PMS is a euphemistic shorthand that washes out the hormonal trials that many women suffer on a monthly basis. My menses cycle is marked bluntly on my calendar as BLOOD. My menstrual blood comes every 24 to 28 days and lasts five. It is not a visitor I can politely ask to leave. Nor does the word “period” make sense as that suggests a passing time that is unlikely to recur—like the period of my life when I performed a vampire burlesque show, when the blood was fake, but my sanity was precarious. I’ve since recovered from that spiral into mental chaos, but every month, I still bounce the emotional trampoline of PMS.
I feel I am betraying a feminist ideal by confessing that I experience PMS. Women should be aggressive, sensitive, and strong- willed without being dismissed as “having blood come out of their whatever” (in the words of our 45th president). But the body is something we shouldn’t try to deny in our ascension to equality.
A week to a few days before menstruation, the thickening begins. As the blood thickens in my uterus, my emotional skin begins to thin. I wake and struggle to button my jeans. My kids’ voices seem more shrill and annoying than usual. When I hear Prince’s “Cream” at the local coffee shop, I begin twerking next to the doughnuts, and then just as I walk out the door, tears run down my face as I witness a road-ironed squirrel at the crosswalk. At work, I can smell everyone in the office. Later, I slap the person I’m fucking (consensually). I end the day eating a whole bag of chips on my couch. I’m still sane (ish). It’s not truly a psychotic-manic-sex-fiend episode. I’ve had those, around the same period of time as my burlesque run. But PMS is not nothing, nor imaginary. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists estimates that 85 percent of menstruating women have at least one pre-menstrual symptom as part of their monthly cycle. This isn’t a problem that demands the attention of the political sphere, but we should be able to acknowledge our bodies without social embarrassment. It’s time to respect PMS by understanding it as a time when our bodies are regenerating.
Our wombs are preparing a nest. When we see birds creating their homes from sticks and litter, it’s marvelous. A spider’s web is awe-inspiring. But a thickening uterine lining makes the modern woman groan. Throughout the ages, cultures worldwide have regarded menstruation as a sacred time, when the woman is excused from domestic duties, sometimes even given a separate living quarter. But the ancient ways to care for oneself during the thickening are hard to fit into our modern-day lifestyles of productivity. Old wisdom prescribes non-action, contemplation, and quietness, with warm food and tea. Instead we pop an extra ibuprofen and cram onto a rush hour subway.
These days, I try to listen to what my body needs, while juggling the schedule of a working mother. I keep an eye on my calendar for BLOOD. When I see it in imminent forecast, I remind myself to disengage from social media, opt for yoga instead of cardio and hot soup instead of sushi, and be sure to have Prince playing on my earphones.