For this edition of My Cycle Routine we chat with London-based Artist & Illustrator Justyna Green. We discovered Justyna through her body of work for WeTransfer - an illustrated guide called 'Living with Endometriosis' where Justyna communicates her history with the illness and and how she manages to create in spite of it.
Below, we speak to Justyna on navigating mental health challenges and physical pain, switching to a plant-based diet and how her Endometriosis was the catalyst to discovering her self-care routine.
I can’t remember how old I was, but I remember finishing a bath and suddenly seeing that I was bleeding – I thought something was terribly wrong and I was going to die! I called my mum in panic, and quickly realised I just got my period. There wasn’t much talking about it - I grew up in Poland and got my period in the early 00’s, when periods weren’t much talked about in families and never ever in the public.
My routine has been an absolute rollercoaster, as for the past two years I’ve suffered endometriosis symptoms, without being diagnosed. How I personally experienced the symptoms, was that my mental health would sink in the lead up to the period – I would feel sad, anxious, and burst into tears for no reason. It was very challenging for me, as pre-diagnosis, I would think there was something ‘wrong’ with me. Following from that would be days 1-3 of my period which would treat me with severe pain in my abdomen, spreading up to my belly and down my thighs. I found it hard to walk around the house because of the pain, and couldn’t work – I was in too much pain, plus it also caused brain fog, which meant I couldn’t focus on anything. On days 4 and 5 the pain would go down to bearable levels.
Navigating the mental health challenges and the physical pain linked to my period, have been the hardest thing I’ve endured in my adult life.
The first and most important part of my period routine, has been communicating with my husband and close friends how I feel and making it a normal part of our conversations. Once my close ones understood just how severe my symptoms were, I felt heard and more at ease.
Second part of the routine is letting go of any expectation of what this month’s experience will be like and accepting everything that happens. That might mean cancelling social engagements if I don’t feel well or putting out of office on for a day.
And when it comes to period products, over time I’ve switched to the period cup and period undies, away from pads and tampons, for sustainability reasons but also to feel comfortable at all times, and have assurance of leak-free periods. Anything I could do to avoid extra stress or discomfort.
I have to admit that it was actually endometriosis that taught me self-care. It taught me to stop whatever I was doing, whatever was on my mind, and simply honor my body, my mind and my soul, and nourish it when it needed it. Over time, I’ve researched and tried various things to help me feel better, reduce stress levels and get through the difficult time with more ease. Here are my top 5 self-care hacks:
Take time to listen to your body and your intuition – for me that means meditating and journaling. The body and mind have all the answers, and I’ve learned to tune into them more, and hear my inner voice guide me. Sounds woo woo, but it’s not – deep down we all know what’s good for us.
Communicate – making my family and friends aware of how I feel, not diminishing the severity of the pain, allowed me to feel safe and held in their presence and in turn it helped me accept what I was going through
Manage your calendar – I’ve learned to plan my work and social life around my period, and have days without social engagements when I know that I might be in pain.
Put the out of office on – this was probably the hardest to do, but trust me when I say that your health is more important than your job. I’m a freelancer, and can’t rely on an employer or work colleagues to cover my work. But I’ve learned over time, that clients who share my values and value my work, will understand if I have to take time off because of my pain. And if they don’t – that’s a sign we weren’t aligned in the first place.
Focus on something else – with PMS, PMDD, endometriosis and other conditions, it’s easy for your mind to slip, and for that to bring up other sad or anxious thoughts and feelings. What I found useful is to, when I can, focus on something else – whether that’s drawing and pouring what I’m going through onto the paper or listening to a podcast. If you can transport your mind somewhere else, it’ll help.
I used to assume that working out when on your period is a bad idea, because the body needs to ‘rest’. Through trial and error though, I’ve found a movement routine that works for me. Whenever my mental health suffers in and around my period, moving my body is everything and same goes for the days when I’m on my period and the severe pain is gone. On those days, I love running, and especially love running long distances, regardless of how fast I am. It’s so freeing to be outside, be putting one foot in front of the other, leaving everything behind, and making the body focus on breeding and the movement – that means taking the focus away from period pain. When running on my period, I opt for a period cup and period pants combo, to ensure I can bleed as much as I want, move as much as I want, and there’ll be no leaks or discomfort.
On the days when I’m in severe pain, when walking is challenging, I opt for some very simple, very gentle yoga. And I mean gentle – you’ll find me in child pose every 15 mins. There’s a lot of advice online on yoga for period pain – it starts with poses that compress and expand your abdomen, giving it a gentle massage.
For me, my beauty routine is my nutrition. I’ve been vegetarian for over a decade and vegan for the past 3-4 years, and that diet has provided me over the years with ample energy, sharp focus and clean skin. I’m a strong believer that a beauty routine starts with healthy nutrition. Try it yourself and see how your body and mind change!
Honestly, healthy plant-based food. It’s got me through a climbing injury and the recent endometriosis surgery recovery, it’s my secret!
Imagine being in severe period pain for two years, add to that mood swings pre-period and on top of that mental health challenges when you start fearing your period coming. Luckily, I’ve always been vocal about my periods and how I feel before/on/after them and my husband is a great listener. It took us some time to realise that most of my mental health challenges of the recent years were related to endometriosis, but once we realised that, by having an ongoing conversation about it, we found ways in which I needed support when I didn’t feel well.
Being a freelancer has its cons, but one of the many pros is that I’m not bound to working hours during the day and whilst my clients rely on me delivering finished works, they are not involved in the process of me getting there. This means that on the days when I’m in severe pain, I can take time off, because I know I can work the next day any time I need, if I’m on a deadline. Working with like-minded people also helped me – in fact one of my clients has adenomyosis herself, so we have a good, understanding working relationship.
I find it surprising now that I’ve not made a switch a long time ago. The products are good for the planet, which is great, and they feel great too. I remember the first time I used period pants and didn’t have to worry about that bit of blood that’ll drop unexpectedly into my pants when I sneeze!
First, be kind to yourself, because it can be really tough. And second – find other people who have endo. There are lots of people on Instagram who are vocal about the condition and there are community accounts too, and Scarlet’s been doing a great job normalising endo chats. By finding even just one person, who might have gone through what you’re going through, you’ll feel seen and heard. You can always get in touch with me, I’ve got your back!
My period described in 3-words… Painful, emotional rollercoaster
My contraception method of choice… Condoms, not to mess with my hormones any more.
Do you use a tracker? Yes, Glow.
My period self-care toolkit’... My journal, time to meditate, comfy clothes, hot water bottle
On day 1 you can find me… In child’s pose every 15 mins!
The period products that make up my period routine... Period cup and pants. Cup for the day-to-day wear, pants for the nights and last two days of my period, both together for longer runs.
The TV series I’m currently obsessed with… We Are Ladyparts about an all-female Muslim punk band. Genius!
A bad habit I’m trying to break… Screens before bedtime.
If I had to choose 3 beauty products for the rest of my life… Water, fruit, veg.
When you’re feeling down my advice is to… Give yourself a hug and know that the feeling will pass.
My advice on dating… Think about who you’re interested in, not just who’s interested in you.
Words to live by… Follow your heart.
The Podcast I recommend you save and listen to… I’ve been loving the Rich Roll podcast, for all things health, nutrition and mind over matter.
The book every person should read… So many! I’m in love with my existentialists so anything by Camus, Sartre and then Kundera, and for something quite surreal I’d recommend Italo Calvino.
For more from Justyna follow her at @justynagreen
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