Are the things I feel on my period valid?
It was a clockwork month.
A specific date was approaching and an unwelcome support act to my menstrual headliner had arrived: a surge of rising! Irrational! Emotion! It stormed in like a bad metal band, angsty and fatalistic, on a unapologetic mission to abort all traces of chill.
It was familiar. The metaphorical lid holding down my contained emotions struggled to stay secure; the bubbling of insecurity, the waves of imposter syndrome, the decrease in self-esteem, the increase of anxiety. My perfected knack to extinguish the sparks of previously suspected issues was failing fast. I started to question everything.
When I remembered the time of the month, I thanked the lord, sighed with relief, and slapped away the evil myth of hormonal feelings. Snap-back justifications then followed in a triumphant chorus of “you are not crazy,” and I proudly rode the sweet loop of denial for approximately 28 more days.
The quick-fire, verbal atonement for our emotions at the time of our period is a suppressive tradition that spans across generations. “I’m feeling super lonely” — No, no, you’re just due for your period. “I have unhealthy hang-ups about my appearance” — Wrong! You’re on your period. “I’m showing signs of depression” — Don’t seek help, it’s just your period.
Most of us likely learned this call-and-response routine through observing the women that raised us, before we inherited it and then matter-of-factly circulated it into our female friendship groups, forever to be accessed as a one-dimensional relief to medicate the “syndrome” we call PMS.
It took a long time for me to notice that I had developed a lifelong habit of dismissing intense lows I experienced every month, denying my mind the space to process them as soon as they were later “justified” by my period. Once the revelation came, I couldn’t unsee it, and it became increasingly unsettling. Have you ever stopped to notice? The more I have, the more I’ve come to believe there is something fundamentally wrong with the way we treat ourselves and other women during the time of our periods.
I’m not here to convince you that hormones play no part in the very real tension of a woman’s cycle but, as with most things, I think it’s time we threw question to the previously accepted. Subject in case: the heritage of female-focused emotion dismissal. Should we or should we not take our time-of-the-month mind struggles seriously?
I asked Clinical Psychologist Elizabeth to weigh in on the discussion.“There is evidence to suggest that changes in the amount of particular hormones at different times of a cycle may lead to changes in parts of the brain involved in emotion,” she tells me. “For example, stress pathways. In my opinion, the heightened emotions [during PMS] are rarely ‘conjured up,’ but perhaps our ability to experience the same emotion may be different or heightened by physical changes taking place in our body.”
In other words, the emotion is real, but the experience of the emotion may be different.
As for what to do with that information, Elizabeth says: “We’re all unique, so it can be beneficial to take note of what you notice in your body — whether emotional, physical or mental — at different times of the month. Doing this can help us to know ourselves better. In those circumstances, changes to hormone levels probably don’t help, but nor do they explain the complexity of what might be going on in our minds and bodies. We are complex and wonderful beings, and our bodies and minds need treating with respect — not only from ourselves but others.”
It goes without saying that menstruating — or identifying as female, if we do — doesn’t make up the whole of our identity. But with our minds and bodies experiencing heightened hormones and fresh physical changes on a monthly basis, there’s an urgent call to question the alarmingly flippant way we dismiss the consciences of both ourselves and of others during this time.
Maybe that means cutting ourselves some slack, listening to friends more intently, looking at how we value ourselves, taking our PMS-induced insecurities and anxieties more seriously, evaluating our mental health through the enlightening lens of magnified emotions, or simply asking for help when we need it.
Could it be that Mother Nature and the hormonal positioning that we find ourselves in doesn’t arrive to tear us apart but to help reveal the things that we need to address? I, for one, am done with suffocating her.
PMS, I embrace you.
Gif by Louisiana Mei Gelpi.