Alright! Let’s talk about periods. For every person who just cringed — well, check your misogyny and take a seat because the following discussion is one hundred percent about the very serious life threatening negligence that is women’s reproductive health information and research, and it affects every single one of us homo sapiens. It’s long been time to stop running away from discussions about menstruation and acting like the science we have supporting women’s reproductive health and treatment is sufficient. It’s not, if it were, you’d automatically know what PMDD (Premenstrual dysphoric disorder) was and the accompanying symptom of what I call “suicidal PMS” (yes, it does sound like the name of a banging 90s punk rock band).
Women have been bleeding for like a million years, otherwise none of us would be here, and yet, how much do you know about periods? I’m 31-years-old and I got my first period at 12 (stay tuned for another installment for the disparities regarding black hair products and the impact they have on black women and girls’ reproductive health) and in that time, I’ve never met a doctor or nurse who didn’t suggest taking painkillers for cramps, when cramps are not a necessary (albeit common) part of menstruation. In reality, painful periods allude to a sign of inflammation and more importantly symptoms of other issues in the body. I have also never had a gynecologist ask me about the severity of my PMS nor instruct me to track my mood in the days before my period.
Sure, we’ve all heard of PMS or premenstrual syndrome—the emotional and physical changes women experience in the days or weeks leading up to her period. PMS has been mocked, joked about, and used as a signifier to slowly approach the PMS-er with a bottle of wine, ice cream and chocolates and avoid making direct eye contact. Hell, it’s almost every man’s favorite argument as to why a woman shouldn’t be president. We also know the symptoms of PMS include bloating, tender tits, fatigue, and mood swings. But here’s what we don’t know— can it be cured? What is the cause of PMS? According to Healthline, WebMD, the fucking Mayo Clinic, and Harvard Health—no one knows. Here’s where I’m starting to call in some patriarchal bullshit, but I’m not quite done making my case because it turns out PMS is the fluffy bunny version of premenstrual syndrome, so stand by.
According to Healthline around 90 percent of women experience PMS, but I’m sure that number is 100 and the other 10 percent were just like—‘old news.’ But have you heard of my lord and saboteur PMDD? Premenstrual dysphoric disorder is like if PMS grew up to be a roid-raging psychopath who fell into a vat of super villain goo and then went on the lam in your brain, staying dormant until the days before your period to make an appearance just to tell you what a worthless, insignificant volatile scab you are and will always be and you should kill yourself. While this may sound like overdramatized prose, sadly if you experience PMDD, I think you’d say it’s accurate. Johns Hopkins lists a slew of psychological symptoms of PMDD on their website, all of which I’ve personally experienced:
- Difficulty concentrating
- Severe fatigue
- Poor self-image
- Crying spells
While that is a robust list in and of itself, the major symptom of PMDD they fail to mention is suicidal ideation. So now we’re in the big leagues, right? We’re not just talking unstable mood and physical pain, as if those things aren’t disruptive enough, we are talking life or death. Raise your hand if you were today years old when you noticed the correlation between your darkest depressive spirals and your period. Yeah. Same, sis—same.
WebMD reports that PMDD affects five percent of women of childbearing age and when I say, I’d bet my left ovary that that statistic is grossly under estimated, come at me, because in my extraordinarily small friend group, three of us came to separate realizations that we were each suffering from PMDD. Apparently, symptoms of PMDD continues to worsen until menopause, so for me with 20 years of bleeding under my belt and, if my health condones, most likely another 30 years of menstruation, that’s a whole lot of suicidal thoughts and tears to wade through and I’m not here for it.
Of course treating PMDD involves the same flimsy ass fixes of PMS, ibuprofen, antidepressants, exercise, no carbs, no sugar, and birth control. But for those of us not interested in these feckless bandaids, what are we left with? I want answers as to why PMS/PMDD happen without throwing a pill at me, so that means actual medical treatment. What needs to change so that two weeks of my life, in addition to the actual bleeding part of menstruation does not take over my mind, body, and spirit?
Women plagued with PMDD have gone to extremes to avoid committing suicide or engaging in other acts of self-harm/sabotage, including getting total hysterectomies. Yes, that’s the cervix, uterus, ovaries, and fallopian tubes snatched out of women in their 20s, 30s and 40s, rendering them barren and catapulting them into early menopause out of fear they may harm themselves or damage close relationships. So, when I say that PMDD is the super villain psycho of your nightmares, imagine having to choose between your reproductive organs for your mental well-being. Are there any men in the audience that would have their testes removed if they caused suicidal and/or violent tendencies?
For about a week during my last cycle I began feeling the dull ache of depression seep through my body, I slept for around 18 hours a day everyday and the constant scratch of suicide plagued my every thought and movement. I sat on my sofa questioning where this disgusting self-loathing was coming from when I had just been on such a spiritual and creative high. But having spoken to a friend some weeks before who expressed that she was realizing that she felt suicidal in the days before her period; I too, looked at my calendar and realized that ol’ Flo had to be around the corner. Because I have PTSD and depression, I’d never included my period into the whole mood equation. So, I popped a couple ‘breakthrough anxiety’ pills that I keep on hand and watched my favorite feel-good movie and wept the WHOLE TIME. While my brain spewed vicious words of self-hate and worthlessness, a tiny squeak countered each argument saying, ‘hang tough—this is your period speaking and this pain is about to be over.’ Sure as shit I went to the bathroom and there it was—BLOOD!!! Instantly, I began laughing at how down to the second the severity of my mood met with the start of my period. Once my period began, everything returned to relative normalcy—PMDD had run its course for the month. But looking forward, will that voice of reason be strong enough? For the next thirty years, every month, for a week or two, will I be able to push through the severity of my depression, fatigue, and suicidal thoughts? I don’t know, because PMDD is no small feat, but one small action I can take is setting a calendar. I hope making a physical reminder will catch me from slipping into a deep depression or wagering self-harm and tell me that my period is on the way and that this feeling is not permanent.
But here’s the really fucked up part about all of this for me and harkens back to my misogyny-this-down-with-the-patriarchy-that: A friend, who suffers from endometriosis, which is a painful and sometimes debilitating disorder, where the tissue in the uterus grows on the outside of the uterus waited for months to be seen by one of the top-rated OB/GYNs, a specialist in endometriosis and was told within the first ten minutes of the appointment that not much could be done to help her, because there’s just no money funneled into the research and development of women’s reproductive health and sciences, aka not enough people with deep pockets care. So humankind can go into space—two multibillionaires I can think of off the top of my head have personally funded space expeditions, they can figure out how to dive deeper and deeper into the depths of the ocean, and they can build robots to deliver burgers. But no one can improve the quality of life for women, as they suffer to bring into life the people that master these extraordinary feats of science. That…is sexist, negligent, and reprehensible. If it’s not, than why else are women all around the world suffering from these life-threatening and/or crippling mental health and physical menstrual symptoms without so much as an answer as to why it’s happening and how to treat it without a pharmaceutical regimen thrown them?