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PMS: myth or monthly woe?

PMS: myth or monthly woe?

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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.

Ginger Warrior, over and out.

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24 Comments

  1. While I don’t think I have really suffered too much emotionally from PMS (my husband might disagree), I definitely have undeniable physical symptoms. I don’t understand why hormone influxes during pregnancy which can cause many of these symptoms, wouldn’t also cause premenstrual women to experience unwanted side effects. Hormones are hormones and any imbalance can wreak havoc. Seems like common sense to me.

  2. It is real however with the coming of age—- it tends to be overdone by some women hence giving an excuse for their copping out for a while. Some women seriously do have every symptom and every pain — medically they have problems. Some simply use the excuse for bad behaviour for a few days!

  3. That article just oozes predjudice from Dr Einstein Ceri! It wasn’t that long ago that women with severe PMT were locked away in asylums for being hysterical (which interestingly originates from the Greek word for womb!), we seem to be going backwards!

  4. I turn into a raging psycho bi*** so I disagree with this doctor. Normally when this happens I only need to look at my diary to know why…..

  5. Fab blog, as always my darling Ceri!! :)
    All I’ll say is that if it doesn’t exist….what the ‘eck happens each month then???!!!!
    xxxx

  6. Of course it is a medical condition! I get it so bad it is actually described as PMDD (Premenstrual dysphoric disorder). A doctor told me that the only thing that prevents it being depression is the fact it is directly related to my monthly cycle! They also told me it is something to do with serotonin levels in the brain dipping at that time of the month. So I have been taking a low dose of SSRi for it now for quite a few years and it no longer controls my life. So there Jane Usher! Go Ceri!

    • The Ginger Warrior

      PMDD must be such a challenge. Good for you for getting some help with that, Sonia. I wouldn’t hesitate.

  7. Unfortunately these days too much emphasis is placed on clinical studies and less and less on anecdotal evidence. Most women experience definite symptoms in the second half of their cycle and they vary because we are all have a biological individuality. Some put it down to hormonal imbalance but in truth no one really knows why it happens.
    Google Marilyn Glenville PhD nutritional health guru. She advocates that symptoms of PMS can be controlled by diet, supplements and exercise. I can endorse this as a nutritional therapist.

  8. Saying PMS doesn’t exist is the same as saying hormones don’t exist! A few days before my period starts, I fly off the handle at anything, then once it starts it’s like a huge relief. However, I do think it is exacerbated when I’m stressed, but stress makes anything worse. I forget loads too – it’s like it’s the only time when I can’t multitask!!

    • Same with me but I also manage to forget how to park a car! My spatial awareness goes flying out of the window – I’ve known it take me 3 goes to get into a normal car park slot and still not get it quite right. Luckily I can laugh at myself and if hubby is with me I just get him to straighten it up (otherwise it could be 4/5 goes!).

  9. Heck yeah it exists.

    Not just for us, but for dudes, too. My husband swears he has 2-3 days each month where he could just either eat us out of house and home, sleep the days away, or bitch about how the grass is growing too fast.

    For me? Uh, yeah. I completely believe it exists.

    If only in my mind. Which is really the only place it matters to me.

    Right?? =)

  10. Pfffffft to that stupid woman !!

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