Prolific Thoughts About PMS From A Hormonal Mind

According to a recent study done by the University of Toronto, PMS may be a myth. Right now, I’d like to hunt down each individual researcher and punch them in the face, then weep over their prone bodies and beg their forgiveness sixty seconds later. Or maybe bake them some cookies and try to help them UNDERSTAND why PMS is NOT a myth by using compassion and reasoning…I’m tearing up just a bit thinking about how copacetic the conversation would be. Wait…maybe I should just go with the punching. Yeah…clearly they are idiot people who have a problem with women. Hmmm…I think it’s time to go and take some more midol for the cramping and hideous back pain.

PMDD (the medical term for PMS)  is listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders — the “psychiatric bible” – and has been shown to cause depression, insomnia and  other behavioural and physical symptoms in the second half of the menstrual  cycle. Of course, Dr. Sarah Romans goes on to state that the disorder is relatively rare. She further spins the study to lay out the idea that women use “PMS” to fully vent anger, sadness and irritation 1-2 days a month, because the rest of the time we are expected to be lady-like. That by allowing ourselves a medical reason to be cranky or cry, we can still work within society’s parameters of acceptable behavior for women.

Personally, I think this woman needs to be punched in the face (but according to her, I’ll only allow myself to think it for a few days a month, while suppressing my rage the rest of the time).

While I do think she has a glimmer of an intution about something real in how our society treats and handles women’s emotions, I also think she is a loon. By conducting a study (which primarily seems to have consisted of finding flaw with previous studies) and stating that PMS is a myth, then laying out a feminist framework for why PMS has become a crutch for women within our society, she actually undermines women and the way their bodies work.

W0men’s bodies are constantly in a state of flux (no pun intended), chemically. Our hormones ebb and flow like the ocean and have even been linked (although studies both substantiate and refute this, depending on where you look) to the cycles of the moon. During the second half of the menstrual phase,  or pre-menstrual and menstrual, estrogen and progesterone levels start to decline Without getting too technical, during the luteal phase of a woman’s cycle (beginning at ovulation), if the egg that is released is not fertilized, estrogen and progesterone levels begin to drop. These hormonal levels are at their lowest with day 1 of the follicular phase (menstruation).

At neuronal synapses, estrogen increases the concentration of neurotransmitters such as serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine. It affects their release, reuptake, and enzymatic inactivation. It also increases the number of receptors for these neurotransmitters. So in other words, the good stuff that makes us feel happy and have a balanced mood. The common side effects of low progesterone are severe migraines, unexplained anxiety, the feeling of malaise, hot flashes, poor sleep patterns and vaginal dryness.  So what do you get when both estrogen and progesterone drop…

Oh, wait…you get PMS!!! The chemical changes that take place in our bodies in the latter half of the luteal phase and in the beginning of the follicular phase are real, not imaginary and not a cultural phenomenon. It leads to back pain, leg pain, stomach cramps, fatigue, breast tenderness, migraines, mood alterations and many other symptoms. Of course, no two women are the same, so the extent to which any woman will experience any or all of these symptoms depends on her own chemical makeup.

Personally, my back hurts like I’ve been hit with a baseball bat for about a week and I have serious stomach cramps for 3-5 days. Emotionally, I cry easily and feel a bit blue. I crave sugar, which rarely happens any other time (Sweets, especially chocolate, raises the serotonin levels in the brain and increases endorphins. This probably helps combat the dropping estrogen levels). The study claimed that women use PMS as a crutch to verbalize things they’re already unhappy about…well, maybe. For me, the things I’m already unhappy about feel extra intense. A song on the radio that talks about lost love, which any other time might make me feel a bit nostalgic or sad for a moment, while “PMSing” will have me sobbing like a baby. Is this a crutch? Or an amplification, due to altered chemicals, of pre-existing situations? No one claims pregnancy hormones are false or a myth, yet these are the same chemicals changing our bodies during our menstrual phases. I’ve not heard claims that “‘Roid Rage” is not true; tricking the body into believing it’s getting extra hormones (testosterone) clearly causes mood/behavior changes. What makes PMS different?

I think part of the problem lies in the fact that the term PMS has been abused and used to justify bad behavior. So let me make this simple (because as supreme ruler of the universe, I will clearly have SUCH an impact): Hormonal changes do NOT make it acceptable to act like a bitch. It doesn’t give you the right to vent your anger, sadness or hostility on anyone. There have been times when I know hormones were altering my emotions, so I would avoid situations or conversations until I was more level. PMS should be much like a warning label on a drug that reads: Do not operate heavy emotional situations during use. Know your triggers and how you react. Each woman is different. For one woman the changes that happen during her cycle may be a blip in the month; for another, it may be a challenging time physically and emotionally. Regardless, it shouldn’t excuse behavior that is unkind or irrational. Men shouldn’t get a free pass for behaving badly due to the extra testosterone that flows through their veins; women don’t get to excuse bad behavior because of PMS. Let’s keep life simple and sweet by taking responsibility for ourselves and our emotions and knowing when we need to nurture ourselves a little more because of changes in our bodies.

When I’m on the hormonal drip, as I refer to PMS these days, I would probably choose to stay home and take a hot bath rather than have the “relationship” talk with someone I’m dating. If I suddenly feel lonely and sad and think to myself, “Maybe if I call my ex-boyfriend, he’ll reassure me that I’m loved” (which is stupid at any time of the month, but somehow more attractive as an option when I’m hormonal), I realize I am not behaving rationally and I just DON’T. If my children are driving me nuts and I want to either yell or burst into tears, I give myself a time-out in my bedroom and then suggest we all go get ice cream. Ibuprofen and herbal heating pads are my friend. I avoid at all costs listening to anything by Adele, because I know it will lead to sobbing fits. I can’t begin to make relationship decisions, because it would be disobeying my hormonal drip warning label of AVOID OPERATING HEAVY EMOTIONAL SITUATIONS. I know I’m altered for a few days (okay, a week); it’s my responsibility to alter my decisions to compensate for that.

So, to say PMS is a myth is ludicrous and disrespects women and nature. To act like PMS gives us a pass to do whatever we want disrespects women and gives us a bad repuation. Show yourself some love by respecting your bodies during this time. If the woman in your life has PMS, show her some love by realizing she may behave like someone on a mind-altering drug (oh, because she is). Forgive her if she loses her temper and cries more easily. Get her a heating pad and some chocolate. Above all else, remember this:

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