I know that I’m a writer and I’m supposed to be writing about writing but, for your information, one week out of four I don’t do any work. Sssh! Don’t tell my employer. But I cram all my work into three weeks and write all my words in the same three weeks.
So what, you may ask, do I do with the other week? Well, I turn into a sensitive, touchy, moody, lemon-sucking-face, angry old cow. Much as I would like to say that I am lovely, reasonable, even tempered lady all the time, I’m definitely not. I lose the ability to spell, use grammar correctly, cook with the ingredients in the right order. I involuntarily think continuously about all the injustices in my life, some of them huge, and magnify them one thousand times before I sob on the bus to work. Secretly and quietly of course. I learned long ago that the world isn’t interested in my pain.
I’m in the lucky position where I am the boss and I can more or less arrange my work, particularly where I have to deal with other people, around the three weeks when I am not a screaming harpie version of myself. Since I was 13, which is when all this started, I have been unpleasant to people for one week out of every four weeks. I’ve been a bitch for 8.75 years of my life (at least as this is only involuntary bitchiness, not all the time I have been a proper cow on purpose).
Of course, I haven’t invented all the seething issues that occupy my mind during this time. No, they are all issues that languish in the background of my life, but most days I don’t really acknowledged them. But eventually they surface again, jostling for attention as I bite my lip to force back the tears.
Job interviews, PhD supervision, relationships, even parenting, all affected by my temporary rage. The narrowing of my eyes and the anger at old people and children on buses signals the start of what promises to have everyone close to me screening calls and running for cover.
So, what have I been doing today? Seething, mainly. A mini seethe with every breath in, breath out, just at life in general. I had a little cry when I thought about something insensitive I saw written on a forum yesterday that made me think about my son. I had a little cry about something else that happened five years ago, then remembered that I had perhaps only thought it had happened in another bad time, and had never had it confirmed. I slept for a while then looked at something I had written, hovered my finger over ‘delete’ then remembered: In three more days I would be back to my more rational self. I went upstairs and muttered a lot about ‘vultures flying around my head, always wanting something of me’ about my cat and dog who just wanted their dinner.
‘Pre meditated tantrum’ were the words someone cruel once used for it. Some one else told me that it was modern day woman’s excuse to bunk off from carrying the cross of feminism when women didn’t feel like it. So wrong on so many levels. My doctor told me there was nothing I could do about it. This condition, suffered by many women but by no means all, is a jumble of symptoms which, confusingly, are not experienced by all women who have it. Clear? Not at all. To try to help us, the medical professional have not really researched it but tried to medicalise it. What causes it is still — incredibly but unsurprisingly — unknown. How to treat it therefore is still a mystery. Yet every day it affects women all over the world.
My own psychological research told me that no one had ever really researched it. Probably because it involves feelings and emotions to be understood and not physical tangibles that can be cut away and cured. It’s hyster(ia)ectomy or nothing. But removing the reproductive organs of a woman does not stop raging hormones that begin in the brain. They just divert them to menopause.
The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM–5) list Pre Menstrual Dysphoric Disorder — described as an extreme form of Pre Menstrual Syndrome — and this has caused both critique and praise. The critique is is mainly centred on the vagueness of the symptoms and the casting of women’s health as mental illness (again — remember the wandering womb and hysteria?). The praise is just the huge exhalation of relief by millions of women that this is finally recognised as ‘a thing’. This is a dangerous balance, where we trade off recognition for being labelled negatively.
I’m am expert in psychology and women’s physical health and I have tried to think deeply about what possible natural selection advantage it could have. How evolution had written it into the reproductive plan for some not-so-obvious-reason. Because it’s solely a ‘women’s problem’. Why would funders commission studies when, in the patriarchal world women should, after all, be at home polishing their skirting boards on a daily basis? Why would they need to be consistently well in order to work? Hmm? My doctor just ripped off a sick note and told me to have a month off work, as if it was that easy. As if by doing that I couldn’t at best, have a month’s worth of work waiting and at worst lose my job to someone who could function for a whole month at a time.
In reality, PMS affects a large percentage of female adult who in turn make up a large percentage of the workforce. It has, therefore, a huge affect on the social and economic function of society. Yet, because of patriarchal control, no male equivalent of PMS and the consequent ongoing non-recognition of it in everyday life, women are still crammed into 9–5s five days per week, every week. No flexibility. No way to look after their bodies and minds when we most need it.
My friends tell me they have it and that it’s a vicious circle of anger/guilt/shame, not helped by the words ‘It’s because you have PMT’ and ‘Are you due for you period?’ No. No, no, no I am not. And then, hours later, standing in a cubicle in the toilets I am staring at the back of the door and realising what has happened. Again.
The denial of it and the confusion and fuzzy headedness is almost as bad as the guilt when you realise that it was, in fact, the ‘time of the month’ and you have, in fact, just alienated everyone you know again. For me, for the 420th time, excluding pregnancy.
I didn’t actually realise what was ‘wrong’ with me until I was in my late twenties. Lots of people around me had noticed it but no one, not even those who were supposed to care, spoke to me about it. I worked it out myself over the years and went to my GP, excitedly clutching a calendar and hoping for a cure to finally release me from this horrible impediment on my life. He just sighed and wrote a prescription for vitamin B6. I tried, amongst other things, diet remedies, hypnotism, homeopathy, vodka, vitamins, the pill, progesterone suppositories, even a magnet you wear in your knickers. Currently they are treating it with anti-depressants, I hear. Yes. Really. Maybe that will numb us into being nice?
Of course, back then I was trying to fit these weeks around my life. Now I fit my life around it and don’t feel the need to pretend I don’t have it so much. I manage it. Just. The good news is that I don’t have long until the menopause. I’m nearly there. About, another six years maximum. That’s around 78 weeks that I will spend terrorising my self and my family. Actually, that’s not true now because most of the people who know me have reached an understanding, spoken or unspoken, that I will be alone for a while at some point in the near future for a while. Like me, they’ve realised that it’s not something that ‘happens’ to me, it’s part of me. They love me and they must struggle to love it. Can’t I control my self?
Of course. I spent many, many years attempting just that, pretending these weeks didn’t exist, that somehow it had been cured, that I was somewhere within the ‘normal’ percentile of women who just didn’t have these unexplored-by-science hormonal fluctuations. Always for the benefit of other people on the take who expected me to be there to serve them and couldn’t ever understand that I might need a little time to myself, to be looked after and cared for.
Now, in a better time with people around me who care, I surrender myself to the seething ball of upsetness and paranoia that descends at the same time as the clumsiness and the red mist. I’ve learned to breathe and meditate. I’ve learned that this is out of my control and part of me and I have to arrange my life around it. I’ve also found that while it doesn’t fit with a 9–5, non-hormonal fluctuation, male dominated world, it is a time of heightened creativity, if only I can allow myself to look away from the horror of not fitting in.
Thanks for reading my oestrogen-laden ramblings. I’m committed to authenticity as ever.