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Madame Strangelove, or How I Learned to Love PMT

by in Lifestyle on 6th June, 2023


Once upon a time, there was a woman who did not have a clue about how her body worked. 

Her menstrual cycle would clobber her every lunar month, turning a productive human being into a wildly social butterfly at full moon, and then a 5’8” feral cat for the following fortnight, hissing at anyone that got too close and occasionally bursting into tears under a hedge.

Eventually she understood that she needed to treat the latter half of that emotional rotation with different gloves. She eased into a slower rhythm, expecting more mental scatteredness and less efficiency. She booked a massage, took long baths with joyful novels, sat doing nothing in the sun. Most of all, she wrote, welcoming in the heaviness, the sadness, the sense of uncontrollable loss. Her tension would ease, with her period arriving as a benign surprise instead of the obligatory visitor she’d waited irritably for half the month.  

Reader, I am sorry to inform you that this woman is a work of fiction. I am not this woman. At least, not entirely; not yet. But a phantom image of her reappears when there is nothing to be gained from living her way except my sanity.  

Quality not Quantity

While this mythical madame’s meditative pace might seem perfectly in sync with a Muslim way of life, pausing five times a day to elevate our attention above mundane concerns and directing it to God, hustle mentality seems to have spilled over from our capitalism-driven working lives into our spiritual ones.

Sometimes it may seem that Islam is all about racking up achievements. How many surahs have you learned by heart? How many Nawafil prayers do you do every day? How many hundreds of dhikr formulae do you routinely utter? Even though we’re advised that doing good in secret is better than doing it for show (1), there’s a competitiveness that edges in, as the ego latches onto tangible expressions of piety and turns them into a source of pride.

The adrenaline-addicted tech industry seems to be exacerbating this trend. From dhikr-counting gadgets and online khatm trackers to courses for speedy Qur’an memorisation and apps to make an Islamic lifestyle more efficient, every quantifiable aspect of religion has been given a productivity makeover. 

All these things have their uses, but they also run the risk of turning something beautiful into a chore – and the desire for more is an ever-ravenous beast. (LinkedIn has started polling users whether the ads they saw were a productive use of their time. Even the kingpin of career FOMO is unsure if it’s productive enough.)

In Ramadan, slow-phobia reaches new heights, with courses advertised to help you maintain “High-Performance” productivity as a “Busy Muslim”. We all need to take care of business, but what if the point of Ramadan is to put the brakes on our constant busy-ness and encourage (or even force) us to be present? Is there a parallel drive to enhance the quality of our devotion? What about reciting just a few Names of God, but v-e-e-e-r-y slowly?

A traditional Islamic saying, mentioned by Ibn al-Qayyim, has it that “One hour of your contemplation is better than one year of worship.” (2) Number, of course, was largely symbolic in the premodern, pre-stopwatch world; by today’s standards, sitting still for an hour simply to marvel at existence seems hopelessly unrealistic, unless there’s an app to time, track, and reward it.

More than Menses

Amid all this bean-counting, having a period seems almost selfishly unproductive. Energy levels plummet; brain fog slows ratiocination to a hedgehog’s saunter; and all the bitter, angry, self-pitying feelings that are rarely acceptable in polite company elbow their way out. But once they’re out, they often don’t seem so scary. When we give in to the waning of our forces and allow ourselves to rest, we begin to hear all the things our souls have been trying to tell us: they no longer have to scream to get over the noise.

This isn’t just about menstruation, of course:

all of us need to balance activity with rest, the way that daytime and night time hours are perfectly balanced over the planet’s surface and over the course of the year. All of our bodies are built of structure and fluid, toughness and tenderness that have to work together seamlessly for us to function. Resewing the split between “good” (active, productive, cheerful) and “bad” (inward, solitary, sad) goes a long way towards healing our fragmentation.

As strange as this may sound, I am coming to the realisation that PMT is a blessing, a God-given reminder to tune back into quality time, and not quantitative time. Our bodies, minds, and souls need to rest – and if you deprive them of it, they’ll make you pay. Perhaps not in the form of a stress-related illness, but simply your life whizzing by without you truly enjoying it:

“Competition for more ˹gains˺ diverts you ˹from Allah˺, until you end up in ˹your˺ graves.” (Qur’an 102:1-2)

Writing Our Way Back to the Present

One of the best ways I’ve found to rewire this acceleration and return to the present is through reflective writing. I see it as an extension of mindfulness, a window of time when I pin the to-do list on a mental cork board and dive into the experience of where I am, in this body, right now. Ideas, sensations and emotions are allowed out of the “I’ll deal with you later” box they’re usually squashed into – and I’m always surprised at how much they have to say. 

When I’m facilitating a writing course I encourage participants to begin with a “landing” exercise, in which they throw down all their first impressions (for instance, of arriving at a retreat centre), and take a moment to feel into each of their senses: sight, sound, smells and tastes, and touch – temperature, breeze, the fabric under their hand, the pressure of the floor on their thighs…

While typing on a laptop or into a phone is a great way to dash an idea into materiality, writing with a pen and paper brings you back to the body’s feeling of itself, while shaping each letter adds a visually artistic element. You don’t have to be constrained by the lines on the page; write sideways, in a spiral, or around your hand.

Back to the Garden

Another way I love to slow down is to garden. It’s calming enough to just sit and observe the flowers and the trees, but engaging in the cycles of growth and decay that have made up our ecologies for millions of years opens up immense possibilities for “contemplation of the heavens and the earth”. This takes patience: you sow seeds, watch them flutter into sprouts, toughen into plants and bushes, flower, swell into fruit, wither, ending up on the compost heap. 

And then…the land rests. Dreaming in dandelion, borage and nettle, tiny wild calendula, subtle white and pink earthsmoke, sticky cleavers – weeds that are medicinal for us and healing for the exploited soil. Underneath, there is far more going on than we realise, miles of roots whose filaments seek out water and food, worms and fungi and microorganisms breaking down organic matter to build soil fertility. There can be a billion healthy bacteria in a single teaspoon of compost.

On some level, this is us. Our output is just what’s visible above ground, in the projects we work on, the achievements we like to riffle through as though they were paper money. But in the quiet spaces out of sight, our subconscious minds are digesting our experiences and making goodness from it. Free writing is like shrinking to the size of a mole and tunnelling in the depths of our being, witnessing the subtle processes that make daylight growth possible.

The New Moon in the Arms of the Old

Seeds love being sown on full moon, mirroring their shape; it’s also the time of ovulation, if you’re synced with the lunar cycle. Like marine tides, groundwater and the sap in plants also rise and fall with the moon. We prune back rose bushes on a waning moon, when the sap is descending and the plant won’t be so disturbed. We plant cuttings on a waning moon too, to give them more chance to take root. The body is a garden, tidal in the moonlight. 

The moon, associated with the feminine since antiquity, is perhaps the boldest representation of our primordial need for waning, retreating into darkness, before returning to full luminosity again. If you look closely, even in the dark, there is a subtle kind of light that is otherwise impossible to see. 

There’s a beautiful phenomenon in lunar astronomy called The Old Moon in the Arms of the New, when the ghostly outline of the dark moon is still visible once the crescent moon is “born”. Traditionally known as Earthshine, it’s actually sunlight being reflected off the earth, reaching the moon, and being returned to our eyes.

In all the universe, we alone are capable of witnessing this phenomenon: only our moon is close enough to reveal these traces of earth’s radiance. 

Here’s what the moon has taught me about loving my cycle: even while we’re waning, or only just beginning to grow, aching to reach our full splendour and outshine the stars, we can hold space for translucent tenderness, and it will reveal a delicate light that few are fortunate enough to witness. A body that bleeds is not a curse, but a sign of Allah to be marvelled at; we just need to find ways to slow down and do the marvelling.


  1. “These people hid their (good) deeds, so Allah the Most High hid for them that which no eye has seen and no ear has heard.” Hassan Al-Basri
  2. Ibn Qayyim Al-Jawziyya on the Invocation of God (Cambridge: Islamic Texts Soc, 2007) pp 526-7.
Medina Tenour Whiteman

Medina Tenour Whiteman

Medina Tenour Whiteman is a writer, poet, translator and musician. She is the author of a collection of poetry, Love is a Traveller and We Are its Path, and Huma’s Travel Guide to Islamic Spain. She lives near Granada, Spain, with her husband and three children.