I've just finished reading an article published last year in the Sydney Morning Herald (oh the places you end up on the internet) and I'm feeling somewhat indignant. It discusses a study carried out by the University of Toronto which explored the relation between a women's mood swings and the pre-menstrual phase of her cycle. The author of the article (a woman) appears to agree with the university's finding that PMS does not in actual fact exist.
How do you feel about this? If I'm being perfectly honest (and I usually am) my initial reaction is one of scorn and resentment because for a few days each month I find myself teetering on the edge of sanity and all that is rational and apparently it's all in my head. Either that or I use my period as the perfect excuse to "get away with being a monstrous bitch for a short window each month". That must be it because there's nothing I love more than feeling irritable, snappish, oversensitive and tearful. I thrive on those unpleasant emotions and count down the days until I'm back on my board surfing the crimson tide.
Apologies for my seething sarcasm and petulance. It's just that I'm due my period in a couple of days and, well, I'd usually put it down to PMS but now I'll have to look elsewhere to explain the gnawing feelings of low-level rage. Let's start here, shall we? Dr. Gillian Einstein (she was destined to be clever), director of The University of Toronto's collaborative program in Women’s Health and one of several experts who reviewed the study says:
“There are so many things going on in women’s lives that can have a distinct impact on their moods — stress, lack of social support, economic hardship, physical ailments".
Could any of these factors be responsible for the mood swings I've been experiencing? Let's investigate further:
Am I feeling stressed?
I've just had 10 days off work and I'm now in my final 7 weeks EVER of teaching. Stressed? Nope. Elated? You have no idea!
Do I have a lack of social support?
I couldn't ask for a better support system.
Am I experiencing economic hardship?
I'm doing pretty well for myself thanks for asking.
Any physical ailments getting me down?
Other than sore boobs, nipples so tender that a gust of wind makes me wince, a bloated belly and ovaries that feel like they're being tied in knots, I'm in tip top condition.
In conclusion, there is no rational explanation as to why I am feeling decidedly irrational.
Jane Ussher, professor of women's health psychology at the University of Western Sydney would argue that there is a rational explanation and that it all boils down to us weak minded women in the Western world. We came up with the PMS diagnosis or it was invented on our behalf. After all, "there is no similar concept in India, China or Hong Kong", says Usher.
Hmmm... let me ruminate on that one for a moment. India, a country where teenage sisters are gang-raped and left hanging on mango trees for their entire village to witness, a country where another teenage girl was brutally assaulted on a bus and who later died from her horrific internal injuries. It's hardly surprising that women's health issues are given little to no consideration in India and many other countries around the world when the woman herself continues to be held in such low regard.
Although there is still progress to be made here in the UK and the western world at large we have come a long way with regards to gender equality and the understanding and acceptance of conditions that were once taboo. Talking about periods used to be taboo. It was perceived as embarrassing, uncomfortable and certainly not a topic for public dissection. It is little wonder, therefore, that PMS is a modern day, Western world diagnosis. We are now fortunate to be able to openly discuss that which is both natural and life-giving (we're all here because our mothers menstruated) and to share our experiences of the more negative aspects of menstruation, both physical AND emotional.
When Jane Ussher challenged the veracity of PMS in this article online her comments were met with anger and outrage by male and female readers alike. It would seem that nobody likes to have their experiences "denied", myself included.
Thank the menstruating heavens that other healthcare and psychology professionals were quick to respond to Ussher in defence of emotionally deluded woman everywhere. This is Jayashri Kulkarni, Professor of Psychiatry at Monash University in Australia:
"Happily, we are approaching an era of individualised medicine, where each person’s biological, psychological and social context can be taken into consideration. With rapidly accumulating scientific knowledge about the role of hormones in the brain and on behaviour, we are in a better place to listen to and discuss their concerns and issues with women, while taking the role of cyclical hormone changes into account. Let’s leave the tired old debates of the 1970s in the past and aim for better integration of biology with psychology and the social context. Because that’s where real help and hope lies for many women.".
To Professor Kulkarni, myself and hundreds of thousands of other women (and men!) around the world PMS is real and denying its existence can only do more harm than good. And that's all I have to say on the matter. Period.