Since my periods returned after having my youngest child, 2.5 years ago, one week every month is absolute hell. My experience of PMT previously had been feeling a bit snappish or tearful for a couple of days before my period; nothing that a hot bath, a glass of wine and a family-sized bar of Dairy Milk couldn’t sort out. Not any more.
I don’t know if what I experience now is because pregnancy and breastfeeding have knocked my hormones out of balance (my GP’s theory), or because I have hit my mid-thirties and my biological clock has developed a cunning strategy to get me up the duff again by making me think that anything has to be preferable to another period, or whether it is just that the general stress of trying to balance caring for two children and a very needy cat with a fledgeling career as a writer, the ever-lasting demands of providing three meals a day and preventing the entire family being buried alive under a deluge of clutter and dirty laundry whilst supporting my husband as he puts in extremely long hours starting his own business just means that there is no scope for anything else, and the tiniest of hormonal wobbles sends me over the edge.
Chatting with my friends (who, admittedly are also by and large women in their mid-thirties or early forties with at last one child, trying to keep a lot of balls in the air) it is clear I am not alone. PMT just got nasty for all of us. WhatsApp messages describe the descent into total paranoia because the boss sent a mildly critical email, or cycling the school-run in floods of tears, or even being too afraid to drive in the run-up to their period. These are private messages though. PMT isn’t something we discuss publicly. If someone asks me how I am, my first response (I am British after all), is to automatically carol “I’m fine! How are you?”, even if I’m not. If pushed, I might admit to a bad headache or a streaming cold, but I am never going to say “Actually, I am crippled with self-doubt and unreasoning fury, to the point where getting out of the house felt nearly impossible as I just wanted to curl up on my bed in the foetal position and scream incessantly”. And yet for around a quarter of my life at the moment, this is the case.
It starts a week or so before my period is due with feelings of excessive anxiety. Remembering during this week that I meant to change my daughter’s bedding and forgot that day can instantly send me into a spiral of panic and self-loathing. She might get ill from breathing in those dust-mite impregnated sheets, or not be able to sleep well and then struggle in school the next day. What kind of mother lets their child go to bed in dirty sheets? I’m neglectful. I can’t cope. Maybe I shouldn’t have had children if I can’t look after them properly. Whereas in saner hormonal times I think “Bugger, I never changed those sheets today. Yuk. Must do them tomorrow.” and move on. When every trifling domestic incident produces a crisis of confidence that makes me question and doubt my abilities in every aspect of life, it feels like a very long week.
Then it ramps up. The day before period arrives I am consumed by senseless white-hot rage and the smallest thing can trigger it. Given that young children actually are often extremely irritating I am perpetually simmering, and frequently exploding. Then, of course, I am over-whelmed with guilt at the confusion etched on faces of small people who can’t understand why mummy has suddenly screamed blue murder at them for spilling their drink or losing their socks, and has now shut herself in the kitchen, sobbing manically, more convinced than ever that she is totally unfit to have or look after children.
After all that, the day I wake up with crippling cramps and start crying at cat food adverts is now a welcome relief. The traditional remedies of hot water bottles, paracetamol and chocolate can cope with those; the main thing is that I now feel emotionally stable again. I can almost see the world shifting as my rational self returns, and all that is left is to apologise profusely to my husband for threatening to firstly divorce, and then mutilate, him because he spilt coffee grounds on the worktop I had just wiped.
I can joke about it now, but at the time it is very far from being funny. At the time I begin to understand how appalling life must be for people suffering from depression, because at least I do know on some level that the bleak darkness, the feelings of anxiety and pointlessness and unworthiness which envelop me for a week a month, will soon pass. But during that week it is an overwhelming struggle to function normally, and I do feel desperately guilty that my lovely little family have to bear the brunt of my savage mood swings. What I need is a few days sabbatical each month, with minimal human contact, to cocoon myself in a cosy room with some good books, but life doesn’t really allow for that. So I will muddle on – trying a diet low in sugar and rich in oily fish, ‘good’ fats like avocado and olive oil, calcium, and slow-releasing carbs like lentils and sweet potatoes for three weeks a month, and then giving that all up when I actually am pre-menstrual, and shovelling whatever sugary crap is closest into my mouth by the handful, relying heavily on my husband’s seemingly endless patience, and hoping that Jekyll and Hyde Mummy isn’t responsible for my children ending up in therapy at some future point.