MONTHLY CYCLE- A PSYCHOLOGY STORM?

MONTHLY CYCLE- A PSYCHOLOGY STORM?

Menstruation- 'Periods', a very naturally occurring phenomenon to women. Natural yet considered a taboo- ironic, isn't it? It is a chapter considered to be discussed behind closed doors. A female cannot talk in the open about her monthly chart under the fear of being labelled with derogatory words. It is scornful for women to talk about their monthly physiological occurrence. Moreover, God save 'men' if they talk about "IT"; talking in favour of 'it' is a farfetched toss! Society that claims to be equal and just to both the genders, restricts its girls from speaking about their problems and issues regarding their periods because it is dirty for men to hear about it. 'Periods' is not a punishment for being a female; rather it occurs due to the below mentioned biological explanation;

'Menstruation' as described by Merriam Webster, 'is a cyclic discharge of blood, secretions and tissue debris from the uterus that recurs in non-pregnant breeding age primate females at approximately monthly intervals and that is considered to represent a readjustment of the uterus to the non-pregnant state following proliferative changes accompanying the preceding ovulation.' In simpler words, it is the discharge of unfertilised ova in the form of blood and tissue from the lining of the uterus each month from puberty to menopause, except for the time when a woman is pregnant.

Mensuration cycle occurs in three phases:-

1. THE FOLLICULAR PHASE

This phase begins at day 1 of the menstrual bleeding and ends at day 14 when the process of ovulation begins. The pituitary gland stimulates the Follicle Stimulating Hormone (FSH) to ovulate again. One of the follicles mature and develops a single mature egg. During this phase, 'Estradiol' (the predominant estrogen) increases and is at peak, resulting in the thickening of the 'endometrium' (the lining of the uterus) and enriches it with blood (after menstruation). High levels of estrogen stimulates the production of Gonadotropin- releasing hormone (GnRH), which in turn stimulates the pituitary gland to secrete the luteinizing hormone (LH). Increased levels of LH, raises the levels of testosterone thereby stimulating and increasing the sex drive. This is the most fertile time in the entire cycle.

This is the happy time of the month for women, as high levels of Estrogen moderates the effect of Cortisol (stress hormone). The mind cherishes the opportunity of preparing for a new life after the dark emotional phase of letting go of the hope of a new life. High levels of estrogen help in improving and maintaining a healthy mental balance and the daily life experiences can be bettered. Tempered down levels of cortisol reduces the risk of various physiological hazards among females.

2. The Ovulatory Phase

This phase is marked by only one day, which is day 14. The mature egg is released into the fallopian tube where the fertilization takes place, if the sperms are present. FSH and LH reach their peak two days before which causes the release of the mature egg. After releasing the egg, the follicles seal themselves to form the corpus luteum. If the egg is not fertilised within 24 hours, it disintegrates.

Significant quantity of estradiol interacts with other hormones of the body to increase the libido. Estradiol reacts with the insulin levels of the body to release high amount of testosterone. This is nature's way of encouraging women to have intercourse by elevating their sexual desires. Women feel more confident, outgoing and positive during this time. Their need for achievement is high. They also develop a greater tolerance to pain than other times. According to many researches, women are said to dress the best during this time and are more likely to be approached.

3.THE LUTEAL PHASE

This phase lasts from day 15 to 28. FSH and LH drop in their significant levels after the egg has been released. Corpus luteum starts secreting progesterone that prevents the endometrial lining from being shed. If the egg gets fertilised, progesterone continues to be secreted and if not fertilised the corpus luteum disintegrates, causing the drop in the production of progesterone and shedding of the endometrial lining. It also results in reduced production of estradiol. This phase experiences a drop in hormones causing a sort of imbalance, which explains the mood swings before the menstruation starts. Cortisol levels are said to increase during this phase as the body feels stressed over the loss of a new life.

Women experience a rate of decline in their energy levels and speed as compared to the last 15 days of the month. The sexual desires reduce and so does the desire to be more social, outgoing or dressing up nicely. Mind starts mourning over the loss of the opportunity of start a new life and as we move closer to menstruation, the mood continues to darken. Women feel a little sadder and unenthusiastic to try new things, which is the representation of mourning over the loss. This is the time when women seek solace, comfort, care, tenderness and love as their body is grieving over the loss.

Menstruation has been an ongoing and a long going research in psychology, especially among the psychoanalysts. Karen Horney in 1976 pointed that a daughter who learns about menstruation from an "embarrassed" mother is more likely to create negative reactions to menstruation and resentment for her own body. Clara Thompson said that society is responsible on the primary front for an internalised resentment of menstruation because it shames women's sexuality. According to the Psychoanalytic theory, a woman who thinks negatively about her periods is more likely to suffer from uncomfortable periods and difficult womanhood. The second law of thermodynamics in physics, which states that 'every force has an equal and opposite force', can be implied too in understanding menstruation cycle. The extent to which a woman opposes her menstruation, menstruation too opposes the woman with the same force.

Despite its natural occurrence, women continue to face strict codes and instructions as to how it is to be talked only among girls where no one else can hear them. Apart from the societal instructions, there are so many stigmas attached to the time when a girl is menstruating. They are not allowed to enter a temple and are asked to refrain from observing any religious practice because they are termed "Impure". Women at least for the first three days are not allowed to enter the kitchen, as it is believed that women while menstruating are dirty and will contaminate food. Some are even asked to sleep in a separate room and are asked to avoid contact with any 'pure' male member of the family. But on what grounds? Is there even a logical basis to it? ABSOLUTELY NOT! Have you ever cut your finger by mistake while chopping onion and have had the knife and onion rot because your blood drops fell on it? No, right!

Very fortunately, not every part of the country mistreats women. The Tamilian society celebrates when a girl gets her first periods. The ceremony is known as "Ritusuddhi", where she wears a new 'lagna voni' and is gifted her first sari which marks her transition into womanhood. Family members gift her valuables and feed her rice (Annaprashana) as a part of the ceremony. The famous "Shakti peeth" in Assam known as the "Kamakhya Devi Mandir", also known as the bleeding goddess, is worshiped during Ambubachi, which is the annual menstruation course of Goddess Kamakhya. Ambubabchi Mela is observed in recognition of the power of fertility vested in the females, while the temple remains closed for three days. A woman in the avatar of a goddess is worshipped during menstruation, but is exiled if she is just as common like the rest. Hypocritical, isn't it?

We are making and watching films like "Padman" and "Period- end of sentence" which is being nominated for the Oscars. More than 4,000 machines have been installed across the country to make the sanitary napkins available at lower costs and to every female in the country. Campaigns are run by the NGOs to promote feminine hygiene, but there are still some societies that deny change and development. They are comfortable letting their daughters and wives use a piece of cloth because affording a twenty-four rupees packet of sanitary napkin is more expensive than a gold jewellery. Have you ever asked if your daughter and wives are comfortable? They are left to be consumed with various diseases due to the use of a piece of dirty cloth and are told that it is their fault they bleed and it is their fate to accept death for being a woman. Is it not restricting their right to life, their right to required medical treatment? Is bleeding to give life to another being a reason to be discriminated, mentally tortured and emotionally weakened? It is inhuman to and unethical to suppress women because of a natural physiological phenomenon.

According to the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights, "the recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom and justice", but alas, the society does not recognise females as humans. Since the time of their menarche girls are made to treat this biological fact as a 'vile truth' that has to be hidden at all costs; this slowly but gradually imbues a quality of furtiveness ,self-loathing and angst which in turn distorts their perception of the world at large and prohibits them from realizing their actual worth. Ostracizing women due to what is a naturally occurring phenomenon to them creates a large negative impact on their psychology. They feel uncomfortable in their skin which results in resentment of self to an extent where they do not feel comfortable in their skin and curse their sexuality. Alienation results in identity crisis and disorientation about themselves.

They inculcate a feeling of worthlessness, which impairs their intensity of self-esteem. They are made to believe that they are the inferior race which develops in them inferiority complex and a fear of being misused or crushed under the feet of men- the so-called superior race! Long prevailing stigmas and taboos around menstruation has resulted in gender inequality. Restricting the girls from moving around or asking them to behave in a way that the society accepts them during their menstruation or menarche results in incongruence between their real self and ideal self. They are confused about themselves and as to why they are the way they are. Burden of living in accordance with the socially acceptable norms impairs their emotional growth because they are made to accept their fate of being a woman!

How many working women today can ask for leave clearly stating they need a day's rest because they have menstrual cramps…. Or how many girls in the school can ask for a half day because they got their periods? How many educated daughters can ask their father to bring sanitary napkins? Women since puberty are asked to hide their dates, not discuss their cycle or talk about their discomfort with not just the world but also their own family members. As young girls, they are taught to be extra cautious of staining the sheets while sleeping, sitting on a chair or going out in public because it will be shameful for the family if she stains in public as the people will get to know that she has entered womanhood.

Menstruation is an inner compass to the physiology and psychology of a female.

It indicates the stress levels in the body, the levels of energy, reproductivity and health. Instead of teaching our young girls the techniques to hide her periods, teach them the rhythms of their cycle. Understanding one's menstruation cycle instils a sense of self-worth, self-care and pride to womanhood. It opposes the fear of pregnancy, impurity and shadows. Tell them the power of motherhood, which the nature has bestowed upon females and the strength we possess because we are women. Our strength lies within us and ours is in being a women.

PERIODS ARE NOT IMPURE, YOU EXIST BECAUSE WE BLEED!!!

About the Author

Tanushree Sarawagi

Tanushree Psychologist in Delhi.

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