[I started this on Halloween and was too scared to share. In case it kills me, Day of the Dead seems a lot more appropriate.]
Warning: Elissa can’t handle much for at least six more days and might say ugly things regarding suicide and periods.
I just spent an hour reading the PMDD Moms Support Group on Facebook. The page heading includes some very direct language: “If your life is in danger please call your local emergency services.”
[Read the following in the voice of your favorite talk radio personality who said syncing women’s periods would be a great way to get them into battle mode if they wanted to become combat soldiers*]: What in the world?! What is this PMDD anyway? Women are always coming up with another acronym for when they don’t want to cowboy up and face the world like real people have to. It probably means Pampered Mother Daughter Date, So what–did a bottle of nail polish remover get spilled into your midday mimosa and now you’re wishing you hadn’t downed it in one gulp? I mean, isn’t that the variety of life-threatening event a mom blessed with children who just can’t manage the stress might encounter?
[Now that you’ve shot the radio instead of yourself, read on]:
PMDD stands for premenstrual dysphoric disorder. It is likely genetic and occurs at a cellular level in response to sex hormones. I first read about it as possibly being connected to me when my post-breastfeeding mood swings felt like walking through a figurative minefield with baby number one. Without going into everything I have done to minimize its pull on my mind and the havoc it wreaks on my life, I would like to walk you, ever so delicately, through a few short steps to recurring hell.
Imagine you being you. You’re the youiest you you can be. It feels good. You see your goals and you go for them. You connect with your friends, your loved ones, your amazing partner. In fact, this is when you made all your babies together. You have learned not to overdo it, of course. That’s called self-compassion, boundary-setting, and awareness. You know that if your mine cart is overloaded on its way up the mood incline, it will speed all the faster and more precariously down the mood decline. For all you know, you will probably forget that there even is a decline. Life just feels that right. [Which is what happened at my intake appointment with my psychiatrist three weeks ago–I forgot it was even part of my life because life was goo-ood.]
So you’re happily gathering your rosebuds while you may, living in the moment while preparing for the future that an ambitious, compassionate, creative individual in great health would expect. And since you learned a while back that eating processed sugar, getting inadequate sleep or too little exercise was like greasing your downhill track with lightning, you really are in pretty great shape. And who could feel suicidal and look that good? Certainly not you.
As you look at your calendar and decide when to volunteer in your struggling son’s class, or slate some time to help your single working mom friend dig out her kitchen, you see the words, “Day 10: Slow Down.”
What are those meaningless words? Swipe.
Day 11: Pay Attention. Again, meaningless. Swipe.
And so you schedule some volunteer time and some random acts of kindness on Day 12 right after, “Be Kind to Yourself,” whatever that means.
When you awake on Day 12, you remember what that means. Pelvic pain on just one side. The big, bad “O” of Ovulation. You no longer feel bright and eager about life. Your 10-day vacation from your hormones is over, and I have already said way more than my usual swear words this week or I would have some colorful metaphors to describe how it feels to go from being you to becoming the witch from the Black Lagoon once again.I haven’t read the book in this photo that I snatched away during the breakfast meltdown this lovely Halloween morning, but I hope its theme is a happier one than that of PMDD. Recurring “which version of Mom will show up today?” theme is wearing thin. And the happy little chocolate pumpkin pancakes were so gross the chickens wouldn’t eat them, so don’t expect them to grace your Instagram feed.
My son did a SloMo video of me bringing him his meds. This is round 2 of drinks because the first round went down the sink when I lost my freaking mind over my son moving in such slow motion that I said something harsh, counted to three, and dumped like there was no other option. I get 10 days out of 28 each cycle in which I am genuinely, dependably me. The other 18 are a crap shoot. Like you might literally get blasted with emotional crap if you are in my way.
[And since today, Dia de la Muerza, my son’s school counselor told me that emotional regulation is like potty training, I now have no qualms continuing with what I wrote yesterday.]
It’s like during the good 10 days of my cycle I binged on high-fiber, laxatives, and motility agents and then forgot that my ability to “hold it” after ovulation is about as good as my diapered toddler’s. Life is great from day 2 to about day 12 when the old ovaries send me into my “luteal phase.” Sometimes I manage so stinkin’ well. Other times my stink hits the fan and everyone suffers.
No remedies in the comments please. Today it just sucks to have a perfect life and know I’m wasting it two-thirds of the time and desperately trying to compensate the other one-third.
Oh, and Happy Halloween. I was brilliant enough to have bought myself dog footy pajamas as my costume while I felt great and didn’t see the sardonic truth of Elissa as a female dog. [Please applaud me here for not calling this coincidence “ironic.”]
I have been collecting song possibilities in my brain for quite some time now as I contemplated writing about life with PMDD. There’s Elton John’s The Bitch is Back,but honestly, I’ve probably never listened to it. I just know the title because I may have read it on some album cover way back when I was a child and wondered if Elton John was actually a country singer. Since who else sings about dogs?
Next there’s that early 1990s hit that I played loud and proud on the radio–as long as I could reach the volume knob to edit the lyrics for my sensitive ears–Meredith Brooks’ all-encompassing PMDD ballad, Bitch. I could bleep out every occurrence of the b-word in that song except that blasted bonus chorus when I had relaxed and thought I would have a verse in between. Oh, well. Looks like I’ve blown the lid off that well-kept secret.
Ah, and then there’s the soulful, aching, almost remorseful crooning of Billie Holiday’s Gloomy Sunday. I first heard it on a Sarah Brightman album I treated myself to in the autumn of my sophomore year in college. It is also known as the Hungarian Suicide Song, so that may have been a poor music choice for me as season changes are a bit dodgy for me to navigate as it is.
But anyway, it sounded to me like a woman who feared that her luteal phase had killed her true self. The “black coach of sorrow” had taken that part of her away, so now even the remaining self wished to join her former self. Kind of this, “If my joy and happiness could slip away so easily, so can the rest of me.” But then she wakes when the PMDD storm passes–oh blessid period, for you arrive and the demons are vanquished, so now bloodletting becomes a thing for 3000 years of human history–and it is as if a bad dream is all that threatened her. But now the moment has passed and life goes on.
I even had a Bob Dylan song wash over me when I journaled in this sticky-level-of-pink app for the first time yesterday. I was supposed to fill it with thoughts and reminders of how much I love myself during my good days so that I could look back on it when I was contemplating suicide during “hell week(s).” The fuschia-tangerine background only reminded me of the color of my reproductive organs shining in the lens of a Lennart Nilsson photograph. “You,” I wanted to say to my horned ovaries. “You did this to me!!” Not sure I’ll stick with this app.So at last I chose the song whose first line includes this post’s title. Shakespears Sister’s “Stay” took the cake when I saw that the album name was “Hormonally Yours.” I literally laughed out loud (I rarely do that when an emoji or an LOL takes so much less effort), and the relief alone that I felt from finally laughing sold me on this morbid-looking duo. I think I might start signing messages to my husband, “Hormonally Yours.” That’s about the level of commitment my husband expects from me at times, and if you know the hell of PMDD, you won’t even bat an eye when you read that.
I remember listening to this song just before I turned 12. I had experienced by then 13 of my now approximately 275 menstrual cycles (I got six years off for maternal behavior, and at an average of 13 cycles per year, the chaos of four kids is still so worth the trade-off). We didn’t watch MTV (and only a little VH1) when I was growing up, so I’m sure I would have been blind to its faults back then, but the video is awful. I searched for a better one that was still true to the opposing forces at play. Even Anime would have been better.
But alas, here we are. It is by far the most bizarre and hokey and hopelessly grotesque display of terrible medical care and filmography I have ever linked to this blog. But the insanity of feeling that you are being pulled apart by two divergent forces who insist there is “no in between” shines through this dazzling display as well. And clearly the bigger-boned soprano won out over our tiny tenor. So that must prove something about the good days winning, right?
But the answer to what really saved our hapless patient is simple. That poor bare-chested and over-bathed Adonis who is being hugged by Mr. Bean in a nun’s habit (start at 0:45) managed to stay. And I stay when death seems like the better option. I stay when apologies and trying to figure out what the hell just happened, again, loom before me. I stay when humiliation at my own behavior sounds like a treat compared to the horror and guilt I am feeling. I stay even when I leave for a while because their faces all say, “No, please no, she’s back! Who let the mean mommy come back?!” I stay because I always thank myself later. Dog costume and all.
PS–I am doing way better today. So well, in fact, that I ordered and ate too much of some late-to-my-own-birthday celebration cake (I spent most of it crying the other day) and stayed up way too late. But if it saves one PMDD sufferer, or her child or partner, from committing suicide, then it’s worth it. And speaking up means more women diagnosed and more lives saved or at least healed somewhat with truth and understanding.
*I searched for a reference post-publication, and dang, I amaze even myself sometimes. I was 12 years old and very aware of what PMS felt like when I first heard this misogynistic idea. For a time I found it funny because worship of brazen personalities was so key in some of my extended family,and I aimed to please. Now 27 years later, I can still hear the words blaring from the stereo. It is likely one of the constructs, which I am working to deconstruct, that something is wrong with me for experiencing mood fluctuations (the ‘L’ is silent for emotional emphasis). I had him nearly word for word. The article includes the word “recalls,” so I thought, “Oh good, 20 years later he realized how asinine his statement was and has since apologized.” No. He was relishing his avant-garde moment. Appalling.