The Monthly Visitor
Why I’m grateful for the intense sadness that accompanies my menstrual cycles.
I’m grateful for my period. And not just because it proves the possibility of new life and distinguishes me as a woman. I’ve actually become thankful for the emotional instability that sensitizes the handful of days surrounding my menstrual cycles.
For the first years of my period, I noticed few symptoms of pre-menstrual syndrome. But I remember sitting alone in my dorm room my freshman year of college and crying about—literally—starving children in Africa. Even I was caught off-guard by the experience. My period started three days later.
I’ve continued to grow more emotionally fraught around the time of my period. Much of my emotional instability during this time feels pathetic and can quickly become embarrassing. It’s hilarious, actually, as I like to think of myself as laid back, secure, self-actualized. I suppose there’s benefit to having that mirror shattered on such a regular basis.
But present within my spectrum of extreme emotions is sadness. Just sadness. And sometimes this sadness isn’t disembodied or irrational. It’s appropriate sadness: sadness for things and situations that deserve to be grieved.
As much as I wish I weren’t this way, my MO is generally out-of-site-out-of-mind. I’m present where I physically am; I think about the people I see and physically interact with; my mind is on my most immediate surroundings. I forget people and situations with which I don’t closely or regularly engage. But there’s this reliable time when I feel sad, and my sadness has a way of drawing my mind to places where sadness fits—and usually places outside of myself. It’s not always as abstract as Starving Children in Africa. I find myself reflecting on difficult family situations back home and weeping over them, or I’ll remember friends or even friends of friends who are suffering illness and fear, and I sit and feel sadness for them, imagining being in their shoes.
Now, this reflection and grief occurs alongside me breaking down in frustration and tears when my husband, Chris, says he’d prefer to stay home and get some reading done rather than accompany me to the grocery store. BUT—easy for me to say, I know—I’ll take the whole package. As I’ve begun to find the true sympathy in this cacophony of feelings, I find I’m ushered into deep communion with my God on behalf of others.
Paul tells us in Romans 12:15 to “rejoice with those who rejoice and mourn with those who mourn.” He uses these simple symmetries to emphasize our true existence as a body—the body of Christ. Though we go through our own days on our own legs, we are, as Christians, intimately linked with every other redeemed creature, and as humans, with humankind. In this chapter, Paul gives many examples of how we’re to live as the body—and how we are to live with even our enemies. I typically read this string of commands as service opportunities—ways to benefit someone else, ways to live in the power of Christ.
But I think Paul’s challenges are for our own good as well. The truth is that identifying with others in our various emotions—and may I particularly emphasize pain or grief—is not only an act of service to the subjects of our sympathy. In grieving with those outside of us, we’re doing the life-giving work of connecting ourselves to a body so large and diverse that we’re sure to find a home there. When in my sadness I sit and pray in solidarity with another, I’m not sitting alone anymore; I’m joining myself with other lives. This work of identification, as difficult as it might be in the tumultuousness of womanhood, can truly edify and minister to the body—our own selves very much included.
How can we use the particularly delicate time surrounding our menstrual cycles to minister to others? How can we lasso benefit from our spectrum of emotions? Each woman experiences this time differently, and I’d love to hear your unique reflections.