inside the dark

As someone who used to love getting stoned, visiting alternate realities, all that druggy stuff, I thought it might be fun to see if I could share a sensorial experience of what full-blown Pre-Menstrual Syndrome is like from the inside out. Tonight I realized it’s quite a bit like an acid trip. And, since not many people I know these days have tripped, I can’t just compare it and stop there. So, here we go… and, of course, this is just my own personal experience. Every woman has her own experience unique to her. Some of you don’t have the downsides and just enjoy the upsides, I know. Some of you only know your period is coming because you look at the calendar. Well, not me. I’ve found in my later years that I look at a calendar because I start feeling and behaving in particular ways. Then I say, oh, hey, there we go. That explains it!

Much of the experience mimics plain old clinical depression. There’s a darkness all around. There’s a cone or tunnel of light so I can see in front of me. All the periphery, ever crowding in, is blurry and hazy. I’m constantly feeling like I need to get my hair up in a scrunchy because it feels like my vision is being crowded out by fuzz. My hair up never solves it, but begins the process of containment. Containment is the only way I make it through these long days.

What most people don’t realize is the beast of PMS is also a gift. Like writers who drank themselves to death or the van Gogh’s of the world killing themselves after living with mental illness, my PMS brings with her gobs and gobs of creativity. Manic, maybe. Roller coaster, definitely. Productive, sometimes. Destructive, frequently.

In The Red Tent—a book I found only so-so but one that stayed with me in a deeper way than most I’ve ever read—Diamant paints a picture of women bonding together during their periods. The idea is rich and lovely. I think, however, women would do better finding space for themselves before their periods start. At least I would, and do.

Acceptance is the answer to all my problems today. When I’m aware that I’m in the throws of PMS, I can ride the tough times and the people around me aren’t subjected to quite as much irrationality. One of the greatest lessons I’ve learned about my own PMS, though, is that while I may act and say and do things impulsive, irrationally, violently, there is always some truth to my behavior. Everything is magnified. This brings me back to the physical experience.

Bright lights shine fiercely on single words in emails. Voices scream loudly when someone whispers. What should be simple confuses me, what should be comfortable distresses me. I feel alive and energized and heavy and immobile.

Today at lunch I was aware of how deeply into my hormonal surges I’d gone. Rather than try to continue on as normal, I said to my family, “I’m in a mood where anything you say or do will seem wrong. Let’s not subject any of us to that.” So, I didn’t say yes when Maya asked if she could feed Althea the sweet potatoes when we were out at the restaurant. I didn’t suggest Josh and I discuss anything of great substance (unlike last night when I went to him weeping about Big Things and The Future). I gave myself over to the waves.

There’s a deep feeling of wanting to hurt myself. Not in any kind of scary serious actually harmful way. Just things like the compulsion to eat junk food. There’s something gross about it that feels right. Like a big fuck you to the world, to myself, to my body. I don’t care what you say, oh knowers of healthiness, I’m going to plump up, build up my fat stores, get ready to bear these children unless I… oh, thank god. I got my period. And that urge for garbage food disappears. Actually, I stop wanting to eat as if I’ve got a tapeworm about 4-6 hours before I get my period. How’s that for a nice little “TMI” tidbit? It’s true though. Totally predictable. It’s how I know to get a tampon in. Suddenly no food or only relatively healthy food looks good.

My body feels thicker. Not in a fat kind of way, but as if all my skin has more nerve endings. As if every sensation goes deeper into my skin. Everything smells more both in my perception outside myself and what I’m emitting. This is part of why I compare it to an acid trip. It’s as if something else has taken over and everything is heightened.

I’m consumed with waves of desperation. Desperation to organize spaces tops the list. I tear apart cabinets or drawers of clutter. I move furniture. I write blog posts and meme in the extreme. Everything needs to be done now. Unfortunately, I’m still me, and I’m not very skilled in finishing projects. Our house is left with pockets of newly tidied spaces and the rest looks like a hurricane came through.

It’s a shame, really, I’m not able to take a break from the rest of the world for these days and focus on art. The things I make during this time tend to be some of my more powerful work. There is a richness to this time, as well as an insanity. Warmth and heat and excruciatingly annoying bitchiness. I laugh more, cry a lot, and find myself unable to get words out as if I haven’t slept properly. Which, let’s face it, I probably haven’t. Slept. That’s not an effect of PMS, though, that’s simply part of having a 9 month old who thinks it’s great fun to wake up at 5am.

Just like any time of stress, I’m learning more with each cycle that I need to take it easy. Expect less of myself, be more gentle with myself, and give my loved ones fair warning.

I teach Maya that the chemicals in my body are all getting excited thinking they might get to make a baby. That they go up and down and all around and that’s why I seem extra energetic or impatient or sad. I don’t want her afraid of PMS or hormones, so I don’t make a big deal of it. But I also want her to know the truth. The chemicals in our body impact how we see the world and how we behave in it. When I’m seeing things through my PMS dark foggy glasses, it’s not like other times of the month. I explain to her that she might want to go in the other room because I’m about to throw the pots and pans across the kitchen and I don’t want to get mad at her when she hasn’t done anything to deserve it. Pretty amazing how much rationality I can muster when my sweet child is involved. Bet the adults in my life which I had similar consideration for their feelings, too.

Looking at the wrappers of the 3 Musketeers and the Skor bar on the desk here, feeling the burning in my stomach from the “queso” and chips, I’m full of gas, bloating, and laughter. The ups and downs are actually kind of fun when I realize the roller coaster is temporary. I try not to make too many serious decisions, but I pay very close attention to what ever it is that bugs the crap out of me. When this all clears up, I’ll sort through it and almost without exception, I will have learned some important things. People joke about PMS all the time. I’d like to see more people recognize its value. In our culture, women’s anger is generally discouraged. I think PMS and the very real (though often exaggerated) emotions that can come with it give me an outlet to find the truth. And chocolate.

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