Counseling on Menstrual Cramps

I have had menstrual cramps for the past ten years. They began less than a year after I first got my period and became more intense over time. Two years after they started, I began using over-the-counter painkillers, usually ibuprofen, every month.

I didn’t want to take painkillers, but the pain was intense and didn’t respond to anything else I tried. Occasionally I would counsel on my cramps. I had little experience counseling on pain or physical hurts and would focus my attention on the pain, saying, “Oww, it hurts.” This was completely unsuccessful, and I often felt worse afterward.

Three years ago at a Co-Counsel-ing workshop, I had cramps and was getting one-way attention from an older female. She told me that since I had had the cramps for so many years, they had probably become a distress recording and that focusing on the pain was probably restimulating the recording further. This explained why my “oww, it hurts” sessions hadn’t been helping. She suggested that I counsel on what my life had been like when the cramps first started. It worked! I discharged far more than I had before, and it made a big difference in the pain. That month, for the first time in a long time, I did not use painkillers.

A COUNSELING PROJECT

After that workshop I took on [undertook] a counseling project of using discharge instead of painkillers when I had menstrual cramps.

For more than a year I needed lots of one-way time, and the cramps got worse at first. They lasted for hours, often prevented me from falling asleep, and woke me up at 3:00 or 4:00 am. The pain was scary and brought me to the verge of throwing up [vomiting]. (I had been nauseated with the cramps before, but when I had taken painkillers, I had stopped feeling so scared and the nausea had gone away sooner.)

My mother was my main counselor. She would give me one-way time on the phone whenever I needed it and she was available, including in the middle of the night. Her attention helped so much. It allowed me to move through tons [a large amount] of distress and avoid painkillers far more than I could have otherwise.

I also discharged alone, if my mom was not available. And I counseled on cramps in two-way sessions before or after my period. (For a long time I didn’t have enough attention for two-way sessions while I was in pain.)

I made a few adjustments in my life to support my counseling project:

  • When I was in pain I skipped work, classes at school, and other activities so that I could stay home and counsel. I rested more and stopped pushing myself to “suck it up” [ignore the feelings] and do things.
  • I started talking more about my period and cramps with the people in my life. My roommate learned that it was normal for me cry on the phone with my mom when I had cramps. Several friends and coworkers watched me cry and notice my body, and one friend later expressed awe at my connection with my body and my way of processing the pain. It was a huge contradiction [to distress] for me to talk about periods, especially in my workplace of mostly men. Some of my male coworkers told me stories about the cramps their girlfriends and daughters experienced, and I loved hearing the ways they supported the women in their lives.
  • For the first eighteen months, though I tried to avoid ibuprofen I sometimes did use it. If I had the time to discharge and my mom was available, I would call her. But if I had to take an exam, be on a plane, absolutely could not miss work, or something similar, I would take ibuprofen. When I did, I would usually discharge by myself until it kicked in [took effect].

WHAT I COUNSELED ON

I had great success counseling on what my life had been like when I first got cramps, and over time many other feelings and memories came up. Some of the things I have worked on in sessions include the following:

  • Pre-birth and birth experiences
  • Early sexual memories
  • Puberty, adolescence, and young people’s oppression and sexism during those times
  • Physical hurts, fear of death, and discouragement about the functioning of my body, especially as a female
  • Internalized sexism related to menstruation and to my body in general
  • Sexism in the world today and in the past
  • Past experiences of using ibuprofen and other drugs
  • Physical closeness. In most of my one-way sessions with my mom (which were on the phone) I didn’t think much about physical closeness. Later, as I could do more two-way sessions, physical closeness and other kinds of physical sessions helped me to work on things like birth and sexism.
  • Making loud noises and complaining. Growing up, I had learned not to complain about pain or discomfort or make loud noises or take up a lot of space. It was difficult to counsel on cramps while trying to stay quiet. Being loudly upset helped a lot.

I also found that lying down in a particular position would cause me to feel terrified and make the cramps much worse. I realized that several of my early hurts had occurred while I was in that position. As I counseled on those hurts, the fear went away and the cramps stopped being worse while lying down.

MY EXPERIENCE

For the first year of the project, my cramps were as painful as always. They were actually more disruptive, because they would wake me in the middle of the night and last for hours. I would have to work through pain, sleep deprivation, and huge amounts of discouragement, but as long as I had enough time and attention from a counselor, I could get through the cramps without ibuprofen.

Also, though it was still hard, my experience of my period shifted radically. I finally understood that I could discharge effectively on cramps and knew that I’d eventually reach a point where they no longer felt unbearable and I had to use ibuprofen. I felt hopeful, and each time I made it through a period without ibuprofen I felt so powerful and in control of my body.

My relationship with my mom became closer. The support and attention she offered was a huge contradiction to my early distress. I also had to figure out how to use her as a counselor in new ways and trust her with distress I hadn’t yet shown her. She turned out to be [as it happened, she was] a great counselor for me—even for sessions on early sexual memories and my birth. (I never would have guessed!)

In addition to counseling, I also tried some other ways to reduce the cramps:

Two years after beginning to counsel on them, I saw a chiropractor who told me there can be many causes of menstrual cramps, including the placement of the uterus, the alignment of the pelvis, and tight muscles. The chiropractor adjusted my pelvis, uterus, back, legs, and other parts of my body. It had no effect on my cramps. This strengthened my belief that the cramps were a chronic pattern rather than a current physical problem.

Before I’d figured out how to counsel on cramps, I had tried many other home remedies (stretching, exercise, dietary changes, stress reduction). None of them had had any effect on the pain.

The primary cause of my cramps was restimulation of a pattern, and the primary “treatment” I needed was discharge. After a lot of discharging though, I found that some other things did make a difference. For example, my cramps were worse when I was sleep deprived and had not been eating well. Noticing this was a reminder to take good care of my body.

Acupuncture also significantly reduced my cramps. I am currently using it in addition to, not as a replacement for, counseling on my early distress and on sexism.

THREE YEARS LATER

Over three years have passed since I decided to counsel regularly on menstrual cramps. I have not used ibuprofen in a year and a half. Success!

 I still have cramps, but they are usually much less intense and don’t keep me awake for hours in the night. I almost always have attention for two-way sessions even when I have cramps, and I rarely skip activities because of them.

In general I am in significantly less pain. Occasionally I still feel pain after discharging, but the discharge lifts a “foggy” feeling and I feel better despite the pain. Also, sometimes physical and emotional closeness make the cramps go away even without discharge.

Every once in a while the cramps are more intense and keep me awake at night for hours—usually when I’ve been extremely restimulated before my period started. During these times I take one-way time with my mom, or discharge alone.

Currently my routine related to menstrual cramps looks like this:

  • I have lots of two-way sessions on any topic related to the cramps (birth, early sexual memories, puberty, and so on), especially in the week before my period.
  • I try to take good care of myself physically, including getting enough rest.
  • I use acupuncture.
  • I use a hot water bottle, take hot baths, and get physical and emotional closeness when I have cramps.
  • Occasionally I get attention from my mom.

I would love to hear other women’s and girls’ experiences of counseling on menstrual cramps. Are others of you taking this on? What has worked for you?

Marian Michaels

Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA

Reprinted from the RC e-mail discussion list for leaders of women

(Present Time 192, July 2018)


Last modified: 2019-05-22 16:55:49+00