Actually, she’s wearing white pants and as anyone knows you can’t have your period and wear white pants at the same time. Or ride white horses. Or play tennis in a white tennis dress. I’m guessing she’s the girl whose babysitter showed her Jaws at age 5.
“Hormonal” is not generally seen as a compliment. And yet, I’ll be honest, I am. Some girls seem hardly affected by the monthly ebb and flow of the Crimson Tide but me… well, let’s just say that ancient cultures would have worshiped me because of how obviously I follow the lunar cycle. Sure I get all the usual PMS crap like cravings (for like two weeks, so basically half the month I’m fighting sugar), bloating, moodiness and cramps. But I have some weirder symptoms. It took me until I was 30 to realize that the day before the Crimson Tide flows in that I have a serious “everybody hates me” day. And I mean serious. I cry to my husband that I have no friends. I tell my sister how nobody cares about me. Then I go on Facebook and cry over statuses as benign as “had eggs for breakfast – thanks for the recipe Jill!” because clearly Jill is sending out recipes to everyone but me which probably means they’re all having brunch right now and nobody invited me. The next day, without fail, Aunt Rosie comes a-knocking and I want to smack myself. It’s gotten so bad that I actually have a calendar alarm set up to remind me not to send any ill-advised e-mails for those couple of days.
The problem is that it all feels so very real. Even though it happens every month or so. (My cycle isn’t super regular which adds a whole other level of difficulty to this puzzle!)
But the most interesting symptom I have is a hormone-induced stupor. For 20 days of the month I am a writing machine, coming up with posts, working on my book, doing research, conducting interviews and enjoying every second of it. (Eh, mostly.) But then something happens to my brain and I go into this mental fog. Everything is hazy. Writing feels impossibly hard. Heck, even calling the store to order my son’s birthday cake (no, I’m not making it – hush, do you not remember what happens when I bake?!) feels insurmountable. Parent-teacher conference? I have a 3rd child? It’s not flip-flop weather?! Wha…?? I can’t remember a dang thing. It’s like depression, a stroke and a Baldwin family reunion all in one.
So what do I do? I work 10 times harder because now it takes me 10 times as long to get anything done. This necessitates staying up until 2 or 3 a.m. to finish tasks that ought to be simple but feel like eating peanuts with chopsticks. The lack of sleep then necessitates OD’ing on sugar and dark chocolate to keep moving. Then I feel compelled to hide all my crazy feelings because I know they’re crazy and I don’t want to vent my spleen all over people which turns me into an emotional volcano. That only erupts inwards. (What does “venting one’s spleen” even mean?! Weirdest idiom ever. And second grossest visual.) And the best part is that it happens about every 30 days! Yippee!
Basically everything sucks for those 10 days but then all is happy hyper-achiever again. It’s a weird roller coaster. A friend recently asked me if I’m bipolar. I was like, “No, just bimenstrual. Which might be the same thing.” I was relating this to my sister and bemoaning my hormonal fate when she said something profound. “Maybe your period is trying to tell you something.”
“Excuse me? I am not on speaking terms with Mother ‘you want to complain about fair, I’ll show you Somalia’ Nature.”
“Well you should start talking to her again. Because I think she’s smarter than you think.”
“How can she be smart when she makes my life absolutely miserable for 1/3 of every month??”
“Maybe she’s not trying to make you miserable. Maybe she’s trying to make you rest.” I harrumphed while she finished. “You are so go-go-go all the time so maybe your body is telling you that it needs to rest. Mentally and physically. You’d probably be happier if you just stopped fighting it and took a nap.”
Well, huh. My little Earth Mother sister might be onto something. Historically in many cultures women were given a break during That Special Time. While sometimes women were just forbidden from cooking or having sex or doing other “wifely duties”, many cultures gave a special power to a “moontime” and gave women extra space and reverence. But either way women were generally expected to be different during their periods. It was normal to not be your normal self.
This is a far cry from what is expected today. We’re free to make jokes about Shark Week or Chocolate Bloodletting or whatever but aside from Middle School gym class we’re absolutely not allowed to use it as a legitimate excuse. PMS is seen as a weakness, something that needs to be fixed, covered up or ignored – a disease even. Every time I talk about my horrible hormones I have a few people tell me to try the new birth control pills aimed at PMDD (pre-menstrual dysphoric disorder, i.e. the PMS from hell), like Yaz or Yazmin. I’m definitely not opposed to pills and if these help you then I couldn’t be happier for you. (Truly: I’m not trying to tell anyone that they shouldn’t take these pills or that they’re bad.) But when I went to my doctor and she gave me a prescription for Yaz, I never ended up filling it. The side effects felt too scary and I already have an IUD for birth control so the risk wasn’t worth it for me. And I’m not going to lie: there was an element of not wanting to pathologize something that is completely normal. Just like we’ve forgotten what real boobs look like (hint: they don’t always point straight forward), society has given us amnesia about what unmedicated hormones do. They fluctuate. And that fluctuation has effects.
Periods can be indicators of so much more than fatigue. If you lose your period it could be because you’ve over-exercised (ahem), dropped your body fat too low (learned that lesson), have an underactive thyroid, are overly stressed or even have cancer. If your period is irregular it can be a sign of fibroids, nutritional deficiencies, stress and (again) cancer. If your period is excessively heavy then you could possibly have polycystic ovarian syndrome, endometriosis, are overly stressed or (you saw this one coming) cancer. Us ladies are fine-tuned machines and perhaps our menstrual cycles are the canaries in the coal mines.
In the end, I can believe my body tries to slow me down once a month. Heaven knows I need it. But I still hate the inconvenience, the mess, the cramps and especially the brain fog. I also hate how it feels trying to live in a society that expects women to be on a perfectly even keel 365 days a year. Where’s Beyonce when I need her??
Have you ever felt like your period was trying to tell you something? What other normal female (or male!) things has society pathologized? Do you do anything special or different during your Card Game Where All the Suits Are Red? Should I rethink Yaz/Yazmin??
P.S. Thanks to some previous tips from you guys, I’ve started taking a magnesium supplement and I think it’s helped a ton with the cramps. I do 250mg a day until the week before my period then I up it to 500.