The menstruating Software Engineer

The power of being on your period

I just finished reading Maisie Hill’s Period Power. Wow! What a read! Maisie completely enlightened me about the power of understanding our own unique menstrual cycles. I now have a basic awareness of the four seasons of the cycle and the super powers they bring.

I’ve been working full time as a Software Engineer for 5 months and recently have noticed significant changes to how I feel whilst menstruating. I’m so glad I found Maisie’s book to shed some much needed light.

I’m no stranger to pain whilst menstruating.

I’ve been ambulanced to hospital after collapsing in a London train station. On another occasion my husband had to pick me up from work due to severe, debilitating cramps. I found a haven in the office prayer room after lying on the floor in a work toilet cubicle for hours in agony.

I remember riling in pain at home and wondering if labour would be as bad. As a mother who gave birth at home without pain killers or a health professional (not by choice – she got stuck in traffic lol), I actually believe that the severity of my period pains were not a million miles off.

My periods are a lot better since those terrible days and I had largely forgotten these stories. But last cycle, at work, I started to notice that I couldn’t concentrate.

I spent a whole day trying to do my normal work, but struggled. I felt worried that maybe I was experiencing burn out. It felt as if grey clouds had descended into my mind. It was foggy. I couldn’t think or process things. Basic tasks would take eons.

Then my period started. I suddenly had that “Aha!” moment when the world suddenly makes sense again. I couldn’t concentrate because of my period. Now I’ve read Maisie’s book and started to educate myself, I realise that this brain fog is calling for me to do something.

Apparently periods are a litmus test for our overall health. The period we have today, reflects how we were feeling, the care we gave ourselves (or not) 6 months prior. There’s a bunch of science behind that, which Maisie explains elegantly!

It’s therefore no surprise I’m noticing changes after 5/6 months in my new job! What I thought of as burnout, was actually my menstrual cycle saying “Hey Amina! SLOW DOWN! Take a break!” And damn right, I’m going to listen.

I’ve spent too long in my life trying to push through, not heeding the wisdom my body had to offer. Enough! Rest sincerely is the new revolution. Putting the phone down, closing the laptop lid, resisting the impulse to turn on Netflix, and just sitting. Hell yeah. Living life on the wild side now.

Each menstruator will have a different experience and cycles will differ over the lifetime of a person. The symptom I’m currently feeling of lack of concentration is something that other colleagues at work experience too.

I nervously approached a couple of kind colleagues who I felt I could confide in. I couldn’t help but laugh when one told me he feels that way on a weekly basis. So much so that he keeps a list of non-intense-brain-activity work at hand so he can still add value to the team whilst also meeting his own needs.

Another colleague completely empathised with my situation and told me about one of her team members who openly tells the team at standup when he feels he needs to take a break. His sharing helped her feel more at ease about addressing her own feelings rather than ignoring them.

I wonder, are there many suffering in silence? Menstruators and non-menstruators alike? Those who need a break from solving problems in codebases? From doing logical work? From even the act of looking at a computer screen?

I don’t know the answer, but I do know that I’m not going to ignore what my body is telling me anymore. I will be a revolutionary and rest. I will take sick leave if I need to due to menstruation. I will speak about how I feel at work so that others feel they can do the same.

Maisie talks about the time of menstruation being the menstrual cycle’s winter season. It’s a time that calls for the lights of the world around us to go down and the inner lights to rise up. It’s a time that some traditional cultures encouraged menstruators to leave their daily activities and practice meditation, believing that they could access a spiritual realm unavailable at other times.

Whilst I haven’t reached my nirvana, experimenting with rest has been refreshing so far. I’ve also taken Maisie’s advice to start a menstrual cycle diary in order to track how I feel each day and piece together my own unique patterns. Menstrual cycles are gifts. Listening to their messages and enjoying its seasons, seems wise.

I don’t feel like there’s a well defined place for human feelings and emotions in the workplace. There are schedules, deadlines and targets, but there aren’t really spaces for discussing how we’re feeling. I wonder if this will change in the future. Can we embrace our humanness, rather than treating ourselves like the machines we work with on a daily basis?

I very much hope so. At least, I’m willing to give it a try.

Junior developer