My ex and I had met at New Year and were ‘official’ by the spring equinox. Sitting on a bench at my favourite spot, we held hands and joked our romance must have been written in the stars. Later that day, she took the three trains home and the day after that we went into lockdown. ‘I was told this relationship was going to be difficult,’ she’d often said before, mysteriously. I hadn’t had much reason to think about it until then.
We were both despondent, my ex and I, one day into lockdown. We were each doing our best to cheer the other up. ‘I don’t want anxiety to become my main form of practice,’ she said, which I immediately wrote down in my notebook. We decided to console ourselves with astrology websites. I wasn’t sure how seriously either of us took them, but that wasn’t really what mattered. She was relieved to read that Cancers and Virgos go well together (according to one website anyway); ‘Our cosmic compatibility is confirmed,’ she texted me, that afternoon.
‘The main problem of their relationship is the possible conflict between emotional Cancer and reasonable Virgo,’ I read aloud to her, when we video-called that evening. ‘In a way, they complement each other as much as the heart complements the mind.’
She was much more magical than me (I’m a bit of a sceptic, though I was doing my best to get on board). I’d reconnected with my teenage enjoyment of astrology, been filling in a menstrual moon mandala to chart the ups and downs of my cycles, painted my face with my own red pigment in an act of subversive disobedience, even experimented with baking gluten-free bread. I was flirting with her and my future, over the wifi that she couldn’t quite trust.
‘I’m quite up at the moment,’ I told her over video-call, three days into lockdown. ‘I’ve been restless and stressed and my heart’s been beating non-stop over the last couple of days.’
‘I hope you don’t mind me saying this,’ she said, warily (we had nearly fallen out over the subject), ‘but maybe you’ll be able to see whether this happens at the same point every time in your cycle, as you complete the menstrual moon mandala.’
I nodded in agreement. ‘I know,’ I said, ‘I’ve already been thinking about that. I guess only time will tell.’
I was beginning to see a correlation emerge—between my menstrual cycle and my bipolar cycle. It was too early to be sure, of course. So far that month, during the week following my bleed, I had been up. Then it waned—the hypomania—just as the moon came to fullness. At the full moon, I observed a few days of neutrality and over the next two weeks I was embraced by shadow and melancholia.
A friend of mine had been in and out of psychiatric hospitals for years. She spiralled through assessments, diagnoses, and medications; she had been sectioned many times and forced to drop out of university until, finally, she charted her cycle and realised that a pattern was unfolding, month after month. Lawyerly, she presented her findings to the doctor and demanded to see a specialist. It turned out that, put simply, she was allergic to her own progesterone production.
‘The trouble with psychiatrists,’ my friend said, as she helped guide me through my disability benefit forms over video-call, ‘is that they treat mental health as though it were an exact science, when it is not. They want to read the body as if it were a closed, self-contained system, completely and exhaustively understood by biology and independent from other factors, like the climate crisis and late capitalism.’
‘It’s the patriarchal pursuit of mind,’ I offered, ‘which won’t afford the study of any other bodily influence. It’s presumably too unscientific to acknowledge a legitimate role for hormones in modern psychiatry across the genders, when they have previously been dismissively coded as “feminine.”’
We had an argument, my ex and I, twenty-one days into lockdown. It was about her offering to help me chart my cycles. It was a nice distraction, of sorts, although I’m not sure either of us felt like that at the time. I’d started filling out my second moon mandala. I showed her proudly, holding it up to the camera.
‘I hope you don’t mind,’ she said, tentatively, ‘but I asked my acupuncturist about whether she could help guide you in the right direction. Not using needles!’
I was quiet.
‘It’s just that I’m proactive about my health,’ she said, ‘and don’t leave things.’
‘I’m not not being proactive. I want to map it for a few months and see how it goes.’
‘I don’t think I can say anything right.’
‘It’s not that,’ I said.
To that, neither of us added anything. Maybe this is bigger than bleeding, I thought. I also loathed that word—‘bleeding’—yet I was trying desperately to own it. There is no mistaking it, as there is with all those countless other euphemisms: crimson wave, Aunt Flo, on the rag, period. ‘Bleeding’ instantly evoked those ruby red cross-sections of endometrial thicknesses plotted as if the experience could be meaningfully represented by x- and y-axes. My squeamishness might well seem problematic, but I had been amenorrhoeic until only recently.
‘I just remembered you said you didn’t want to talk about this again over video-call.’
‘It’s OK. It’s difficult to discuss things properly on here, I guess. I’d rather we speak face-to-face.’
We smiled weak low-resolution smiles at one another.
‘I wanted to ask you something,’ and then she asked: ‘what do you actually think about moving in with each other, when all of this is over?’
Laura Grace Simpkins has a master’s in Film Studies and a bachelor’s in History of Art. She has bipolar disorder, OCD, sensory sensitivity difficulties and more anxieties than she can keep track of. Simpkins’ writing has been broadcast on BBC Radio Bristol and published online in STORGY Magazine.