PMS Amnesia

Having a period is a very weird thing. (For any beings who, by virtue of their physical equipment, do NOT have and have never had periods, I'd like to say: Hang in there with me for a minute or two -- you might find this educational.)

I am a woman who is not yet post-menopausal. At 51, I'm still lingering in the limbo of what is quaintly termed: "perimenopause".

What perimenopause really means is: Your menstrual cycle has gone all Ninja on you.

I started having hot-flashes at 37 -- the same age that my mom entered perimenopause. For the next twelve years, I still had a period, and I had hot-flashes, (which is sort of like getting to have both zits and wrinkles).

For those of you who have not experienced a hot flash: Imagine being in Washington DC in late August.

Now, imagine being locked inside an economy sedan that's been sitting in direct sun at midday on a huge concrete pad . . . . . . without air-conditioning . . . . . . in Washington DC . . . . . in late August.

Add heat lamps.

Oh fuck it! Just imagine being made entirely of asbestos and sitting in the middle of a nuclear incinerator . . . .

Not that I'm complaining or anything.

This post is not, in fact, about perimenopause.

It's about PMS -- Pre-Menstrual Syndrome -- which is also Ninja-like, and which I also still have -- hence, the title: PMS Amnesia.

I figure that, in the 38 years that I had "regular" menstual cycles, I had at least 450 periods. My eggs were relentless, and orderly, and Mussolini-esque -- they made the trains run on time.

How is it, then, that month after month, I would fail to realize that 3 to 7 days prior to this remarkably predictable event, I would be completely, totally, and utterly convinced that my life was shit, my partner hated me, my career was in the toilet, and everyone was against me?

I mean, is there some special hormone that gives you a complete memory wipe about PMS, each and every month?

It's not like I didn't know my period was coming -- I was stocked for it:

"Heating Pad?"
"Enough pain-reliever to anesthetize a herd of bull-elephants?"
"Really ugly grandma underwear that doesn't bind around the waist?"

But PMS? Not only did I fail to recognize it as it arrived -- I would actually argue with people about the fact that it had already arrived:

ME: "I (sniffle) hate (trembling lip) my li-i-i-i-i-fe!"

GF: "Honey, do you think your period might be due?"

ME: "I knew you would discount me this way!!! You don't think any of the stuff I'm talking about is real!"

ME: (Two days later.) "Oh . . . Sorry."

The thing is, I rarely raged about nothing at all while I was in the throes -- in some ways, PMS was like being really, really drunk and having all the stuff that you'd been stuffing come rolling out of your mouth. Hormones are magical, that way.

I started this post about a week ago, and I kept stopping, because I realized that I didn't want to fuel the fucking fire about how women are crazy during "that time of the month" -- because I've recently seen so much disgusting sexism aimed at Hillary Clinton that I'm almost ready to vote for her in sheer protest, in spite of all my rational doubts about her platform.

Don't worry, I promise I won't "vote with my vagina" -- but it has been shouting at me a bit lately. (You should see it -- it's actually kind of cute when its lips get to flapping.)

Here's a thing that pisses me off: Nearly every woman on the planet has a period. Nearly every woman on the planet will go through menopause. Many women on the planet will bear children. Yet all of these things are remarkably under-studied and mysterious to mainstream medicine.

And while you can talk about your pregnancy --"When are you due!?" "Have you picked out a name?" -----

Wait -- let me qualify that: You can talk about your pregnancy up to the point when the blood and contractions turn the "bundle of joy" meme into an "edited for television" scenario. Woe betide you, however, if you speak in "mixed company" about the Dreaded Menstruation or the Unfathomable Menopause.

Recently, I had someone hold up their hand, palm-outward, in the universal "too much information" signal -- because I mentioned that I might not be all that perky today, as I had just gotten my period.

The section of the supermarket which holds "women's personal supplies" is generally labeled something like: "Sanitary Needs" (because you would never want to call it "Stuff for Your Period" or "Bleeding, Womany Things").

Personally, I've always had this kind of cringey response to the word "Menstruation" -- I suspect that this is a result of my cultural training. The invariably whispered tone in which this word was spoken evoked shame and loathing in me when I was growing up (plus, "Menstruation" has too many syllables and WAY too many vowels, as far as I'm concerned).

I have similar distaste for the many of the euphemisms that I heard while living on womyn's land: "Having My Moon/My Cycle", "In My Bloods", etc. -- I suppose that if I have to accept any euphemism, I prefer the one from Paper Moon:

"Havin' Her Lady's Time"

Except -- you have to say it like Imogene says it:

Did you see that there? That "Oh"?

I'm beginning to think that PMS Amnesia is directly tied to the fact that "Menstruation" (damn -- I just hate that word) is supposed to be hidden and ignored.

No wonder I forget that I have a period! The products that are supposed to keep me "sanitary" during my "time of uncleanness" (that's lovely, eh?) are hidden on a specially-coded aisle of the supermarket, I never see an ad on television, or receive massive email spam that might remind me that such a thing as a menstrual cycle exists (although I can watch men singing about Viagra on TV, and my inbox is a veritable Encyclopedia Dicktonia), and the ads that I might see that reference my period (in "women's" magazines) use words like "discreet", "protection", "fresh", and "odor-free" ('cuz you'd never, ever, ever want anyone to get a whiff of you and know you were having your period, for god's sake!).

Even the online Museum of Menstruation is called

There are those who theorize that this type of enforced silence and body-shaming actually exacerbates PMS -- that if women in our culture were encouraged to accept and embrace their period as a sign of health and vitality, they wouldn't need to manifest PMS symptoms. I mean, what if PMS is really just a normal response to suppression? Where are the studies that compare cultures where women's cycles are respected and honored with culture where they are not? Oh . . . . . . right.

By now, you're probably wondering just what type of Portly True Story inspired this post.

Last week, I believe that I had PMS without the period -- which is exactly like an unpunctuated sentence

I would even go so far as to say that it is the ultimate in dangling participles.

My period has been in full-stealth mode for several years now -- arriving once every six months or so, usually after I have decided that I will never again need "sanitary products", and have entertained the idea of giving my rather impressive stash away to some more regularly periodic woman.

However, considering my period (or lack thereof) as a possible blog-post brought up many complex issues for me, and I found myself pondering, once again, the following conundrum (first posed to me by my spiritual teacher):

Why is it that, in our culture, we praise artists and writers who touch the "universal" in us, while simultaneously creating gigantic taboos around some of the most universal human experiences -- namely: Shitting, Peeing, Menstruating, Masturbating, and Sex?

Please discuss.

Extra credit question: When was the last time that you considered the fact that you, personally, came out of a body that had a menstrual cycle, and that, without that menstrual cycle, you would probably not exist?

Posted byPortlyDyke at 11:20 PM  


NameChanged said... February 5, 2008 at 1:02 PM  

This hits home for me. As I have just finished recovering from childbirth, I am now looking at having my first period in more than 10 months. I have been very hormonal, but I can't remember the "normal" hormonal swing I used to experience.

As for the "universality" of menstruation, I always share it with friends, and I will not whisper about it.

Lauren O said... February 5, 2008 at 1:08 PM  

This post is AWESOME.

I definitely understand the hesitancy to talk about PMS, for fear that it will contribute to stereotypes of women as hysterical and overemotional. I, too, get really bad PMS, although I don't have amnesia about it. When I find myself crying for hours at a time, my thought process usually goes, "Why is life so meaningless and horrible? Ohhh, right. I'm getting my period in a couple days."

The thing I realized about PMS is this: Even though it makes me very depressed and sensitive for a few days, it does not affect my interactions with the majority of people. Even when I'm at my hormonal worst, I go to class and work, and am just as productive as usual - it just takes a little more energy to reach that level of productivity. That's why it's utterly ridiculous for people to say women can't be in politics, because PMS will make them do irrational, dangerous stuff. Not that you didn't already know that. =)

I also totally relate to being sick of menstruation being seen as so dirty. A male friend of mine insists that it's the most disgusting bodily function, way grosser than vomiting or shitting, because "it turns you into a pissy bitch." He also insists that's not a misogynist thing to say. Actually, come to think of it, there's a reason I haven't talked to this guy in months...

katecontinued said... February 5, 2008 at 4:54 PM  

I believe that I had PMS without the period -- which is exactly like an unpunctuated sentence

That is poetry. Would that I could bronze it and award you somehow.

I vote that you blog once a month about this universal theme. I would happily talk about menstruation until I die. I have gone through menopause, and still I find it amazing that we are all banished to the red tent in the 21st century.

And, damn those dick commercials, drugs, spam . . .

This is my favorite post of 2008.

PortlyDyke said... February 5, 2008 at 5:36 PM  

LOL -- Thanks kc! I loved that bit too, and it's so nice when one's intention is fully received!

pidomon said... February 5, 2008 at 5:44 PM  

eeehhhh as a male i dont have perspective on this other to say that my two nieces (one who is 16 and one who has just started getting her period) have no qualms as we are sitting around the house and proclaiming loudly to Mom(s)
I need to go to the store and get tampons!
So maybe one day the grocery store aisle will be called "bleeding womanly things" and there is hope.

As far as the extra credit question thinking about that is on a par that GUESS WHAT? your parents also HAD SEX which is not something most people like to attribute to thier parents lol

The Cunning Runt said... February 6, 2008 at 4:14 PM  

My favorite menstrual euphemism is the Norwegian expression of there being "Commies in the Summer House."

Now I don't want to hear ONE MORE WORD ABOUT IT.


em said... February 11, 2008 at 11:48 PM  

Hey there, it's me, a friendly sort of lurker. I wonder how many comments I have to make before I stop feeling like a lurker. But I digress.

I talk about bleeding, which I sometimes call moontime, even though that seems too euphemistic.

I got this trick from Susun Weed, where I pour my blood on the earth every month as an offering of gratitude. It feels like an honest thing to offer her, because it is me, straight up. It makes me feel connected to something more real than the latest celebrity gossip or really most of the things I do in my life.

I talk about The Change too, a lot of my friends act like they don't know what I'm talking about since we couldn't possibly be old enough to go through the change. Shit. I'm sort of a drag to be around if you want to be in denial I guess.

Anyway, what a great post. I love the connection you draw between delicately ignoring The Curse and zoning on the PMS every month.

dolia said... October 31, 2008 at 7:34 AM  

I remember trying to explain to my GP that I could always tell when I was premenstrual because three days before my period started I would start thinking about German Expressionist Cinema out of the blue. you can imagine. Wonderful to have such a wierd pavlovian flag, though.

And there's also what I call the "knowledge before knowledge" (as in, it's not a thought with your brain, except you know it), (which also happens when I'm sick) and is hard to describe: it's as though you become an entire map and your awareness of all parts of that landscape is telescopic - you have a macro and a micro view all at once. Apart from the fact that I'm having one now and would gladly peel my legs off to get rid of the aching from the navel down, I love my periods! I love the "wierdness" of them; I don't want them owned by advertisers or doctors who will start telling us what's normal!

Post a Comment