Periods and the Patriarchy – From Burnout to Being Bloody Marvellous

The Silence, Shame and Taboo of Adolescence

By Samantha Garstin

At 38, I experienced my first period since I was 24 years old.

After 15 years and 3 rounds of the coil, it’s safe to say it was a brand-new world (when I had my first period, cups and reusable pants were not a thing!).

So, let’s backtrack a bit…

I had my first period at 14, sadly I have no recollection of it, but I do remember being terribly embarrassed about my periods and doing my best to hide them.

You know the drill…

Shoving tampons up your sleeve so no one sees them.

Waiting until the cubicle next to you flushes, to undo the wrapper.

Wrapping used pads in wads of loo roll and stuffing them into the bottom of the bin.

Sounds like the shame and taboo of the 90’s alright!

My pre-teenage skin was bad, so my GP put me on the pill (because that cures everything, right?) and of course I ran packets together! And I kept doing that on and off until my early 20s.

24 Years Old: Enter the ‘Serious Boyfriend’ and a Mirena Coil

I had 2 years of natural cycles and then, the moment came… I got a serious boyfriend!

I decided to have a coil (Mirena IUD) fitted and said goodbye to my periods for 15 years.

Fun Fact – Not always, but in most cases, the coil will stop your periods. 

Now you might be thinking… I see no problem here, this is the dream, and it was… for a while.

After the ‘serious boyfriend’ became not so serious I got a job as a ‘Live-In’ Sous Chef, one of a few career paths I tried before becoming a warrior for Menstrual Wellness in the Workplace (but now I can host an amazing dinner party). 

30 years old: Hormone Hurdles and Job Challenges

It was hot, demanding, unforgiving and no place to be bleeding. 

My daily life had high expectations, early starts, late finishes and minimal breaks, plus I lived where I worked.

It was not an environment that would tolerate PMS, cramps, or emotional outbursts. 

I worked hard to match the bar of expectation that was demanded of me. I even remember one busy Sunday picking up a 220-degree panhandle that someone had put on the pass without telling me.

As my skin sizzled away, I fought back the tears, grabbed a blue glove, shoved ice cubes down it and carried on. My boss came in a said ‘Do you need to go to hospital’ in a tone that clearly stated, there’s no way you are going to hospital, we are mid-service so crack on. 

Then to my disbelief, instead of staying to help me, my head chef left for the day (along with the KP) and I was left to clean down the kitchen on my own post-service. I cried alone in the walk-in fridge while trying to cool the searing pain in my hand. 

When did I have time to have a ‘period wobble’ in an environment like that? 

I got used to pushing myself. My motto was – You’ve done more on less – less sleep, less food, less energy…

As you can imagine after a few years it took its toll. My hair started falling out, and I ended up on antidepressants for 6 months, until I couldn’t take it any longer and I quit. 

35 Years Old: Burnout Breakdown on a Mountain

I packed up my life and went to work seasonal jobs in the Alps.

After one partially horrendous season, I had a total meltdown, and not in the most convenient of places either. 

I was 2156m up an icy cold mountain hunched over, unable to move, having a panic attack, while snow fell heavily around me.

It wasn’t because I was 2156m up a mountain either; after 6 ski seasons, I knew my way around a mountain.

It was because I’d finally reached rock bottom on my way to total burnout. And not the kind of ‘oh, I’ve had a really hard week and feel exhausted’ kind of burnout, but the ‘my body is about to shut down, and I don’t know if I can get up again’ type.

I’d become so far removed from my natural cycles of energy that I was totally disconnected from my body which was desperately trying to tell me to stop pushing. 

The thing about burnout is, you don’t know it’s happening. All you know is… you have to keep going, pushing harder, and being better. Until you can’t!

And then you crash and burn… hard.

THIS… was that moment.

36 Years Old: 18-month Burnout Recovery

Anyone who’s suffered burnout will tell you, there is that pinnacle moment when the tables turn, and that was mine.

Those were 6 of the hardest months of my life, I was broken, and I realised…. the way I’d been working, wasn’t going to work anymore. 

I stayed broken for a long time. My hair started to fall out again, I was ill a lot, withdrew from life, and cried at everything. It took me 18 months to recover.

Slowly life changed; I started to put myself first, I started to care for my needs, and I put strong boundaries in place to safeguard my energy. Years passed, and I felt better but as any workaholic will tell you, it’s easy to slip back into old ways. Something was still missing. 

38 Years Old: Learning to Work with My Natural Cycle

By 38 my lifestyle had changed dramatically, and a gut feeling told me it was time to go back to having a natural cycle. I’d heard so many stories of women who suffered ‘coil’ depression and despite having done a lot of work on myself, my moods were still erratic, and I seriously wondered what was wrong with me. 

Sadly, what I hadn’t identified yet is this was just raging PMS but because I didn’t have a period, I couldn’t make sense of what my hormones were doing.

I booked myself in and had my last coil removed. And just like that a month later, I had my first period after 15 years.

Liberation, and Life-Changing Discoveries

No coincidence having my coil out coincided with my next life adventure. During my burnout recovery, I discovered yoga, and I loved it so much I decided to leave my then role in Sales and Marketing to become a Yoga teacher (I told you I had many career routes).

I flew to Portugal and my life was changed forever. 

During my course, we looked at Ayurvedic cycles and the menstrual cycle was one of them. Whilst everyone around me was yawning and taking notes I felt like the heavens had opened and struck me with a lightning bolt.

How at 38 was I only just discovering that my cycle was more than just my period? 

Fun Fact – You have 4 different phases, each with a very different energy to it and you live within one of these phases every single day. 

I had been in the dark the whole of my adult life and suddenly, understanding my cycle was like turning a light on.

Ohhhhhhhhhhh! That’s why I feel that way! So, it’s not me!

Being without periods for so long meant I never really understood why I had to push myself so hard and I didn’t relate how I felt to my cyclical energy shifts.

But this new knowledge was the final piece in the jigsaw. It has helped me heal the broken bits to make something stronger than it ever was before and now I feel complete.

I felt so driven to share this education, that when I got back home after certifying as a yoga teacher, I searched the globe for facilitator training and again coincidentally (but I think you can agree there have been no coincidences here) there was only one place remaining. I followed my womb-tuition and signed up. 

A year later I was a certified Menstrual Education Coach ready to shatter the shame and taboo about periods in the workplace. 

Nothing is Wrong with You

I share my story because it is one people relate to a lot, being on birth control from an early age and not understanding their natural energy cycle… I was the same, even at 38!

For nearly 20 years I lived in total disconnect from my body, living from the neck up – oblivious about the symptoms and signals it gave me. My nervous system was a wreck, and I was constantly blindsided by my emotions. 

All the time I just kept pushing myself, always wondering ‘What’s wrong with me’ when I couldn’t reach the expectations to be MORE.

And that pushing to be more led me to people-pleasing and perfectionism, always going above and beyond because I had no boundaries with my time or energy. This meant I lived in cycles of burnout, and now means I suffer with a lifelong autoimmune condition called Ulcerative Colitis.

And that expectation? Is set by the linear world we live in. You see the modern world was built to mirror the testosterone cycle, which is a 24-hour cycle, not 28 days. Essentially male-bodied people do 28 revolutions to our 1. 

But as someone with a 28-day cycle your energy doesn’t fit into that, like a round peg in a square hole, sure you fit, but not to your fullest capacity. 

Fun Fact – There is a broad spectrum of what ‘normal’ looks like when it comes to cycles, and they can range anywhere between 21-36 days.

You Do Not Need to Be ‘Fixed’

This is not a ‘man bashing’ exercise, nor a sign you need to be ‘fixed’, it is a fact. Historically the working world was built before women and people with periods were in the workforce, and the patriarchal systems we live in today have continued to enforce the same expectations, it’s just not designed for you. 

The message is that you need to try harder, do better, change how you look and feel to ‘fit in’, that the problem is you… 

But the problem is the system because it doesn’t give space for individuality and otherness.

The working world is modelled on sameness and doesn’t celebrate our differences, which are also the things that create innovative thinking, inclusive workspaces, and compassionate leadership. 

This knowledge has had such a profound effect on my life, how could I not share it?

And now every time I run a workshop, without fail, I see people who have that exact light bulb moment I did.

I see it in their eyes…

Their world makes sense.

They suddenly make sense.

And years of self-criticism melt away!

And that is why I’m sharing it with you because you likely try to hit that bar of expectation too and you find yourself in cycles of exhaustion trying to ‘fit in’.

So, I am here to help you understand the impact your hormones have on your body day to day. And how you can learn to work with them to anticipate these shifts so that you know in advance what support you will need to get you through the day.

But more importantly, to help you see, that there is NOTHING wrong with you, you do not need to be ‘fixed’ and you do not need to keep pushing your beautiful body so hard.

Slowly the world is changing, it is starting to make space for us to live and work on our terms and create workspaces that we can thrive in. And I promise you I will keep fighting for exactly this.

If you want to learn more about your cycle, I have a free workshop that will help you understand this in your body too. Just click the link HERE, fill in your email and by the powers of the internet it will land in your inbox. 

And if you want to have your say please add your voice to The BIG Menstrual Wellness Research Project HERE and support those who struggle in silence. 

Please reach out to me at if you want to talk or if your workplace needs to have this conversation.

Or follow me on LinkedIn @SamanthaGarstin – The Period Princess

Photo Credit : Rosie Parsons Photography