How Do We End The Taboos Around Menstruation? The Power Of Stories

“If you own this story you get to write the ending.” -Brené Brown

Generations of women have have lived their entire or majority of their lives with the stigmas around menstruation. 90% of women have at least one Premenstrual Symptom (PMS) so, the majority of women have also lived with the discomfort or pain as a normal part or even worse a consequence or “the curse” of being a woman.

So, how do we end the taboos around menstruation? For some of us, it started with one story, the story of:

Stasha Washburn, The Period Coach

I spent the first 20 years of my menstruating life HATING my period. It was so painful that I threw up for days from the pain. I would break out in a cold sweat, shaking so badly I couldn’t stand. I often passed out right before my period, imagine explaining that in high school.

The mood swings of PMS were in control, not me. I was on Birth Control and Narcotics in high-school. That’s how bad it was, and they didn't even work! So I stopped hurting my body even more with all those pills.

On my journey to heal myself I found that PMS was “common” but not “normal” Women didn’t need to continue living in pain.

In fact, I’m on this planet to End The TABOO. So no girl has to lie because she’s embarrassed. So no woman needs to buy an ‘easy to conceal’ anything.

I’m here to tell you, There is POWER IN YOUR PERIOD!

By sharing my story and working with so many other women I've been gifted these stories. Having a safe space to share and bond over taboos has led to some serious empowerment!

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Stasha’s story and her work has provided a safe space for talking and bonding over taboos. Her work has led to more stories.

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Natalie Baack, The Curvy Confidence Coach

My monthly cold, I called it. Viral symptoms that would creep up as soon as I was a few days out from my moon.

  • Sore throat
  • Tender skin
  • Flushed and feverish (but no fever)
  • Exhaustion

Add to that anxiety, depression, and hair-trigger emotions, I was a mess every month.

I'd try to call out sick to work except inevitably it was our busiest week. 5, maybe 10 movie screenings that I was responsible for making sure they went smoothly.

The busy days made it worse. And the few times I tried to actually rest, I was accused of faking it.

"I think you're making it up", he (my former boss) said. "You're sick ALL the time".

I couldn't tell him what was really up after all. It was taboo to talk about our periods. So I didn't call in sick again.

One doctor put me on anti-depressants (to take all the time, even though I only needed them for one week a month... they didn't work).

One doctor said "it's just a symptom of PMS, deal with it"

And I pushed through because that's what we're told to do as women.

"Don't let your period get you down."

"We need to prove ourselves as equals in the world."

But my intuition knew there was something else going on. I just didn't know how to figure it out. My journey into holistic health helped me see that not only was stress having a terrible impact on my body, I had been dealing with candida and chronic inflammation pretty much my whole life.

And pushing against my flow led to hormone imbalances, weight gain, chronic pain, and was well on its way to disease.

Thanks GOODNESS for Stasha Washburn. When I met her selling Kombucha at the DTLA farmer's market she helped me see that I was normal. She busted the taboo and helped shine some loving light on my path to healing.

She explained that PMS is not something we just need to deal with. She told me that there's a way to honor it, flow with it, and let it empower us.

LADIES. YOU DO NOT HAVE TO SUFFER.

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Edrea Lara, Mother and Owner of Edrea Lara the Curvy Photographer

For me, periods were never talked about in my household growing up. Never. It was just something that happened. For years I wore pads and never knew there were alternatives. I would get emotional PMS to the point of not wanting to exist. I would get confused at how I felt like I was on top of the world one week and suicidal the next. When I met Stasha Washburn, I was enlightened to the four phases, and it was like 🎶haaaaaalleluuuuuuujahhhhhh🎶

Then I learned how to take care of myself in the four phases. The results have been astronomical. I realized my luteal phase is the phase where I need the most self love and attention otherwise I go into depression. Because of this knowledge, my life has been turned upside down and I know I'll be able to support my daughter when her menstrual time comes. It won't be taboo in her world and she'll know that there are other alternatives to just pads.

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Sudiksha Joshi Ph.D., Mother and Learning Advocate

Then there was me. A silent rebel, I called my younger self, an introvert who just felt early on that being called untouchable wasn’t an honorable thing. So, this introverted teenager did the only thing she knew how to rebel, remain silent, hide, and manage her period like a stealthy ninja, just like her younger sister. The two who shared details of their days and yet perhaps in fear of ratting the other out or just in shame of having committed a sin against the social norms, conveniently managed to keep it a secret even from one another.

The question that changed the course of how I saw periods was this question by Stasha: “What do you love about your periods?” Stasha emphasizes the need for women to come together and share knowledge. I’ve never met Stasha in person and yet here I was with a new found meaning to being a woman and no longer in shame for not carrying out the untouchability traditions and restrictions.

It’s been two years since that question jolted me which led me to write this article. The story resonated with many and led to more stories...

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Clarissa Leong, Personal Stylist and Founder of Waking Up in Paris

I have to say, the idea of being grateful for my period leaves me a little stunned too. I have never thought of such a thing! I am very passionate about contributing to the end of shame for women in many areas, but this is certainly an eye opener.

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Nina Dafe, Founder of Far Above Rubies Collection

To be honest, my periods had always been an "ordeal". As a teenager, not only would I get the usual periods pains, I had other symptoms like getting colds and feeling nauseous/sick about 1-2 weeks before my periods. I remember a (male) doctor telling that the latter symptoms weren’t possible period symptoms don't cause that...so nothing was done.

As I got older (20s), the nausea and throwing up decreased until about 3 years ago. I changed jobs and there were stresses and tensions happening within my friendships and I started throwing up again every month.

This meant that I wasn't always able to go to work or had to leave work early at times (nightmare situation in a new job!). It was also very stressful as I didn't always know when it would strike at the time. I lived my life on edge.

My research on the correlation between vomiting and periods led me to discover that there was such a thing as CVS (Cyclic Vomiting Syndrome) and abdominal migraines. The symptoms fit me to a tee.

One of the things these sites recommended was nausea tablets. So the next time I felt nauseous at work, I went to the pharmacist to ask for tablets. I had to explain about CVS and abdominal migraines and then he said "Ah! They had just started researching and talking about that when I was leaving university. There are still so many things about women's health that are little understood".

When I walked away with my tablets (which didn't work, by the way!) I remember feeling really frustrated by that remark… because it's true. Here I was suffering every month and there are some doctors who will go so far as to say there's no such thing as PMS. The pharmacist himself, for example, was less sympathetic than intrigued.

Shortly after that I went to see a doctor. She was very sympathetic and actually helped me understand the science behind what was happening to me (progesterone increases in our bodies as our periods get closer; some women (such as myself) react badly to it causing them to be physically ill).

I remember feeling great relief to be finally understood. Since then, I've looked into more natural remedies for my migraines and practice greater self-care. This has meant that my body no longer rules me so much and when I do suffer with bouts of nausea, it's no longer so debilitating.

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Jyotsna Tiwari Pant, Mother, Nurse, and a Lifelong Learner

I grew up with cousins from my mother’s side of the family and I was the first one in my family (first girl out of 3) to start menstruating and that too at the early age of 11. I feel like the day I started menstruating was the end of my childhood. I was locked inside my bedroom for 12 days. I was not allowed to eat any food with salt during the first four days, I was not allowed to talk to or see any male members of my family. When I needed to use the bathroom, it was announced to the whole household so that the male members would stay away. I remember feeling extremely sad during those 12 days as I felt alienated from my father and brother who I was very close to.

After those 12 days inside, I had to visit my relatives. The news had spread everywhere. My aunts teased me saying all sorts of absurd things like: I was now ready to be married, I had to be careful around boys and other awful things. I used to dread my periods during a family gathering or a festival. If it happened, then you were isolated from the festivities, feeling lonely and miserable.

Those four days of the month, I felt ashamed of myself, I felt sinful, I felt dirty, and many times I also felt guilty. There were times when I hid my periods from my family. I remember once we were on a vacation to my father’s village where we had gone to see my beloved grandma. You were not supposed to touch her during your period. We were there for 4 days and I had my period the day after we got there. I felt guilty to the core but I didn’t want to miss out on my grandma’s out of this world hair oil massages and her affectionate hugs. So I didn’t tell anyone and kept it to myself!

I also remember not telling anyone about it during a major Hindu festival, Dashain, a celebration of victory of good over evil. It used to be a holiday I looked forward to because everyone got together, ate goodies, played cards and most important of all, the elders gave you blessings and MONEY. During one such occasion, I hid my period from my family because I didn’t want to miss out on all the fun, and the money. I was only 12. My grandpa used to worship me and my sister as Goddesses during the first nine days of Dashain. After I had my periods and it all stopped. I felt left out. It broke my heart.

At school, I didn’t tell my friends in the beginning because no one had ever mentioned menstruation and I thought I would be the first one here too (which I really think I was!). I would have cramps in school but I would hide it from everyone because I didn’t want anyone to know about it. When we were around 13/14 we had become comfortable talking about this topic as most of us had already started to menstruate. When we talked about it, I always felt like my case was a little more extreme than my friends who belonged to other castes. I felt like the Brahmins were a little stricter when it came to following “the rules of menstruation”.

My mother is considered somewhat unorthodox in her family. She loves us to death but even she felt obliged to make me and my sister follow these rules. It was the social pressure and she did not know any better about that topic. I have to admit, one good thing I remember is that mom would come to sleep with us kids at that time for 3 days and that made us so happy. Women are not supposed to share the same bed with their husbands during the first 3 days of menstruation.

Buried deep in my memory are these things, these 4 days of the month when I hated myself sometimes. It’s like someone put a spoonful of mud in your deliciously prepared meal. I have very fond memories of my childhood except for some those “Periods of shame” that I cannot forget even if I wanted to.

I have been through a lot in my life. Sometimes I feel like maybe it is because I committed those "sins" which of course it's not but you know the way you are brainwashed...

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Amy Brooks, Mother and Founder of Voice Pen Purpose

Sudiksha, I've been thinking about you and your writing about women's cycles. I am in Day 3 of my period and usually I feel pretty rundown at this point. Yesterday, Day 2, was draining and I left a training to lie down and listen to a guided meditation. I felt restored after that and could participate during a group call a little while later.

Today, instead of feeling tired, I feel very energized and "in flow" with my purpose...as a woman, a mother, a wife, a writer, and a healing guide for others. I have been crying a lot. Happy tears, empathetic tears, distraught tears, grateful tears, and frustrated tears. This release has been good and I feel more connected to, well, everything!

You've made me think about how I've never associated my cycle with shame, but I've never celebrated it either. I'm wondering how my neutrality has impacted my ability to accept the natural gifts that women are afforded by our biology and our intuitive alignment. Thank you for encouraging this reflection.

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We need innovations to manage our periods like menstrual cups and more research to understand our cycles better. However, it’s the stories of shame, of pain, of taboos, and ultimately of healing, of community, and of power and celebration that has brought us together. And this communal wisdom and sharing as Stasha, The Period Coach puts it, is essential to end the taboos around menstruation and to change the world.

Stasha is hosting an online Summit: The Red Circle that starts on May 26 through June 1, 2017 and is free to attend. This summit brings together 27 Speakers from all over the world in an effort to change our relationship with our period, empower our period and end the taboo. Half of all profits will be donated to Days for Girls, an organization working worldwide to ensure that no girl has to miss a school because she has her periods.

Share your period story with us and Register for The Red Circle Summit.

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