If there is one thing I find annoying in our culture, it is all the jokiness surrounding PMS. Women joke about it constantly and so do men. The thrust of the jokes is that it is to be expected that women will turn into raving lunatics once a month.
Of course, if you look around you, in your office, your church, or any groups to which you belong, you will find that there is no particular percentage of women behaving like lunatics at any given time.
I have tried to do a little bit of research on PMS in order to write this post but the information I have found on the web is diverse and confusing. PMS doesn’t seem to be an especially well-defined or well-understood condition. Thus, PMS is susceptible to all sorts of prejudices. As with any area in which women differ from men, people are inclined to leap to all sorts of generalizations based on what they think they know about the matter. These generalizations and prejudices generally inure to the detriment of women, natch. So when considering PMS, it is best to proceed with caution (and never ever ever ever ever for the love of God say to a woman, “You’re just saying that because it’s your time of the month.”) Here is what I think I know:
First of all, PMS is not universal. I did not experience PMS until I hit 30. Some women never experience it at all.
Secondly, PMS is not necessarily severe. In fact, I would submit that the vast majority of cases are not at all severe. The symptoms I have experienced over the last five years are some achiness in the legs for a couple of hours before my period begins.
Thirdly, PMS symptoms are diverse. They include depressed mood, bloating, headaches, cramps, and many, many other possible symptoms. Individuals experience very different combinations of symptoms. PMS does not necessarily affect mood. I have never perceived any alteration of my mood connected to my menstrual cycle. What one woman means when she says she has PMS may be very different from what another woman means.
Fourthly, some women do experience very severe and debilitating symptoms. Women who report such symptoms should be taken seriously. Being in so much pain once a month that you are throwing up is a medical condition.
Fifthly, PMS does not involve the suspension of rationality. Just because a particular woman might be teary during this time does not mean she is unable to function, make intelligent decisions, and remain responsible for her actions.
Sixthly, women have done all sorts of things while menstruating. We have run marathons, ruled nations, tried cases, flourished in higher education, fought in combat, continued with primary caretaking responsibility for our children, and pretty much engaged in every other human endeavor under the sun.
Seventh, despite the unpleasantness associated with PMS, a lot of women are glad that they menstruate. A lot of women have expressed discomfort with the notion of reducing the frequency of their periods by medication that is now available. (Of course, I find this attitude a bit tough to understand. I intend to get my grubby little paws on those pills as soon as possible. Less muss and less fuss! Besides, reducing the frequency of menstruation reduces the risk of ovarian cancer-- though there are surely other potential risks and side effects of this medication.)