Saturday, June 20, 2009

Question for those who menstruate*

Can we talk PMS for a minute? Because over the course of my menstruating life, my cramps went from incapacitating in my teens and early twenties to just seriously painful in my later twenties and early thirties, and now that I'm in my later thirties, after a year or two of occasional post-childbirth weirdness, they seem to have resigned themselves to being a non-event, but (you know there's a but, right?) my emotional shifts used to be something that I took in stride. Used to be. Not so much anymore. As my cramps have become negligible, the days before my period have become this righteous emotional spotlight of a bullshit detector, zeroing in on anything that is off in my life. Post-childbirth, my periods have gotten shorter, too. I'm wondering if this is something other women in their thirties have experienced. Are my hormones going after different receptors in my body as I age? Is this perimenopause? And does it give other women towering superpowers of emotional truthtelling? Or is it just a way my own personal limbic system has developed to cope with my not uncomplicated emotional life?

(*Cismen and transwomen can weigh in, and of course if you're reading I'd like to hear your thoughts, but I also really do want to know whether this is a common experience or just the way my own biology has gone.)


diber said...

Okay, I'll jump in. I read your blog, but I regularly comment. So why not? :)

I've experienced something similar. I had bad cramps in highschool and college. Nothing too incapacitating, but they did get me down. But felt fairly able to make it through the moods without too much trouble. Two babies later, and I'm an emotional wreck. With both my kids, when they get to be about a year, and I'm b'feeding less (thus getting less of the happy hormone that b'feeding is supposed to give you), PMS just really, really gets me down. I get incredibly angry over the stupidest things. I just have a really hard time. But my cramps aren't too bad--I even have an IUD now, which may make them worse, but I feel fine in that dept. The difference in cramps, though, is not so significant as the difference in mood that PMS brings. Postchildbirth I've had a really hard time emotionally with PMS. My personal motto is: "Never underestimate the power of the hormone."
For what it's worth! :)

Thoroughly Educated said...

You are not alone. I'm in my early 40s. In the last 5 yrs or so, cramps have almost completely disappeared, periods have shortened to usually only 24h, but the emotional swings have gotten much wider. I don't tend to have complete meltdowns the way I did in my 20s, but my whole cycle has become almost like a manic depressive cycle, 2 wks down and 2 wks up.

Tall Kate said...

I'll jump in, too, because I am curious about others' experiences in this department. I have rarely (and luckily) had severe cramps at any point in my life, including now. But (is there a pattern here?) I feel like the emotional swings have gotten more pronounced in the past few years. I'm 39. The difference for me is that although the crankiness is more severe, it peaks around ovulation rather than right before my period starts.

S. said...

diber and Thoroughly Educated, welcome--I'm so happy to learn more people are reading than I thought! And yeah, this does sound like aging. So fun.

Tall Kate, cranky during ovulation must be such a bummer!

Anonymous said...

I really can't add much to this (and whilst I could provide detailed info about the subject from an observational perspective, I feel I probably shouldn't). But I do want you to know that I'm paying attention! (and appreciate you're dropping in on my blog)

jo(e) said...

Okay, here's my pattern: in my teenage years, the cramps that came with my period were totally incapicating -- I'd be bent over in pain, vomiting, etc. (To compare -- when I was in labor with my first child and the midwife said that I was fully dilated, I said to her, "But I haven't had anything as bad as period cramps yet.")

Here's a strange thing: when I went away to college, the really bad cramps disappeared. I think it's because college was such an easy, stressfree time for me. During the summers when I was home, the bad cramps returned.

During my early twenties, I took medication for the cramps -- I think it was called Ponstel but my memory could be wrong.

I don't remembering having anything like PMS but I'm not sure I would have had the awareness to track my moods.

Then from age 25 until about 36, I was pretty much always either pregnant or breastfeeding. I didn't have many periods and they were fairly carefree. And breastfeeding and pregnancy hormones totally agreed with me.

Then my youngest child stopped breastfeeding. My periods were normal by then. I had cramps -- but nothing that I couldn't handle with just tylenol. The biggest thing I noticed was PMS. I don't know if it was just an awareness -- or something new happening. But definitely, I could feel the effects of hormones on my mood.

As I've gotten older, I've tried not to see PMS energy as negative. After all, there are things that women *should* get angry about -- and often we suppress stuff that we should be angry about. So I keep trying to see those hormonal surges as something powerful and valuable. Sometimes this works, and I end up being powerfully assertive. Other times, I'm thrown off balance and I end up screaming at a family member for no good reason.

I'm 48 now, and I'm guessing by the time I have this all figured out, my body will have moved on to some other stage. That seems to always be the case for me.

S. said...

dadwhowrites--I've been meaning to send you email. Maybe by putting it out here I'll actually do it!

jo(e), that's exactly it, that I don't see it as negative. Hard to live with for me and mine, but still a benefit. I have moved through some really stuck places on hormonal energy these past few years, and I have become much more clear-eyed about where dangerous compromises and underground emotional currents are in those last days before my period. I associate it with motherhood, but it may be timing--I wonder if this is something that happens to women who aren't moms?

Nursing hormones agreed with me, too--and pregnancy ones to a lesser extent.

jo(e) said...

I think it's more a function of age than motherhood -- I've got lots of women friends who haven't ever given birth and their experiences are similar to mine.

When my daughter lives in my house, we end up cycling together -- and that makes for some interesting comparisons since she's 25 years younger than I am. I can't see that PMS affects her moods much at all.

Jeannette said...

jo(e), I really love that perspective.

My baby is a year now, and I remember last year having really weird feelings about my body after I gave birth. Like my body went from this gloriously pregnant thing, to the amazing experience of childbirth with a midwife, where the whole thing is celebrated. Then. Nohting. Sure there is breastfeeding, but not the same. It's like what do I do now? I feel a void where there was once celebration.