Not Just “That Time of the Month”: Living with PMDD

10 days left until period. Once my lovely period tracker app reads those few words, I can already feel the panic. Every single time, spot on, I PMS for 10 days straight. But, it’s not just normal PMS (not that any PMS is particularly normal) – I suffer from Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder, or PMDD, a disorder that I was recently diagnosed with, despite knowing for years that it was happening to me. PMDD often goes untreated or unnoticed – people, even doctors, tend to write it off as “just PMSing.” This all, as too many things do, connects back to the narrative we tell ourselves about women and PMS – women’s experiences aren’t valued the same way that the experiences of men are. When I would try to explain my severe emotional PMS symptoms to doctors, I was not validated, and I felt crazy.

I was diagnosed with Seasonal Affective Disorder a while ago, on top of multiple anxiety disorders. Not until recently has a clinician reassessed this and validated my experiences with depression and PMS. And unfortunately, many women have this similar experience.

Yes, I get cramps and I get emotional and I crave a lot of chocolate and fatty foods. But it’s more than that, and it lasts for 10 straight days. I have severe mood swings. I get sad, really sad, and I question everything in my life in those ten days. I have panic attacks. I’m irritable. I can barely make a decision about anything – which is incredibly frustrating, as if lasts for such a long time. I get night sweats. I’m so tired, I feel depressed, and I feel hopeless. I know that it will end; I know that once my period starts I will feel so much better.  But knowing that it gets better doesn’t stop the symptoms from happening.

The cycle is exhausting. It’s incredibly predictable and I tell myself that I know how to handle it – but sometimes, when I think about how 10 days out of my 30 day cycle are spent feeling depressed and anxious because of my period, I get really hopeless. I’ve tried birth control and that only made it worse, anti-depressants have helped treat my anxiety disorders but haven’t helped much concerning my PMDD. And the worst part is that I find myself invalidating my own experiences and belittling myself – I hear that voice in the back of my mind telling me that I’m just a crazy woman who’s PMSing. It’s been socialized into my brain to invalidate women’s experiences with their periods, even though I am a woman. That’s the most frustrating part.

Read more about PMDD here and ways to treat it (thanks Web MD!) and don’t be afraid to seek help from a therapist if you feel like you have PMDD.

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Feminism, Shaving, and Other Things

As I grow up, I’ve learned to question the things I was socialized to believe about my identities (as any good liberal arts college student should!). That being said, viewing how I was socialized into my role as a female has lead me to question a lot of the behavior I partake in – such as shaving, dating, wearing a bra, painting my nails, etc.. I’ve read numerous articles telling girls to stop doing these gendered female activities because of the always-present-male-gaze that we are socialized, as girls, to abide to.

I think that it’s important to enable girls to be able to dress and act however they like. That’s why I’ve been frustrated, lately, by a lot of the rhetoric I am confronted with on campus. It becomes a sort of competition – who’s the most feminist? Who is brave enough to go braless and who steps away from the bounds of femininity the most? I’m not a fan of that kind of rhetoric – rhetoric that puts down stereotypically “feminine” things and urges females to act more masculine. FEMALES SHOULD NOT BE PRESSURED TO ACT ANY WAY, AT ALL. ACT HOWEVER YOU DAMN WANT, LADIES. As long as you are doing it for yourself, and not anyone else, then ladies – do whatever the hell you want.

I paint my nails and I wear a bra and I shave my legs. These are things that I have always done, and I will admit, they began because of how I was socialized. I was told I had to shave my legs once I turned eleven, I painted my nails so I could be like the other girls, and I wore my hair the way I thought the boys would like. I hate that I thought that way, and I hate that other little girls are going to think that way too.

Now, when I shave my legs, it’s different. I don’t do it for my boyfriend (I would never date anyone who told me that I had to look a certain way for them, anyway. I’m not one to take misogynistic shit lightly), I don’t do it because my friends do, and I don’t do it because people tell me to. To be honest, I go weeks in the summertime without shaving and look like a beautiful hairy goddess. I hate shaving behind my knees so I don’t (it’s very soft back there!), but the little prickles – damn, they bug me. I don’t care if they bug anyone else, but they bug me, so I shave them because I like it when my legs are smooth.

I paint my nails pink and wear pink because I like pink. At first, I was socialized to be PINK – pink means you’re a girl. Now, I’m taking the color back. I’m owning it. I’m not letting anyone tell me that it’s the only color I can wear. I wear it because I choose to.

I have a boyfriend because I am in love. Not because I’m supposed to be dating boys, but because I fell in love when I was sixteen and wasn’t expecting it. He has turned out to become my biggest supporter.

I wear a bra because it hurts not to. I’ve stopped buying push-up ones like I used to, because I wore push-up ones for other people and not for myself. Now, I wear normal, comfy bras for myself.

I’m frustrated. I’m frustrated because my whole life, growing up, I was forced into femininity. Pink, flowers, dance, cheer. Those were things I liked. I wonder if I would have liked them if I hadn’t been socialized that way. Either way, these are things I still, for the most part, like.

Yet, I’m even more frustrated, because when I came to college and finally began to understand and embrace what it meant to be female, criticism poured into my ears. As if there’s a correct way to go about being a woman, and that being female and loving my femininity wasn’t enough to smash the patriarchy.

I drink my tea from a mug that says “MALE TEARS” and I always sit with my legs crossed (not exactly “lady-like”). I’m not afraid to stand up for myself. I also like pink and flowers and shaving my legs. Sue me. Smashing the patriarchy isn’t about leaving behind femininity – it’s about allowing girls to choose who they want to be, and boys too, for that matter. It’s about allowing people to embrace femininity or reject it, if they want. It’s about taking the negative connotation away from femininity. It’s about giving girls the power to choose what they want to do, and empowering other women to choose what they want. It is not about criticizing other girls’ choices.

And mostly, it’s about empowering women and girls, together, to be able to finally feel safe in this world that is so controlled by men.

 

Read another one of my articles on femininity here635929150785520908571202620_feminism_small-003