As I get older, my list of PMS symptoms keeps getting longer. Right now, I’ve got a throbbing headache, acid reflux, extreme irritability (I’ve advised my family to stay at least 10 feet away), sore breasts, bloated belly, cramps and my newest symptom, my back and shoulders are aching like I’ve been working out at the gym for four hours (trust me, I haven’t).
Why, oh why, must my hormones torment me so? Within a day or two of my period starting, all of the symptoms will lift, and new life will be breathed into me, but until then, all I want is to stay in my pajamas and hide under the covers.
In my 20s and early 30s, PMS mostly brought on irritability and weight gain. I mean, that was enough to wreck a week of my life, but now that I’m a busy, tired mom trying to balance family and career, I’m seriously questioning whether or not biology is trying to play some cruel trick on me by making my PMS symptoms worse.
It all started six months after I gave birth for the first time, when I got my first postpartum period. At first, I was thrilled because I noticed that my cramps weren’t nearly as bad as they’d been before. I guess stretching my uterus to the max during pregnancy and birth had some advantages, or at least that’s my theory. But I also noticed that the cramps were much lower. It felt like my uterus had dropped into my vagina or my butt–or both. Sigh.
Soon after that was when all the digestive issues began. My hormones decided to attack my colon, and I developed a pretty bad case of Irritable Bowel Syndrome, which got remarkably worse during PMS (and ovulation, too, but that’s a whole other sob story). A few years later, the acid reflux began, then the headaches. Which brings us to the present day where I’m hobbling around the living room clutching my horribly aching back.
I wish I could just pause my life during PMS and the first day of my period. I don’t get much done anyway, and I’m very unpleasant to be around. Today my husband (bless his heart), advised me to go to the den and eat some chocolate while he fed the kids dinner. That practically saved my life and the lives of those around me.
Many cultures have rituals surrounding menstruation, and I’m totally fascinated by the concept of a “menstrual hut,” where women dwell for a few days around their periods. While I certainly don’t endorse segregating women because of their bodies’ natural cycles (menstruation should not be treated as “unclean” or taboo!), I sort of love the idea of women ceremonially taking a break from life during that time. In some cultures, apparently, the women of the village commune together (their cycles are, of course, synchronized) and take a few days to kibitz and bitch about stuff. Sounds divine.
My mom guarantees it will all get much better after I hit menopause. She remembers her PMS mood swings quite vividly—I remember them too, unfortunately. But I also remember that the road to menopause wasn’t a picnic for her either. I feel like I was hearing about her hot flashes for 10 years straight. Frankly, I’m about as terrified about “the change” as I am about “the curse.” Still, if it leads to an end of the barrage of horrid symptoms I experience each month, sign me up.
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