It happened again.
Most months, I stare at my pill pack every morning and try to calculate what week it is. Is it THE WEEK? I used to keep a monthly health journal of sorts, and sure enough, every 24 days or so, good old PMDD would return. But now that things are back to normal, the countdown really only results in a day of weeping, napping, and cramps, none of those activities appearing with any particular ferocity. So this is PMS. I think this almost wonderingly. This is what normal women experience during their normal cycle. Maybe I am in the women’s club, after all.
But despite the pill and my usual watchfulness, occasionally it sneaks up on me. It did last week. PMDD’s affects on me so terrible, so gut-renching, so existential, that it convinces me that it is normal. PMDD never once entered my mind last week. It is so interesting how that happens. Every time, it feels so real, so pervasive, that there is no part of me that thinks, “Oh, there go my crazy hormones again.” Instead, I somehow wake up with a dread in my stomach and a strong conviction that my life is meaningless and always has been.
It was literally a difference between night and day this time. One night, after days of feeling like a zombie and contemplating the fact that I wouldn’t mind being dead, I fought with my husband. He winced as I tried to describe how I felt.
“I’m bored. No, I’m not bored. I’m distraught. No, I’m alone. It’s like… I’m underwater.”
I almost slept on the couch because of this fight, but my husband realized halfway through it that he was arguing with a little lost girl. He convinced me to curl up with him in bed, and he rubbed my head until all the demons stopped tormenting me and thoughts of my failure and my horrible finally dissipated into sleep.
I woke up singing.
The biological bounce-back is almost as startling as the PMDD. My eyes were clear, my head was demon-free, and my husband looked and felt again like my partner, instead of my worst enemy. He was happy that I was back, but he did tell me (kindly) to go see a shrink.
Do you think a counselor can help with issues that are biological? Would it lessen the impact of the “bad weeks?” What do you think?
Often, curriculum in health classes is hotly debated because of how they approach sex. Do they teach safe sex? Do they teach abstinence? Do they hand out condoms? Will girls be scared forever because they think a penis looks like a banana?
However, I can’t help but wish that I could be part of a planning team writing curriculum for health classes across the country. And I wouldn’t really care about the sex part. I would want to talk to them about puberty. I think that there are a lot better ways to prepare girls for how they are about to change emotionally, physically, and even mentally. What is and is not a part of their identity. If health classes weren’t so awkward, and taught girls how to be comfortable with their bodies, maybe it would help.
If you were in charge of the curriculum that would teach young women about puberty, what would your approach be?
I’d be afraid to look at the calendar. I’d wonder, “Will it be bad this month?” I’d plan lunchdates around it… I’d try to cook days in advance… I’d even plan going to bed around 6:00 pm in hopes of being alive again by the time I needed to go to my 8:00am class. When PMDD week hit, I would start contemplating why I was alive. Emotionally, I was a mess. Physically, I was exhausted, but not in any type of pain.
One of my best friend would start getting cramps a week in advance. She’d cry over everything, want to break up with her boyfriend, would wear sweatpants to class. And through it all she’d tell me, “I just can’t wait to get my period!” Emotionally, she was weepy. Physically, she had uncomfortable cramps.
Yet another friend of mine had endometriosis. At this point in my life she was living in the suite across from me, and I swear, once a month it sounded like someone was performing Civil War era amputations in the room next door. The poor woman was in PAIN. Emotionally, she was fine. Physically, she was in excrutiating pain.
Where do you lie on the spectrum? Would you say you struggle more physically or emotionally when it’s time for Aunt Flo’s visit?
I’ll never forget the girl who was hanging out in my dorm room and started giving the party (yes, it was a PARTY) a lecture about how wonderful it is to menstruate. She was the type of girl with a shaved head and large earrings, who ran multiple miles every day while communing with nature, wrote essays on feminism, and who apparently also thought that menstruating was a beautiful part of womanhood. I remember getting a pang of guilt in that moment. And it’s never completely gone away.
You see, I take the pill continuously. The goal is for my hormones to stay as rock-steady as possible, without even a dip or a bump. Because in my world, dips and bumps turn into pits of despair. And so I never take the little white placebo pills, and I rarely get my period.
And I LOVE IT!
I haven’t missed it. Not even once.
I can’t help but feel sometimes that I was never really “in the club” as far as womanhood is concerned. So many women grow up excited to have children, revelling in their sexuality, comfortable with their cycle, referring to PMS simply as the day when they have a good cry. What is wrong with me? The whole womanhood thing has really only left me feeling kinda traumatized.
How about you? If you never got your period again, would you mind? Do you revel in your womanhood?
Who is the real me?
Is it the girl with “the broken smile” who could never figure out how to navigate small talk? The girl who, every month, would feel the burning desire to run away to another place, maybe even another world, in order to quench the unhappiness she felt? The girl who was horny every time it rained? The girl who, during certain weeks, could sleep 14 hours a night and still feel tired? The one who slept through the ringing of the phone and the tick-tock of her schedule? The girl who filled journals with emotional outpourings and longings? The one that stood at the door before her class started, unable to open it to step out of her apartment because of the anxiety that she couldn’t suppress?
Or is it the girl with the sales career who boldly strides out the door each day? The one who handles phone calls with finesse? The one who writes essays about political subjects and whose personal journals are strangely empty? The one who only notices rain because she has to pull up her hood? The one who is in love and yet can’t seem to re-awaken the longings that were inside of her for just such a relationship? The girl who longs for stability and avoids opportunities to tempt herself to escape?
When I was first on the pill, I was amazed at the change in myself. At first I only noticed the positive ones. Wouldn’t you?? Suddenly, I could count on myself to show up every day to class or work, no matter the time of month. I could commit to responsibilities and to friendships, knowing that I wouldn’t bail in a week or three. I was far more confident, and without an overloaded, rushing river of emotions, I found that I could articulate myself far more clearly and succinctly.
It was a few months later that I started tallying the pieces of “myself” that felt lost. I realized one day as I sat behind a rainy window that the rain had no ellicited the usual feral feelings of sexuality and deep humanness. I opened my journals, the pen resting in my hands, and found I had no deep, soul-searching questions I needed to work through. I held hands with a boy and there was very little electricity.
And so I bounced back and forth. I would go off of the pill for a month, have a horrible period, skip everything, and dwell in my returned sensitivity. Then I would go back on and try to start over, being responsible and downright boring.
I am still somewhere in-between when I think about who I am. Do you take medication? How do you pick and choose the parts of yourself that are, at the core, you?
How do you hold a job when you have PMDD?
I ask myself that question retrospectively. You see, taking Yaz, then Yasmine, then Ocella, has drastically removed my symptoms and changed my life. Am I being too dramatic? No. Whenever there was a switch from one pill to another (details to come in another post), I remember just how bad living with PMDD really was. One of these switches occurred while I was at a job that I had only been at for three months. I knew that once I switched to a new pill, the next month I would be facing a week where I would be exhausted (aka late for work), anxious (aka less able to deal with my abusive boss than usual), and downright weepy. Sure enough, it turned out that I had three sick days that month, days that were spent in my bed, curled up in the fetal position, whimpering. My roommate would knock on my door and ask how I was, but I was afraid, even of her. I made brief sprints to the kitchen to eat, and only on one of those three days did I have the courage to pick up the phone and call in sick.
I came back to work with the wrath of my boss waiting for me. I still wasn’t strong (it had taken a wake-up call from my boyfriend and breakfast in bed from my roommate to wake me from my 14 hours of sleep). He pulled me into his office and berated me for not calling in, for being gone for three days, for being unprofessional. I cried, and he took my tears for attrition. I returned to my desk, where I wiped off the poop of the mouse that lived in our office and hunched my shoulders, waiting for the next blow. None came.
A few days later, I was a different person. I did not feel anxious or weepy, exhausted or insecure. I was furious. I asked my boss for a meeting and met with him, telling how unkindly he had handled my sick days. I had told him a month before about PMDD, but apparently the acronym meant nothing to him.
“I know how you’ve said you struggle sometimes with… emotional issues.” he was uncomfortable even thinking the word ‘period’ in his mind.
I thought about an employee who worked in the downstairs of our office, one who had been to a mental hospital for weeks on end for some dramatic mental illness. Schizophrenia? Paranoia? Hallucinations? I had a feeling that whatever he had suffered from, it had a name that was more recognizable, and symptoms that were more firmly masculine, than PMDD. Had said employee been called into this office, berated for ’emotional issues?’
It is unfortunate that the first job I held after knowing I had PMDD was with a very insensitive and sexist boss. This showed in many other areas and with many other employees besides myself. But the thing is that even when I am healthy, the part of me that remembers PMDD and has been judged for it is always somewhere in the corner of my mind. This means that even now, when I am healthy and smart and only as lazy as the average American, there is a part of me that is still crouching in the corner of my bed, afraid of bosses and professors and roommates who might judge me for my periods of– for lack of a better word– insanity.
And now I am about to take another job. Throughout the interview process I have paid close attention to my new boss. And I find myself nervous to take the job. I will be good at it. I will work my hardest. But what if it turns into the nightmare of my last job? What if I have to switch pills again? Will I explain my “emotional issues” to my boss, or simply feign the flu three months in a row?
I would love to hear from other PMDD sufferers, or anyone whose life interrupted by the effects of Aunt Flo. How do you hold a job? How much do you share? How often do you find your symptoms re-occuring?
It was my senior year in college, and I had to make an emergency trip to the counseling center (not for the first time). I was panicked: “it” had happened again. I was missing weeks of classes because of the intense anxiety to leave my room. I couldn’t do my homework no matter how hard I tried. I had been training for a half marathon and running up to 8 miles daily, but suddenly I couldn’t make it one mile without my limbs quitting from exhaustion. Oh, and speaking of exhaustion- I was sleeping fourteen or more hours every night, and felt like I could sleep for fourteen more ( I know, I know, that’s more time than there is in a day. The day didn’t have enough hours for me to sleep- that’s bad people).
The dear sweet woman counselor was named Ashley. She was very young, and still uneducated enough that she had been given an internship with the overprivileged and underaged college students. I was shocked she wasn’t still in college. She wore flowery tops and brown flats that seemed to suggest she had a bit of hipster in her. But her short, shiny hair gave her away- I am pretty sure she was the type of girl who went home every night and cried for her patients. Her compassion seemed to ooze out of her as I told her how much I was struggling and how much I just wanted to quit everything and go home and sleep forever (which would only maybe be enough sleep).
This was when I first found out that I had PMDD.
Dear sweet Ashley opened a giant book the size of my thighs (the only proper analogy for large things) and began to list off a series of symptoms that I could only nod “yes” too.
Um, hi. Those are some terrible symptoms. I looked back over my life (well, at least my post-puberty life), and I could see the weeks that I suffered from PMDD like black spots in the middle of a happy life. Just about every month that I could remember, there had been a week where I had bailed on friends, started failing academically, slept 14+ hours a night, eaten embarrassing amounts of food, and found myself unable to read even the simplest book. It was overwhelming, thinking about all those A’s turned to C’s, all those friends turned to acquaintances, all that gym time wasted in a monthly carb-frenzy. There really wasn’t anything that I couldn’t pin on PMDD. But that just seems wrong… right?
I’m writing this blog because it is 2 years since my PMDD “diagnoses” (there really is no medical test to prove that you suffer from it), and I am still dealing with it in a very real way. I want to find a community of women– young, kinda young, and not young at all– who can talk about their PMS, their PMDD, their endometriosis or maybe just their bad cramps. We’ve got to start supporting each other and realizing- the impact that our hormones and our periods have on our lives in HUGE. But I think that the more we take that into account, the more was can learn to laugh at ourselves and at Aunt Flo and learn how to roll with the uterine punches.