I was quite lucky that I was at home. I was comfortable and my mum was there to help me. 

Le’Nise: How old were you? 

Kat: I was quite young. I was I think I was 10. 

Le’Nise: 10 years old. OK. And were you the first of your friends to get your period? 

Kat: Yeah. Yeah. 

Le’Nise: And so how do you think that affected how your education around your period and menstrual health and the conversations that you had with your friends about it? 

Kat: Yeah. So I’d say it was a very different experience being at home vs. being at school. At school, I felt a bit like an alien or not an alien in the sense that I was treated negatively. But obviously, for all the other girls, it was like a mystery. And they were, oh, my God, like this has happened to you, you know, it was just such like a new world for them to even imagine. So, yeah, I had a lot of, you know, girls, and we can get onto like school period stories, I’m sure. But I did have a lot of girls like circling me at playtime asking, you know? Oh, what’s it like? Like what? So have you got something in your knickers, what is that? How does it work? Yeah, as a kid, I was quite shy, so it was definitely awkward, but luckily at home, it was completely a conversation. It had always been a conversation. And my mum is amazing. So she always made me feel, you know, she said, this is normal. This is healthy. You know, every woman experiences this, so never feel embarrassed about it or never feel like it’s a shameful thing. 

Le’Nise: So you’re educating your friends and then you are getting this education from your mum. So when your friends got their periods, did they come to you for advice?

Kat: I think so, yeah. Yeah. Just because I was obviously the first in my friendship group. So over the next sort of few years, five years or so. Some people yea, they came and asked me about, and to be honest, I still speak to friends about it now just because, even as adult women we don’t often talk about it. And I think you always have that friend who you can go to and ask the most TMI questions. So a lot of my friends still now to this day are like ‘what’s a moon cup? How does that even work? How do you put it in?’. Oh, yeah. I’ve always been very like, I’m just happy to chat to friends about it. Yeah. 

Le’Nise: So you’re kind of like the period expert amongst your group of friends? 

Kat: I wouldn’t say expert, but more just, I genuinely, I’ve never been embarrassed about it. So I’m always happy to have a conversation about it yeah. 

Le’Nise: Getting a period that young. Do you feel like that affected your knowledge of your period? And did it change the way you thought about your body? 

Kat: I don’t think so, to be honest. And I do think, again, my mum is getting a lot of air time in this chat just because she is genuinely, I mean, has been so amazing about it. So I always knew that it was normal. And I always knew that it was going to happen and had that education at home before it happened. I think it was interesting in terms of obviously being one of the earlier developers at school. That was an interesting shift in my relationship with my body. Because it was also around that time that of course I got my period, but then my boobs grew a lot, so I had like the biggest boobs in my year group. And then obviously that meant that, you know, unfortunately, like I got unwanted attention from boys and that definitely shifted. It was like that was probably the year where I went from being feeling just like a regular kid to feeling like, oh, my body is this is this, you know, different, different thing now. Like, I’m not only growing into a woman, but what the sort of implications of that meant in terms of how people viewed me and acted around me. 

Le’Nise: You said you got unwanted attention. How did you deal with that? 

Kat: Not very well because I was so young. And I didn’t know what that meant, what it was, whether it was anything serious. Well, it was never anything serious. I do feel like I should say that but, I didn’t even have the vocabulary to say, oh, I don’t want to do that or I don’t think you should do that. Because when you’re a young kid, it’s almost like kids don’t have any boundaries, do they? They just play and there’s no reason behind it. So, yeah, it was interesting. So I don’t think I really dealt with it, but I would say, it took maybe more into high school. That was when my confidence developed a bit more. And I was able to, you know, stand up for myself. And obviously at that point, other girls were experiencing it, too. So I probably dealt with it by speaking to other girls about it. And, you know, all of those sort of say, yeah, that’s really dumb or that boys really horrible or don’t go near him or don’t speak to him. 

Le’Nise: Having got your period so young and having made that transition from, I guess we can call it transitioning from a girl to not necessarily a woman but a young woman, that seems so weird to say it. You know, to talk about a 10 year old in that way. How do you feel about your period now? 

Kat: I love it so much, so much so that I was on hormonal contraception a few years ago and honestly, one of the big reasons that made me want to come off it was that I didn’t have my period. So I had the hormonal contraceptive implant. So a lot of people, a lot of girls experience just not having periods at all when they have that in and I think it’s because it’s a progesterone only one. And you don’t have a break like you would if you were taking a pill. So you don’t even have a withdrawal bleed. And I genuinely was questioning like oh, so I’ve not bled at all in years. Will my period come back when I stop, when I could take this out? And I actually missed that cycle, I just yeah, I felt like I don’t want to say I felt like less of a woman, but I did miss my period. In a way, I know that sounds really odd to some women who really struggle with their period. But I just feel like my body is so much healthier now I’m having my period. So yeah, I do really love it because of what it means. 

Le’Nise: So what does it mean to you? 

Kat: So for me right now, it obviously means that my body is healthy and operating in a natural way. And that’s obviously because I’m not taking hormonal contraception but even just the like what your hormones do for your body. I think a lot of people underestimate how powerful hormones are and how much they affect. So being able to work with that and work with my cycle to know that I’m looking after my physical health, I’m looking at my mental health and all these other areas. My period is kind of a real marker of where I’m at physically and mentally, which I really like. I feel like because I know it so well now, I can work with it and it tells me things,  if makes sense? 

Le’Nise: What sort of things does it tell you? 

Kat: So what I’m learning is if I’ve had a stressful month, my period is going to be horrible, and having that horrible period is enough to be like, OK, something needs to change here. I need to make sure I’m, you know, I meditate a lot more now, making sure my diet is on point. Think, you know, basic things like water, enough vegetables, fibre, all that kind of stuff, so that definitely affects it. I also think sleep is huge for me. So again, I notice that my mood, my mental health is worse, particularly on around my PMS when I’ve not slept. So it’s all those little things that keeps me on track and keeps me in check to make sure I’m looking after myself. Yeah. 

Le’Nise: And so you seem to be really aware of what’s going on with your body, what’s going on at different parts of your menstrual cycle. How did you learn about all of this? 

Kat: Honestly, through the Internet, I think and I, of course, had a basic understanding of my period and my cycle through school. But I’m sure many of us can agree that it is very basic and we don’t really learn about what hormones do, different types of hormones, how that affects, how they fluctuate throughout our cycle? So when I had this revelation that I wanted a period again, I wanted to feel “normal”, I went on this journey to research and learn and I stumbled across the fertility awareness community, which I don’t actually use myself but that was so valuable to me because these are women who track their cycle and know the ins and outs of their hormones almost every single day down to really specific things in terms of the changes in the body and all that kind of stuff. So I just dove in, I’m a bit of a geek anyway when it comes to a new topic that I’m passionate about. So I just Googled, I listened to, I know that sounds bad when it comes to health but I just listened to so many podcasts, I read so many books, I bought that book Taking Charge Of Your Fertility, even though I actually don’t want kids. But I just wanted to learn about my fertility and what it means and how it worked. So, yeah, I would say that was a huge revelation, an education for me. 

Le’Nise: That’s so interesting what you said about wanting to learn more about your fertility, but not wanting kids. Because what I see, and also from my own personal experience, is that I only started learning about my menstrual cycle and ovulation and all of that in more detail once my husband and I decided that we were going to have a baby or we’re going to try to have a baby. And then this whole world opened up for me. So hearing you talk about wanting to learn more about your fertility, but not in the context of trying for a   baby, is so interesting and I think there is a lot of power, as you talked about, in knowing about your menstrual cycle and almost divorcing it from this concept of having a baby, because it’s much more than that. 

Kat: Absolutely. I mean, like I’ve said, my hormones speak to me and they, like my cycle, tells me so much about where I am at in terms of my health and wellbeing, how much I’m taking care of myself. And yeah it is a lot deeper than just like I know it’s the modern day but it’s still seen as you know, it’s still seen as this one thing with this one specific outcome, which is you’re a woman, you have a period so that you can have a baby. But I think when you look below the surface of that, it’s so much more powerful and amazing whether you want kids or not or whatever stage of life you are. 

Le’Nise: You’ve said that your cycle speaks to you. And what kind of things does it tell you? So if you’re speaking to a listener who is on the beginning of the journey that you’ve been on, so wanting to learn more about their period, what kind of clues does your cycle give you and what should they be looking out for? 

Kat: So I’m no expert on this I just want to say and everyone is so different that if you feel that you’re experiencing abnormal side effects through your period then obviously that’s something to look out with a health professional. For me, I think or for everyone, I think it’s all about understanding what your normal is and what is normal for you. Same with, you know, we talk about, let’s say thrush or, you know, some sort of infection. Some women might think that there are certain things going on down there that they think, oh, is that an infection? But, if we start to notice and understand what is normal for us, what, you know, feels normal for us, what smells normal for us, what looks normal, all those kinds of things then that’s where you hopefully should be in that if anything changes, then you’ll notice. 

So a big thing for me is flow and the heaviness of my flow. So I know what a good period looks like in terms of, yes, it’s always going to be heavy at the start but if I’ve had a particularly bad one, it’s really heavy. Same with cramps, yes, I am going to experience cramps because my uterus is literally squeezing out the excess but, should I be like keeled over and unable to work without taking, without, you know dosing up on tons and tons of painkillers throughout the day. No. So they’re two big ones to me and I also think mood. So one of the big reasons I came of hormonal contraception was I really struggled with my mental health taking it and I felt like I was out of control of my emotions. I felt like I was depressed or definitely going in that direction and now my cycle has evened out a lot more and I feel a lot better day to day. Likewise, I know what is good for me and again, when you’re having PMS, you’re going to be more tired, you’re going to be more short tempered, you’re going to probably need a bit more space but if you’re feeling really, really, really down or really, you know, snapping at everyone, or you notice that around that time, you just experience a lot of mental health side effects. Then again, that is a marker that something potentially needs looking at. 

 So, yeah, I would say they’re the big, they’re the main ones for me and I think for a lot of women listening, they are having really, really heavy periods or really abnormal. I hate that word. I shouldn’t say word, really, really harsh and debilitating side effects from their period and that’s not good. But you don’t know that until you know what is healthy and then you can be like, oh,  it’s not really healthy that I can’t work when I’m on my period. 

Le’Nise: And that’s a really interesting way of putting it, because I do talk about, in my practice, what’s normal and what isn’t normal and debilitating pain, as you mentioned, isn’t normal. But just coming back to what you said about understanding your normal. I think one of the issues that we have in our culture is that so many of us think that period pain is normal and having mood swings is normal. So when you tell people that it’s not normal, they’re really surprised because that’s what we’ve grown up with this expectation, you see, when women talk about their periods on TV or movies, it’s always in connection to, ‘oh, I feel terrible’  or they’re with a hot water bottle or they’re being really bitchy so kind of unpicking that idea of understanding your normal also with a bit of education, I think is really important. 

Kat: Yeah, definitely. 

Le’Nise: You have listed three areas that, so your flow, your mood and any pain you’re experiencing as markers for you of what you look out for in terms of if you’re going to have a good period or if your period isn’t going to be as good. Do you think that your period has changed over time? So if you think back to when you started to where you are now? 

Kat: Definitely. So when you say started, do you mean physically started having periods? 

Le’Nise: Yeah. 

Kat: Yeah. Yeah, definitely. And I’m sure many women will relate. I just think when you’re younger, it’s just worse. I don’t know why. I don’t know the science behind it. But it is worse when you’re younger; in general, it was like that for me. It’s been like that for a lot of my friends. So I don’t know whether that’s your body getting used to it or your hormones are just like erupting you’re a teenager anyway. So that’s having a lot to do with it. So, yeah, definitely had a few horrendous periods when I was growing up. But I’m 25 now and yeah, it’s, it’s evened out a lot more, it’s very predictable, which I think is another key thing to look at. So I know like the day that it’s coming which hasn’t always been the case and I’m sure many women can relate to that not being the case. So I think as I’ve got older, I don’t get any surprises, which is good. And I generally know even things like how long it’s going to last, what I’ll need.  So if I’m headed out the house and I know I’m starting my period, I know roughly what I’ll need to take with me to make sure I’m covered, things like that definitely happened more over the years. No leaks or embarrassing clothing ruining stories. Like, I’m sure many of us have from when we were younger.

Le’Nise: The white jeans moments. 

Kat: Never. Never. I mean, I would never risk that anyway, even now. 

Le’Nise: So you have a really healthy relationship with your period. From what you’re saying, it seems like you use it to really inform everything else that’s going on and really gain a deeper understanding of what’s going on with your health. I just want to go back to what you were saying about coming off of hormonal contraception. Can you talk a little bit about why you went on it? 

Kat: Yeah. So, I mean, for most people I went on it because I had a boyfriend and I wanted to have sex. I think when you’re growing up, it is just drilled into you that if you don’t want to get pregnant, you have to take contraception. And to be honest, like, thank God I did because I didn’t have a clue how I got pregnant or how that would even happen. So, yeah, I definitely would have been that girl at the clinic taking a pregnancy test if I didn’t go on contraception. So that was like over about 10 years ago. So I was on it for a while and in terms of coming off it, do you want me to talk about that? 

Le’Nise: Yeah, would be great. 

Kat: Yeah. So I think when I was younger, my hormones were mad anyway, as a 15 year old. So I didn’t really notice any particular side effects or anything that was a side effect of the pill I wasn’t experiencing any way, mood swings, you know, maybe a little bit of anxiety or being difficult to be around sometimes, that kind of thing. But definitely as I got older and I got into my second relationship, which is my partner now, things started to come up that were signs that it wasn’t normal and something needed to change. So I was taking the combined pill and I remember we were just arguing all the time, I was so moody. I had such low confidence. I was like a rollercoaster. And I was difficult to be around because one moment I’d be so happy and laughing and then the next moment I would be hysterical, crying, screaming like starting an argument. And I remember my boyfriend at the time and again, I don’t know why I said boyfriend at the time, cause we own a house together so it all worked out but at the time I remember him saying something like I think you need to come off this pill because it’s like it’s changing you and it’s making things really difficult for us and we’re arguing a lot and essentially was like, if something doesn’t change in you because it’s not fair to be in a relationship with you, if something doesn’t change, we’re going to have to split up, essentially. 

And that was obviously a wakeup call for me. So that started this whole journey of trying to find the right hormonal contraception. I went to the doctor, talked about mood swings, tried a ton of different types of combined pills and then settled on the progesterone only type. So I had the injection for a while and then I had the implant and that was that and I think because of the change in the structure of it, it did help some of the side effects. I almost describe it as it was like the best of a bad bunch for me and my body. So I wasn’t completely hysterical, crying, screaming all the time, just maybe like a few days out of the month. So it was less, but it was still there and there was still like the depressive episodes and just really, just really not good side effects. So the thing with the implant, as you’ll know if anyone’s ever taken it or had it in is it last for three years. So I actually had that one in my body for five years. So I had one for the full three years and then I got a second one put in and I don’t know whether it was because it was the second one it changed things for me. But again, I just started to notice something isn’t quite right. I’m not feeling myself. 

And then obviously I was learning, stumbled across all this fertility stuff on the Internet. I was like, oh, maybe it’s because my body’s hormone levels aren’t operating normally and healthily. So I remember thinking, what have I got to lose? I’m just going to get it taken out and try and just see what happens. I thought I can always go back on it, you know, I think it can feel like a really scary decision but condoms exist, they work, and you can always go back on it if you think, OK, my cycles come back, I want to go back on it. So that really helped. And then obviously, I came off it and I’ve never looked back because it felt like a weight. It felt like a weight was lifted off my shoulders. It was crazy. 

Le’Nise: How long were you on the pill? And then the implant and injection in total? 

Kat: Probably about seven years. Six to seven years. 

Le’Nise: And so how long have you been off of it? 

Kat: About three. Three, four. Yeah, that’s about right. Maths lesson of like calculating back the years of like, how old am I now? When did I come off it? 

Le’Nise: How long did it take for your period to come back? 

Kat: I am really lucky. Mine came back after maybe like two months. So after about three, four weeks or so, I got a withdrawal bleed. Because again, when you come off hormones and the first bleed you have isn’t always going to be a period because you might not have started ovulating yet. So I had that withdrawal bleed and then from then my cycle kicked back in and I remember like feeling ovulation for the first time. I was like, oh, I can’t even remember this feeling. Yeah. So I was quite lucky. Some people obviously it takes can take a year or so, which is obviously frustrating for them. 

Le’Nise: So go back to what you said about feeling ovulation for the first time. Can you describe that for listeners who might not be showing what you’re what you’re talking about?  

Kat: So again, if you’ve taken contraception, you’re not ovulating, so you don’t know what it feels like. And obviously, you have two ovaries and the weird thing about ovulation is you always ovulate from one or the other, each month. So you can physically feel on one side of your body, it’s almost like a little pinch and it’s in a really like small, localised area. And if you could, like, take your skin off and see, all your organs underneath, you could see that it was coming from your ovary. And it’s like, the funniest thing. I remember thinking, oh, what is this? And then obviously, thankfully, I had all these resources on fertility awareness so I knew what it was. But yeah, I think some women think like something’s wrong or they’ve started their period. But yeah, it’s just your ovary popping an egg out.

Le’Nise: If you could say one thing to listeners who are thinking about coming off of hormonal contraception, what would that be? 

Kat: I couldn’t say one thing. I would probably say, you know, all you can do is try it and see, it’s not a final decision if you don’t. If you decide to go back on, you can. But you’ve not really got anything to lose. If B you, please go and buy some condoms if you don’t want to get pregnant. Because I think that’s another thing that, your body is amazing and it can surprise you and it could literally bounce back like that. Please don’t go thinking that, you know, you can just have unprotected sex if you don’t want kids, but equally, I would say, again, if you want kids and you’re thinking about coming off to start trying. I would buy them. I’ve heard from a lot of friends that they have had surprises in terms of I didn’t realise how quickly it would happen. And they almost have said it like I wish it happened in the next year or in the next three months or in six months’ time. 

And I just think, don’t underestimate your body. It’s amazing and it works. And if you’re having sex without a condom, then your body might surprise you, even if you’ve not ovulated for years. So, yeah, I would say I’m such an advocate for condoms and I think once your cycle kicks back in and you can learn about it, you can obviously make the best decision for yourselves whether you want kids or not. But yeah, I think having that adjustment period where you just wait and see what happens and getting to know that cycle as it kicks back in. Just like take your time and let it happen, but use condoms if you don’t want kids. 

Le’Nise: So that a really powerful message. Taking your time, listening to your body, letting it happen and it’s almost countercultural in a way because we hear these messages like go, go, go, it has to happen now and this idea of waiting and listening is something that, you know, a lot of people could really benefit from internalising that. 

Kat: Definitely. And I would also add to that, being really present with the changes that happen. So not only in your physical body, but any other side effects that you’ve been experiencing on contraception just be really present with how you feel because things might stick around, but they also might drastically change, which was luckily my experience. So to note, to recognise that as well and to link the two together. I feel better because this isn’t in my body anymore. That’s great too. 

Le’Nise: So is there any last bits of information or advice that you’d like to leave our listeners with? 

Kat: Good question. I think I’m just going to reiterate what I’ve just said if that’s ok. I know I sound like a broken record, but I just think listening to your body and learning to listen is so powerful because not enough of us are doing it. You know, we are taking this pill or we’re doing this, you know, we’re having this period. And just because it’s normal to you doesn’t mean that it’s OK or doesn’t mean that, you know, you should be able to choose, you should have to put up with it forever. And I just think so many women are not taught to listen to their body and they’re completely out of touch with what’s going on internally. And if we could just pause in a moment in our day, in our busy lives to just check in with how we’re feeling and how things are changing, then we would be in a much more empowered position to make the best choice for ourselves. So just pausing and listening. 

Le’Nise: Thank you so much for coming onto the show, Kat. Where can listeners find out more about you? 

Kat: Thank you so much for having me. I’ve loved this chat. You can head to my website, which is kathorrocks.com and I’m always hanging out on Instagram, which is @kat_horrocks so I would love to chat on there as well and continue the conversation. 

Le’Nise: Thank you so much. 

Kat: Thank you. 

Period Story Podcast, Episode 7: Karen Arthur, I Won’t Shut Up About Menopause

Period Story Podcast, Episode 7: Karen Arthur

For the seventh episode of Period Story Podcast, I spoke with Karen Arthur, the fashion designer, sewing tutor, stylist, speaker and model.

We talked about a first period that felt really frightening at the time, but in retrospect, was quite funny.  Karen talked about learning about periods and sex through conversations with friends, feeling squeamish and embarrassed and learning that having a period didn’t mean she was pregnant. 

Karen says that having a preacher for a father meant that conversations about most things to do with women, and anything to do with bodily fluids were taboo. She had been brought to believe that bleeding was bad and the Problem page in Jackie magazine was how she mostly learned about sex, relationships and periods. 

We talked about what Karen felt she should have known about her body and how becoming a teacher and head of year made her determined to learn as much as she could, in order to teach her students and her daughters. Karen shares how her daughters have educated her the most on periods and sex through their openness and willingness to have frank conversations. 

She says it’s taken her time to unlearn her feelings of shame and recognise that the more people talk about these things, the better it is. This has helped her talk about menopause as well. Karen talks about the events she’s run to help open up conversations around menopause and how they’ve help women feel less alone. 

Karen says that menopause is a transition to another life and we need to think about how we can thrive, rather than how we can just get through it. 

Karen says that no one should suffer this alone and I completely agree!

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Karen’s Bio

Karen is a 57 year old woman flourishing through menopause. She is a fashion designer, sewing tutor, stylist and speaker with a bit of modeling thrown in for variety.

Karen was a full time teacher for 28 years and a pastoral leader for 15 of those but, after a breakthrough in 2015, left to pursue a more authentic life. She has been sewing for over 40 years creating beautiful clothing for women who appreciate hand crafted care and slow fashion. Karen teaches people of all ages to fall in love with their sewing machines. She runs workshops to teach all ages about sewing, textiles and fashion.

Karen enables women to harness the power of fashion to support good mental well-being using #wearyourhappy on social media and penned an e-book 8 Ways to Wear Your Happy as a helpful guide. She has held two successful Wear Your Happy live events to date and launched Wear Your Happy Style, a personal styling offer for women who want to rediscover the ‘Happy’ in their wardrobes.

Karen speaks publicly on fashion and mental wellbeing, ageing and loneliness. Her most recent video feature for @StyleLikeU ‘Getting Dressed: A self-acceptance project’ has reached over 88k views on YouTube.

Finally, Karen is also a co-founder of Craft Moves, a social initiative committed to ending loneliness amongst London’s commuters through handheld craft. 

Find Karen on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and on her website.

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Show Transcription

Le’Nise: On today’s episode, we have Karen Arthur, a 57 year old woman flourishing through menopause. She is a fashion designer, sewing tutor, stylist and speaker with a bit of modelling thrown in for variety. Karen enables women to harness the power of fashion to support good mental well-being through the hashtag where you’re happy on social media. She’s penned an e-book called Eight Ways To Wear Your Happy as a helpful guide. 

Karen speaks publicly on fashion and mental wellbeing, ageing and loneliness. Finally, Karen is also co-founder of Craft Moves, a social initiative committed to ending loneliness amongst London’s commuters through a handheld craft. Welcome to the show.

Karen: Thank you. Thank you. I’m glad to be here. I’m so happy to have you on the show. 

Le’Nise: So let’s start off by getting into the story of your first period. Can you share with us what happened?

Karen: Yeah. Yes. So I was 14. And I went to the loo as normal and I sat down and looked in my panties and realised and in the toilet itself and realised there was blood there and I panicked and I screamed for my mother. We’d never had these conversations. We never talked about periods. I just knew it had something to do with being pregnant. So I had younger siblings. Two boys, two brothers and a sister. And of course, they came running as well. But I wouldn’t obviously wouldn’t let them in. I just want my mum to come in and she scrabbled around and got a massive pad for me, which she told me to put in my knickers, which I hated wearing because it made me look like I walked like I’d just gotten off a horse. 

I think my sister had asked one of my brothers what was going on and he’d said something like, Oh, it’s something to do with being pregnant. So that would have been fine, except that the next day when I went into school, everybody thought that I was pregnant because my sister had told everyone that I was pregnant because I’d had my period. And she didn’t understand. I didn’t understand. So, yeah, my first experience was actually quite scary, if anything, because it just felt so, I felt like I was a grown up. But at the same time, I didn’t feel that way. I knew it was something to do with growing up, but not a lot else. So, yeah, that’s my first experience.

Le’Nise: And how old did you say you were?

Karen: So I was 14 years old. Yeah, just coming up to my 14th birthday and I realised that my mother was 14 when she started a period. I think my sister was as well. And both my daughters were.

Le’Nise: Oh, that’s so interesting. And you said that your sister went into school and told everyone that you were pregnant. How did you feel about that?

Karen: Well, I was shocked at first, but then I realised it was quite funny. She was tiny. She was like, what is it? What’s the difference between us? So she would’ve been about eight. She didn’t know what was going on. I didn’t know what was going on. And I don’t think anybody took her seriously. So, yeah, it was fine.

Le’Nise: You had that first experience, which you said was a little scary. And how did you learn about what was actually going on? How did you learn that you weren’t actually pregnant?

Karen: I talked to my friends, I read books. We certainly didn’t learn it at school. Definitely did not learn it. Our sex education was the teacher showing us a video of a woman giving birth and basically saying, just putting me off ever having sex at all. So, yeah, I learnt through chatting to my friends. I had two worldly friends, Joy and Katherine, and they knew everything there was to know about sex way before I even ventured there. And they’d been having their periods since they were about 11 or 12, which in those days, we’re talking early 70s, was unusual. I understand it’s more common [now] for young women to have their periods in primary school, but in those days, that was not a thing. And I know that certainly my two worldly friends had started their periods quite early.

Le’Nise: So learning through your friends, if you think back to what you learned and then think back thinking about what you know now, were there any big myths that they were sharing or do you think everything that they were talking about was basically correct?

Karen: No, I don’t. We didn’t talk a lot about it because I was squeamish. We didn’t talk about these things. You didn’t mention, it was blood and it was embarrassing and it was, yeah. We didn’t have a long conversation about it. It was just that they reassured me that I couldn’t possibly be pregnant because I wasn’t the Virgin Mary and I hadn’t had sex. That was that, really. In terms of it being truthful, the biggest myth I got from them wasn’t about periods, it is about getting pregnant. And they disabused me of the notion that  if you sit on a toilet seat after a boy’s been in there, that you wouldn’t get pregnant, because I thought that was a thing until I was in second year.

Le’Nise: Why do you think you were so squeamish and so embarrassed?

Karen: Because like most things to do with women, we didn’t talk about it. It was taboo. You didn’t. So my father was a preacher, so that wasn’t happening. We weren’t having conversations about bodily fluids and anything, really. He left around the same time anyway and you just didn’t talk about it, no one spoke about. It was like menopause, same thing. You just didn’t talk amongst yourselves, it was like a little secret, like a taboo secret. 

Certainly my mother and I never discussed it. I remember buying those little Lillet tampons. Cute little things they are, thinking, oh, you know I’ll try one of those and I read in Jackie that you couldn’t lose your virginity by putting a tampon up your bits, so I tried. It was so painful. My goodness me. My goodness. I thought they were the devil. So I used pads for ages. Yeah. It was pads all the way for me.

Le’Nise: Well, you didn’t really learn about menstrual health in school. You said the school didn’t really teach it. You read, you spoke to your friends and you kind of got a cursory knowledge of what was happening. But you also said that you had read some books. What were the books that you had read at the time?

Karen: Now I think about it. They wouldn’t have been books they will have been magazines. I was heavily into Jackie, the Problem page. I learned a lot of my things to do with relationships, sex and period through the problem page, but it was usually around shame. So it was girls who wore white and had a leak and what to do, that kind of thing. So when I think about it, if I did read a book, no it will have been in magazines now I think about it, yeah.

Le’Nise: You mentioned the word shame and you also said that people didn’t talk about it, it was embarrassing, it was shameful. What does that mean for you? Like, I’ve talked about shame a bit with other women on this podcast? What does that word mean for you and how would you kind of unpack those feelings now?

Karen: I would say that growing up, anything to do with women or my body was something that I wouldn’t discuss. And it meant that when it came to, it was just a giggle. Like if we talked about things like this, it was funny, you made a joke out of it to kind of lighten the mood. It meant I took it into my relationships, actually. It meant that I never asked my partner to go and get me tampons or pads. I wasn’t in the greatest of relationships I would say; it meant I never wanted to let anybody know that I was having my period. It meant that I didn’t really understand myself as much as I do now. 

I will say that going into teaching and going into the pastoral side and having to learn and be a step ahead of the kids that I was teaching about sex and periods and that kind of thing, I was a Head of Year with the girls at a girls school and if you’re at a boys school and having two daughters as it meant that I learnt as much as I could and sometimes I was teaching myself things that I should have known, I think when I was growing up, it made me more determined to ensure that my girls didn’t grow up not knowing this stuff.

Le’Nise: What sort of things did you have to teach yourself? What sort of things do you think that you should have known?

Karen: I think I should have known mostly that my body isn’t anything to be ashamed of. I think, you know, I think I should have learned about not just the anatomy stuff, you know, giving out a worksheet with the, you know, diagram on it and filling it in. I think it’s more about how we feel as women and how powerful and important it is when you start your menstruation and what it means. 

You know, it’s not just about being a woman and therefore staying away from boys so that you don’t get pregnant. I didn’t understand the power that, you know, a period holds. And actually, I had friends who were bedridden, had friends who had really heavy periods. I had friends who had a terrible time. Actually, my periods were on the whole, came by clockwork and lasted five days, which is quite fairly, you know, I’d have my day of eating all the carbs, forgetting that I’d have a week before where I cried if somebody looked at me, then I’d have the day before where I’d be eating all the carbs, completely forget that there was a reason for this and then the next day my period would start and I’d be like, Oh, that’s why, and I’d have a day of feeling URGH around my abdomen and my lower back and then I’d be fine, you know. So I’ve forgot the question.

Le’Nise: So you didn’t really have painful periods. You had a little bit of emotional upset, like maybe a little twinge and then it was it was absolutely fine.

Karen: Yeah. Yeah, I would I would say it was just an inconvenience, if anything. But not pain like I’ve spoken with my other friends and that kind of thing.

Le’Nise: You said that you learned about the power of having a period. What does that mean for you?

Karen: The power of being a woman. When I was growing up, being a girl wasn’t something, didn’t feel like something to be celebrated. Not a girl. Sorry, being a woman, I liked being a girl. But growing into womanhood wasn’t really something, you didn’t see anywhere where that was celebrated unless it was the way you looked, if that makes sense. 

So if you an hourglass figure or you had a flat stomach or had boobs or long flicky hair or that kind of thing, you would celebrate it that way. That’s what I saw. But in terms of the power of being able to you know, menstruation is a gateway to being able to give life. That’s a big deal, that’s a massive deal. You didn’t get that at all. It was shame you whispered it. You know, if you’re a party or a friend’s house and you came on and you didn’t have tampons or pads, it was a whisper. It’s like a scramble around to find another woman who might possibly have something that they can lend to you. I remember an awful time, I still remember going to a barbecue in the height of the summer wearing white and the woman tapped me on the shoulder and kind of came up close behind me and she said, I’m really sorry to have to tell you this, but I think you might have leaked and how mortified I was that she’d noticed, which meant that somebody else probably noticed. And then worrying about how, I wanted to go home and that was awful. Awful.  Awful. 

Or you’re staying somewhere and leaking at night, leaking onto the sheets and not knowing how to explain that, even though it’s a completely natural thing to do. You know, it’s awful.

Le’Nise: Why do you think it was so mortifying? Why do you think at the time you found it so awful?

Karen: Because I’d been brought up to believe that bleeding was bad. Not brought up as in no one said that, but the messages I got were that doing something natural was a bad thing and showing people that you were a human being and not perfect was a bad thing. So yeah, and I was busy trying to cultivate this, you know, I look great, I know what I’m doing like most people do when they’re in I don’t know, well, a lot of women do, all the time. But do you know what I mean?

Le’Nise: Yeah. And what about now? How do you feel about all the changes that are happening now and how educated and empowered people with periods, women with periods feel and all the conversations that are happening about it.

Karen: Okay so I have two things to say about this one. When I first noticed that the world was talking more about periods and I’d see like graphics of different like people talking, especially on Instagram. So people talking about periods. People talk about their flow, that kind of thing. I won’t lie, I was quite taken aback. This is, you know, 50 years remember, of upbringing. And I was like, oh, you know, there’s a part of me that was like, oh, I don’t wanna see that, I can’t, you know? 

And I would kind of scroll past but I have to say, it’s my daughters who have educated me the most because especially my youngest, well both of them, they’re very open and vocal. And so they pull me up on or educate me I would say, not necessarily pull me up, they don’t have to pull me up, but certainly, you know, we have much more open conversations about whether it’s flow, whether it’s anything to do with sex or stuff like that. But it’s taken me some time to, is adjust the right word? Unlearn, maybe unlearn my feelings of shame and recognise that the more people talk, the better it is, what everybody does naturally, it is better. And it’s how I feel about, I suppose that’s helped me to talk about menopause as well in the sense that ageing is that, it’s lifted the veil off, you know. And that can only be a good thing.

Le’Nise: Do you think what’s happening with periods now and the openness that’s happening around the conversations around menstrual cycles and menstruation is also happening with menopause? Or can you not compare the two?

Karen: I think you can compare the two because it all boils down to how women are shamed. Full stop. That’s what it boils down to. It boils down to society’s expectations of women. So it is the same thing. And I think, yes, it is a difficult one, isn’t it, because I was talking to somebody else about this recently, about how because our peers and the people we hang out with talk about the things that we want to talk about. It’s easy to assume that everybody’s talking about it, it’s the Brexit effect. You know, it’s like, well, you know, all Londoners on the whole where like yeah, we’re never going to leave and were lulled into a false sense of security and then woke up on that Friday and where like are you kidding me? Do you see? 

So there’s part of me that’s like, yes more and more people are talking about it, and I agree and you can compare it to menopause, but there’s another part that still having these conversations, you know, and being slightly trying not to be surprised when people don’t know what I’m talking about or are like, oh, my God, people don’t talk about this and I’m thinking well, I’ve been talking about it for ages. Do you see? So I think, yes more and more people are talking about it. But I’m thinking we’ve got a long way to go, there’s a whole world to educate, let’s face it.

Le’Nise: You said some people will say, oh, people don’t talk about this. Do you mean that in the sense that they’re trying to get you to stop talking about it like it feels taboo to them or what does that mean?

Karen: No, it’s a positive thing. It’s, I thought I was on my own, that there’s nothing better than a connection when someone opens their mouth, whether it’s about periods, whether it’s about menopause, whether it’s about mental well-being, whether by anything, that that shame eats us up. And that feeling that you’re alone, it’s awful. 

So when you hear, when you see someone talking about something and it resonates with you, and then you can think, oh, my God, I’m not going mad or oh somebody else has two week periods as well or oh that happened to me. That is the most connecting and empowering thing, thing, could’ve thought of a more intelligent word but whatever, that people could do, particularly women, because we’ve been taught to keep it to ourselves. Does that makes sense?

Le’Nise: That makes total sense. And I remember in the past, you said, earlier on in this conversation, you said that you mentioned the word whispers and in the past you’ve talked about how you would have your friends over and you’d have conversations about menopause and everyone would start to open up. And do you think those conversations sparked anything within you to take those conversations about menopause a bit wider and have them be a bit more open?

Karen: Yeah, absolutely. I feel when I started, when did I? So I had my first kind of, we called it self-care for midlife goddesses because I’m so up myself. And I just invited five friends around because it occurred to me that I was going through menopause and I’m a few years older than some of my friends. And we were having individual conversations about how we felt, but not a group one. So I invited them round one Sunday afternoon and being the teacher I am, I did a worksheet and I had everybody share around the table the best things about getting older, worse things about getting older. It was it was an amazing day because the number of times, I’ve lost count the number times. One woman said something and another woman, Oh my God, that’s me too, and so I had it the following year. 

And the following year, my girls this year, my girls said, can we come? Because no one talks about these things. So, you know, I’m in the middle of, it is a couple of things, I have plans, one of those plans, one of those many plans is to take that conversation wider and open a group up, a membership site, but a group where women can not just talk about menopause, but talk about, just support each other in ageing and growing older. So it’s not just for menopausal women, but also to break that taboo that I have to say that I’ve lost count of the number of conversations, I’ve had women who have sent me an email or slipped into my DMs saying, I think I’m going through menopause, I’m 37, you know, because there’s this assumption that menopause, you don’t have to worry about it until you get to 50, that’s just not true. 

It’s just so happens that my menopause started at 52, as did my mother, you know, and I was going through perimenopause, not even knowing what it was and not even knowing that it was a thing actually, I’d never heard of the bloody thing, you know. So the same thing with periods, if young girls are hearing, if we normalise this conversation about our bodies, if we’re normal and take away that, I suppose it’s because society has as a habit of sexualising everything, which is why it feels like you can’t talk about it. If we take away that, if we take sex out of the equation then and we just talk about natural things that happen to us, then that’s got to be a good thing. No one should suffer alone. That sounds like a quote, doesn’t it? Probably is, but yeah. It’s not to be suffered with and menstruation isn’t a bad thing and not everybody has the same symptoms, just like menopause, not everybody has the same symptoms. You know, so, yeah, we absolutely need to talk about it and yes, I do want to take it wider. I won’t shut up about menopause.

Le’Nise: You said that in that circle, the conversations that you’re having with the worksheet, which I love, I love that.  You asked what the best and the worst thing was about getting older. What sort of things came up?

Karen: So the best thing was about not caring what other people thought, menopause is great for that, it’s that, you know, not giving a shittery moment. It’s like, I don’t care what you think of me, it’s liberating. And I think to a degree, to a woman, that’s what people were saying. 

The worst things, there’s a list as long as your arm, you know, it’s changing bodies, it’s not realising what’s going on in your head, it’s all the physical stuff, and hot flashes are only one of those things. You know, it’s nights sweats, it’s tingly legs, I could go on and on and on. And also tinged with that is shame because. There’s that whole, well, if you started menopause, that means that your a certain age and women are not rewarded for getting older, men are, women aren’t on the whole. And although fashion and parts of society is kind of catching up, the cynic in me thinks that catching up because they’ve worked out that there’s money to be made as opposed to caring about us, basically. 

So I feel that the biggest thing was how liberating it was not caring. But you know, you get to 50, you’ve been in the world, you’ve been on the earth for 50 years, you’re knackered and you give and you give and you give. It’s no coincidence that one of the biggest growing demographics of small businesses are women over 50. It’s like we have this epiphany. It’s like effort, you know, I’m not doing this anymore. I left teaching, my teaching career when I was 52, I’m not the only person who’s kind of like, you know what, I don’t want to do anything, it’s people who leave abusive relationships, it’s all sorts of things. But the other side to that is there are millions of women suffering, part of the reason their suffering is because they think they’re alone and I’m here to tell them that they are not.

Le’Nise: What would be your message? Do you want to tell these women they’re not alone? And what would be how would you expand upon that message to reassure them and to help them connect with others who are in the same sort of situation?

Karen: I would say, and this is easier said than done, the first thing to do is let go of the need to be young. Being young is great, but being old or getting older is also great. Menopause isn’t something that lasts for a year and you get over it. It’s a whole transition to another life. So rather than thinking, how am I going to get through this? It’s how am I going to thrive during this, do you see? Because otherwise you’re waiting until, well, you could be waiting until you’re 65, that’s long, 65, 67, because menopause is long. So rather than putting 10 years of your life on hold, why not work out ways, and by work out ways I mean, it’s not just the physical stuff, it’s the whole package, so it’s working at doing new things. 

But the biggest thing I will say is talking, took me opening my mouth, has allowed me to, like different things happen every day, so at the moment, I have a thing going on with mouth ulcers, apparently it’s a thing that the lack of oestrogen in your mouth means we don’t produce enough saliva, you know all this stuff, I don’t know, anyway, but instead of me thinking, my life is over and oh, God, you know, it’s just another thing, it’s actually quite fascinating because I didn’t know this stuff. 

But I think my message to find someone to talk to, to not be ashamed, to embrace your changing body to be grateful to, I’m grateful to my body for carrying my two children. You know, I do that whole, what is it? The mindful shower where I’m thanking my feet for allowing me to stand in the queue at the post office so that, you know, little things like that, that help you to enjoy everything that menopause is going to throw at you. I will also say that whilst there are many women who reach for HRT, I think the doctors seem to be pushing that, that’s not my thing personally. I think women also need to know that HRT doesn’t stop menopause it just pauses it and then it comes when you stop and whilst it does have health risks, if we can do this naturally, I’m not knocking anybody who does it because that’s your thing and that’s your journey, but if you can try and do that naturally, that’s about lifestyle, it’s about diet, it’s all sorts of things. Then for me, that’s the way forward but the biggest thing is open your mouth. That’s what I think.

Le’Nise: You said so many beautiful things there. I think what you said about menopause as a transition to another life and I love looking at menopause as a phase of life. We talk about puberty and then if a women who chooses to become a mother, you know, that’s a phase in life and then menopause being another phase of life and I think that’s a really powerful way of looking at it, because so many women, they do look at it as the end, you know, the end of their fertility, end of their womanhood and, you know, they call themselves being dried up and it’s so negative and it’s just, it’s so detrimental for mental well-being when you think about yourself like that.

Karen: I will say that you know, when you’re 20 you think 50 is dead, I’m 57 and I’ve done more in the last five years than I’ve done in, I would say a lifetime. I mean really if I think about it, you know, I feel that menopause and growing older and embracing this stage of my life has meant that it’s like, well, I’ve got nothing to lose, you know, if I’ve lived those 52 years I can do the next, do you see what I mean? And it’s not just about, yes, there is a sense of urgency as well and closer to death but at the same time, it’s also about appreciating my experience, you know, appreciating the skills you have, appreciating the wisdom you have just as we get to a stage where we’ve got so much to offer, it almost feels like we’re encouraged to kind of be a little bit quieter. But actually, this is where I found my voice and so it’s a time to experiment, it’s a time, I mean, what if you got to lose? Do you understand? 

And I know everybody thinks like that but I really do want to reassure women that it’s not the end it’s the beginning of something else and it’s more fun because you don’t care. Yeah. So I recognise that I’m having an easier time the most physically, I understand that. 

I recognise the privilege in that, please don’t get me wrong but I tell everybody, my clients. I had a client come to me a couple of weeks ago, potential client who is now a client and we were having a conversation. I always asked my clients, what do you love about your body and what is it that you’re not so hot on and they were always very vocal on what they don’t love. And this particular woman was talking about how she wanted to lose weight for her wedding and people were saying to her, she should lose the weight for her wedding and of course that sent me into orbit, didn’t it? Because I’m like, why? What? Why? Your partner fell in love with you based on the way you look now. So, you know, embracing the way you look and accentuating your gorgeous body, she didn’t see it that way.

You know, I think that women just need to understand how bloody remarkable we are, you know? And I think that starts, I think it’s important that the younger generation have that now so by the time I hit menopause, it’s just, they’ve got that mind-set already. What’s difficult is that we’re unlearning, my generation is unlearning a lot of things, whereas I think the people coming up, if we are talking about it, that it makes it easier for the generation below and easier for the generations that they birth.

Le’Nise: If you could say one thing to listeners, to the generation and below and like Millennials, Gen Z, what would you say to them?

Karen: Oh my god, I don’t know. Let go of everybody’s expectations of you. That’s what I would say. I think we, I know this isn’t one thing but I’m going to expand, our downfall, men and women, but we’re talking about women, is that we do what we think we’re supposed to do instead of doing what is in our heart and that makes us ill and that permeates everything, you know, you thought I was going to say, Wear Your Happy, didn’t you? But that’s part of it, wearing, you know, clothes that you love and not worrying about whether you’re in fashion or whether it suits you, whatever that means or whether someone will fancy you, is part of the letting go of other people’s expectations of you. So it does fit, sort of.

Le’Nise: I think that’s really beautiful. You’ve said so many beautiful things and I just, I just love you. I think you’re amazing and you’re such a wonderful role model. Where can listeners find out more about what you’re up to, what you’re planning?

Karen: I think the best thing to do is to join my mailing list and you can do so if you’re an Instagram fanatic that I am. You go to my link in my bio, you can do that, or go on to my website reddskin.co.uk. I’m very active on social media, so I guess that’s the best place to find me but certainly my mailing list is the way forward.

Le’Nise: And all the links will be in the show notes. Thank you so much, Karen, for coming on the show today.

Karen: Thank you. Thank you so much for inviting me.

Period Story Podcast, Episode 6: Esther Zimmer, Understanding My Menstrual Cycle Helps Me Manage My Energy In The Best Way

Period Story Podcast, Episode 6: Esther Zimmer

For the sixth episode of Period Story Podcast, I had a wonderful conversation with Esther Zimmer, a writer and strategist. 

We talked about how the impact of a culture of shame and secrecy around menstruation and sex and she’s learned to move beyond this. Esther talked about the exploration she’s been doing over the few years around her body and understanding its natural rhythms. 

Esther shared how being child-free by choice has changed the way she thinks about her period and menstrual cycle. She says that understanding her menstrual cycle has helped her understand how to manage her energy in the best way. She plans her project work, writing and running around her menstrual cycle and says it’s an amazing way to work 

We talked about the cross-continental cycling expedition Esther did with her husband and how they tried to plan their trip around her menstrual cycle. Esthers says that this trip really helped her tune into her energy each day and understand why she might be feeling a particular way. 

Esther says it’s never too late to do your own exploration of your body’s rhythms and have this conversation with others. I completely agree! 

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Esther’s Bio

Esther Zimmer is an Australian communications strategist, online course creator and writer living in London. She writes a regular essay series called ‘Truth & Clues’ where she shares the truth about her life as a woman in her 40s who’s still figuring out her place in the world. She’s currently writing her first book, a travel memoir, having recently completed a 12-month cross-continental cycling expedition with her husband. 

Esther has an unhealthy obsession with words: Writing them, reading them and exchanging them via deep conversations. She created her own self-directed recovery from disordered eating, but still considers herself to be very much a work-in-progress. A part-time adventurer and full-time dreamer, Esther loves all animals, most humans and the infinite possibilities that a blank page holds. 

Find Esther at estherzimmer.com and @esther_zimmer on Instagram.

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SHOW TRANSCRIPT

Le’Nise: On today’s episode, we have Esther Zimmer. Esther is an Australian communications strategist, online course creator and writer living in London. 

She writes a regular essay series called Truth and Clues, where she shares the truth about her life as a woman in her 40s who’s still figuring out her place in the world. She’s currently writing her first book, a travel memoir, having recently completed a 12 month cross continental cycling expedition with her husband. Welcome to the show.

Esther: Hi, Le’Nise. Thank you for having me.

Le’Nise: So let’s start off by getting into the story of your first period. Can you tell us what happened?

Esther: Well, that’s an interesting question. So I was very young, I was around 9 and my period was something I had absolutely no idea about until it actually arrived. So when it did, I had no idea what was happening to my body or why. I knew I wasn’t hurt, so it was all very much a mystery to me. What I do really remember and it was interesting you ask this and I had quite an almost emotional reaction because I really remember seeing blood on my knickers. And I don’t know why, but I felt ashamed, a little bit scared. 

I seem to recall what I did was I used toilet paper in my underwear but of course, blood got on my knickers anyway. And what I have another really, really clear vision of is this pair of white knickers with a little flowers on them. You know, the kind of underwear, I guess a child would wear and they were spotted with blood. I guess that’s how my mum figured out I’d started my period. And one day she came into my bedroom with his big packet of pads, well they seemed big to me, and explained to me how to use them. That was the story of my first period.

Le’Nise: You were 9 years old. And you were, what was that, year 5? Year 4?

Esther: I must have been year 4.

Le’Nise: So when this happened to you, who did you talk to apart from your mum, did you talk to any of your friends?

Esther: So I was home schooled, so I didn’t really have a lot of contact with other young girls. So there wasn’t really a great deal of people to ask. I had a couple of older friends from our church, but I just remember feeling embarrassed, I didn’t want to ask. And I think because they were a bit older, I just didn’t feel comfortable doing so.

 Le’Nise: Why do you think you had this feeling of discomfort and embarrassment?

Esther: So I feel like that goes back to my upbringing. So it’s an interesting question. I was brought up by a white middle class family in Australia. My wonderful parents are Christians and they were possibly quite strict back then, which meant they were less open. And I don’t want this to be a criticism because they are wonderful parents, they were then, they are now, but I really felt like anything to do with your body or nakedness, menstruation, sex, and it’s all intertwined, which is something that we didn’t talk about. And I don’t feel it was so much that having my period was a shameful thing. 

It was more that a period kind of, is related to bearing of children, which is related to sex. As I say, it was all very much intertwined and that I suppose culture of secrecy impacted me more than I probably realised and recently, it’s something that I’ve started to explore. So it’s interesting that we’re having this conversation today.

Le’Nise: Can you tell us a little bit more about the exploration that you’re doing at the moment?

Esther: So I only really in the last year started to understand about how we have different phases in our menstrual cycle and that was quite a revelation to me, but I’m 45 years old, I’m 46 in January and I guess I feel a little bit like this is actually something we should be taught in school. It should be part of the sex education curriculum or even separate to that for women, for young women to understand about how they work with their body, listen to their body and understand the natural rhythms and energy cycles. So I guess because that started me thinking about menstruation, the fact that I’m probably coming into menopause in the next few years, that started me thinking about, well, what are my thoughts and feelings and emotions around my own menstrual cycle and the fact that I don’t have children. 

I’m actually child free by choice, my period is something, I guess that it’s always been, I’m very grateful to get it but at the same time, it’s something that, you know, I go through every month but for me, I don’t really know how to explain that. It’s also the other thing of like, well, I’m going through this inconvenience every month, but I’ve never, ever wanted to have children. So it’s been just one of those situations when you have all these underlying feelings and you don’t even realise they’re there. And then, as I said, something will happen that you’ll think, well, why don’t I know this? It seems like an extrinsic part of being a woman and you start to explore that. So as I said, for me, it’s starting to explore the menstrual cycles and then what that does is it makes you start to explore all these other areas as well. 

And so what’s interesting is my mum and I have a really, really close relationship, but I’ve never talked to her about menstruation or menopause. It’s a conversation that I’m starting to open up to have with her and it’s interesting that all these years later, we’re only having conversations about this now.

Le’Nise: And how has your mum’s reaction been to opening up this conversation?

Esther: I feel like she’s been curious as to why I’m asking now. But also, you know, she was a young mum. And I think, too, if she was answering your question, she would probably say I would go back and do things differently. And I think she’s very open to it but it does still feel a little bit of an unusual place to go but probably more so because I think if she could do things differently, she would go back and do them differently and perhaps be a bit more open about these things. But I mean, I’m a big believer that we’re all doing the best we can. And in particular, parent, you know, and she did the best she could at the time.

Le’Nise: You mentioned that you’re learning more about your menstrual cycle, the different phases and you said that you’re child free by choice. Does knowing more about your menstrual cycle, does that change the way that you view the role of your period and the menstrual cycle?

Esther: Absolutely. Absolutely. And maybe that’s why I really felt this feeling of slight loss when I started to learn about this and felt like, well, if I’d understood this sooner as a woman who did make the choice not to have children, I felt like it would have meant more to me. I would have understood that even if I’m not having children, my menstrual cycle still has a very important role to play. And I feel like, again, maybe that’s the thing about this upbringing. 

You know, so much of what I learned and perhaps picked up from other people from listening in on conversations was that menstruation was very much linked to childbirth. But now I understand that actually it’s got its own very important role separate to that. It would have helped me understand myself a lot more, too and how I am at different times of the month.

Le’Nise: So you’ve said that it has a very important role to play. Can you elaborate a little bit more about what that means for you, what different roles it has to play for you?

Esther: For me, it’s very much about understanding how to manage my energy in the best way. So, you know, I always feel sometimes on the day of my period, I can have quite a bit of energy. But after that, I do really feel that distinct drop. And I didn’t understand why in the past, when you learn afterwards, it makes perfect sense but also, you know, as you’re going into the after your cycle, is you going into those first few days where you have that influx of energy and you feel good, I would have, and well, this is what I’m doing now. 

I tend to plan on my project work and writing around and running as well. You know what I do in my kind of fitness life, I tend to look at my period, map it out and think, right, I’m going to work on these particular things when I know I’m going to be feeling at my best and then when I know perhaps when I’m in a bit of a lull, I’ll continue to work on things but perhaps some of the things that don’t require as much energy or creativity and I found that’s just really an amazing way to work. 

You’re actually, what I think of, is working with your body and I realised that it’s not always possible, you know, I come from a corporate background and some of the work I do now a few days a week is in corporate. But I do feel like even if you couldn’t necessarily perhaps put that big presentation off, at least if you went in, understand your own body’s rhythms and why you felt low, it would give you that extra insight on what you need to do, perhaps, you know, pep yourself up, that would help. 

So just looking after yourself in those times and just be gentler on yourself.

Le’Nise: Why do you think it takes us such a long time to get this understanding? I mean, from my own personal experience, I only really started to understand the importance of the ebbs and flows of my energy and the connection with my cycle, maybe about six or seven years ago and I’m 39. So why do you think that it takes so long? Do you think it’s the lack of education in school? Is it the taboos around these topics?

Esther: I feel that it’s probably a little bit of both. I mean, even if you think about sex education in schools, I mean, I don’t know what it’s like now, but if you think of a whole curriculum that you go through, sex education is one tiny, tiny part of it. And then if you think that you would pull out menstrual education and personally, I think that boys should be present in these classes as well. 

But if you think about pulling that out separately, that you had a menstrual education class that would still get a very, very small amount of time. So I feel like it’s just not considered a priority. So education is part of that in terms of time and costs but I still feel there is quite a taboo about it. And what I feel happens is, you know, as you reach 30, 35, 40, 45, what I’ve noticed with every five years, things that used to embarrass me, I mean, even something it might have embarrassed me 5 or 6 years ago just wouldn’t now. So I feel that’s also a part of it and maybe, too, there is more talk I feel about menopause than menstruation. 

So as you start to get closer to that, you also question the stage that you’re in and you know what it’s like when you start to get curious? You almost stumble upon information.

Le’Nise: So how did you educate yourself? What sort of resources have you been using?

Esther: Well, it’s interesting. So when I first learned about periods and menstrual health, well my first learning experience was when it arrived. Then my mother gave me this Christian pamphlet and I could still see the cover and it was called Your Body Is a Temple and now that would have been 1983. Then I started going to school when I was 14, so up until then, I was home-schooled. So I guess there were a few questions with girlfriends and it was, you know, brought up in sex ed but there was no Internet. 

So of course, now, I mean, I can’t think of one specific resource that I use, I know that there are books on the subject and something that I would be interested to dive into. But more for me, it’s been less about menstrual health, I guess, but my exploration has been more about understanding cycles and some of that I’ve learnt from open conversations with friends and just what I’ve seen other women share in groups. 

So they might be talking about this themselves and they might have written a blog about it but I can’t think of one specific resource and it’s an interesting question because now you’re getting me thinking, hmm I really would like to read those books and actually I’d like to spend more time looking online at specific resources of people who have, like yourself, expertise in this area.

Le’Nise: I want to go back to the book that your mum gave you, Your Body Is A Temple, so the religious element, I find really interesting because, you know, you mentioned that you didn’t really talk about sex and menstruation is associated with sex and that wasn’t really a topic in your household and having come from a similar background myself where religion was really important, I really relate to what you’re saying. Do you think that that’s had an impact on the way you view your body and menstruation now? Is that something that you’ve really had to unpick?

Esther: Yes, but I also don’t believe I realise the impact it’s had until recently. So you mentioned at the beginning of this podcast that I write an essay series called Truth and Clues and one of the things I did a couple of months ago was write down some of the topics that I would like to cover and one of them was around menstruation and menopause, because I wanted to share my story, but I didn’t really even realise what my story was until I started thinking about it. 

It’s only been in starting to write some of that down, have I realised that some of the feelings that I’ve had with regards to my body and menstruation and sex my whole life, I guess, since I was probably nine years old, are still very much imbedded in me, and I’m only starting to explore and unpick that now. And it has brought up quite a bit of emotion because you don’t realise again, I think I said this before, you don’t realise what you’re not thinking about until you’re actually prompted. 

I don’t know what prompted me really to put that on my list of things that I would like to explore and write about but until you get to that point, sometimes these things can sit below the surface for a very long time and probably with some people forever.

Le’Nise: I think that’s really interesting and it goes back to what you were saying about shame and that contributing to perhaps being a bit scared and shame is something I’ve talked about with other guests on this podcast. And it’s so fascinating, it’s terrible, but it’s so fascinating that we can be so ashamed of something that is so normal and natural and this almost unlearning that we have to do about what is normal and why we actually feel the shame.

Esther: Absolutely. It’s interesting, too, because what I feel is really important is that even if we’re not conscious of some of the, you know, feelings that we have and I guess particularly perhaps what you would class as a negative feeling, although I don’t like classing feelings that way but let’s just say for the sake of this conversation, I think people understand what I mean when I say a negative feeling that you hold that in your body. 

So even though you might not be thinking about or talking about it, it sits there and it does it sits in your body and I feel like sometimes when we do get to the point when we are ready to perhaps explore these things, have a conversation, write about them, it can be hugely emotional. I mean, I know that I’ve only just started the work that I want to do for myself in this area but sometimes I feel like I could almost cry. When we talked at the beginning of this conversation about my first period and I mentioned, you know, the child’s knickers with the little flowers on them, I mean, I could feel my eyes well up and I feel like that is probably part of it, that we don’t realise how much of this we actually hold in our bodies and then when you are at the point you’re willing to like explore it, it can be very difficult. 

And perhaps too the older you get, the more you start to feel. And I think this is something I probably haven’t verbalised before, you do start to feel, why haven’t I not like thought about this before? Why am I doing this now at 30 or 35 or even 50? For some people, I mean, I don’t think it matters whether you’re menstruating or perimenopausal or you’ve gone into menopause, it’s still always a good subject to explore, even if it’s only to kind of face some of those feelings and work through them. It’s got to be healthy because then you’re getting it out of your body.

Le’Nise: You getting out of your body and rephrasing and rethinking you recently, just gonna connect to that, you did a 12 month cross-continental cycling expedition with your husband. Can you talk a little bit about that and how that potentially connected to the work that you’ve been doing now around unlearning and rephrasing?

Esther: Yes. So what I think is probably most relevant is that, so we set off in May last year, so May 2018. And I mean, we are both fairly fit and active people, but we certainly weren’t cyclists. We had road bikes, we took them out once every two years and finally we decided, right, we’ve wanted to do this great big trip, but let’s do it by bikes that was a bit of a last minute add on but we just decided we wanted to do it under our own steam and we had no real clue what we were doing. 

I mean, we’d done research but what I mean by that is for me personally, I didn’t know how my body would respond and what I found really interesting is that when you’re on the move nearly every day and you know, I did look at my menstrual cycle and we did try and plan around it, but sometimes you just can’t, and we weren’t going exceptionally fast. I mean, we were probably covering 60, 70 kilometres a day, which by most people’s expedition standards is quite slow but we really wanted to just enjoy it. But being on the move, being outside, moving your body, having less distractions, you really do start to tune into your body and for me, I really did start to tune into why am I feeling tired today? Is it my cycle? Have I perhaps not slept properly? Am I not hydrating myself properly? Am I not eating the most nutritious food? And I really felt how everything comes together in that sense and I became far more aware of how all of these things really impact us, probably more than we realise. 

And I think so much these days is talked about in terms of, you’ve got to do all of these things to be more productive, you know, sleep better, eat better, you know, if you drink more water, you’ll be more alert, but for me, it became more about how do I look after my body in the best possible way. So I feel my best so I can actually enjoy my life the most. And I felt like that was a real switch for me from, how do I get the most out of my body, energy wise? To, how do I actually work with my body so I enjoy my life more? And I think that’s probably the most relevant thing in terms of this conversation that came from that trip.

Le’Nise: That’s really interesting. The kind of everyday almost checking in with your body, well, checking in with your body, but connecting back with, okay, I feel like this so I need to do this. And that’s something that I actually wish more of us would do more often, because I see this in my clinic and I help my clients connect the dots. And then, you know, it’s education and that’s a really important part about it, because you don’t know, oh, I might be feeling tired because I’m about to get my period or I have a lot of energy today and that’s probably because I’m on day 14, day 15 of my menstrual cycle, so that’s one of the reasons why. 

Coming back to the idea of, you know, more education, more discussion about this is really powerful. So every day for twelve months you would do this and try to adapt your day appropriately?

Esther: Yes. So, we would have long stretches where we’d cycle for perhaps two or three, four weeks and we would have a day off here and there and we did both listen to our bodies, but then we might have two or three weeks off the bikes, perhaps because we’d done a particularly tough segment of the route and just felt like we needed downtime or we did some volunteer work. So there were different times where we were off the bikes for longer periods. But yes, we both really started to realise, oh, I might really fancy that pizza, but actually it’s not the thing that’s going to make me feel great tomorrow when I’m on the bike and I think for me that wanting to nourish myself in a way that made me enjoy the cycling more was a big difference in the way I thought previously. 

And, you know, I am somewhat, I would say, who was very disconnected from their body for a very long time. I had a long period of challenge with disordered eating and body dysmorphia. So it’s really only in the last five or six years that I’ve started to actually listen to my own body’s cues and realise how important they were and I do really feel that going on that trip was just another chapter in that to understand that, as I said before, yes, you can look after your body in a way that improves your performance, whether that’s at work or creatively or in the sports arena, any of those things but you can also do it in a way that actually just makes you feel more connected to your body, you feel more rested, you understand your energy rhythms, and it just makes life more enjoyable. 

I mean, to me, that’s just in a very kind of anxious, depressed, stressed out world, that’s a very important message, I think, because so much of what we hear now is about life hacks and maximising our time and productivity and I feel like a lot of that is important, but it does very much take us away from our own bodies cues.

Le’Nise: So on the other side of your trip how have you taken what you’ve learned about your body into your day to day life back in London?

Esther: So, two ways. Great question, because I’m all about what can I learn from life on the road that I can replicate in day to day life. So, two things. 

One is that I used to avoid exercise when I was coming up to my period and because I had a few times when we just couldn’t have breaks when I knew that was coming, so we would have shorter cycling days and what I found was my period was so much lighter if I was exercising up and through it. So I continue to do that now, I do it knowing that, you know, I might not go out for a 10K run, but I will still get up and walk, might go to a yoga class, like, I would do things to keep moving and that has had a really positive impact. 

And the other thing for me is this thinking of looking after myself so I feel good, and, you know, more prepared to go out into the world and do my work. So as you mentioned in the introduction, I’m writing a book and I think about it the same way I think, okay, Fridays are my all day fully committed to writing days. So looking after myself in the week leading up to that is important so that I wake up on Friday morning and I feel fresh and good and then I can actually do that thing that I really love and the words flow. 

It’s a bit like I was saying before, if I didn’t look after myself when we were cycling, I really missed the magic of so many moments because I was having to push harder and I feel like it’s the same with writing. If I look after myself better, it’s just a more enjoyable experience., yes, it’s still hard, but I just feel I come to the page with more energy, more enjoyment and I think those two things have definitely changed the way I live my life.

Le’Nise: If you think back to your 9 year old self, what would you say to her knowing what you know now?

Esther: I would say to her, what a wonderful thing. I feel like it would be something that I would like her to celebrate. I also feel like I would say to her, you know, this is as I said, this is a really positive thing and I would sit down and explain why. I would find other women for her to talk to so she could understand that this is something that happens to all women. I think it would be also just about saying to her, you know, as you go through this process, ask questions, and don’t be afraid to ask. So I guess the main thing would be treat it like a celebration.

Le’Nise: Wow, treat it like a celebration. I really love that. If listeners could take one thing away from listening to you on this podcast, what would you want to be?

Esther: That it doesn’t matter what stage of life you are, I do really feel exploring that moment when you first started this journey, when you first got your period until now, wherever you are is something worth exploring, because the more we do this at every single age, the more willing we are to look at ourselves and perhaps remove anything that might be holding us back or down or just pressing heavily on us. So that’s the first thing, is that doing this exploration, you will release some of those things. 

And the second thing is I feel like the more we do this work, the more we can talk to other women and that’s really important. So even though I’m 46 and as I said, don’t have a family of my own, this has been a great beginning with exploration where I can start to talk to my sisters. One in particular has three young girls, 8, 6 and 4 and I can now have conversations with her and hopefully work with her on how do we have different conversations with her daughters or how did she have these different conversations. 

And, you know, and it just means that we’re not just putting the onus on education in terms of schools, but also there are a whole load of mothers out there right now whose daughters are probably just coming up to this. It’s not too late to start having those conversations and changing the taboos, opening up the conversation so that this becomes part of the things that we talk about. So I feel like, you know, that would be just a great thing for people to think about how this could really release them personally, but also start to change culture in some ways.

Le’Nise: I think that’s amazing how it’s starting to change what learn the lessons from the past and having different conversation with the girls that are coming up now so they can do things differently and I definitely see that even over the last 10 years, the change in the conversation and actually how open younger women are about talking about these things and I feel really positive about that. 

The next step is just to continue this openness, but also make sure that, as you mentioned earlier, boys learn about these things too, because, you know, they’re affected by it as well. 

So where can listeners out more about you? Where can they sign up to your wonderful newsletter?

Esther: Oh, thank you. Well, it’s estherzimmer.com and there’s some blog posts on there but I think the main thing is, as I say, I write this regular essay series and for me, that’s just about going a little bit deeper and getting a bit more personal than I perhaps would in a blog post. And it’s about all those kind of things that we talked about, exploring these personal things that we go through as women and sharing my story in the hope that somebody else somewhere else either feels, okay, I can see myself in that story or perhaps it encourages them to explore their own, and it’s not just about menstruation, it’s about finding your place in the world as a woman, because I believe I’m starting a new chapter in life, having returned to London after this cycling trip, writing a book, so it’s about all of those things. I think we all think about perhaps don’t go deeper into it and don’t always talk about, that’s the best place to kind of, I guess, get to know me.

Le’Nise: Great. Well, thank you so much for coming onto the show today and sharing your story.

Esther: Well, thank you so much for inviting me. And I’d just like to say, I really think this is a wonderful project, really, really important and again, what you’re doing is going to open up the conversation even wider. So thank you.

Le’Nise: Thank you.

Period Story Podcast, Episode 5: Tamu Thomas, Tracking Your Menstrual Cycle Is A Gamechanger

Period Story Podcast, Episode 5: Tamu Thomas

On the fifth episode of the Period Story podcast, I had a wonderful conversation with Tamu Thomas, the founder of Three Sixty. We talked about Tamu’s first period and how this rite of passage was celebrated by her family and how she tracks her energy levels along with her menstrual cycle and uses this to plan how much work she’ll take on.

Tamu and I also talked about how she’s talking to her daughter about periods and menstrual health and how she’s moved past the secrecy around menstruation she grew up with to now having a very open and free attitude.

We discussed how Tamu uses her menstrual cycle as a North Star to track her moods and energy levels and how this has been a gamechanger for her. She says this helps her connect her mind and body so that she’s actually working with herself rather than against.

Tamu says that tuning into what your body is telling you creates such freedom and that’s definitely something I agree with!

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Tamu’s Bio

Tamu Thomas is founder of Three Sixty; a brand she created for women in their late 30s and 40s that want to simplify life and create space for everyday joy. Tamu created the brand as a response to her own emotional and physical situation. At the age of 40, and after years of compromising her health, joy and pleasure to meet the demands of her career as a social worker and her role as a mother, she realised that feeling emotionally and physically depleted was not a necessity, or a given.

As Tamu slowed down and stripped back the layers to try and understand why she had allowed herself to become so burnt out, she realised something important. She held onto internalised beliefs which related self-worth to being overloaded, and somehow she had confused being busy with being productive – a belief system that Tamu claims many Generation X women uphold.

During this point in her life, Tamu chose to move into the centre of herself, taking full ownership of every part of her, thus Three Sixty was born – a brand that encourages women to accept and love themselves fully, in all their shades from light to dark, their entire 360 degrees.

Tamu has combined over fifteen years Social Work experience with Mindfulness & Life Coaching and Group Facilitation training to create a body of work that helps women to accept themselves fully and lead with joy. Tamu’s intention is to guide you to create a pathway to deeper connection that she believes leads to accepting yourself fully, self-love and everyday joy.

Find Tamu on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter and on her website, Live Three Sixty.

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Show Transcript

Le’Nise: On today’s episode we have Tamu Thomas, who is the founder of Three Sixty, a brand she created for women in their late 30s and 40s that want to simplify life and create space for everyday joy.

Tamu created the brand as a response to her own emotional and physical situation. At age 40 and after years of comprising her health, joy and pleasure to meet the demands of her career as a social worker and her role as a mother, she realised that feeling emotionally and physically depleted was not a necessity or a given. Welcome to the show, Tamu.

Tamu: Good morning! Or good afternoon depending on whatever time everyone is listening. Thank you so much for having me.

Le’Nise: Thanks so much for coming on the show. So let’s start off by getting into the story of your very first period. Can you share with us what happened?

Tamu: My first period was about a month before I turned 13 and I was really really excited, I couldn’t wait. I was one of the “later bloomers” in comparison to my friends. So I was really excited to have joined the club and when I was thinking about coming on this podcast, my period was probably a month prior but I wasn’t too sure. Well this is a period podcast, so I’m just going to talk about it, my discharge was different and I wasn’t really sure what it was so I just carried on as normal and did what I was doing. 

I’d had tender breasts, well, the semblance of breasts that I had at that time. I’d had mood swings, I’d had some form of cramping, but I wasn’t entirely sure what it was. I suspected it was my period coming because my mum has always been very open about the practicality of periods. So yeah, mine came just before I turned 13 and I was really excited about it and I told my mum but I was really aggrieved, that she told, what felt to me at the time, everybody about it so like my dad, was never emotionally communicative. He was not that dad that worked in from work or I walked in from school and was asking me how my day was. All of a sudden he kept asking me if I was ‘okay? how am I? Do I need anything’? To have my very stern West African dad trying to be soft, but being so brisk with it, ‘do you need anything?’ ‘Are you okay?’.

That was really like urgh and then it just so happened that one of my aunts from overseas came over and she was like “oh Tamu, you’ve joined the club!” and my aunt that lived down the road came round. There was all this hoopla about me joining the club that I really did not want and my mum bought me this kit, it was bright fuchsia pink and it had tampons, sanitary towels and it was a fuchsia pink tampon holder and I remember not being given much information about how to use these things but being told that this was what I needed and using a tampon for the first time, hymen fully intact, never even masturbated at that point, not digitally inserting a finger or anything and using this tampon and having it halfway out and walking like John Wayne and my mum saying “what on earth is going on” and me saying “well I used a tampon” and her saying “well, don’t use that, use a sanitary towel, your body is not ready for that” and overhearing the conversation in the kitchen between my mum and dad and my dad was very much against me using tampons, he was really into this old West African Virgin Mary kind of train of thought. 

So yeah, it was something I was excited about and I was excited about it for me and I kind of felt that got taken away by being shared at that time. As an adult now I think, well now I understand it’s a big coming of age thing, it’s a really big marker in human development, in female development and my mum was celebrating that. I thought a period was just for me and no one else to know about and I carried that with me for a very long time.

Le’Nise: What you said about the excitement and the hoopla around you getting your first period and your family getting involved is so interesting because it’s very different to a lot of the stories that I’ve heard where it’s something that these women were ashamed about it. They kind of had a cursory chat with their mum. Whereas yours was totally different, yours was celebrated, your mum gave you a kit with tampons and pads and she had a conversation about what was the best menstrual product for you to use at the time for where your body was, which I think is so so wonderful. The openness about your period and menstruation, did you carry that through the rest of your teenage years?

Tamu: No, not really, and it was because, so my mum has always been very open. So, for example, my grandmother became pregnant because she didn’t know what a period was, when she had her first period, she was told by her elders, that means if a man touches your breast, you will become pregnant. So she became pregnant because of a lack of knowledge. My grandad was very green, my grandma was green, so yeah that was her experience so my grandmother was very open with my mum and her siblings so my mum carried that through. 

But my dad was very much, women’s things are women’s things or women’s business and you lot carry on with it, you do your womanly thing. So even things, like you couldn’t put underwear in a washing load with his washing, there was no way those two things should mix at all. So although he didn’t say hide your period or your period products or anything, I knew that wasn’t something that could be open and then at school it was very secretive, I so I kind of just didn’t question, I just thought it was very secretive. So although for me, when I first started, I was excited about it, as soon as it became in the public domain kind of thing, I very quickly learnt that it should be secret so it was going to the toilet with your sanitary towel somewhere very covert. Making sure the main door to the toilets was closed because the sanitary towel incinerator thing that we had in school was right by the door and you didn’t want other girls, never mind, other boys, to see you putting your sanitary towel in incinerator. 

It very quickly became something that was a secret and you kind of operated in a way whereby your goal was to make sure your period happened without anyone knowing about it. So that’s what happened with that, but I understood the mechanics of it. I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t having some sort of conversation with my mum about how your body works on a practical sense. 

What I didn’t get from her was the emotional side and the understanding about hormones. So she would say things like you will get moody but there was no breakdown and no explanation and as I reflect on that period in time DA DUM DUM TCHHH there weren’t wide conversations taking place about hormones and periods, I think that’s quite a new thing so I didn’t really believe in the impact of hormonal changes so I was very hard on myself when I wasn’t able to do things at certain times of the month and that’s something I carried with me for a very long time and also certainly definitely through my school years my period was very heavy and was very long. So there was a lot of work that went into making sure my period was private, that sometimes meant leaking because I got so into this private mode I wasn’t always letting my mum know when I needed new products and she was new to this too, I’m the oldest, she hadn’t experienced raising a child that was having periods. There wasn’t a cupboard with stash of sanitary ware in, so it took a while for us to get into a rhythm with that side of things, even though I had my lovely pink kit.

Le’Nise: I just want to go back with what you said about secrecy and things being private and actually go into what you were saying about the secrecy at school. So, you didn’t discuss it at all with any of your friends? 

Tamu: I discussed at times with one friend who coincidentally I spent the evening with yesterday, still really close. So I discussed it on and off with her but the only time period conversations came up was for example girls not wanting to do PE or swimming because they were on the period. Yeah, that was pretty much it; any conversation was around what you couldn’t do because of your period, it wasn’t anything more than that. 

I really tried to recall and there was no sisterhood at all in that regard, as we were all keeping it a secret. Even things like, if I think about at home there was a sense that men shouldn’t know about this, this was for women and its only for women so period products regardless whether it was morning, noon, or night had to be disposed of in the bin outside, it wasn’t to be in a bin in the home and things like that.

Le’Nise: You mentioned the West African cultural element of underwear being separated and what your father said about “it’s women things”. How much of that cultural element do you think you carried into the way that you think about your period and your hormones and your menstrual cycle?

Tamu: Well I haven’t really, as a child or adolescent having periods, you just did what your parent said and did and that was it. As I started to make my own way in the world, to be honest with you, it’s only in the last few years that I haven’t been secretive about periods and period products so if my bag is wide open and there’s a tampon there, whoever sees it see it because I’m really not bothered, whereas before, the tampon would be in a non-discreet bag tucked into somewhere within my bag and all that kind of stuff. 

I haven’t carried it with me because my adult experience is very different to my child experience, I talk a lot within my brand about my childhood being analogue and my adulthood being digital because I do have the sisterhood within digital spaces that have become sisterhood within real life spaces and because of people like you and Sally Beaton, me tracking my periods, learning about hormonal phases and in tracking my periods, seeing how my hormones impact my life, that doesn’t exist for me anymore and I know definitely due to friendships that I had actually from my late teens, one of my friends, she’s always been very open about conversations about periods, she was bought up in a house full of women so there was lots of conversations about periods, nakedness and whatever else so she spoke about periods quite openly which led me to talk about periods quite openly but without the wisdom we have now about hormones and what periods means and about it being a vital sign of health.

Le’Nise: So talking more about something you said about your childhood being analogue and your adulthood being digital, with that kind of framework in mind, what do you know now that you wish you knew back then?

Tamu: That it didn’t need to be a secret, that it could have continued to be a celebration of my womanhood, of my humanity and that it was a sign that my body was working as nature intends. I also wish I knew that it meant that I could look to my cycle for clues, not excuses, but clues as to how to manage my health in a more holistic and supportive way because I didn’t have that knowledge it really fed into the narrative of the time which was about working against yourself, pushing through, keep on going regardless of what your body is telling you, I wouldn’t have worked in that way. 

Perhaps I would have had more of an opportunity to do what I’m doing now, which is to be guided by my own North Star rather than following the winds and the systems of other people.

Le’Nise: Do you feel differently about your period now, having incorporated the idea of it being a vital sign, the North Star, listening to your cycle and your hormones for clues?

Tamu: Understanding my cycle and its natural ebb and flows has been absolutely game changing, it’s been one of the most fundamental parts in me being able to commit to myself with real depth and meaning and its really helped me to understand myself as a natural being. 

I think that we walk around quite often feeling like our mind is in one place and our body is in another place. Whereas in my personal development journey, in my training to become a life coach thinking about women, learning about how my cycle impacts me has helped me to be kind to myself and remind myself to meet myself where I am. 

We’re all human beings we are all quite similar yet very different but that whole thing about being very cognitive and living in my head, tracking my cycle helps me to connect to my mind and my body so rather than focusing on what my head tells me I should be doing, tracking my cycle and using apps to remind me of where I am in my cycle helps me to connect mind and body so that I’m actually working with myself. 

So, thinking about nature, there’s a variety of flora and fauna and they bloom and blossom in different ways but using similar principles and that’s how I think about myself. Okay, today I’m a daisy, so I need more tenderness or gentleness, I need to go at a slower pace if I can and if that’s not possible, I know what I need to put in place to support me being a daisy amongst oak trees and I have other times when I am an oak tree and I know how to support myself during that time. 

Also, it’s helped to curb parental irritability, because the reality is sometimes your children are really irritating but not because they are irritating, they’re doing what they’re supposed to be doing but because of where you are in your cycle or whatever you have got going on, an average thing or nice conversation on some days can be a major source of irritation, so it just helps me to check in with myself and give myself some context, not like I’m censoring myself all the time but I’ve got that information so rather than being in a situation where I’m snapping at my daughter for something that she should be doing, as the snap starts to come, I remember where I am in my cycle and everything else that I have going on and do whatever it is I need to do so that I can show up for her in a way that isn’t full of grit and irritation. 

We have all of these dreams, “I should be doing this” or “I want to be doing that”, “next year I want to be doing whatever”, okay you want to do all of these things and these things require consistency. I know day 24-28 [of my cycle], consistency goes out the window, so I give myself the grace of doing whatever I can during those days, but also knowing that day 8-12, I’m dynamite, maybe it’s even 8-14, because the dynamite kind of evens off when I start to get my ovulation pain but I can do a months’ worth of work during that time because I’m just on fire so it’s just learnt to know my natural ebb and flow and not use my time when I’m at my peak as my base line. I know that’s a peak, it’s not my general, whereas before I’d be like “why aren’t I churning out the work?” “Why aren’t I being as productive as last week, that should be my standard?”.

No, that’s not my standard, that was my standard for that phase, my standard is this for this week. It’s been a major source of not just me being compassionate but empathetic with myself.

Le’Nise: It’s amazing how in tune you’ve become with your cycle, how it affects your moods, your energy levels and also your mental capacity and how you’ve tailored your work to where you can to those phases of your cycle.  This idea of compassion is really powerful because so many times, I hear women, they beat themselves up because they say “well, why am I not focused?” “why can’t I get the work done?” and “why was I able to do so much work last week but this week I’m so tired?” and they just push through and to their own detriment. 

But also you don’t blame them because we have been given these messages by society that we need to live in masculine energy which is go, go, go all the time. But what you’ve been saying is around honouring this idea of feminine energy and knowing that the ebbs and flows of the menstrual cycle is we have a big connection with our energy and when we honour that, it is actually so much better for us.

Tamu: Absolutely. It just enables you to acknowledge that you’re human that you’re not a machine because we tend to treat ourselves like we are an iPhone that can be upgraded and rebooted and whatever else when actually I’m at my most powerful when I’m honouring myself but don’t get me wrong I do think that there’s masculine and feminine for a reason so masculine structure like using my diary which the structure is quite a masculine way of thinking but using that structure, to support my femininity is really helpful so when I’m paying attention and I’m being mindful, where possible, I structure my workload accordingly and I know that it’s easy, I know that people can sit down and think, it’s easy for you when you work for yourself if you look at your workload as long as you’re doing your work in timescales you can, where possible make allowances for yourself. 

So, if there’s a presentation that you need to do, is it possible you could schedule that presentation for week 2 of your cycle, for example and if it’s not possible for you to do that what can you drop from your schedule that will allow you to have the space that you need to recharge and restore if you’re needing to do that presentation during the run to your cycle. What can you do to make sure you’re feeling vital? You’re feeling alive? Rather than dragging yourself around. There are a lot of mothers that I speak to that are constantly scheduling things upon things upon things for their children. Actually ask yourself who is that serving? Is that serving yourself? Or is it serving your need to say I’m doing all of these wonderful things for my child, I’m really enriching your child’s life? Because actually we are depriving our children when we want to make sure their schedules are full all the time, than being bored and just playing around and being soft and crashing around of sofas is really beautiful and really essential development for them. 

So do you need to be running yourself ragged, jumping from pillar to post doing all these things. Are there times in the month where you can slow down and do things at a slower pace with your children, could you occupy them with more slow and mindful activities which supports them as well because motherhood and martyrdom are not adjacent to each other, contrary to popular belief. 

I just think really tuning in to what your body is telling you just creates such freedom and something else I’ve noticed is that I have been less bothered about what other people think, feel and say in relation to what I’m doing since I understand how my cycle works. So, for example, if friends and family want to see you blah blah and they’ll say things like “you’ve just got to make an effort”, I don’t. If I’m at a point in my cycle where I’m feeling depleted, I’m not going to take myself closer to burnout to meet your need and neglect myself. That is actual neglect, that is actual emotional abuse and I know they are really strong words and I’m using them with intention. As a social worker, my area of interest was neglect and emotional abuse and when you distil it, it’s the same thing but applied in different ways. I’m not neglecting or emotionally abusing myself so you could feel good that I was eating curry and rice and peas at your party, I can see you another time.

Le’Nise: You’ve said so many interesting things there, I wanted to circle back to what you said about the way that you speak with your daughter and how you’re more aware of things that might be irritating at certain times of your cycle and things that would just be normal. In all of the things that you have learned and applied, how has that changed the way that you speak to your daughter about periods and about menstrual cycles, if you have had that conversation yet?

Tamu: We have been having that conversation, so since the moment I became pregnant, so as I said my mum is an open book, you can talk about everything but the emotional element, so the feelings part of those conversations are something that she was bought up with and not something she is used to, she quite a stoic person. 

I really enjoy conversations about the depth of our emotions, I’m not skating around on the surface, I’m going to get beneath the surface and see what underpins those feelings, see where those feelings come from. So, from the moment I became pregnant, I was having deep and meaningful conversations with my unborn child from that point on. Whatever conversation she comes with, we are having that conversation and sometimes we are having a conversation about something that can seem quite light and fluffy, but I really try and get her to look beneath that so that she understands how she’s operating rather than being on autopilot. I’ve had conversations about periods with my daughter since she was, oh there was one day when she was three, we were on the bus and we don’t often go on the bus and you know three year olds, their voices are loud so she was saying something, something, something, about those nappy things! She was talking about sanitary towels, I didn’t have the conversation with her on the bus, it was almost as if the bus went dead silent as soon as she was about to say “those nappy things”. 

So we had a conversation about what the nappy things are and it was just in a very childlike way, I didn’t talk about blood or anything like that, I just said when you’re a grown up sometimes you need to wear these nappy things and that was it she just left it at that but I’m very open, she sees me naked all the time, I’m all about the house, I’m not hiding the sanitary products. I can’t really remember the first time we had a proper conversation about periods but when she was in Year 5 or 6 and they had a conversation about puberty she “oh Mum, it was so lame and basic, I knew more than the teacher”. Obviously, she didn’t know more than the teacher but she knew more than what the teacher was presenting. It’s always been a very open book, as soon as I understood the power or hormones and hormone phases and how it impacts you, it was inserted into conversations so you know, I’ve got a child that isn’t fearing periods, she’s forever talking to about what her body is doing, about what her body isn’t doing. 

We talk about the sort of food that supports your cycle, that supports you as a human being full stop. Sometimes I’m like “I do not want to have this conversation”, sometimes I’m like “I don’t want to know” but I do want to know and I just take a moment to say I am appreciative of myself, that I have a relationship with my daughter where she’s able to talk about anything. Sex, drugs, rock and roll, meditation, who she’s fallen out with at school, what science grade she wants to get and all of it is as normal as each other. So she has noted that there are times of the month where she’s more moody and more tired, she’s noticed how her body is doing different things at different times of the month so I’ve said to her to keep a diary and she knows that it means that very soon, she’s going to start menstruating and the way she talks about it, she’s looking forward to it because she knows that it’s a rite of passage, it’s something that should be happening. It’s a joyful experience even though it is challenging because I know in my mind, no not even in my mind, in my heart, she’s still 4 years old but in reality she’s about to be 13.

Le’Nise: Do you think you will celebrate in the way that your first period was celebrated?

Tamu: We are going to have a full on celebration, not in the way that I’ll be telling everybody (I will be telling everybody) but in the way that, I want to take her for a meal, I want her to have a kit like the one my mum gave me, I want the kit to include things that support her emotions so a journal, a period tracking app, because she knows about the apps I use but she can’t use them yet because she hasn’t got a period that she can actually track but she’s had a look at them for some of the information so I want the celebration to be a gateway to a really empowering, grounding experience so that she understands the mechanics but also, the kind of like, spiritual element, I want her to feel like a ritual rather than a curse. 

We aren’t going to be talking about Aunt Flo, the painters and decorators are in, all that kind of stuff. We are celebrating the most natural signifier that as somebody that was born female and is aligned with the gender or the genitalia they were born with, you can celebrate it every month. It doesn’t have to be “my god, I’ve got my period”. 

Le’Nise: I think that is really beautiful so if there is one thing you can leave our listeners with about their periods, menstrual cycle or hormones, what would you share?

Tamu: That our periods are a really useful way of remembering that we are human beings. We are mammals at the end of the day. Just because we can drive cars, build houses and use social media, it doesn’t mean that we aren’t a part of the natural world and this is a reminder. Nature has all the guidance we need and our period is a way of reminding us, even the absence of a period, whether that is because you have got an issue or you’ve reached menopause, still our periods, our hormone cycles, our hormone fluxes are a real reminder for us to connect the knowledge of our minds with the wisdom and heart of our body and plug into nature. 

Le’Nise: Wonderful, well, thank you so much for coming onto the show, Tamu. Where can listeners find out more about you?

Tamu: You can find out more about me in a really solid way on my website which is www.livethreesixty.com as you can tell I like talking so numbers wouldn’t do and my social media is @livethreesixty again that is all alpha, so yeah that’s where you can find me. 

Le’Nise: Thank you so much for coming on the show. 

Tamu: Thank you, thank you for doing this work, we really really to be having these conversations especially as you mentioned in the beginning, some of the women you talk to, their journey into menstruation wasn’t a celebration and I think we need to refrain. 

Le’Nise: Absolutely, hopefully this is a starting point of changing the way we talk about periods and menstruation.

Tamu: Absolutely. Oh and one last thing, sorry, I have to say that you were definitely one of the absolute keys in helping me to understand that periods are a gift really, so thank you very much. 

Le’Nise: Thank you for saying that. Thank you for your time today.

Period Story Podcast, Episode 4: Deborah Campbell, We Have To Talk About Menopause

On the fourth episode of the Period Story podcast, I had a wonderful wide-ranging conversation with Deborah Campbell, the founder of Future Fe+Male and the Deborah Campbell Atelier.

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We talked about Deborah’s feelings about her first period and not being quite emotionally ready to cope with it, being forced to grow up quite quickly, fibroids, educating boys about periods and navigating her way through early menopause.

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Deborah Campbell is the founder of Future Fe+Male, an organisation which promotes everyday equality for empowering humans to reframe thinking around habitual sexism in order to promote social change. This is done through awareness and action through education, a podcast and an interactive platform. Deborah also works in sustainable fashion through her brand Deborah Campbell Atelier and lectures Fashion Marketing with management at Winchester School of Art, specializing in sustainable and ethical best practice, and blockchain. 

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Find Deborah on Instagram, the Future Fe+Male website or on Facebook

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Show Notes

The Menopause Doctor

Born Equal Podcast

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Show Transcript

Le’Nise: On today’s episode, we have Deborah Campbell, Deborah is the founder of Future Female, which promotes everyday quality to empower humans to reframe thinking around habitual sexism to promote social change. This is done through awareness and action with education, a podcast and an interactive platform. Deborah also works in sustainable fashion through her brand, Deborah Campbell Atelier and lectures in fashion marketing with management at the Winchester School of Art, specialising in sustainable and ethical best practice and block chain. Welcome to the show.

Deborah: Hello.

Le’Nise: So let’s start off by getting into the story of your first period. Can you share with us what you remember?

Deborah: Yes. So my first period, I was aged 11 and I do remember it being quite painful. I definitely had some education about it at school, but I think it came as a bit of a ‘oh, what’s this all about’, especially age 11, because I don’t think I’d really appreciated that I could be that young. It was all quite relaxed, my mum was great. I don’t remember any sort of strange sort of not really understanding what was going on. 

But what was really embarrassing was she obviously mentioned it to my dad so that my dad marched in and announced, “oh, I hear you’ve become a young woman”. I was mortified. I was like 11 years ago going what? What’s he talking about? What does that mean? And so, yeah, I think being 11, I wasn’t able to cope with it, had I been seen fully emotionally because I was. Yeah, still really young. I mean, I look at my son now and see he’s not going to have a period, but I think emotionally he’s pretty strong. But it’s quite a big thing, I think when you are 11 or any younger; I mean some girls start younger than that even. So, yeah, that was my first and that stayed with me. That’s quite vivid you know, if somebody asked me the question, as you’ve done, that’s a vivid sort of memory of my dad announcing I’d become a young woman.

Le’Nise: Your family was quite relaxed and quite helpful about it.

Deborah: Yeah, I think my mum was. She tried to sort of navigate me through all of the, you know, the tampons and sanitary towels. But I didn’t jump straight into tampons because obviously being 11, it was all a bit like, oh, that doesn’t look so user friendly. So, yeah, she was good with all that, but I’d always had quite a lot of pain with my period. I definitely remember quite early on suffering with really bad cramping and just feeling really rubbish actually. So yeah, I wished I’d been older so I didn’t have to put up with it that young.

Le’Nise: And how was it at school? Were you the first of your friends to have your period?

Deborah: Yeah, that’s interesting. You know, I’m not sure if I was. The thing was I’d moved schools. We had moved from Manchester to Devon. So I had some friends but I don’t remember talking to, as in obviously I’d made friends, but I’m not sure we talked about periods, I honestly can’t remember. There were a few of us, but I don’t have a specific memory of, oh yeah I was really close to a certain person and we discussed. I think I was probably one of the first. Yeah.

Le’Nise: And how did you learn about periods and what was happening in your body? You mentioned education at school. Was it very in depth?

Deborah: I don’t think it was but I definitely knew what was happening. I just don’t think I was emotionally able to cope with it that well. I definitely engaged with what they told us at school. But I don’t remember it being that in depth. I mean, for example, you know, some of the body parts, you know, I still think, oh, my goodness, I don’t remember learning that I had that part in my vagina area or vulva or all the different types of names that you get. I’ve been learning them as an adult. 

I think it’s quite surprising how the women’s, you know, sexual kind of area was just not, it was a bit less discussed I think, or just not very detailed. So, yeah, I definitely had some education at school, I just don’t think it felt very clear, I mean, clear for the time maybe but just when you start looking and delving further into what does each part do? There was certainly no discussion about pleasure. And I think I’ve come to that later in life in terms of what boys are told, because I have a son, obviously, as I mentioned, and what was discussed about their genitalia so to speak, and what’s discussed about the girls genitalia, it still remains more about older boys, talk about wet dreams but the girls talk about the physicality of periods and all of that and you think hmm that needs change.

Le’Nise: So there was no discussion about the like girls can have, not a wet dream per se, but something quite similar and the nature of female pleasure and masturbation.

Deborah: Exactly. I’m not saying that they talk about masturbation at school to the boys specifically using that term but obviously wet dreams has a connotation to that and this whole pleasure side and I don’t think that has been really focused on yet, it certainly wasn’t going to be focused on when I was growing up. 

I grew up in the seventies but I suppose it isn’t surprising, really, that it isn’t discussed for females, you know, the female pleasure, because I think why shouldn’t it be? But I suppose the challenge they’ve got in schools is age, I think they touch on it in year five and then year six, they are quite young.

Le’Nise: Going back to what you said about being emotionally ready. Can you take us through a little bit why you felt like you weren’t emotionally ready?

Deborah: Yeah, I think it’s something that is physically happening to your body that you don’t fully understand or I didn’t really feel I was ready to address why I had to have a period, i.e. obviously for reproduction purposes. And it takes away your childhood really and in many areas it forces you to become quite grown up quite quickly. And I was always that sort of kid like that anyway; I was the oldest child in the family, so I had to get on with certain things as a young person that a second child wouldn’t have to maybe, you know, get on with anyway. So I was fairly grown up but I think that probably defined my sense of, you know, adulthood quicker and age 11 is no sort of place to kind of consider being an adult, I suppose and that’s how it felt. 

I felt like this transition into womanhood, so to speak, was too quick and too early and I don’t think I was ready. And actually, that’s just looking back. Maybe at the time I didn’t realise that as much because I just got swept up in that emotion.

Le’Nise: And you said that your periods had always been very painful. What did you do about it? And was it something that went all the way through into adulthood?

Deborah: Yeah, I did have to do something about it. My mum and I went to the doctors and we ended up getting the pill to try and ease the cramping and the distress, I suppose. And I’m trying to think back as to what age I was. I think I was well, definitely between maybe 14 and 17. I just can’t remember exactly when it was. So that did help a bit. So in terms of going into adulthood, they were less aggressive, the crampings and such like, but I still suffered to some degree. And then in my late 20s, early 30s, I came off the pill because I suddenly started looking at it or going, hang on; I’m putting drugs into my body. I started to become more aware of, you know, actually this doesn’t quite feel right and I’ve been on it for quite a long time and hence, I just had a rethink about it. 

So when I came off the pill, did they come back? Yes, they came back quite severely but not as they’d been in my teenage years, and some months worse than others. So I think I’d had some pain throughout even when I was on the pill, but just less intense and a bit more intense when I got into my 30s.

Le’Nise: What was your thinking around the pain? Did you think it was something that you had to just put up with or you had to deal with? Or did you have a sense that it wasn’t supposed to be like that?

Deborah: Yeah, I mean, that’s the challenge, I think. I absolutely thought I had to put up with it. I think as I got wiser into my early 30s, I thought, hang on, why am I putting up with this? If you ask me that question now, I think it’s complete nonsense women have to put up with this type of pain. 

I mean, I’ve been on a very long journey in my 40s because I’ve had early menopause but I’ve certainly done a lot of reading and a lot of research and a lot of kind of soul searching as to what was going on with me. I won’t go into that just yet but I think, really, what I’ve come to believe is there shouldn’t be this attitude of putting up. I think medicine and sort of more holistic approaches has got, you know, broader and more widely available and accepted. So also having this idea of understanding your cycle, you know, really really well, it just wasn’t around, I mean, it was in my 30s, I mean, I’m now 48, in case anybody’s thinking why does she keep going on about her 30s. 

So, you know, it’s become more important to consider our own bodies and understand our own bodies and it’s become more, well, there’s more education out there, there’s more understanding of how to understand our own bodies. When I was growing up, men, you know, into adulthood, there was there was an acceptance of, we just put up with it, so I think there are sort of two answers to that question, but certainly a lot of people, I believe, still feel it’s just accepted. And no, it shouldn’t be like that, I don’t think.

Le’Nise: And going back to what you said about coming off the pill, you said you came off in your early 30s. What made you decide to come off the pill?

Deborah: I thought that if any sort of chemical reaction was happening that I’d put in my body, it would take a number of years to get rid of it. And if we wanted to have children and at the time, we didn’t, like myself and my husband have been together for years, well, nearly 30 years coming up, and, you know, we hadn’t decided to have kids, but for some reason there was a sixth sense saying to me, but what if we did decide, actually to not be on the pill would probably be better rather than just coming off and going, oh, let’s have a child, because things don’t work like that. 

So there was that background thinking and there was also this other just sixth sense saying, you know, intuition. This is still a chemical we don’t really know enough about, so I’d perhaps get rid of it, too. That was sort of what my body was telling me to do. So that that’s kind of why really.

Le’Nise: And your journey with the pill. So you went on it anywhere between 14 to 17, what would you describe your journey? Was it smooth? Was it trial and error?

Deborah: It was a bit trial and error. I think I probably went through two or three different types of pill, mostly tablet form, not an injection form from my memory. I don’t think I ever did an injection. But then why have I mentioned that? You know, I might have had an injection at some stage later in my adulthood thinking about it. So yeah, there were a few different options, but I’m afraid I’m a bit woolly on my memory.

Le’Nise: Coming off the pill, you knew there were chemical reactions. You weren’t sure how it was affecting your body. How was the transition coming off of the pill and going back to natural menstrual cycles?

Deborah: It felt like it was fairly easy. I don’t remember having a particular thought of, oh my God, I’ve got to go back on because there’s some difference. And it felt more accepting, I sort of felt like I can accept it this cycle. It is what it is. It didn’t feel difficult. There was a bit of pain around, you know, and some months worse than others. Mood swings and all of that. I mean, I was still getting some of those on the pill anyway. So, yeah, I didn’t feel like it was a drastic sort of oh, I’m off it now. It just felt quite good, I suppose, to be off it. Just trying to think of anything other, no I think yeah, I think it was okay. I’m just trying to think whether I started taking any supplements at that time, I might have done, around, you know, I can’t think of the supplement. Is it evening primrose oil? I think I tried that for a bit. Yeah. So I think I then started looking towards other sorts of means to try and ease some of the discomfort that comes around at certain stages of your cycle.

Le’Nise: And so that was about maybe five or six years off of the pill. How did you learn about what was happening with your body and learn about the different stages of the menstrual cycle?

Deborah: So my cycle was always really regular and to be honest now it’s a bit different, but I won’t go into that. So I started paying attention to the four week cycle and what, 28 days was usually mine give or take a day and I would be very mindful about, the week before would be the most intense, and then the week of the period was quite short actually, I think after the pill, now this is something that is coming back to me, my cycle was very quick. 

So I would have a sort of a heavy section, well, it would be about four or five days maximum, but my heavy part would be just literally one maybe nearly two days. So I felt almost actually what had happened after the pill was they, well it was always the case with the pill, but after the pill, I didn’t get into a cycle of very heavy periods or anything and I hadn’t really even in my teenage years, had very heavy periods, I just had very painful periods. So my heavy periods came after, but that’s another discussion because I then ended up with fibroids, but actually paying attention to the whole cycle, I became more aware of how I felt. I was watching my feelings. I think the week where you are sort of in euphoria is that week of when you just come off your period and you suddenly feel brilliant for about seven days and then slowly declining. I suppose, one week out of the month I felt great and then the other three weeks were challenging for a variety of reasons, whether it’s mood swings or just general sluggishness, I suppose.

Le’Nise: Can you talk a bit more about your fibroids? So fibroids are a condition, they’re very common, but not a lot of women have a proper understanding of them. So can you talk a bit about how you learned about fibroids and that you had them and what you did about them?

Deborah: Yeah, I ended up going to the doctors for something not quite related to, well, nothing to do with fibroids because we didn’t know I had them then. I think it might well have just been some discomfort in the stomach area, sort of pelvic area and I went and had a scan for something relating to that, I believe. Or I may well have had an infection, a bladder infection. They might have been checking it further or not bladder infection, but maybe, no it would have been, yeah, urine infection. Yeah, that was what it was, it was a urine infection and they decided to have a bit more of a closer look. So fibroids were discovered after I had my child. I think I was probably in my early forties. Yeah, I reckon around 42, 43 time. 

So that was something of a surprise because I’d never, well I had heard of them, I’m lying there because my sister has them and she’d had very painful, I think she’s got 3 and really painful for her and has since ended up having some procedure to sort those out because they’re much worse than my situation. But even with my sister, I did not quite grasp exactly what they were and how they can manifest and to be honest, I don’t I still don’t probably have enough knowledge in that area. 

So mine were growing because I was still having a period and apparently they grow through production of oestrogen and that fuels them. So I was, you know, fine, not fine, but thought, right, okay, what does that mean? And, you know, and I wasn’t really given much more information about it. I did feel like I had to just sort of go off and check and see, well, what’s the implication? So there is some discomfort still with the fibroids. I have had a bit of discomfort, but I wouldn’t say it was debilitating in any way, really, because there’s been plenty of other discomforts I’ve had to endure with early menopause. I don’t think there’s enough information about fibroids at all out there, even now, and, you know, things have moved on apace, but no, I would say there could be more detail for women.

Le’Nise: And just for any listeners who don’t know what fibroids are, they’re benign growths that can be in the uterus within the lining, the muscular lining of the uterus and outside the uterus and they grow through the production of oestrogen and they can be anywhere from the size of a walnut to the size of a watermelon. So, for some women they can cause a lot of pain, very heavy periods, anaemia, they can press on the bladder and the bowel. There are many women who have them and have no symptoms at all. But equally, a lot of other women have them and they are experiencing some of the symptoms that I mentioned.

Deborah: Yeah. And actually now you’ve said that. So yeah, I that’s what would happen to me, I would get pressing and still do get pressing on certain areas of the bladder, which is discomfort and then the heavy periods were and have been a nightmare. So that’s linked I think to the fibroids, because I’ve never had heavy periods until around, I think from age 43, really, it might be a bit earlier, because the heavy periods obviously started after I’d had my child age 37, they probably started to kick in around 39 and onwards or maybe even earlier and I put it down, oh I’ve had a baby, everything’s changed. But actually what was happening was there were some fibroids there growing and I didn’t know. So yeah absolutely correct. I think that’s the area that people need to understand a lot more around because they are common. My fibroid is, well I think I’ve got two, but one is particularly bigger than the other, its 4 centimetres, if that gives anybody an inkling of, you know, the size. They can be removed, but there’s all sorts of reasons why not to remove them, which, you know, I’m not necessarily going to go into but yeah.

Le’Nise: We’ve talked about fibroids and how you discovered that you had them. Can you talk about your journey through early menopause?

Deborah: That’s quite complicated; I will try and keep it brief. So I got to aged 43 when my regular period stopped and it didn’t arrive and I was like, this is a bit odd, I’m sure I’m not pregnant. So I got hold of the doctor and said, this is really strange, I’m very regular. She said, Oh, right, sounds to me like perimenopause, when did your mum start her menopause? And I was quite floored actually, I thought, sorry, what are you talking about? What’s perimenopause? I had never heard that term ever. 

It took me a while, well, I phoned my mum straight away, I was like, “when did you start your menopause again? I can’t remember, I don’t think you told me.” “Oh, yeah, I was about 40”, “Oh, right”. So it got to the point where I started getting quite cross with myself because I thought, well, actually, we did fancy a second child and up to that point we hadn’t really properly tried because I’d felt so dreadful between the ages of 40 to 43 and the dreadfulness was around perimenopause, of course, it doesn’t manifest into a period suddenly stopping, it manifests in all sorts of ways, which I haven’t got hours and hours to go into but all of the symptoms I had very briefly from age 40 to about 43 were low confidence, sort of mood swings, quite aggressive mood swings, feeling like you can’t control the mood swing and somebody else is there doing something and then suddenly you come back to yourself and think, who was that? That was just shouting. And then it deteriorated into sort of really low mood and all those sort of early symptoms, age 40 to 43, I just thought I’d, I don’t know why I thought I’d got. 

So I was on a mission to find what I’d got, which in the end was perimenopause. So my doctor was very good, actually, she sent me for a blood test and immediately suggested going on HRT. Now, then at that point, I was into real holistic and had been for a while, holistic approaches to medicine and I was on the defensive then thinking, well, and I was probably in denial, no, no, no, I’m not doing HRT, I’m not doing HRT. I went on a mission to have acupuncture and all sorts of different things, taking supplements. It wasn’t till about age 44 to 45 when the symptoms got so debilitating with a low mood particularly, but also the hot flashes occurred, pain occurred in my legs and all sorts of things, honestly the list is endless. So I went on HRT, which wasn’t very successful. I had two different types before I decided to not take it because I just couldn’t get on with it and I just thought I’ll battle on. 

So this is where I think it’s really bad, I think, women, so this goes right back to my period when I first started my period and my younger years of ‘I just got on with it’. And I think that’s what women shouldn’t say and shouldn’t do. No, we shouldn’t just get on with it. Stop and go no, this doesn’t have to be this way and that’s what I started to think in my mid-40s. Well, this isn’t right. Why am I feeling this bad? So I battled on, which I shouldn’t have done, but I did. I had 18 months of no period because of HRT brings your period back. So at that point, I thought, yeah, I’m pretty much almost into menopause, but I then just couldn’t cope. So I went back on HRT on a mission to find the right type and I’ve only just got the right type aged 48 and it happened in August where I started taking an oestrogen gel and I had a Mirena coil fitted in June. So that’s kind of my, I’m trying to be brief, my brief journey of early menopause. But yeah, I probably could tell you a lot more, but I’m trying to be mindful of not going on too much.

Le’Nise: Okay. Well, it’s really interesting hearing about your journey through HRT because what you’ve described is something that I hear a lot where HRT is sold as something that’s inevitable and what you’ve said is that you’ve been on a journey to find the right type for you. Can you talk a bit about the research that you did for yourself to figure out which type was the best for you?

Deborah: Yeah. I mean, my doctor was quite useful and I say the word quite, because she’s a good doctor but it was very much initially, oh, I’ll put you on patches, because I think that’s the best way. I think for most people that might work but they kept falling off so I wasn’t getting the dosage. So the other research in the background I was doing was trying to find information out there and at the time, aged about 44, there were no people, well obviously there were people talking about it, but there wasn’t a lot out there, so it is really difficult to find other information from relevant sources, particularly medical sources. So I think that’s when I got lost if I’m honest, I got really lost in the mix of what’s right and what’s wrong and I’m very into holistic approaches and homeopathy and all that and I also did acupuncture, I’m still doing acupuncture now actually, just gone back to it because I do believe in all of that. However, it wasn’t helping enough, you know. 

So I’d say it’s only really been in the last two years that I’ve connected in with the Menopause Doctor who’s actually on Instagram. She’s got some brilliant information via her own website and on her Instagram and she’s obviously a medical doctor and I’ve probably learnt the most, if I’m honest from her. I do have a book, but it’s a very thick book and I didn’t manage to read lots of it and I’ve now forgotten the name of that book, but it will come back to me. But yeah, online through the Menopause Doctor [whom] I highly recommend, most of the details she’s got and that’s what’s led me to the gel because she talked about that as an option and my own doctor hadn’t mentioned gel, my doctor hadn’t even mentioned the Mirena coil and I do believe a few people started talking to me about that.

And I then started doing a bit of research and my own doctor was a bit like, hmm not sure if that should be or could be an option and again, I didn’t quite understand why. I mean, the reason I needed to go on the Mirena coil was I needed just to get without these really heavy, debilitating periods, because when you are in the menopause, you know, you can’t, well obviously your period should stop but mine wasn’t stopping because obviously I then went on HRT, which then brings them back. 

And actually, I don’t want to heavy periods because obviously I have fibroids, so it’s a bit of a complicated situation, which is why then I thought, no, I have to get without these periods because they are debilitating. So in some ways I’ve gone against my sort of natural approach but I’ve felt the best I’ve ever felt in the last two months. So I have to accept that this is the root. The Mirena coil hasn’t been as brilliant, let’s say the first six months with the coil, you have to accept you might get a period. So unfortunately for me, I ended up with a period for 14 weeks, not heavy, but 14 weeks of a period with this Mirena coil that stopped in end of August, middle of September it stopped. So I haven’t had a period up until actually last week. I’ve just got another short one going on now. So it’s not been, you know, straightforward but I do feel like my hormones are in the right place now. I feel like I’ve got the right dose of oestrogen. I think oestrogen for me is the biggest challenge but that’s again where medicine is not geared up for individuals. And that is what the challenge is, I think, and I’m not a medic, but that’s my own feeling.

Le’Nise: What would you say to a woman who feels like she’s on a similar journey to you?

Deborah: Based on how I feel now? I would 100 percent recommend HRT and the Mirena coil. Yes, I’ve gone through a lot of challenges during the summer in particular, to get here. But I do feel that it’s, you know, based on the last two months, now, that’s you know, that’s not a long time, based on the last two months, how I’ve been feeling is better than I’ve ever felt. So, you know, that’s what I recommend. It won’t work for everyone. And there’s also some fear about Mirena coil, it’s actually very painful to be inserted, but I must be honest, if you’ve had a baby, its fine. That’s my feeling. 

I had a C-section, so, you know, I had dreadful labour, but I had a C-section and actually, I think you can cope with having a Mirena coil fitted, that’s my personal opinion but not everybody’s threshold is, you know, that’s not for everyone, I’m going to say that, for sure. And I do think, you know, I’m not through my six months yet, so, you know; watch that space in some ways. I do think it’s right for me now, but I could get beyond six months and if still periods are happening, then obviously there’s something wrong and I’ll have to go back and rethink that one but let’s hope they do stop and that’s the end of that.

Le’Nise: So the journey that you’ve been on and the kind of cultural expectation for women and their 40s and 50s and you have an organisation, Future Female, which, as we heard in the intro, is about promoting everyday equality. How do you think that applies to women who are going through this transition in life?

Deborah: I think the stereotype is being eroded as in the stereotype of women and menopause, which is excellent, meaning, I think there’s a lot more conversation out there now about menopause and I talk about it quite often in circles that I would never have considered talking about it before, because it was like, oh, something to shush about a bit like periods to be honest, I think they all go together. 

The more open we are about what is happening with our bodies that are our natural processes, that are part of how we all can reproduce and bring humans into the world, the better and there’s more talk to be done, there’s more books to be written, there’s more openness to occur, there’s certainly more education because, you know, women in their 20s and 30s, I want them to know that if you end up in early menopause, if you don’t know that it’s going to come, literally, you think you’re going mad and there’s a whole heap of women I’ve heard that from, including myself. 

You know, you go into this very strange zone of just otherness, you kind of go, well, where’s me gone? Am I still here? And unfortunately for me, that lasted quite a few years because I wasn’t given the education. So I think from an equality perspective, it has to be talked about; it has to be right on the agenda for a normal conversation.

For instance, slightly aside, but I talked to my son about periods, quite recently because I said, you’ve had the chat at school, how do you feel about it? Were you shown any tampon or sanitary towel and he said no, in real life, we weren’t, but we did see something on a tablet and I thought, well, if he’s accepted, I’ll show him, so we had a brief conversation. We got all the paraphernalia out, we were looking at what is best and what isn’t and he was like, what do you use? And I just think that’s exactly what we have to do, it’s a human thing, it’s not something tucked under the, you know, the carpet or whatever and that’s the same for menopause and more discussion and the less stereotypical, oh, my God, she’s on a period or oh, my God, she’s in the menopause or she’s a nutter and all these derogatory terms that are used for women to describe women. They have to be ousted. And certainly with Future Female, I’m doing what I can there to talk about, you know, menopause. And I talk less about periods because I’m not in that zone anymore but for me, it’s a combination of things. It’s women’s health, basically.

Le’Nise: So talk a little bit more about Future Female and the work that you’ve been doing through this organisation.

Deborah: Yes. So that is really looking at every day equality through this language, through every day habitual sexism that occurs through everyday language. So this kind of idea of derogatory terms used for female, mainly females that come from males. We rebranded recently to have the plus sign to be more inclusive to males because when I started Future Female, I did have the vision that this is a human story, it isn’t, oh, women, you know, telling men they must be a certain way because that is something I think is a barrier. I think if we join up as a team and are equally responsible to look at equality, then it becomes a very different discussion and it becomes a very different, hopefully, action based discussion so that men and women own it. 

And, you know, you don’t see the word feminism in my sort of discussion and my detail and in any language we use, it doesn’t mean I’m not a feminist, it just means that that term is, I feel quite barrier focused and people get stuck in that cul de sac, I call it because, you know, feminism is brilliant and it’s empowering but in order for us all to move forward, I think it’s you know, it’s a wider discussion around equality that everyone needs to take responsibility for and as humans, it’s in our power to sort of shift. 

So what we also look at is education and I’m involved with a number of schools where we just recently did a podcast last week actually at a school. So that Born Equal podcast is inclusive of all voices but looking into the secondary school sector to bring, you know, young voices into the mix, because that’s where it all starts, as in that’s where these derogatory terms occur and that’s where stereotypes occur and that’s what is most interesting to me in education is, so how can we reframe how we speak to each other and how can we, you know, get the action and get the change? And that has to come from both, as I say, male and female. So last week’s podcast was just with females but I’m looking to go in and talk to a group of males as well or female and males together and then I’m also looking because I teach a higher education level so B.A. level, I’m looking at podcasts through that level of student, you know, teenage up into the 20s to see what their take is on equality and every day habitual sexism. 

And then obviously, we’ve just launched a podcast earlier this year called Born Equal and other work where we’re doing is potentially linking up with a number of education organisations to create a toolkit or maybe isn’t a tool kit because the challenges, well, are we giving people something to use to mask the problem or are we going to actually see the whole kind of change in action? You know, it’s a difficult one because we want to help shift the change, but you know, I don’t want a mask it, I do want to give people tools to cope with it. It’s almost like, well, hang on, why are we coping? It’s back to that same conversation again. Why are we coping? Let’s try and think about it a different way. So, yeah, hopefully that gives you an insight as to what work we’re doing.

Le’Nise: Yeah, I think it’s a really important organisation and really important work that you’re doing. If listeners take one thing away from our conversation, what would you want that one thing to be?

Deborah: Don’t put up and don’t cope and don’t think, okay, this is how it has to be, that’s it, because it doesn’t have to be this way.

Le’Nise: Thank you so much for coming onto the show, Deborah. So, all of the work that you’ve mentioned through Future Female, where we can listeners find out more about it? Where can they hear the podcast?

Deborah: The Born Equal podcast is on iTunes, it is on Spotify and Podbean as the host. If you go to our Instagram, which is @WeAreFutureFemale, you can find all the links in there. You can also go on our website, which is www.futurefemale.com and yes, the links should be also on there as well.

Le’Nise: And all these links will be in the show notes as well. Thank you so much.

Deborah: It’s been brilliant. Thank you Le’Nise for inviting me on, it’s been a privilege.

Le’Nise: Thank you.

Period Story Podcast, Episode 3: Sharon Walters, Understanding Your Body Can Help Your Self-Esteem & Confidence

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For the third episode of the Period Story Podcast, I was honoured to speak with Sharon Walters, the London Artist. We spoke about shame and cleanliness, learning about periods and menstrual health in a family where children were seen and not heard, hiding her sanitary towels from her father, the effects of feeling disconnected from yourself and how Sharon learned that she didn’t need to live with a heavy period. Sharon also shared how her collage series, Seeing Ourselves, has allowed her to feel strong, confident and connected with herself and her body.

Sharon says that understanding her body has helped improve her confidence and self-esteem and how believing in herself has opened up so many opportunities for her.

Sharon Walters is an artist, educator and a part-time coordinator of community engagement programmes at a London museum. She graduated from Central St Martins in 2011 with a BA in Fine Art, holds a Post Graduate Teaching and Learning Certificate in post-16 citizenship education, and a BA in social science from Thames Valley University. Since January 2018, Sharon has been working on a mixed media collage series entitled Seeing Ourselves. Now with over 200 pieces in the collection, she has exhibited in a number of public spaces including the NOW gallery in Greenwich and the New Ashgate Gallery in Surrey. Her work is shared regularly on Instagram through on her London_artist1 account

Seeing Ourselves explores identity, beauty standards, representation and Afro hair. Her limited-edition prints and bespoke collages have been acquired by collectors globally, and she has delivered collage workshops for clients including the National Trust. Sharon makes hand-assembled collages almost daily as a way to be present, reflective and mindful, each collage gives her the space and permission to ‘take up space’ even in places where she so often does not see herself represented.

By exploring diverse narratives through partnerships and providing platforms for under-represented voices to be heard, Sharon has a number of collaborations planned with artists, organisations and groups which will continue to develop both her art practice and community outreach work. The fluidity between the socially engaged practice within the museum and community projects and her art practice has developed over the past 20 years through working with people in various formal and informal educational settings.

Find Sharon on Instagram @london_artist1 and on her website London Artist 1.

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Show Notes

Sharon’s upcoming exhibit at the Mall Galleries’ Art For Youth show

Love Sober podcast

Love Sober collage workshop Saturday 1st February booking through the Love Sober website

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Show Transcript

Le’Nise: On today’s episode we have Sharon Walters. Sharon is an artist, educator and a part time coordinator of Community Engagement Program at a London museum. Since January 2018, Sharon has been working on a mixed media collage series entitled Seeing Ourselves, now with over 200 pieces in the collection. She has exhibited in a number of public spaces, including the Now Gallery in Greenwich and the New Ashgate Gallery in Surrey. Her work is shared regularly on Instagram through her @London_artist1 account. Welcome to the show.

Sharon: Hi, Hi Le’Nise.

Le’Nise: So let’s start off by getting into the story of your first period. Can you share with us what happened?

Sharon: So I can’t remember the exact specifics, but I know I was around the age of eleven. I do remember the feelings that I had around that time, which was that it wasn’t really something to be that excited about. And I think that just stems from the way we talked about periods and the way they were viewed. And probably my experiences of both my mum and my nan. So those kinds of experiences were passed down to us really.

Le’Nise: Can you tell us a little bit more about some of the experiences that were passed on that made you feel not very excited about your first period?

Sharon: Well, I do remember that quite a lot of the time periods weren’t really spoken about. So I remember a particular time when my nan was, she had this ottoman at the end of the bed. And I remember opening the ottoman and finding her sanitary towels and she was really annoyed that I’d found these sanitary towels and she was a lovely woman, but she was really annoyed I found them. And she said to me, you know, you can’t those aren’t for you. Those are women’s. Those are for women and, you know, it was just slammed shut. So I think that was my initial introduction to what a period was but later on, my mum, she just basically had really super heavy periods that were always painful and so that was the kind of narrative I grew up around, that they was something that were really difficult, they happened to, and they just weren’t very enjoyable.

Le’Nise: So your nan was really annoyed that you found her sanitary towels. If you think back now on it, why do you think she was so annoyed?

Sharon: I think maybe she just didn’t have the words to explain what periods were to a child and also I grew up in a time where children were to be seen and not heard. So you didn’t really have a voice. You were seen to be a child. And as a child, you only did childlike things and discussed childlike things. So anything beyond that was seen as something completely separate and you’re trying to be too fast or you’re trying to be too involved in big people’s conversations. It was that kind of rhetoric.

Le’Nise: Given that rhetoric, how did you learn about menstrual health and what was actually happening to your body?

Sharon: I didn’t really learn at all. I knew that I had a period every month, but I was never really told what that whole process was about. I don’t think I even knew that you could get pregnant, yeah at that point those kinds of discussions didn’t really happen. What really happened was this is your period, here are the sanitary towels, you don’t use tampons because you’re too young, and that was it, that was the only discussions we really had. I just knew it was something that I couldn’t let my dad see. So you couldn’t really leave any remnants of your period, it was that there was a lot of shame attached to having a period. Yeah.

Le’Nise: You said you just knew that you couldn’t let your dad see it. Where did that knowledge come from?

Sharon: My mum.

Le’Nise: Oh, so she had told you?

Sharon: Yeah. So if, for example, there was a tiny bit of blood, maybe that might’ve been in the toilet or there were sanitary towels, you know, you had to make sure everything was, and I understand that you obviously don’t want everyone seeing your menstrual blood, but I kind of grew up feeling like it was something really, really dirty and it was something that it wasn’t for men to say. And it was kept very separate from my relationship with my father.

Le’Nise: Have you ever had any conversations with your father around these topics?

Sharon: No, no, no, I haven’t. And I don’t know if I, maybe after this, I might, but I’ve never had those discussions. It was just I think the way we grew up was, it was something you spoke to about with your mum or I might have spoken to my nan, but then the conversations would be very, very limited and you knew there were boundaries that you just couldn’t cross. And then there was just no one else that you could speak to about that stuff. So you kind of grew up not, I grew up not really understanding and not knowing what was going on with my body at all. And I felt quite I think now looking back with hindsight, I feel quite disconnected and I always have done with my period.

Le’Nise: Even today?

Sharon: Yeah. I don’t think I ever really, It just kind of seems to happen every month. It’s definitely not as heavy as it used to be, it used to be horrendously heavy and I used to leak regularly at night and I used to wear multiple sanitary towels that I would have to change constantly and it just became normal to be leaking everywhere and to be in pain and to be taking loads and loads of Ibuprofen tablets to deal with the pain. 

And I think just because I grew up with that, you know, that story that, well, those experiences of my mum and my nan, that this is what happens. I just took it as being normal and I think it was only when I met you and started following you on Instagram, I was like, oh, she’s saying that periods don’t need to be heavy and that completely blew my mind because I knew that some people didn’t have heavy periods, obviously. I just thought it was quite normal and so it’s taken me over 40 years to start to see things differently and I really think that was only through meeting you.

Le’Nise: Wow. So going back to what you were saying about this idea of shame and periods being something really dirty. Do you think that that feeling translated into other areas of your life and the way you felt about your body?

Sharon: Yeah, I think when I grew up Catholic and [the] relationship with sex, for example, was seen as something you don’t do until marriage and the idea of living with someone, for example, before marriage was seen as living in sin. And so, yeah, I think that fits around that whole kind of idea of things being dirty if not done in a certain way, and there was very, very particular rules that you had to follow in order to be seen or perceived as clean, if that makes sense? And it wasn’t until my late teens that I started undo those stories a little bit by you know, when I was 20 I met my husband and we lived in sin and it was seen as living in sin.

Le’Nise: So no sex until marriage, this idea of…

Sharon: I don’t follow that one though. I was like, yeah that’s cute, but no thanks.

Le’Nise: I’m really interested in this idea of cleanliness and periods being dirty. You didn’t really talk to your grandmother or your mum about it. I know you have a sister, did you have any conversations with her, your sister?

Sharon: No, I can’t remember conversations with my sister around periods. And if I probably asked her, we probably did but I’m getting a bit older now and I just can’t recall the conversations. But I remember her experience not being that great either, as in, she also had heavy periods, but that’s as much as I remember. I remember her experiences to a certain extent but I can’t remember any real conversations.

Le’Nise: What about your friends?

Sharon: I just remember me having the heaviest periods and it being really frustrating and really difficult and just knowing that a few days every single month I’d be in a lot of pain and they’d be so happy and I’d constantly be changing sanitary towels and leaking, as I said, and then just not being able to wait until it was over.

Le’Nise: So you didn’t really talk to your friends about what was going on?

Sharon: I don’t think I did. I just think I kind of felt as though this was something that had been passed down as in and I don’t know how true this is, but I felt that because my mum had really, really heavy periods, it was an absolute that I would have heavy periods and that would be my experience and there was nothing that I could do to change that because it was something that you just put up with and got on with it and it was a few days a month and then you could move on until the next one.

Le’Nise: Actually reading about sanitary towels and what to do. Did you just read the packet and just figure all of these things out for yourself?

Sharon: Yeah, I think my mum might’ve initially showed me that you just take off you know, those those sticky plastic things or the thing that attaches to the sticky thing at the bottom and you just lay them in your knickers and that was it, there wasn’t anything else to really be told I don’t think. And I remember having to tear them up and put them down the toilet, that’s what I’ve just remembered. Yeah, having to tear the up, ew.. That makes me feel quite sick.

Le’Nise: So you would actually take your used pads…

Sharon: Yeah, I’m sure I did. Yeah.

Le’Nise: And then put them down the loo.

Sharon: Yeah.

Le’Nise: Oh wow.

Sharon: I know. Oh I’m going quite deep now.

Le’Nise: Do you do that anymore?

Sharon: No. That’s why I was mortified, like *gasp* I used to do that.

Le’Nise: What’s really interesting is lots of women they still think that it’s OK to flush a tampon down the loo.

Sharon: Really?

Le’Nise: Yeah and I have seen posts on Instagram where people talk about, oh, how much tampon waste is contributing to things, you know, clogging up the sewers and the drains and in the comments you see women saying things like, oh, my God, I had no idea that I wasn’t supposed to flush them down to the loo.

Sharon: Sorry to interrupt but that’s really interesting because in public toilets you see that your space for all sanitary in, you know, one of those sanitary bins next to the toilet. So why would you think at home that you’re… It’s really interesting.

Le’Nise: I think sometimes, like I can speak for my own personal experience. Like when I was using tampons, I had no idea, I would either just flush it down the toilet or in public, I would perhaps wrap it up and put it in that bin but I didn’t make the connection and I can’t explain why, it just never clicked in my mind until I started doing this work and reading around it. But yeah. Tampon waste and all menstrual pad waste is a huge problem for the sewer and water companies in terms of cleaning the water. So I think that’s really interesting that you were told to rip up your pads and flush them down the loo. Yeah. What about your education in school? Did you have sex ed in school and did it cover anything to do with menstrual health?

Sharon: I can’t recall it covering anything to menstrual health. I remember, possibly we talked about sex as in how you reproduce but I don’t remember any real kind of education around what was happening to my body at that time.

Le’Nise: So thinking about the education that you received in these areas. Do you think it’s changed the way that you speak to your kids? I know you have a son and a daughter, about these topics?

Sharon: Yeah, yeah, it has. Definitely, so with my son, he’s a lot more aware of what happens in terms of, you know, reproduction, but also in terms of periods. And my daughter, I’ve just recently started telling her a lot more. But she’s 7 and my son is 11 but I just want them both to be aware of what happens to a woman’s body, because I feel like it will change their relationship with their own bodies, especially my daughter, change her relationship with her body. 

She started to ask me questions about “does it hurt mummy? And, you know, what does the sanitary towel feel like against your skin and does it hurt when the blood comes out?” So she’s asking me a lot of questions and she started asking questions probably within the last year. 

It makes me happy that she will be better equipped hopefully than I was. And it’s not that I blame my parents or think they did a bad job. I think it was just, they thought they were doing what was best, and I’m sure at that time that was for them what was best. But just learning from my experiences, I think it’s really important that my daughter has a different relationship with her body and I think having that understanding of your body and what it’s actually doing can really help you in terms of your self-esteem and your confidence and just your relationship with your body because it’s such an important relationship.

Le’Nise: Your daughter is really curious about everything that you’ve been talking to her about. Curiosity, but has she had any other reactions and has she talked to her friends about these things?

Sharon: Oh, I don’t know. I’m not sure. I’ve got no idea. She’s a really interesting character, so she might have done, goodness knows. I’m not sure she would even tell me, actually she probably would tell me if she’s spoke to her friends. Even at her age already, she has a very distinctive personality, which we talked about before but I think she quite likes her independence with her friends and, you know, having her own conversations than… So, yes, she probably has spoken maybe a little bit.

Le’Nise: Mm hmm.

Sharon: Oh, I’m intrigued now. I’m going to have to ask her.

Le’Nise: The conversations you’ve had with your son. How has he reacted?

Sharon: He’s been fine, really. His reaction to talking about periods has been, he just really listened and asked a few questions, but not very much, not on the level that my daughter did, but recently actually he told me he was quite annoyed that I had had those conversations with her earlier and before I could even respond my daughter chipped in and said, “but it’s actually my body and it’s going to happen to me, so that’s why I need to know”, and I was like, “oh, girl.”. I just apologised and said it wasn’t intentional but she was not having it at all. She was like, well its happening to me so, of course, I need to know sooner than you do and that was interesting because I hadn’t really realised I’d done that.

Le’Nise: Did you think that you didn’t need to have those conversations with him?

Sharon: I don’t know. I don’t think was necessarily that, I think because I had my daughter for 2 1/2 years after having him, by the time I could have probably started talking to him about things, I was really busy trying to mother a second child as well and I think it just wasn’t really on my radar. I was just struggling so much and still am with motherhood and everything else. And maybe there was a part of me that thought actually he’s a boy so he might not need to know just yet or I don’t know. I don’t think it was particularly intentional, maybe it’s a subconscious thing that I just thought actually, he’s a boy, it’s not happening to him. Maybe little M was right in what she was talking about? You know, my response to telling her, you know, earlier than him.

Le’Nise: I think it’s interesting the idea of talking to boys about periods and the menstrual cycle, because, you know, it might not happen to them directly, but it will impact them. So, you know, they might have a daughter, they might have a wife, they certainly have a mother.

Sharon: Yeah. I think that’s partly the reason why I told her it was a selfish reason, because I’ve just remembered something where I explained to him that sometimes my moods can get quite low and it doesn’t necessarily mean that I’m annoyed with him or with anything currently going on, but it just means that it might be my monthly cycle and it changes my mood and I explained all that kind of stuff to him and then he started to get a little bit and he will occasionally say, “are you on your period mum?”. 

Sometimes I’m just like, “No, I’m just a  bit grumpy”, but I’ve tried to help him in terms of his emotional intelligence, so I have said to him, occasionally, I get moody and it might not necessarily be to do with my period, but if he sees me like that, then if he could get me, for example, a camomile tea, then that would be great and he does that every now and again. And also it’s a good sign for me to show so that I’m aware that he feels as though my mood isn’t quite right or that I might be being a bit difficult, because let’s face it, we’re not perfect. 

And so, yeah, it’s almost like an unwritten, unspoken understanding between each other. It’s like a little code for ‘mum is not quite right right now’. And I really like that and thankfully, he hasn’t brought me too many camomile teas, but he will ask because that means something’s not right but it just makes me feel like he at least understands me a little better.

Le’Nise: It’s a lovely sign of his growing emotional intelligence.

Sharon: Mm hmm. And he is a really sensitive, lovely child, he really is. He’s super kind and generous and he’s now eleven, his personality is changing a bit and his moods are going up and down and I have explained to him that as difficult as it is for him at this stage, it’s also difficult for me as well, because as much as I have worked with children and teenagers and adults over the last 20 years, he has to understand that I haven’t parented a pre-teen or a teenager before and it is a different space that we’re beginning to occupy and I have said to him that as patient as I need to be with him, he also needs to be patient with me, because we’re both learning together. And so, yeah, occasionally I will remind him of that.

Le’Nise: And do you think he understands that idea of patience being a two way street?

Sharon: I don’t think he understands it for his age, no, but all I can do is try and help him to understand because it’s something that I need to understand as well. You know, we are really both in it together, we really are.

Le’Nise: I want to touch on your collage series, Seeing Ourselves. You mentioned earlier that you felt disconnected from your period and from your body. Talk a little bit about the inspiration for your collage series and perhaps how it’s changed the way that you see your body.

Sharon: Oh, the collage series has been amazing in that it’s given me a chance to really express myself and have a voice and change my relationship with my body and improve my confidence so much and the reason why I started the series was because I felt like I didn’t see myself in a number of spaces. 

So, for example, in an arts and heritage sector, I applied for a museum, you know, there are very, very few women of African descent. I’m not saying there aren’t any but I felt like in an environment that I was working in and the conferences that I would go to, the workshops or the talks for museum professionals, I just don’t see women like me reflected back and I started to feel quite disconnected. I also didn’t see myself in magazines and that has stopped to change, for example, Vogue, and I absolutely love that magazine now. But I didn’t see myself represented, I didn’t see myself when I went to galleries or in museums and in particular, I wanted to see women with natural Afro hair because I felt as though my experience growing up was that my hair would be chemically straightened from I think the age of ten, possibly. Which is really interesting because it was around eleven when I started my period. So in terms of my identity, developing my relationship with my body wasn’t great, with my period starting and I didn’t know what was going on. So that was something that was natural that was happening to me and now I think about it at the same time my natural hair was growing and actually thinking about it was earlier that my hair straightened. It was definitely hot combed earlier and so all these things that were natural, that were happening to me weren’t anything to be celebrated. 

And through making the series, it allows me to take up space, I think, and take up space in places where I don’t see myself. So every single collage features a woman with natural Afro hair and I have been asked, which I think is a crazy question, why only black women with natural Afro hair? My response is ‘Why not?’. Because I don’t feel as though white artists are asked why they are not inclusive of other people and then ask why are you not making artwork about black women with Afros? You know, I’m not convinced they get that question. And also, it’s my space where I get to make the rules, there are no restrictions, there are no boundaries, there’s no one telling me what to do. I just feel so empowered by the series. 

I feel so empowered by the connections I’ve made, the women I’ve met, people who support my work, people who’ve responded to it both literally in the gallery spaces or when I’m doing a talk or a workshop but also the people online and the idea that the work is now in a number of different countries as well where they’ve bought them and I’ve sent them to them which just completely blows my mind and it makes me really humble that from something that provides me with so much relaxation, so much calm and is such a meditative process. It’s bizarre that other people, and it’s wonderful, that other people connect with the work.

Le’Nise: You said that the collage series has improved your confidence. So how do you see yourself now?

Sharon: Oh, that’s a really good question. How do I see myself now? I see myself as strong now, I see myself as I feel like it’s more than okay to be me. And I feel that if I’m too much for some people, you know that saying if people feel like you’re too much for them, they are not your people. That’s okay, too. 

And I think that maybe before I wanted people to really like me and I wanted to fit in. And I remember having my son and feeling really disconnected because I felt as though I didn’t fit, we’d moved to a new area. I had no friends in the area and within the friendship groups, I was the only black mum. Maybe there was one or two others, but predominantly the mums were white and I and as much as I love those friendships, still most felt like I didn’t see myself but now I see myself as strong and driven and yeah, and able to do what I set out to do. And I just felt as though I was getting to a point in my life where if I didn’t start believing in myself and trying to achieve my dreams, then when would I, you know that whole thing of ‘if not now when’, oh I’m coming out with them this morning, aren’t I. But if not now, when? I just felt like, gosh, I’m 40, you know, I think I was 43 at the time, now if I don’t start doing this stuff, you know, I’ve got this art degree, I’ve got this experience so I can be creative. Why not just go for it and see what happens and just keep making the work? And I got a lot of encouragement from people on Instagram, a huge amount of encouragement. You know, those months where I was literally making a new piece every single day. I got a lot of encouragement and I still do. It’s just been completely magical journey, really.

Le’Nise: So you feel stronger now, you feel more confident. Do you feel more of a connection with your body and yourself?

Sharon: Yeah and I think that partly comes from the fact that I stopped drinking about a year ago. I feel like I deal with my feelings head on, and my emotions head on, so if I’m happy, I’m happy because I’m really happy and I have to deal with that happiness, if I’m sad, ooh, we’ve got to deal with sadness, too. And I feel like even with the odd glass of wine, it obviously alters your state slightly. It’s not that I’m anti alcohol, but when it got to the point where I would have a sip of alcohol and it would give me a pounding headache, then it was time for me to go actually and trust me, it was ridiculous, I did keep trying as though it was a health food that I needed to really get into my body, which is ridiculous. But I think when you’ve got a particular way of coping with everyday life and you’ve always done that, it’s very difficult to then go actually, well, I’m going to have to cut some paper and glue it back together and just deal with my emotions. 

I think it’s definitely had an impact with how I view my body and how I see myself and it’s also improved my mental health hugely, hugely, because creating collages gives me that time to really breathe. You know, when you can sit up to six hours and just cut and you can be in a room like I sit next to my husband a lot of the time creating the work on the sofa watching TV and he’ll be watching and I’ll be cutting and we’ll be talking and I’ll be listening to him and when you give yourself time to just do something that’s very selfish, very about you and no one else. 

People ask me, do the kids get involved in your collages and do they help? They have a couple of times, but this is really my space, if they want to make a college, they’re more than welcome to make something next to me or, you know, make their own pieces and I do encourage that but I don’t think everything needs to be connected to someone else. 

It’s okay to be by yourself, I think that’s not necessarily a narrative that is encouraged, especially when you’re a mother. You’re quite often encouraged to be giving, you know, giving everything to your kids and that’s great if that’s what you want to do but equally if you don’t want to do that, then you should be allowed to do some craft or take time for yourself. And for me, it only makes me a better mother. I’m not saying I’m perfect, definitely not perfect but what is perfect? but it definitely makes me better than I would be without creativity.

Le’Nise: So this collage series has been a real jumping off point for you in so many different ways to improve your confidence, it’s giving you space for yourself and made you stronger and actually, the whole mental health angle is really fascinating as well. You said you know what your emotions are and you’re not hiding them with alcohol anymore, if you feel something, then you that’s what you feel and I think that’s really important and so many people I speak to do use things to hide their emotions, you know, and I think that’s part of being human but it’s really fascinating that you’ve been able to identify that and use that as a source of, you know, being a bit more clear eyed about yourself.

Sharon: Yeah, I think it’s just brought a certain level of clarity and acceptance for myself and love from myself, really. I feel like my life is a lot fuller. And I still have my moments of, ‘I’ve got too much to do and how am I going to manage it all?’. And that is completely normal. Obviously, when you’re in it, it doesn’t feel normal but I feel so much better just with making and with sharing what I’m doing with other people and showing people that there are other ways to relax. 

I want to explain the state really that I get into when I when I create the collages, so it goes from ‘um what am I going to make?’.  And I don’t think about what the piece will look like. I start with a portrait and I start cutting and I just cut away the thing, the pieces that instinctively feel right and to remove, look at light and shade. I might remove the light sections of someone’s face or the light in the clothing or a background. I keep cutting away and then it begins to flow and that feeling of flow is so beautiful. It’s really difficult to explain. 

I recently did a workshop with Mandy and Kate from Love Sober podcast and they talked about flow in the introduction and so many people in the workshop said that they entered that state and they hadn’t collaged before, so it felt really special that all of these women had entered that state through me doing the workshop, that felt super special, I was like *gasp*, it felt like the biggest gift you could give someone and people just got into it and that feeling of, you know, outside things don’t matter and you might be talking to someone, but you’re entering something completely different, where something else takes over and you’re just in it and that’s why collaging for me is meditative, because it allows me to not just relax and create something and people might like it, you know, or I can create a bespoke piece for someone and they’ll go, oh, I love that. 

That’s a great feeling too, but the process is so beautiful and so healing and it doesn’t matter what’s been going on day, I could be having the most hideous day but if I just give myself that time to create something at the end of it, it all goes away. Yeah, it all goes away.

Le’Nise: You’ve really gone on a journey from this eleven year old girl who wasn’t sure what was happening to her to this 43 year old woman.

Sharon: 44 but it’s okay, it’s only a year.

Le’Nise: A 44 year old who has greater confidence, feeling strong, who has a better sense of herself and I think that’s really fascinating. And if any listener is connecting with what you’re saying, what’s the one thing you would want them to take away from this podcast?

Sharon: That it doesn’t matter what’s gone before but just start with today, to start with today and think a lot about what you want to achieve, who you want to be, what you want your legacy to be. 

And I think in working with the museum that I work with, I look at community engagement and my work is about encouraging people who are not the typical museum audience to take up space in that museum. So underrepresented groups, so the work I do really ties in with my collage series because it’s about me taking up space. I really want people to think about legacy a lot really in working at the museum and it’s made me think about what my legacy would be and I really want people to think about what their legacy would be. It doesn’t need to be huge, you don’t need to, I don’t know, it doesn’t have to be huge, but just something that means something to you, something that you’d be proud of. What do you want your story to be? 

And it doesn’t matter how old you are. I never, ever expected to be doing what I’m doing now. I always hoped I would but I just got to a point, especially after having my son, that I just thought I can’t, I couldn’t even imagine leaving the house without him or having real time on my own, and the same with my daughter, I just thought I want to achieve those things that I thought I was going to achieve, so I just think to start with today and just make things happen and really believe you can do it. That’s the most important thing, is to believe in yourself.

Le’Nise: Thank you so much. Sharon, there are so many, you’ve said so many wise words and there’s a lot for listeners to take away and unpack. Where can listeners find out more about you?

Sharon: Okay. So you find out more about me by my Instagram account @London_artist1 but you can also find out about me through my website, which is londonartist1.com and I have some things coming out, so I have some workshops, I have a workshop in January, another one in February. I’m part of an exhibition at the Mall Galleries in December for Art For Youth and any money raised will go towards a youth arts charity. Young people are very close to my heart because I do youth engagement as well at the museum I work at. So find out more about me via my website and my Instagram account.

Le’Nise: And we’ll put all the links in the show notes. So thank you so much for coming on the show today.

Sharon: Thank you so much for inviting me. Thank you for allowing me to think about my period and my story in a completely different way. Yeah, lots for me to think about as well. Thank you, Le’Nise.

Le’Nise: Thank you.

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. 

Period Story Podcast, Episode 1: Ateh Jewel – Women Are Superheroes

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I had the pleasure of interviewing Ateh Jewel for the first episode of the Period Story podcast. We talked about Ateh’s very dramatic first periods, how she developed a healthy attitude towards menstruation and why she thinks women are superheroes.

Ateh is a multi award winning beauty journalist, blogger, director and producer has been in the industry for 18 years writing and styling for titles such as Vogue, Tatler, Sunday Times Style, The Telegraph, Allure, Guardian Weekend Magazine, Glamour, Grazia, Red Magazine, Stylist and Get The Gloss. She was also a Marie Claire UK columnist for 2 years with her column Colour Counter, celebrating beauty for all skin tones and a columnist for darker skin tones on Feel Unique.

Find Ateh on Instagram @AtehJewel, and Twitter @AtehJewel and check out her website, Jewel Tones Beauty.

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Listen in Apple Podcasts

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Show Notes

Beauty Banks by Sali Hughes

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Show Transcript

Le’Nise: On today’s episode, we have Ateh Jewel, the multi award winning beauty journalist, blogger, director and producer. She’s been in the industry for 18 years writing for titles such as Vogue, Tatler, Sunday Times Style, The Telegraph, Allure, Guardian Weekend Magazine, Glamour, Grazia, Red Magazine Stylist and Get The Gloss. She was also a Marie Clare UK columnist for 2 years with a column, Colour Counter, celebrating beauty for all skin tones. Welcome to the show.

Ateh: Thank you so much for having me, it’s great to be here!

Le’Nise: So let’s start off by getting into the story of your first period, can you share with us what happened?

Ateh: Well it was quite dramatic, I’m not going lie. So I was about 13 or 14, I remember being one of the last people in my class to get my period. I went to an all-girls school so everyone was like all up in everyone’s business and I was one of the last. I was like Oh God when is it going to happen for me! I remember one of my friends started at 9 in primary school, so by 14 it felt like a long time and it was in the middle of the night, I woke up with stabbing pains and I thought I was going to die, I thought I had appendicitis and I remember screaming. 

It was a screaming hysterical pain and my mum was so concerned, she rushed me to the emergency room and I was in there moaning with like a dull ache and remember my mum saying scream louder, come on, it’s the middle night come on be more dramatic you’ll get seen and I was like AHHH so it was a lot of drama and the doctors were like oh have you started your period and I said no and they quickly worked out it was probably the beginning. 

The only way I can describe it was like a gas station coming on and all the machinery powering up and the imagery I had in my head was the machinery is turning on and it is not pleasant or comfortable. And it was literally like the cranking of gears which manifested in a stabbing, aching pain and I thought oh if I’ve got 40 or 30 more years of this, this is not going to be cute. It was a painful experience but at the same time, you know, I did feel a huge amount of responsibility, like oh my God, now you’re a woman and it’s a girl to woman moment so a lot of confusing, conflicting, interesting feelings going on but from me my first feeling was pain, a lot of pain. 

Le’Nise: So you said you felt a great responsibility as you kind of transitioned from girl to woman, it’s really interesting that you use the word responsibility.

Ateh: Yes, I mean, I had a very chaotic childhood, very dysfunctional and I think as a child I often felt and I’m also a recovering perfectionist so I always felt a lot of responsibility and so for me, getting my period was another responsibility, like the responsibility of not only my body but I can have a child now, like I’m not going to at 13 but suddenly your body is a vessel, its transitioned into something else and I think that really effected my mindset, that now I could technically be a mother. 

My grandmother had my dad at 13. She was Nigerian and I wasn’t close to her at all but I have this story of this little girl having a kid at 13 which was completely wrong in every sense of the word and very damaging but I suddenly felt my god, it’s not a million miles away for a 13 year old to have a baby so I also did think about things like that. 

Le’Nise: Wow, so you got your period and you were also carrying this weight of what happened to ancestors, your grandmother’s story. That word responsibility really hit me because I’ve never heard a woman describe her first period like that, so that’s really fascinating.

Ateh: Well you know at 13 I was a 145 year old woman so I’m kind of Benjamin Button, I’m aging backwards. I’m 41 now and kind of evening up, like yeah I did think about things like that. 

Le’Nise: So you went to the emergency room and told you were having your first period and you knew you had your period. How did you learn about menstrual health, what to use and how to take care of yourself? 

Ateh: So, I mean, that was my mum. She gave me a book “Your Changing Body” and all these things and we had discussions. My mum is an amazing woman, she’s kind of a hippy free spirit but at the same time she can be really conservative about other things, you know like, I straddle two generations so I grew up with BodyForm, like run around skateboarding, your period will never get you down or hold you back but also my mum was born in 1946 you know and she’s like ladies never use tampons, don’t stick anything up yourself. 

So it really terrified me you know, girls should only use sanitary towels because you shouldn’t be putting things inside of yourself and so I had these very conflicting images and ideals of menstrual health. Also you talk to your girl friends but my mum was the one, she was responsible and she said this is what’s going on, use sanitary towels, here’s a book, have a chat but you know there was never shame in my house which was very good and I really appreciate my mother, she’s never been into shame in that sense, shame in other things but not with your body which is good.

Le’Nise: That’s really interesting because other women that I’ve spoken to, they have described the sense of shame coming from their mothers or their grandmothers where they were taught shame around menstruation and it being something that they needed to hide or something that was taboo so I think it’s wonderful that you didn’t have that. So you got given sanitary towels and was that something you thought you know I just have to get on with it?

Ateh: Yeah I think there was a sense of ok this is how it is. Also I should mention I had huge boobs, I’ve always had a huge boobs so in a funny way, I had a woman’s body from 11 so that also changes you because men and the male gaze, I was probably ready and mentally prepared to get on with it in that sense so by the time I was 13/14 I was like this is how it is, my body is changing, I have to look after myself and this is how you look after yourself. 

In primary school one of my closest friends had a period at 9 and I knew she had to run off to the bathroom, was all very mysterious, but I had a sense that’s what you did a few times a day. You go to the bathroom and you change but the shame part is really interesting, I always felt that because my mums a bit of a hippy, she would take us out of bed at midnight and we would howl at the moon on a full moon and she’s always hugging trees and for me, periods were always linked into the divine, it was like the power of creation so yes I always felt there was this old fashioned ‘you don’t discuss it’. 

You know I was born in ’78, I’m a child of the 80’s and I wouldn’t go at a dinner table and discuss my periods growing up like the way I am discussing it with you now because we are in a different time, it’s something you don’t discuss but it’s nothing to be ashamed of and I’ve been somebody like I can make a person now, that makes me a god damn superhero. So that’s how I felt, I felt the power and the divinity and that’s probably from my hippy mum but I felt yeah that’s why there’s responsibility, you can make people now, that’s insane. A super power. 

Le’Nise: Yeah super power, it’s amazing what we can do. You know, yesterday I went to a baby ceremony for one of my friends, she’s about to give birth and so instead of a shower she had a baby ceremony. She was talking about these ideas about the divine and how she made this person and how this person is inside of her and it’s so interesting that you brought that up today. So what about the conversations you are having with your daughters about periods and menstrual health?

Ateh: I mean they’re 8, I have twin daughters and it’s very difficult because you don’t want to burden them with too much information, how much information, it’s a different age, it’s a different time. I wasn’t going to mention anything but you know how children are, they burst in when I’m on the toilet and they were like “mum why is there strawberry jam in the toilet” I was like “can you please leave” and I was like do I say yes there’s strawberry jam in the toilet or do I say that’s blood and I just, you know what, let’s keep it real and I said once a month a woman and I explained it in a matter of fact way and one of my daughters was like ahh I don’t believe that, that’s crazy, she thought I was trying to pull her leg. 

I was like that’s how you know it’s a gift and I try to use positive words  like it’s a gift, the power of creation and this is how babies are made because once a month this is what happens and the payoff is you get babies, once a month there’s an opportunity to have a baby and I just said it in a matter of fact way and I thought, God are they too young, but I think kids just, they can roll with any information, it’s the way you present it and they were like ok whatever, when does this start to happen to you? I said 13/14 and like do you think it will happen for us at the same time? And I was like yeah probably and they were like okay bye we are going outside running around, and I think that is how it should be, the kind of matter of fact, there’s no big taboo or shame, it’s just part of who you are, your health, your body and so yes, 8, I don’t know if that’s too young or old I don’t know but that’s what happened. 

Le’Nise: I think they should have conversations, it’s so nice when they have been organically and it’s not a massive surprise when all of sudden they see something in their underwear that’s like “oh my god what’s this blood?

Ateh: The trauma of that, can you imagine? My best girl friend also has twins and her 11 year old daughters have just started secondary school and my friend is so honoured. She’s like my heartbeat, we just copy her, like when the girls are 11, I’m going to do what my friend does because she’s such a good mum and she’s like, “I’ve got a kit ready for her, I sat her down and I said if you’re in school and it happens and she’s bought her like a silk pouch with clean underwear, sanitary towels and wet wipes and she has it in her school bag ready so whenever it comes and she’s told her when you get your period in the middle of school just throw you underwear away, get the pouch, da da da” and I thought god that is so healthy so you will not have that shock or I don’t have any clean underwear! So my friend, God bless her has got a kid primed and ready with this little first period pack in her school bag which I think is really healthy. 

Le’Nise: Absolutely amazing. And how did her daughter react to that?

Ateh: Ok thanks mum that’s cool and it’s that no shame or embarrassment, this is how it is, you are responsible for yourself, you know, this is a form of responsibility and I think that will transition really well into sexual health in her teens. 

I think when you approach it properly you take care of yourself with your period, you take care of yourself with sexual health, you take care of yourself with breast exams, as a woman there’s women’s health. Why would you be embarrassed about doing a breast exam? Embarrassed about having condoms or any kind of protection, it’s ridiculous. I feel it as a form of empowerment you know.

Le’Nise: Absolutely. I think just going back to this word shame, I think you connected it to having your period and this ability to having a baby and I think that’s where this shame comes in because a lot of people don’t like to talk about sex and they find it embarrassing and then so having that conversation about periods is connected to having that conversation about sex. People use euphemisms about their genitalia and so…

Ateh: Makes no sense to me. Yeah, really odd. 

Le’Nise: I think for some people it just takes them a long time to get to where you are now where you are just so open to having this conversation. Everyone is on their own journey.

Ateh: I mean, I have to thank my mother she is very open and liberal, she is from Trinidad, I don’t know if that makes a difference but she is very warm, open and I remember watching G String Divas with her as a trashy channel 5 movie as a teenager, grossly inappropriate but my home was an open, happy, hippy home so it doesn’t really register that kind of shame about your periods or about your body so it’s interesting but I mean what does that serve you? It doesn’t serve anything or anyone I don’t think. It’s dangerous.

Le’Nise: It is dangerous because you don’t understand what’s going on with your period, can’t have open conversations or you think that things like pain and heavy bleeding is normal because you haven’t had the conversation about it. 

Ateh: It’s true. Because what is normal? Because until you speak to people, what’s a light period? What’s a medium period and heavy period? Unless you have a conversation, when is there a real problem? When do I need to see someone? When they go to the doctor I think women’s health is so, it’s not respected in a funny way, when you speak to a GP often as a woman and as a black woman, I find sometimes I have to speak louder and louder like “there is a problem, hear me” and I’m very empowered when it comes to that but if you’re bought up in shame then there’s going to be problems and you could really suffer. There are so many people’s grandmas who literally died of shame because they had cervical cancer, they never went to their doctor and they died of shame because they didn’t have it looked at and that’s dying of shame. 

Le’Nise: Wow, I mean it’s so needless. 

Ateh: Yeah, it’s a different generation. 

Le’Nise: Yeah absolutely, different generation. So how do you feel about your period now?

Ateh: Basically, I had my twins. One and done and my periods have been very, very fertile and like the day, hours and minutes my period is on. I’d been told by my acupuncturist that my womb’s on fire, be careful when you want to get pregnant and I never believed in acupuncture and then I got pregnant first go, I never timed it or anything when I got pregnant with my girls and I was like damn he was right. 

So, it feels really odd that I’ve had all these years for one go, the shop is closed , I’m not having any more kids. My two ladies and so 13 to 41 I’ve had all these periods and it was for one shot which is very wasteful but interesting and now I’m 41 and I’m thinking to myself, I’m not having any more kids, it can be quite uncomfortable, it can be quite bloating and all the rest of it but also my body has done its job in terms of, I wanted children and if you don’t want children then that’s fine but I wanted babies, I’ve had my babies, I know that having a period keeps my skin and my body juicy and the hormones and so I respect it for that. I think when I hit the menopause I’ll be nostalgic and be like “oh, bye!” you know what I mean? I feel like a friend going or they say flow comes to town it’s a very old expression and when flow leaves town in a very nostalgic way like “oh bye, thank you” but it’s a very weird one, it’s no longer necessary in a funny way but it’s doing its job of hormones and all the rest of it. Also, it triggers your role as a woman, if you don’t have children you are still a woman, still capable, still amazing. If you choose not to have children it doesn’t make you any less powerful or potent or anything but then there is a side of you where that chapter is closed and the next baby I have in my arms will be my grandchildren and I think ahead like that so it makes you think of nature and cycles. It will be a closing of a chapter but not the whole book. Mixed emotions. 

Le’Nise: It sounds like you have a very healthy relationship with your period in the sense that I don’t hear that you have fought with your period in the sense that you hated it or it is what it is.

Ateh: It is what it is and I think it’s like a beautiful metaphor for life, its messy, its life-giving and I think in a funny way woman are very tough, if you compare a 13 year old boy and a 13 year old girl and I’m being very general here but I think a lot of 13 year old girls are women because they have to deal with this messy, bloody thing that happens once a month. You literally have to get your hands dirty and feel the life and your body and oh my God this is happening because I could have a baby. 

I think you mind is blown and my husband tells this funny story when he was 13, his best friend was a girl and literally one summer she turned into a woman and it’s probably the time she had a first period. He didn’t see her for a whole summer and they went strawberry picking because their mums set it up and he was like picking strawberries and skipping around and she was like my God this is boring and embarrassing. He said he lost her because she was this woman and he felt like a little kid wanting to go strawberry picking and talk about comics and stuff and she like whatever I’m going off with my boyfriend or something and he said he remembers then, thinking my God we are the same age but you are a woman and I think periods are the same way, its helps you to deal with life in a funny way. It helps you psychologically. I choose to see the empowering side to it. 

Le’Nise: You have such a healthy attitude and I think it’s amazing how you’re speaking to your daughters about it and I wish more women could have those open, matter of fact conversations because it is life-giving and it happens every day, not every day but you know…

Ateh: I’d be concerned *laughs*. I think it also comes down to misogyny. I studied history at university and all the church fathers, there’s such a suspicion about the female body, the fact that for centuries people have been very suspicious, you can make people, you’re clever, you can do everything a guy can do and you can make people, it’s really scary. I’m not going to be self-hating, I’m not going to add to that conversation, I’m not going to have centuries of suspicion cast upon me, I’m going to see it for the divine thing that it is, that it’s life-giving. 

Also I think with technology and nature, we have moved to the countryside and tapped in more to nature, it’s really interesting like its autumn now and the colours are changing and you see road kill. When we first came her my daughter was like, “is that a dead bunny on the road?!” and I was like “yes, that is life love” and you get tapped into the rhythm of life and your body has a rhythm and I think we are so cut off from nature, so cut off with technology you know you can swipe, you can click, you can do everything so quickly but your body is on a biological clock, it’s on a rhythm and it reminds me of that, that I’m not master and commander of the universe, I am part of the universe. 

I feel in a spiritual way as well and it enforces you to remember you are part of something and you know what I have no control over my period. I can’t say can you start to tomorrow because I have a photoshoot or can you start next week because I have this, you have no control and I am a control freak and in a funny way you have to just surrender. Surrender is my new word. Surrender.

Le’Nise: I think that’s really nice when you think about the idea of rhythm, nature and even connecting with the idea of periods being linked to the moon and knowing that we are coming up that harvest moon and it’s the autumn equinox today and so a lot of woman will be on their periods or are coming onto their periods or ovulating and there’s kind of a nice synergy with that idea that our rhythm and nature and this kind of connection to the divine.

Ateh: Definitely I see it as that. That’s why people are shameful and scared because people are often scared of what they don’t understand. I am a very spiritual person, there are all these invisible things around us and this mysterious thing that you bleed and can have babies with. It’s really weird, I’m sorry. If an alien came to earth and you explained sex and periods they’d be like, “get out of here”, it’s weird, okay. If we break it down for an alien, it’s weird and it is mystical and it’s strange and I think a lot of fear and shame is built around things you don’t understand. Why is this happening? Why are babies made this way? Why do we have periods? No one knows really and that’s really scary. I just roll with it and I think that’s what freaks people out. We are just part of something. It comes and goes just like you and I one day and it’s just what you do in between that matters. 

Le’Nise: We’ve got really deep now! 

Ateh: Sorry but yeah that’s why it doesn’t freak me out. It came when it was ready to come, it’s going to go when it’s ready to go. I’m thankful to the women that don’t have periods and can’t have children and are desperate, are you kidding me? So there’s a sense of gratitude. Thank you that my body works really well and that I don’t have any problems, I have a lot of problems in other areas of my life that I can’t control, my weight, this and that but whatever my body did its job, I made two healthy huge full term twins. My girls were 6 and half pounds each, they were 38 weeks, and they were full term. Thank you, thank you, thank you. So I see just gratitude you know. 

Le’Nise: It’s so powerful; I actually have a chill just hearing you talk about it. Knowing everything that you know now and thinking about what you know now versus back then when you first had your period. What would you change, what would you tell your 13 year old self?

Ateh: I’d say you’re not going to die, chill out. Maybe you don’t have to go to the emergency room in the middle of the night with your mum. I’d give her a hug, she needed a hug at 13, and I’d give a proper hug and tell her it’s going to be okay. I don’t know if I’d change anything, I think I had a healthy attitude thanks to my mum towards my period and I’d say you know what you’re going to have two beautiful babies, it’s worth it, it’s messy, it can be inconvenient and can be all of these things which periods are, but you know all those years are worth it for that one shot, you’re going to have your babies and for the 10 years on the other side of it and that’s just life, I’m really grateful, I have a lot of cousins and family which have had a lot of problems with their periods and I’m very grateful that I’ve never been in crippling pain. 

The girl that created ‘Girls’ [Lena Dunham] had an elective hysterectomy because her periods were crippling, my God, to make that decision as a woman in your early 30s! I can’t complain I’ve been very very lucky that my body has done its job and it’s like clockwork and I’m just grateful, it’s part of being a woman. I love being a woman, that’s the problem, I’m not self-hating in any way, I love being a woman and I find it very powerful, I find it very lucky to be a woman and very lucky to be a mum. I tell my girls you can be anything you want but please breed, I want to be a grandma. Which probably isn’t the healthiest and they will probably do the opposite of what I say so I see it as a huge gift and again a huge responsibility. Responsibility can be positive and negative but this is a positive responsibility. 

Le’Nise: Just to wrap up, are there any last words that you would leave the listeners with about periods and how they should shift their thinking around their period?

Ateh: See it as a divine. See it as you are a creature, we are just animals, we are part of nature and it’s part of a rhythm. Also, please go and support Beauty Banks for my lovely friend Sali Hughes, she’s helping menstrual poverty and I think that’s something as woman we need to give back and understand that they’re many women in this country and around the world that do not have access to sanitary towels, tampons and that we need to be a sisterhood and look after each other. 

Just know that you are powerful and that wherever you are with your period, whether it’s painful, whether it’s this or that, you’re regular, you’re irregular, just respect your body in every sense and that’s part of your body and that’s part of who you are.

Le’Nise: Thank you so much. Where can listeners find out more about you and what you’re up to?

Ateh: I am on Instagram @AtehJewel, I’m launching a foundation for darker skin tones which I’m very excited about, I’m developing it. Please check out my website, Jewel Tones Beauty, and just say hi. Reach out and say hi, I’m on Twitter everything and thanks for chatting. It’s been really really stimulating and interesting. We are lucky. 

Le’Nise: Thank you so much for coming on the show. 

Introducing Period Story Podcast

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Introducing the Period Story Podcast!

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Period Story is a podcast that features women talking about periods, breaking taboos and getting behind the menstrual health myths that hold us back.

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Each episode features a notable and interesting woman talking about her first period, the way she learned about periods and menstrual health, what she knows now that she wishes she knew back then and everything in between.

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The podcast will launch next week! I hope you’ll be listening!

Subscribe to weekly notes from our founder, Le’Nise!