Hey, can we talk for a second? Can we talk about something that affects many, many women around the world?
Something that was once considered a powerful symbol of femininity and fertility, and now is the source of jokes and embarrassment?
A condition that disrupts life for many of us?
Can we talk about it, without it being embarrassing or vulgar or weird? I think we can. Let’s try.
After all, research shows that it affects up to 75% of women, meaning there’s a good chance either you, or someone in your life, experiences it.
The medical community tells us that Premenstrual Syndrome (PMS) refers to physical and emotional symptoms that occur in the one to two weeks before a woman’s cycle. Symptoms often vary, and common symptoms include acne, bloating, feeling tired, irritability, and mood changes.
Doctors and science aside, it’s no fun, I can tell you that.
My clothes are tight. I’m swollen, like a sausage stuffed into a casing.
I feel ugly, and sluggish, and slow, and tired.
My body is slow, but my brain is moving very, very fast. I have a restless kind of energy, and anxiety that keeps me up at night. I mean, I fall asleep okay, but somewhere around 3:00 am, I wake up, and I can’t stop thinking about random, disconnected things.
Did I give the dog his heartworm medicine?
Should I work with Henry more on his math facts?
We never had math facts as a kid.
Maybe that’s why I’m so bad at math.
Yet at the same time my brain is racing, it’s also enveloped in a kind of fog. My memory doesn’t seem as sharp.
I’m emotional. I cry at commercials. Well, I did cry at commercials until my husband got annoyed with Comcast and canceled cable, but I’m getting off topic here.
I am hungry.
I am short-tempered.
I snap at everyone.
I hate myself.
For whatever reason, my sense of sound seems to be magnified. I mean, I am normally one of those people who can’t stand to listen to someone else munch popcorn, but around this time it gets even worse.
My oldest son, Joey, is a whistler. You know what a whistler is, right? It’s a person who rambles about their day whistling loud, out-of-tune melodies. Sometimes, if you’re really lucky, The Whistler will possess enough talent to patch together pieces of random songs, and you’ll be able to hear it three rooms away.
We had high hopes for that boy, we really did.
Let me tell you, beloved readers, autism and PMS do not go well together. No siree, they do not.
You know about my son with autism, right?
His name is Jack. He is thirteen.
On a good day Jack and my brain don’t exactly match up—not because he’s dumb, absolutely not—but because he needs to process each and every word I say, and when I’m talking and thinking at warp speed and snapping my fingers and waving my hands impatiently, well, one of us gets a little agitated.
Oh, and remember my noise issues? With The Whistler and all? Well, Jack needs to do something called stimming—otherwise known as self-stimulation—in order to regulate his body, using repetitive movements like jumping around the house about a dozen times an hour.
Jack is taller than me, and I am fairly tall. He weighs more than me, and I am not exactly a lightweight. So the sound of him bouncing and hopping through the house is the exact opposite of quiet and relaxing.
Any other time of the month, this can be described as somewhat irritating.
During PMS, it is catastrophic.
At the same time as all this—the racing mind and the fatigue and the whistling—I feel a little sad. I watch Jack spend an entire afternoon rewinding old VHS tapes he found in the basement, or listen to him jump around the room, and I think about how the gulf between he and his peers is widening. When these thoughts worm into my brain, it’s all I can do not to cry.
This happens to me for about four days every month, twelve times a year. Like I said, I am no mathematician, but this is a lot of days.
Guys, we know this isn’t easy for you. We know we’re a little unpredictable and emotional, well, snappy. But try, if you can, to imagine what this is like for us.
Keep track of it. Don’t look at me that way! You keep track of meetings and soccer games and poker and who even knows what else in that great big brain of yours. It’s not so hard to keep track of your wife or your girlfriend’s cycle.
Besides, now we have smart phones and so you can schedule it even easier. I think there might even be an app for it.
Please, whatever you do, do not do that awkward shuffle with your feet and put your hands up like you’re bracing for gunshot and say something along the lines of hey, hey, must be that time of the month again when you walk in the door and the woman in your life looks like she might light her eyelashes on fire.
Simply put, it’s not nice. And it makes us feel worse than we already do.
Don’t joke about it, is what I’m trying to tell you. This is real for us.
Give her space. Teach your kids to respect her space.
And ladies, if you are one of many who experience this, I have some suggestions which have worked well for me over the years.
Do something nice for yourself every day. Drink your coffee from a pretty cup and saucer. Get your favorite soup for lunch. Curl up in bed early with a new book.
Wear comfortable clothes. If you are anything like me, and you blow up like a poisoned toad every month, for the love of all that is holy and good, set the skinny jeans aside for a few days.
As the wise and wonderful Anne Lamott once explained, “I wear forgiving pants. The world is too hard as it is, without letting your pants have an opinion on how you are doing. I struggle with enough esteem issues without letting my jeans get in on the act, volunteering random thoughts about my butt.”
Personally, I like a good wrap dress.
Move your body.
I know, right? The last thing I want to do with my puffy fingers and heavy limbs is hop on a treadmill or do a yoga pose—not to mention how tired I am. But it really does help lift your mood.
If you need a nap, take a nap.
If you want cake, eat cake.
If you need space, ask for space.
Play music while you cook dinner. Or better yet, order take-out and listen to your favorite song while you wait for delivery.
Hold off on making any big decisions. This is not the time to cut your hair, or file for divorce, or enroll in a yearlong yoga retreat run by Tibetan monks.
Be gentle with yourself.
I read once that without worms, we wouldn’t have flowers.