PMS/PMDD is Not An Excuse, It’s a Responsibility
Let’s be clear: a woman suffering from PMS or PMDD to the extent that she finds herself frozen when trying to answer an email or unable to get out of bed in the morning because of the debilitating pain is not using her time of the month as “an excuse.”
She is not taking advantage of the chance to act out or make your life difficult.
Chances are that, like me, she is working that much harder to be her best self on these days. She has to try just as hard to manage an influx of changes and symptoms that are not making my life easier.
As women, we are often accused of using “that time of the month” as an excuse to act out, not only by the men in our lives, but also by other women.
Because I know I have this condition, I know I have a responsibility to do better. I have to work that much harder than I normally do to remain kind and productive and patient and understanding. I have to push through that much more fear and anxiety caused by a chemical imbalance to do something you may consider simple, something that, during other days of the month, seems as natural as an inhale and an exhale; something I wouldn’t think twice about.
I can’t speak for all women, but I can speak for the women who not only try to hide their time of the month, but also feel guilty, ashamed, and judgmental. We’re already seen as the moodier, more sensitive, more emotional sex. When these very real feelings disrupt our normal abilities, we have to fight that much harder to be a great employee, a good friend, a charming partner, a civilized citizen of the subway system and the coffee line.
My husband is communicative, kind, honest, and loyal. He tells me he knows “I don’t mean it,” and I therefore promise myself next time not to say things I don’t mean, and I hope I can help it. My husband seeks to understand how I feel, and I make it a point to communicate with him.
We can learn to cope, we can try that much harder non-sufferers, and we can apologize and try to tread lightly, but the chemical and hormonal changes going on in our bodies are very real.
Even in 2018, women have to work to be taken as seriously as men, to be paid the same wages, and yet, look at all of the expenses we incur simply by being women that men don’t—bras, for one, period products, medications to manage our hormones and the physical and emotional side effects that come with our period. Oh, and don’t get me started on our haircuts.
Every 23 to 25 days, I know it’s coming. The confident, compassionate, semi-zen woman I’ve become suddenly has the chair jerked out from under her ass, and it begins. Like some sort of climax in an adventure movie, I have to walk through the rest of the month—smiling, interacting, working, loving, helping—on a rickety bridge over a freaking fire pit and hope to make it to the other side without a scratch or doing permanent damage to anyone around me.
I’m afraid of my email. I may go into a tailspin if you hang your coat on the back of our dining room chair instead of hanging it up in the closet, or add your shoes to the three other pairs forming a shoe farm by the door. If you take too long to unload the ingredients from Plated, and I’m kind of hungry, be prepared for a rant. I’m quicker to become sad, angry, or frustrated. I may keep kicking a dead horse when I would normally look for the quickest resolution to any disagreement with you or just drop it, especially if you are trying your best to dissolve the situation.
I have a team of social supports, professionals, and medical help because this time of the month can be so debilitating, so all-consuming, and so devastating, that out of the 1 out of 20 women who live with it, 15 percent take their own lives.
At times, there is a valid reason. It is an extremely real series of triggers and chemical reactions that I have spent years, and will continue to spend years, learning to manage even more effectively.
We have even more responsibility as women to track and be aware of our symptoms, to hold it together when things feel overwhelming, to breathe deeply while doubled over in a public bathroom stall because the cramping is so bad we feel we could pull the door right off with the sheer force of our white-knuckling.
Awareness alone, though, is not enough. We now have to figure out a plan.
My plan is to track my symptoms, lighten my calendar load, take prescription medication as needed, check in with my support network, communicate increasingly clearly and compassionately with my husband while asking for what I need , say no to things I don’t feel up for or can’t take on, take an extra pause before responding to anything that triggers an emotion and take a break when I feel overwhelmed, meditate more, share how I’m feeling with my friends, try to exercise but don’t beat myself up if my body isn’t up to it, call on my therapist, and giving myself permission for all of this, because there are very real chemical and physical changes going on in my body that I cannot control—so I need to control what I can, and that will look different for all women.
A plan for nearly half the month, where things start to feel just a little bit off. We don’t know how we’re going to feel about our bodies, or sex, or the world today. We may be extremely sensitive to rejection or criticism. Losing a special earring may be the last straw that causes us to erupt over all of these chemical chaos brewing inside of us.
And yet, we still have a responsibility to be better versions of ourselves than our brains and our bodies are pushing us to be. We also have to want to do it, because nobody is going to do it for us.
We need to speak to one another and find support. We need to get involved in safe discussions in closed, supportive Facebook groups with carefully monitored rules. We need therapy. We need skills. We need meditation. We need sugar and we need to not feel bad about needing sugar. We need to exercise. We need to communicate.
This month, I’m thanking my husband with tickets to a Nets game. Next month, I may just look him in the eyes and take his face in my hands and say, “I love you so much, thank you,” and I will list everything I know he did, or said, or didn’t say; every touch, every gesture, every moment of patience he had for me.
We are responsible for nurturing our own growth, physical health, wellness, and mental health, and, especially as women who deal with PMS or PMDD, there are some days where we’re just unintentionally going to be difficult to be around. Everyone has bad days, and we have to work that much harder to try to manage ours.
Featured image by Nirrimi Firebrace
Author Bio Helaina Hovitz is an editor, writer, content strategist, and author of the memoir After 9/11. She has written for and worked with 50 publications including The New York Times, Salon, Glamour, Reader's Digest, Forbes, Women's Health, Newsweek, The Fix, and Teen Vogue. She is a native New Yorker, nonprofit enthusiast, rescue dog lover, and has eaten at approximately 500 million thousand restaurants. Visit her at HelainaHovitz.com or follow her @helainahovitz on Twitter and on Facebook at Helaina Hovitz Regal.