PMS is a highly misunderstood phenomena. For centuries the hormonal changes that happen in women during ovulation have fueled opinions that women are irrational, emotional, slightly crazed creatures that are impossible to understand. But when you’re mentally ill, PMS can change from a minor monthly inconvenience into a huge fucking problem.
For all we understand about the human body, PMS still eludes us. It’s estimated that between 5-95% of women experience some symptoms of PMS and these symptoms have gigantic ranges. Essentially, each individual woman will have her own experiences and problems regarding this part of her biology. But mentally ill women have experiences that can range greatly and vastly differ from mentally stable women.
I can’t speak for anyone else, but my PMS symptoms range from almost nothing to utter instability. When I’m doing well and I don’t have a lot of stressors in my life I sometimes notice that I might seem a little weepy, but nothing major. If I’m stressed out, being triggered, or otherwise not doing well, I sometimes start fights, cry over silly shit and resign myself to being utterly unreasonable.
Sometimes I can step back and realize that I’m acting strangely. Other times I’m convinced that I’m right and the rest of the world’s population are assholes. Occasionally, it’s not until I put the first tampon in that I realize this explains why I’ve been so wacky.
In the past, when I’ve been in an episode, particular an episode of depression, my PMS symptoms can last for weeks. Even after my period is over, my hormones are still raging and I’m acting irrational and emotion-fueled. One time there was about a three day time slot between one bout of PMS-style behavior and the next round of it.
I quickly discovered that I couldn’t take hormonal birth control for these reasons. I tried the Nuvaring and got suicidal, I tried the birth control patch and couldn’t stop crying. After that I was over hormonal BC methods and stopped using them all together. I never tried the pill, but at that point that just seemed like a bad idea. Hormones can affect people strangely and when you’re already mentally ill, it can be playing with fire.
This is yet another reason why a variety of birth control options need to be made available to women. There can be various reasons why women can’t take certain birth control methods and for me, taking hormonal types are out of the question. Thankfully, I found a non-hormonal form that is working perfectly for me. But anyway, hormones and body chemistry can affect a person’s health and wellbeing, no matter their mental state.
But when you have an illness, it can take a minor problem and turn it into a matter of life and death. As much as people discount PMS and try to play it down as something that women are making up or, at best, exaggerating, it’s a real thing that has a real effect on people. It’s not pretty and it’s not a perk to being a woman. But it’s something that happens and we have to deal with.