I’m just going to start by saying that periods f*cking suck. I know they don’t suck for everyone and I know I don’t have it as bad as a lot of other women—but for me, the week leading up to and the week of my period is a rickety wooden rollercoaster of excruciating pain and emotional mayhem. And blood. A not-insignificant amount of blood.
There are a few things that help me feel better during “that time of the month.” One of them is birth control, without which my periods are irregular and way worse in pretty much every way. Others include: pain medication, a heating pad, the fetal position, and the allowance I give myself to eat whatever I want when I have PMS. It also really, really helps to talk about it. Empathy is a powerful thing. When my flexing uterus is killing me and something hilariously disgusting just happened (like that thing where you’re talking to someone and for no reason the tampon goes all sideways and feels like it’s going to fall out but you have to try to act normal), I really want to be able to share what I’m going through.
I know that someone who’s never menstruated couldn’t possibly empathize. But it would be so nice to be able to just talk openly about what’s going on with me, no matter who happens to be around. So for those blessed not to know already, here’s a period primer to get you up to speed.
1. Not all women get PMS symptoms, and for those who do, there is a really big range of effects.
Symptoms include: cramps, fatigue, bloating, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, constipation, trouble sleeping, breast tenderness, insatiable hunger or decreased appetite, food cravings, anxiety, tension, moodiness, sadness, anger, and irritability. Not all women get all these symptoms all the time, but many women get at least some of them.
2. For some women, the mood aspects of PMS are so intense that there’s actually a clinical diagnosis for it.
“Premenstrua1 dysphoric disorder (PMDD) is a severe, sometimes disabling extension of premenstrua1 syndrome (PMS),” explains Nichole Tyson, an ob/gyn at Kaiser Permanente and a Fellow of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. Women with PMDD or PMS may take antidepressants in the two weeks leading up to their period, or daily.