I grew up oscillating between a girly girl and a tom boy- one year I would paint my room pink and wear a skirt everyday and the next I'd chop off all my hair, and have a room full of sports team posters. Looking back, I think I was constantly exploring my feminine and masculine polarities- those that lie within all of us.
I remember wanting to be stronger, tougher, and fitter than all the boys when I was younger, fueled by my competitive fire and my parents' encouragement to be my very best. One year my parents and I were in Steamboat Springs, Colorado and I decided to sign up for a short 1 mile race. I was around 4 at the time and it was probably the farthest I had ever ran at that point in my life. I will never forget this one boy who at the beginning of the race told me that I had no chance of making it and that I would be so slow because I was a girl. Oh man did that make my inner fire burn that day...I made sure to remind that boy in the middle of the race when I passed him that boys do indeed RULE, he remained behind me for the rest of the race and I gleamed with pride making sure my dad was well aware and extremely proud of me for beating that taunting boy, who I saw crying at the end of the race. But I realize now that a part of me, back then, thought that I had to be more boy-ish in order to be strong, that I had to be less feminine/girly to be treated as equal. And it contributed to my inner battle to embrace my woman-ness...I embraced my Coach Jimmy and my dad's motto of "no crying in baseball" and began to push away feelings and emotions.
Over my life, I've heard extremely inspiring stories of young girls and women all over the world fighting for for equality and breaking the glass ceiling: Margo Hayes sending the first women's 5.15 rated climb, Malala Yousafzai standing up for female education in Pakistan and globally, Meghan Markle writing letters to Proctor & Gamble to have them change their soap commercial from "women all over America are fighting greasy pots and pans" to "people all over America are fighting greasy pots and pans", and all of my friends that participated in the #metoo movement. Malala once said, "I tell my story, not because it is unique, but because it is not. It is the story of many girls." Today I am going to share my own journey of self healing that allowed me to embrace the feminine warrior and divine feminine within myself. Fair warning... I WILL be talking about periods.
When I was in the seventh and eight grade, I'd wonder when the day would finally come that I would start my period, I now refer to it as my lunar cycle. By the eight grade there were only a few of us left in my friend group that hadn't started. I remember our group huddles and morning chats when each of those friends finally blossomed into womanhood. By the end of the eight grade, I had moved across the country from CO to CA to start a new life... I made new friends and even in CA I was the only one in the group that had not started. At least my boobs have budded, I thought.
As I moved into high school, I would sometimes panic and run to the bathroom to check to see if I too had finally joined the club. It was always a false alarm. By my sophomore year, I had heard too many of my girlfriends complain about their periods...my best friend had a double period (meaning 1/2 of the month she was on it) and I started to think, "Wow, maybe I don't really want to start my period." Instead of the praying and hoping that I too would bleed and become an official woman that I had been doing in junior high, I began to wish that my period would never come and that I wouldn't have to deal with PMS, spotting, moodiness and whatever else came along with being a naturally hormonally regulated woman. This thought process continued on. By the time I was 17, I had still never had any signs of getting my period, my mom began to worry. We scheduled a few visits with the doctor...my ultrasound revealed that anatomically everything was okay- I had a normal healthy well positioned uterus, two normal ovaries, and yet no period. They even did an MRI of my brain to see if I had a brain tumor that was potentially blocking signals from my brain to begin my cycle. Everything came back normal. It was also right around this time that my uncle had a blood clot in his leg and we found out that many of our family members, myself included, have a rare blood clotting disorder and should therefore avoid high amounts of Vitamin K (a blood coagulent) as well as estrogen. Fortunately we found this out before the doctors tried to prescribe me something to try to kick start my period with estrogen. With that restriction, we moved on to trying progesterone based boosters and birth control. When I was 18, I had my first period- albeit it was hormonally induced. I thought it was awful, I couldn't believe that every woman I knew had to deal with that every month! It was such an inconvenience, I had to go to the bathroom all the time, I was in pain and couldn't do all my usual sport activities as strong as I wanted to those days, and I was super emotional.
Throughout college, I moved on and off from progesterone based birth controls and rarely had my period. Yes I was lucky I didn't have to deal with one, but there was also a lot of unknowns...was I fertile? Could I get pregnant now or ever? Is my lack of period from being too active or my diet? What is the underlying factor or imbalance causing me to not have a period? Could it be serious? At the time, it wasn't too big of a deal, I didn't think I'd ever want kids and I had other things going on, so I wasn't too worried about it.
It was after college that I finally started to take my health and healing into my own hands. When I started graduate school in Boston, I became interested in Reiki in addition to yoga, which I had studied while traveling through Asia the year prior. Reiki is a healing modality that I like to describe as an "energy massage". I've been studying reiki now for over 3 years and I still don't know how to describe it's mystic qualities, thats probably why they call it the mystery teachings. What I do know, is that after receiving reiki..I had a massive emotional release and breakthrough. I, for the first time in my life, began to process a sexual abuse experience I had been victim too when I was younger. I began to understand and heal the trauma that I had incurred both on a physical, emotional and energetic level and I began to embrace my emotions and feelings. I was able to for the first time in my life admit what had happened to me to myself openly and realize its impacts on me. It took a lot of crying and even a few therapy sessions, but I was finally able to admit that it happened and love myself nonetheless, and was able to share my experience more openly with others. It was extremely painful and hard, I learned so much about myself and the capacity of the human brain and body to block traumatic experiences. It also made me wonder, was my period absence related somehow to the trauma I had induced when I was younger? Was my sacral chakra blocked?
My sixth grade longing to blossom into womanhood returned, I decided that I might one day want kids or at least have the option to have them, and that having a period was actually a pretty important indicator of good health for a woman. I wanted to know more about WHY I wasn't getting my period, WHY I had to hormonally induce it, WHY it sometimes responded, HOW often I needed to induce it, COULD I ever get pregnant, and COULD my trauma be healed? My nurse practitioner recommended I go see an endocrinologist...I finally did while visiting home from graduate school, I was still on my mom's health insurance plan (thanks Obama). Blood work was ordered and results came back in- although their lack of pre-approval from my insurance led to a financial battle over the $2,500 bill throughout the rest of the year. It turns out insurance agencies don't really think that women need to understand if and why they might be hormonally imbalanced and lacking menses. It's apparently no big deal to the medical industry. I suddenly found myself being one of the biggest advocates for having a normal period- something I had previously evaded! I began to ask myself...Why is it that periods are so poorly viewed not only by men but also women? A menstrual cycle represents the fertility of all creation and woman as the source of that creation! Why is it that women in India and places all over the world are not allowed in holy places when they are bleeding even though it's really one of the most beautiful, mystical, and sacred elements of a woman?
I began to want my period even more..
While the endocrinologist had fancy blood test results but little treatment options, my results indicated elevated free testosterone levels and high DHEA levels. He noted that I had two of the three indicators for Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS)...If you've never heard of PCOS it has been known to cause women to be "over-hairy", have irregular menses, fertility problems, upper body obesity, and, oh yeah, your ovaries may begin to grow a ton of small cysts! After he potentially and partially diagnosed this with no treatment options other than eat healthy and be active (two things I had already dedicated a ton of my time to doing anyway), I was left with little to turn to and NO answers to my original questions. I started researching treatments for PCOS and amenorrhea (lack of menses) and came across acupuncture as a form of treatment. Back in Boston I found an acupuncturist that did treatments at the yoga studio where I worked. Acupuncture, I learned, attempts to balance four basic properties: Qi (energy), Blood, Yin, and Yang. Conceptually yin is rest, slowness, the feminine, quiet, heavy while yang is moving, active, buoyant, rising, masculine, forceful, and light. Materially yin is the fluids of the body ( menstrual fluid being one of those!!) I had already begun to incorporate a yin yoga practice to counter my "yang" lifestyle of running, climbing, and biking.
My acupuncturist started me on regular sessions and even started to prescribe herbal formulas. What I found more important though were the books she recommended that I read: Feed Your Fertility by Emily Bartlett and Healing with Whole Foods by Paul Pitchford. These two books completely transformed the way I thought about my body, especially my hormones, as well as my diet. See, for the past few years I had always been one of those non-fat vegan types. I had trained for my marathon completely vegan, avoided butter and anything "fatty". After reading these books I began to realize that my diet was also void of yin nourishing foods like full fat dairy, nuts, avocado, and even meats, especially bone broth. It was the first time in 6 years that I questioned being vegetarian.
(See more about how to nourish your Yin from Acupuncturist Courtney Hill here).
I slowly began to incorporate lifestyle suggestions from these readings, I gradually changed my diet- concerned as I always had been as an American female pressured by advertisements and media that constantly make you question your body image. However my general lifestyle was the opposite of Yin at the time- I was under stress in graduate school, I was constantly looking at screens, my days were full of to-do-lists, I rushed EVERYWHERE, I was living in the middle of one of the most densely populated areas in the Country, I was running and climbing during any of my free moments, and in between biking through major traffic. Yes I did yoga to "relax", but also to push myself. I had little to no meditation practice.... and while I preached a slow lifestyle, it took something big to slow me down.
One beautiful New England Fall day while rock climbing, I took a fall while leading a route I shouldn't have been leading. I slammed my ankle into the wall and majorly injured it. While the immediate injury slowed me down and required that I drop some of the yoga classes I was teaching and focus on sitting and working on my thesis- I kept trying to push back into my yang lifestyle. It was not until 7 months later after completing my thesis research in India and turning in that thesis, that I finally got an MRI. Turns out, I tore a tendon and needed surgery. I was not invincible, prior to my previous misconception, and I was not going to mend on my own. I still had not had a period without hormonally inducing one. While in India I had seen an ayurvedic doctor and had done a week long ayurvedic cleanse to try to treat the issue..she too prescribed herbs. When I returned home, I had decided to finally try out eating fish, hoping to further nourish my yin. The week before I moved home to have surgery on my ankle, I went to acupuncture, ate fish, and took ayurvedic herbs, and went to a kundalini yoga class. By some miracle...I had my first non hormonally induced period. Despite the cramps, despite the emotions, I was overjoyed...it was like my seventh grade dreams finally came true! It certainly wasn't an overnight fix and I can't concretely say exactly what it was that finally got it moving. I combined so many healing remedies and lifestyle changes to get to that point (meditation, yoga, diet, reiki, ayurveda, acupunture, western medicine, and traditional chinese medicine). Maintaining a regular cycle continues to be something that I monitor and work on. But I do know, that I am extremely grateful when I do have my period now, I am grateful for the emotional build up and release it brings, I am grateful every time I cry - to me having my period represents a complete healing from sexual abuse, it represents my connection to nature (to the waxing and waning of the moon), it represents my vulnerable strength and compassion, and it represents the inner creative potential within me.
For me, these practices that I have undertook to embrace my feminine nature, to transform my perspective of my period from one of nuisance and fear to health and connection, my commitment to living with radiance and compassion, and to embracing the yin (the lunar, the waxing and the waning) have been the most empowering and transformative experiences of my life. I wish for all people to support women in embracing and respecting their inner radiance and divine feminine qualities. We can be strong and tough without losing our woman-ness. We can cry when we watch a movie and still be bad ass strong. Now, when our administration supports us women the least, it is more important than ever that we do the work to support each other.
“Not only are you powerful, you are prestigious. Not only are you prestigious, you are beautiful. Not only are you beautiful, you are consciousness. Not only are you consciousness, you are the spirit. Not only are you the spirit, you are the security of the future, the most bountiful beauty ever created. Men call it ‘woman'."