Laura Catania worked in Guatemala before coming back to America and working in the non-profit sector.  We’re so excited to talk to Laura today about her life, her work, her period, and being a part of the Jubilance sisterhood!

Watch her interview here:

Listen to her interview here:

Read her interview here:

Alice:  So Laura, I kind of start off with some more fun questions. Welcome to the show.

Laura: Thank you. It is great to be here.

Alice: Yes. So excited to have you on. Could you talk about your favorite show that you have binged during covid?

Laura: Actually, I am binging The Sopranos right now because I’ve never watched it before. And it’s kind of a classic HBO show and I’m loving it. I’m really loving it. It’s a great show.

Alice: I’ve never seen it. It’s the Mafia-ish one, right?

Laura: Yeah. It’s about a mob family in New Jersey and it’s just really well done. It’s fascinating and fantastically addictive. And I’m just really glad that I’ve experienced this part of television history now.

Alice: Cool. I know there’s so much to watch now in all of the streaming services. But I feel like I’ve exhausted all the new things so I need to get back and check that out.

Laura: Yeah, I think going back in time can be really cool. And The Sopranos is worth it for sure.

Alice: Ah-huh. That’s awesome. Can you talk about a favorite story from a trip you had?

Laura: I think that one of my favorite trips that I did recently was I took a spontaneously two weeks before. This was in 2019, planned a birthday trip for one of my best friends to the bloom[?] area of Mexico. And I had traveled a bit in Mexico before but I hadn’t been to the very famous, Cancun and Maya Riviera area of Mexico.

So I took two friends with me and we went down. And one day we just went cenotes hopping. And cenotes are those beautiful freshwater clear pools that they have because of the limestone that the earth is made of there. And they’re just fantastic and they have a lot of significance in history in the Maya culture of Mexico. And we rented a car so we just drove around all day and went to different cenotes to swim in. And it was just– it’s just the first thing that comes to mind when I think of good memories from traveling.

Alice: Wow, that sounds so magical. They just look like from another world.

Laura: Yeah. Yeah. I would love to scuba dive in cenotes one day.

Alice: Wow. I did not know that you could scuba dive in them.

Laura: Yeah. Yeah. They have lots of people actually. One I went to, there were people diving in it while I was there, and there are some that have really interesting cave type formations and then others that are just clear and have fish. And we went to one cenote that’s inside a lake so it’s roped off because you can swim in the lake and then at a certain point there’s just a giant crater drop-off of a Cenotes. Yeah.

Alice: Fascinating.

Laura: Yeah, they’re everywhere.

Alice: What would be so cool to dive in then?

Laura: Yeah. Yeah.

Alice: Do you have a scuba diving license?

Laura: I do not. I got certified to dive maybe about 10 years ago, actually while I was in college. And haven’t been able to go again since, but I would really love to. I would have to probably take classes and get re-certified, but I did get certified once and dove in a lake in Virginia, but-

Alice: That’s amazing.

Laura:  So one day.

Alice: That’s so crazy. Wow. Okay, so tell me about your dream day from start to finish. What would it be like after covid?

Laura: After covid, dream day would be again as a traveling day. My dream day is when I’m on a trip and I start the day off ready to go. I leave the house or the Airbnb wherever I am. Go get some coffee and a meal, go to a museum or some kind of natural wonder of the area, or ancient ruins or whatever it may be. Meet people along the way, have a full day, take a nap, wake up for dinner and then go dancing all night and just kind of absorb the culture. That would be a dream day.

Alice: Yeah, I’m definitely an introvert by nature but I find myself thinking like now that we’re in social distance times like oh my God how relaxing would that be to like go dancing [crosstalk], but lots of people never in my life would I do that otherwise, but-

Laura: Great. I tend to get some kind of superhuman energy when I’m traveling, whereas at home I may skip the dancing to go stay home and watch Sopranos. But yeah, there’s something about being able to be immersed in a different culture, a different environment that gives me a lot of energy.

Alice: Wow. Oh, I can’t wait for us to be able to travel again.

Laura: No.

Alice: Where would you go? Where’s the first place you’ll go?

Laura: I think the first place I would go is actually just to visit family either in California or Colorado. So nothing outside of the country immediately, but I haven’t been on any planes since the pandemic started. So I think I would just get a ticket for a quick trip somewhere in the country either visit friends and family.

Alice: Oh cool. Yeah, that would be really nice. And talk a little bit about where you’re living now.

Laura: Yes, so I’m living in Washington DC. I’m originally from Arlington, Virginia, which is about 20 minutes away. It’s just across the Potomac River from DC, and I live in an awesome neighborhood called Columbia Heights. I live in a four-bedroom apartment pretty big apartment, but there are four of us, four women. And it is just a fantastic area. It’s close to the National Zoo, it’s close to our metro lines, it’s close to tons of bars and restaurants.

It’s also a historically Latino and black neighborhood. So I feel really lucky and really privileged to be able to share the space with the origins of this neighborhood. And I love being involved with this community to try to help keep those origins alive as much as possible. We have pretty active civic engagement overall in DC. People are pretty politically aware of what’s going on within their neighborhoods, within their wards which is how the city is divided up into eight wards. So, people are very empathetic, aware, and active here. So it feels good to be sharing space in a neighborhood with people who really care about the history and the future of the neighborhood.

Alice: Wow. That’s really cool. Yeah, I remember visiting Columbia Heights and it was always great to visit, just like all the architecture to all that older architecture. There’s- I don’t know if you’ve been I mean now it’s a pandemic so that’s probably not open- but there’s a wonderful Spanish language theater. That’s also across from that Target Gala theater-

Laura: Yes, I have been. Mm-hmm. Yeah. Yeah. It was really cool.

Alice: Okay. I love that place. I don’t speak Spanish at all, but just having that there is that theater space for that community. And I saw an old play from Spain like around Shakespeare’s time. I remember I saw, and they had subtitles so everyone could engage with it. But just the idea was so cool.

Laura: Yeah, that’s still there. Yeah, it’s awesome. I have been, I think once. I’m not sure if I’ve been more than once. It’s a great place. My apartment, too, is a 1912 row house that has four units in it, and it’s just really, it’s got so much charm and character. And it’s just lovely to live in an old building like that and be surrounded by beautiful architecture whenever I go on, [clears throat] excuse me, a walk it’s just fantastic I can see so much that I’ve never even seen even living here for a few years.

Alice: That’s so cool. I mean like just behind you. Is that a fireplace?

Laura: Yeah, that’s a fireplace with a mirror. It doesn’t work. Unfortunately, they don’t really have fireplaces going it too many of these old buildings in DC, but it is beautiful.

Alice: It is beautiful. Those colors, Oh my God.

Laura: Yeah, it’s lovely

Alice: Yeah. And what is your favorite part about Washington?

Laura: My favorite part about Washington is probably more of what I mentioned before. I’ve just like the overall culture of people, being pretty just the opposite of apathetic about what’s going on in the world, and striving for a better city. I think it’s really cool to live in a place where there are so many intelligent and diverse types of people. It’s an international city, so there is so much amazing culture to learn about and absorb. And also I love DC because I’m from really close by[?]. I’m from Arlington which used to be part of DC back in-

Alice: Oh, really? Oh, wow.

Laura: -yeah, before it became part of the Commonwealth. And I have a lot of friends and family here. So it’s been fantastic to be in a new place, new as in I hadn’t lived here in DC proper before three years ago, but not new like if I had gone to a city with no connections. So I think that’s also a really wonderful thing, a wonderful experience for a young person, but having lived-moved to a city where I already knew people and had family was really cool. And I love that.

Alice: Wow. Yeah, that is amazing. But and– that’s good that everything is so close by. I love DC too because it’s so walkable like you can walk the whole city in 30 minutes maybe or like across which is great. New York is not like that. But-

Laura: It’s walkable, bikeable. Before the pandemic, I rode the train or the bus everywhere because it has its issues with our Metro System. But it is a pretty fantastic way to get around. I love having a train, you know-

Alice: It is so clean. I’m so shocked every time. It doesn’t smell like bad [inaudible] on the floor like New York, it’s so gross.

Laura: Yeah, and it’s you know, that’s another thing I love about New York is the subway and being able to get anywhere you want to go. So the fact that a city like DC has something similar is really fantastic. And I really hope that that Metro can survive this pandemic because, unfortunately, the ridership is way down understandably and I’ve barely got on the train at all, but it is a thing that I really appreciate about DC is the public transportation for sure.

Alice: Oh, that’s great. And Laura, can you tell me a little bit about your story? What are you up to in DC?

Laura: That’s a great question. So I was, prior to living in DC, working with a wonderful Richmond, Virginia based non-profit that also works directly out of Guatemala. So I was living in Guatemala for a year and a half working for a non-profit. And I left after a year and a half down there and came back.

And as soon as I came back, I recognized that I had a lot of skills and a lot of interest related to assisting the Spanish-speaking immigrant population in the DMV as we call it District, Maryland, Virginia. So just sort of like this major region and I got a job working at an immigration legal services non-profit that provided free legal and social services and language access services to vulnerable immigrants in the area. And I worked there for three and a half years, but unfortunately at the end of last year, I had to be let go because of the pandemic. So luckily for me though, I’m eligible for unemployment and I am stable economically.

So I’ve really been able to take this time to, first of all, I took a little break last year. Burnout was super real. I took a month or two completely off and just enjoyed my time off. And now, I’ve been doing the full-time job that is applying to jobs. Hopefully, we’ll get something soon. But until then I’ve been able to comfortably live without employment. I mean, it is nerve-racking and I would like to be gainfully employed again. But I have been able to make it work and have been comfortable and happy during this time. So that’s what I’m up to – a lot of self-care, a lot of time to myself, a lot of job-searching reaching out to people. I really can’t complain with the conditions that some people in this world are living in. I really have no complaints about my situation. So yeah, doing well.

Alice: It’s tough so many non-profits have taken a hit. I’m a theater director in my real life. Yeah, that’s like my night job or was, but now it doesn’t exist. And nonprofits that have taken such a hit in their funding like arts[?] organizations and charities. And It’s really tough right now.

Laura: I actually did four years of theater in high school.

Alice: Oh, wow.

Laura: I’m really excited to hear that.

Alice: Are you an actor, or-

Laura: Yeah. I was doing acting, yeah.

Alice: Oh my god. That’s awesome.

Laura: Yeah, it’s something I really like to get back into as well. I’ve emailed my theater teacher from high school before because she also teaches adult classes. And I really want to go back to class with her.

Alice: Oh, That is so cool. Why not? During this time or like maybe you could help with Gala with your Spanish language knowledge.

Laura: Right? Yeah, I used to do a lot of volunteering during my time coming back from Guatemala. And before I got my job with the non-profit I was working at, I was volunteering at least 30 hours a week– 20 or 30 hours a week. So I was really excited about all the volunteer opportunities around here during that time.

And unfortunately, a lot of them have been sort of eliminated or to online-only. I haven’t been able to pick up too much volunteer work. I did a little bit of volunteering with some mutual aid efforts in DC during the pandemic, but I would love to get back with more involved in something that I can use my time to help people with. So yeah.

Alice: Wait, tell me more about Guatemala. That’s incredible. What were you doing?

Laura: It was incredible and I miss it a lot. I really really would love to live there again, or at least visit for a while and see all of my friends. I originally went to Guatemala in 2013 on a volunteer trip. I had graduated college in 2012 and saw a sign in a coffee shop for a Maya art and anthropology trip. I studied anthropology at my University, and I loved Central South American ancient culture so I was really intrigued and signed up to go. And the trip was amazing. It was a volunteer trip where we built smokeless stoves for indigenous families that cook over an open fire. So the donation that our trip gave to the non-profit was to purchase the supplies and pay the Masons to help us build these cement stoves with chimneys to help people funnel the smoke out of their homes. Yeah.

So that’s one of– they do many other things but that’s one of the main things you do as a volunteer. And while I was down there I decided that I’ve studied French my whole life, but I decided that I wanted to study Spanish. Once I got there, I realized like, “Okay, this is it. I need to learn Spanish.” And after a week, I canceled my flight home and I stayed for another month and went to a Spanish immersion school.

And then came back to the States, then was living at home with my parents in Arlington and working, and then about a year and a half later, after much pestering, I made the nonprofit that I volunteered with accept me. They were like, “Well, we don’t know who we can pay you for work, but you can come down and volunteer with us.” And so I went down there not knowing how long I would be there and I had saved up a bunch of money working and living at home to be able to do that. And so I volunteered with them for a couple months and then they ended up hiring me and so I live right [crosstalk] work for them. Yeah.

Alice: What a story and just like totally immersing yourself in Spanish from French. That is amazing.

Laura: Yeah, and I think I was 23 when I started learning Spanish. So I think I was young enough for it to really cement in my brain in a real way. So I consider myself fluent in Spanish. I’m not as good as my vocabulary is a little less than it was when I was living there. It’s an incredible thing, an incredible language, and something I love so much. It’s a skill I’m so glad I have a part of my brain that can converse and think in Spanish that I just don’t think would have happened If I hadn’t done the immersion. I think that was really the way to do it.

Alice: Wow. That is so cool. Wow.

Laura: That was great. Hopeful that I’d be back there one day. I miss it a lot.

Alice: Ready after the pandemic to welcome you back. Can you talk a little bit about finding jubilance? How did you find out about it?

Laura: Yeah. I started seeing jubilance on my I think my Facebook. I started seeing ads and the first time you see ads you kind of just scroll by and you’re like, “Okay.” I saw it a few times and then eventually I was like, “Okay, what is this exactly?” because I had been aware that I had PMDD since 2014. And so I have been experimenting with all sorts of ways to manage it since then. And so when I saw something that said it helped with PMS relief, I’ve decided to to Google it and learn more after seeing those ads a few times.

Alice: Oh, that’s awesome. And can you talk a little bit about how is it making you feel?

Laura: It’s really incredible how it is assisting with the PMDD. It almost feels like it’s putting a soft blanket over it or something. If I could use very poetic imagery, it’s like, it is a for me– should I talk about a little bit more about my experience with PMDD?-

Alice: Yeah, that would be great.

Laura: -how jubilant. I’ve been calling it jubilance, but I think that’s wrong.

Alice: Yes. It’s like jubilance. Like, you know, happy.

Laura: So I was seeing a therapist in 2014 that asked me to start journaling about my feelings during the month just sort of monitoring. And when I– after about three months, she suggested to me that I might have PMDD and I’ve never heard of it before. I didn’t know what that was. I didn’t realize that my emotions and my capacity to handle stress and my levels of depression and anxiety were going up and down throughout the months. I didn’t really see a pattern there, but it was actually a therapist to find that, pointed out a pattern and so that was really when it all started for me.

I started realizing that my entire outlook on myself and the world changes every month. Sometimes it could be for one week leading up to the cycle, the end of the cycle could be two weeks or sometimes I think I’ve experienced it for more than that. Yeah, so very severe levels of changing response to emotions and stressors. And so over the years, I have done different types of birth control to see if that helped. I did some of my own research and found out that a lot of doctors will recommend supplementing with calcium and that can help people a lot for reasons I’m not quite sure about. And yeah, apparently calcium can also help people, but I had tried other supplements like that vitamin B6 calcium that had been recommended to me by various scientific research and it didn’t seem to help with those emotional swings throughout the month.

So I’ve been struggling a lot. When the second half of the month comes around like at some point, a dark cloud just comes over my world and I start to feel like a different outlook. I start to have more negative thoughts about myself and the people in my life. I start feeling highly triggered to stress, like things that aren’t that stressful will all of a sudden just feel devastating.

And in previous years of my life, it’s led me to feel incredibly unstable to the point where I wasn’t sure if I needed to go on medication for any depressant. If I had some other kind of disorder like bipolar? I have had suicidal thoughts before so and then once the period comes those things all go away, and I go back to normal. So it’s it– what’s the worst thing is that up and down and feeling normal sometimes and totally not yourself other times.

My experience with jubilance has been that those negative emotions and the intensity of those negative emotions is drastically reduced to a point that is manageable. They don’t overwhelm me like a wave. I feel like if I feel something I have this space between me and that feeling to not let it take over, to not react to it, to just feel it, and have more capacity to allow feelings during my cycle to happen in a way that isn’t just overwhelming and kind of destructive to one’s mental health.

Alice: Oh, Laura I’m so glad then jubilance can help you. You don’t want to feel those emotions, that roller coaster that happens every month. I’m so glad that I could help.

Laura: Yeah, it really has helped. I have noticed a huge huge difference in my mental state. I was never expecting to eliminate PMS whatsoever. And I also don’t really think that– I think after all these years of having a period I can handle a little bit of PMS but it’s just the excessive, unbelievably, emotional states and depressive episodes that are debilitating to a woman’s life that is destructive to partnerships and to productivity in life and at work. And I don’t think that women need to be emotionless like slabs of cardboard in order to get by. But it’s not fair to have to feel that bad all the time when normally-

Alice: Every month. Why is this a thing? You deserve to feel better.

Laura: Yes. Yes. You deserve to be able to handle it and in your own way and to be able to know that you can overcome it and that you can. You may not be feeling perfect or tiptop, but you’re not afraid of what you might do or feel so that is a huge thing that I think all women should have that are suffering from this. And I honestly think that women in my life that I’ve talked to might have issues with PMS that they don’t even realize since it’s such an understudied issue and-

Alice: Such a taboo talk topic to even talk about which is horrifying because we experience it every month. Like half the population experiences it at some point right. Crazy.

Laura: Yeah, and I just don’t know how many people in my life are aware that some of their emotional swings and depression and anxiety could be related more related than they think to an abnormally long PMS cycle, or even let’s say if you don’t have PMDD and you just have really bad PMS for five days before your period that still will be worth it to not have because if it’s that bad, then those five days you just don’t even know happened to you. So, yeah.

Alice: Thank you so much for sharing that, Laura. And something that I always ask on the podcast is what is your definition of Womanhood?

Laura: That’s a really interesting question and it’s hard to say because as I’ve gotten older for all the people that are aware of contemporary gender conversations, I identify as a cisgender heterosexual woman. So that is a really interesting position to be in because I realize that not everyone has my idea of womanhood.

As I’ve grown older I’ve recognized a lot of different ideas of womanhood than what I thought were real growing up. And I’ve opened my mind and my heart to accepting other versions over time that I wasn’t aware of or have experienced and this could be through friends, reading, television, internet forums, everything just people in my life. I really listened to them.

So I think womanhood is really hard to define because I think most people would define it as biological. I’m not sure I know anymore what it is. I think womanhood is when a person feels in touch with their femininity, or they identify as feminine. And if you are a person with different biology than me, and you identify as feminine then I believe you because I think it’s a really powerful thing to identify us and anyone who feels like their femininity is their most precious resource or it’s a big part of their identity to me is a woman. And I think womanhood is helping others accept their feminine side and feminine nature in everyone around them. I think womanhood is the strength to be able to do that to help people understand just the feminine side of life. So I hope that made sense.

Alice: Yeah. That’s really lovely. I love what you were saying about the strength to help other people accept anyone’s femininity.

Laura: Exactly. Exactly. She knows what she’s talking about. The voice of a younger generation and how we are seeing gender. We don’t really look at it, most of us, I guess don’t really look at it the way it was seen in the 50s of what womanhood was back then. So it’s fascinating to see it grow and change and seem more people open up conversations about what is womanhood. What is femininity? What is being a woman or feminine? Oh, yeah. I’ve been learning a lot over the past decade or more about this. So my definition is still evolving.

Alice: And I think that’s what’s so interesting about it is that everyone has a different definition and I think it changes like second by second. It’ll be different in a couple days or so. Laura, is there anything else you’d like to add to our listeners today?

Laura: I think the the only other thing I’d like to add is if you are feeling like PMS is taken over your life even one time it would be worth trying jubilance. And I think it really has the potential to put you on a different path and let you enjoy life in a different way because you won’t be as afraid or as overwhelmed or beaten down by PMS. I am all about access to reproductive rights, birth control and I feel like this is maybe the next step in allowing women to experience the benefits of science. I think science is a little bit behind. Maybe not a little bit, a lot of bit behind in a lot of ways with issues that pertain to women. And I think that this is an exciting New Era of how science can help women gain better control over their bodies, maybe not control but allow them to have more agency in their choices.

Mental health is extremely important and it’s incredibly challenging right now to maintain stable mental health with everything going on. And then if you have PMS or PMDD on top of that, it’s really challenging. I think women should really have the opportunity to be able to get beyond it just like we did with being able to choose whether or not we have children, or whether or not we want to get pregnant. I think being able to choose a way to have better mental health related to our bodies and our cycles is the next step that were working towards so why not be one of the first people to experience that. I feel like I am one of them, I don’t know anyone else in my personal life, but I’m definitely going to recommend it to people and so I want to recommend it to anyone else who’s thinking about trying it to see if it helps because it’s great.

Alice: Yehey. Thank you so much, Laura. It was awesome to talk to you.

Laura: It was great to meet you.

About the author

Alice Cash is the Marketing Manager for Jubilance by day and an award winning Theatre Director by night.  Leading the podcast Weekly Woman, she loves her candid conversations with women from all over the world about how they live and the amazing things they are doing to make a difference. Alice is also the editor of the bi-monthly newsletter the Jubilee, a blog dedicated to the power of female wellness especially concerning menstruation.  She’s worked in France creating theatre pieces and taught drama and filmmaking to women and children in Haiti.  She graduated from Georgetown University and holds two master degrees from NYU and The New School.  Alice has traveled to  40+ countries, including Tibet.  She is a New Yorker and can often be found in Central Park, searching out the best bubble tea, or directing a play, you never know where she’ll show up. @alicesadventuresinwonderworld
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