by Kate Shepherd Cohen
How the F**k are you supposed to hold yourself in Autumn? (Says the critic). The only thing you’re good for is falling apart. You’re so useless. You’re not worthy of being held. Is this blog title a joke? Hang on… what’s that? Day 25? A candle, lit to honour me, the Autumn critic? Oh. And a soothing hot bath? Um, well, I, the critic, might just stand here for a moment and, um, be quiet. Well, well, critic whispers - somewhat sarcastically - look at you, you’re... holding yourself?
Yes I am (says me, day 25) and ooooh, actually, I’m really rather enjoying the rich fruits of Autumn. Two years ago, I would not have believed that I wrote that last sentence - enjoying Autumn?! I definitely would have sided with the critic and told you that holding yourself is impossible and mocked a suggestion of something as simple as a bath and a candle. I hated Autumn. Premenstrum - URG!
You see, two years ago I was suffering with severe PMS. I look back and can describe my cycle much like having my soul kidnapped on day 16 and sent to hell/premenstrum for two weeks of torture at the hands of my critic. This eased on day 1, when the critic departed and the executioner stepped in with knife-stabbing cramping. Rather than a swift execution, I was saved on day 3 only with a knowledge that I’d been saved simply in order to endure the torture for another month. This is putting it lightly. Add two children under five, a business to run and a dose or two of trauma (of all and any degree i.e. any and all unpleasant life experiences) and it’s easy to see why I, like so many other women, was more than ready to accept the premenstrum as an illness and desperately turn to a variety of anti-depressants, tranquillizers, hormonal treatments and, even, a full hysterectomy, for salvation.
But back then I didn’t know anything about the menstrual cycle, I barely knew even the simple biology of it. Like so many women, I had zero rest during the winter, went full pelt in the Spring and was mindlessly hedonistic (manic) in the summer. By day 16 I was frazzled, with no defences to face the critic and no self-care practice, not even my 1% of knowing which day I was on. I had completely lost the plot.
But then - hallelujah and a MASSIVE sigh of relief - I found the plot in Menstrual Cycle Awareness, or MCA.
One of the first things I learned about Autumn, through MCA, is that it is not, in fact, a full two week holiday to hell.
Day 16 is not the beginning of Autumn but mid summer. This was a wake up call for me. The drop in oestrogen certainly still affects me post ovulation, physically and emotionally, but now, knowing I’m still in Summer, I try to allow it to be a little reminder for me that the beautiful Feminine is making herself known - like the first leaf that gently drifts from the tree with the first hint of summer wind. Sometimes I light an imaginary candle in my head (if I don’t have chance to light a real one - as simple as it sounds). I do this out of recognition and respect for the sacred union between the masculine part of the cycle (Spring/Summer/Via Positiva) and the feminine part of the cycle (Autumn/Winter/Via Negativa). I take a moment to honour my husband and the partnership we have and how we support one another. In doing this, I’m able to not be too hard on myself and him (I’m day 16, I’m day 16, I’m day 16.) and there aren’t the repercussions on the following days, which I now embrace as the last of the Summer: Day 17-18, like soaking up the sun on the beach, knowing that soon it’s time to go ‘back to school’. The critic has been put back where it belongs, into the Autumn.
So now I had roughly only seven or eight days (day 19/20-26) of Autumn-hell to contend with.
But, after months of tracking my cycle and with the ability, through MCA, to recognise and name the critic, I started to see a pattern. On every Day 19, I had the same critic attack I’ve suffered with for years. This critic attack drove me to repeated despair with my ensuing frustration, short temper, rage, tears, brain fog, confusion taking all those I love as victim.
The critic was a relentless monster, growing in strength from a few claw scrapes down the face on day 19 to being mauled and eaten by Day 25/26. The devil would say: you are being controlled. You are being oppressed. You are being silenced. Your voice is worthless. You are worthless. You are no good. You’re trapped. You’ve trapped yourself. You need to suffer in punishment for putting yourself in this trap. There’s nothing you can do. You need to run away. You’re a terrible mother if you run away. You’ve got nowhere to go. Suicide?
With the holding of the cycle through the gift of MCA, one month I decided to hold the huge tension and face my monster critic in what turned out to be something of an epic battle of wills.
And all of this took place in the bath. You see in order to face the critic, I needed to be armed and ready. I needed to clear my head of all the clutter and find the root. A bath is part of the answer for me - a place where I can abandon all external responsibilities (at least for 20 minutes) and, in dropping my to do list, I’m able to allow my imagination/subconscious take over. The bath has become something of a gateway to my psyche.
In the face off/ epic battle with my critic, I was able to sink in to the truth of what the critic was telling me and I saw that my sense of suppression was coming simply from not having time with my own thoughts, especially during my bleed. The next time the critic said ‘you’re being controlled’, I silenced it ‘no one can control my thoughts. I’m free to travel into my subconscious’. I now no longer have the feeling each month of being controlled and if I want to ‘run away’, I simply make time for my imagination (if not in the bath then just before I fall asleep). I am able to hold myself.
Importantly here, with two children and a business to run, I need to also begin to let go of taking on too many activities with my children - I make it as easy for myself as possible -more iPad- and, in the world of business I’m able to stop myself taking on any new projects at this time - if I don’t do this, these things tend to interrupt the free flow of thought during my ‘thinking-time’. In facing the critic I had another revelation.
Autumn isn’t 7 days of hell -there are delicious sweet spots in there. I’ve learned to find and embrace those sweet spots: Day 20-23 are - and I still can’t quite believe I’m writing this - now my favourite days in the cycle.
I’m completely in my power - with the critic at bay, no pressure from the ego, no pressure to be seen as anything other than me, I can be authentically me. Of course, I haven’t silenced the critic entirely but, in the place of an intensifying critic attack throughout Autumn, I ensure it’s the dropping of the bundle (and the journey into my ‘to do list-free’ imagination) that increases so I’m best place to take on the critic and the wisdom she holds. And there she is, every month - sometimes louder than others but I ‘dream into’ what she’s saying.
So, for example, when completely eaten up one month (in the form of a mild panic attack at night) with the critic telling me ‘your daughter will be desperately unhappy if you choose this alternative schooling route’, I was able to journey to the core of what the critic was saying and face my own experience of school and a fear of my own not belonging - this lead me to the realisation that all humans fear not belonging - belonging is how we survive.
Actually, my daughter (who is only 4) has a simple sense of belonging to us, her mum and dad and sister, and later in life only she can make herself feel loved and give herself a sense of belonging to the world (I found Brene Brown and Alexandra Pope’s teachings on this so supportive). I had to hold the onslaught of the critic, with all the physical tension, in order to really face my fears. And… it worked.
I felt liberated and grateful to the critic for what it had shown me - a deeper truth about the world in which we live. The Void (day 27-28) is still, of course, the Void with all its voidyness, but MCA has shown me that this is no longer the Autumn but the beginning of Winter with a new seasonal sacred task (and blog post) entirely.
So, critic, how the F are you supposed to hold yourself in Autumn? My response is, 1% of self-care: recognise the day of the cycle. The cycle will hold you and from there you can, in my experience, hold yourself.
Kate Shepherd Cohen
Kate runs the Facebook page and group Menstrualists which celebrates those working to raise awareness of the menstrual cycle and gives fellow menstrualists a place to share articles and explore the global menstrual movement, menstrualism.
Kate also runs Menstrual Cycle Awareness workshops from her home in Cornwall to local women, as well as to local mums and their daughters.
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