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PMS is one of the most misunderstood clusters of symptoms in the field of women’s health. Not only are health practitioners confounded by it, but women themselves don’t typically understand it and how it can be a powerful tool of insight.
I could write a post about the best herbs, nutritional supplements and dietary interventions that will help (and my goodness these interventions are so very useful!) but today I want to provide a different perspective on PMS.
What is PMS?
The definition of PMS are symptoms that arise in relation to your period and as soon as your period begins, the symptoms resolve.
The most common symptoms are:
- mood swings that can be as extreme as rage, angry outbursts, anxiety and depression
- digestive disturbances, such as indigestion, nausea,
- constipation or diarrhoea
- night sweats
- tender breasts
- acne flare-ups
- headaches and migraines
The answer that conventional medicine has for PMS is typically the pill. Next steps are medications for specific symptoms: diuretics for water retention; pain relief medication if there are any menstrual migraines and antidepressant or antianxiety medications for mood swings. The most radical intervention being a complete hysterectomy.
PMS is a Clarion Call to Listen
I’d like to invite you to understand PMS as a way of your deeper self trying to communicate with you. If throughout other parts of your cycle you’re having to compromise yourself, say yes when you really mean no, when external demands are relentless yet all you want to do is rest.
During the lead up to menstruation, you energetically become increasingly sensitive. You no longer have the buffer of ovulation hormones to give you superhuman energy. You also have a finely tuned bullshit detector and will not suffer foolishness gladly. If you don’t understand how to work with this head-on, it will come out sideways as anger, frustration, irritability or snappiness.
PMS is Shadow Work
What do I mean by shadow work? The shadow self is a concept developed by Austrian psychotherapist Carl Jung. The shadow contains all the aspects of ourselves that we push into our subconscious. It contains all that ugly bric-a-brac that is not socially acceptable, our pain, our shame, our fears. The premenstrual phase is where the membrane between our subconscious and conscious is becoming increasingly porous and permeable. One of my favourite quotes from Jung that so perfectly sums up the wisest way to approach this melting pot is:
“Enlightenment does not come from imagining figures of light, it comes from illuminating our darkness”. – Carl Jung
Illuminating the darkness and facing ourselves
If you’ve read my menstrual musings, you’d know I love the work of (another) psychotherapist Alexandra Pope. She writes on how the sacred initiatory tasks of the premenstrual are: facing ourselves, holding the tension and meeting our inner critic.
Instead of letting ourselves be possessed by our pain, we allow ourselves to hold it, acknowledge everything we’re experiencing and process it.
I invite you to hold a conversation with your inner critic and ask her: What do you have to tell me? Tell it to me straight, tell it to me truthfully but please be gentle about it. And please only tell me what will be useful for me to know right now.
You don’t need to solve all your deep, dark problems all at once. What’s so beautiful about the menstrual cycle is it has an inbuilt processing system. You’re given the opportunity every month to hop on another round of soul shifting, processing and integrating. I advise you to work on one thing each cycle, which goes something like this:
See what comes up in your Premenstrual phase.
Sit with it. Explore it. Name it. Embrace the (potentially brutal) insight.
When your energy lifts back up in the second half of your cycle leading up to ovulation you can make the necessary changes in your life.
A couple of weeks later, your orbit will bring you back to the premenstrual territory, and repeat the process, building on what you worked through.
By practising self-care in this way you’re breaking that denser energy up into manageable little chunks that you can work with.
The more you process and integrate, the more you heal, and the more you heal the more whole you become.