Non-sexist info on PMS
May 24, 2022 1:21 PM   Subscribe

Like many people with uteruses, I get short-fused during my premenstrual phase. I have a long history of invalidation from others close to me that has resulted in self-invalidation. And this is one of the most invalidating topics around. I need help finding quality info about it. I do not believe that I am turning into a person with random, baseless issues just to stir the pot. But I want to sink my teeth into some science or sociological research on this.

I don't usually get depressive symptoms during PMS, but I can get sensitive and angry. I wouldn't say that the types of things that trigger me aren't also triggers outside my premenstrual time, but my ability to just let them go is much less. And I become a bit more aggressive and stubborn. I don't think I am any nastier when I'm PMS-ing. But I do become more persistent in being heard, and probably become more ruthless compared to my non-PMS self.

It is very hard to find anything about this dynamic that isn't basically "wink wink nudge nudge just throw her some chocolate and take cover." I want some way of understanding whether the general sexist position is actually accurate and I'm basically "irrational" during the time I'm influenced by these hormonal changes, or whether I have valid concerns, rational concerns, that I am simply less diplomatic than usual in trying to address.

My partner asked me to talk to my gyno about it as he has actually tracked my cycle and, I dunno, graphed it to our text messages somehow and found correlation between PMS and an increase in conflict. I think that's a little weird that he did that, but I'm not surprised because I'm very aware that I have less patience during this time. My gyno gave me a checklist to track symptoms of PMDD. I do not experience any of this at a threshold high enough to warrant that diagnosis. I'm just irritated with my partner more easily and more persistent in finding justice in the circumstances.

I want to understand why society thinks PMS causes people with uteruses to randomly fabricate issues, vs "I'm fed up and can't pretend I'm not quite as easily at the moment."

Also, how do I cope with this situation? I don't want to invalidate myself or accept invalidation from other sources unless it is factually accurate to say that PMS causes a fabrication of problems vs less patience about issues that were already there.

I also don't want to table every conversation until I've digested my emotions entirely because I do not think that is very fair to feelings people to have to cater to thinking people every time. (I don't believe I should reasonably be able to start a discussion by yelling or something, but if I am visibly irritated as I'm describing the issue using otherwise appropriate communication methods, I believe I should be able to still have that conversation as long as I don't escalate. Problem is my partner will often escalate if he sees irritation due to his ADHD causing rejection sensitivity issues .)

And honestly, if my partner "accepts influence" things do not escalate. It's more when he's resistant to my point of view, denies/minimizes/justifies or refuses to hear me out. I have a much harder time in those moments telling myself "this won't be productive right now; try again later" and am much more likely to get caught up in the injustice of my partner's communication choices and then I don't back down.(My partner is in therapy, in part to address this exact pattern in his response to grievances.)

My partner has a bad habit of blame shifting, so if we have a conflict that escalates, and then I get my period, I'm quite sure he uses this as evidence that I'm just momentarily crazy rather than listening as I explain the ways he is contributing to the situation. (His therapy is supposed to help with self esteem stuff which he and I both agree is the core of the blame shifting issue.)

I was using an app to track my cycle and get pop ups warning me of my PMS time but with the Roe v Wade stuff I'm erring on the side of caution and stopped using it.

I'm not sure how that would even help though. I get irritated about stuff. I have autism so letting things go is sometimes difficult. And autists are known to have "justice sensitivity". PMS just intensifies this.

I guess I'm looking for reassurance that I'm not actually just fabricating problems. Anecdotal information is welcome also. My partner writing off a grievance because it happens to align with my moon time is getting old. He's a material reductionist so if I can show him some data about this issue that ISN'T tainted by these sexist biased assumptions, that might help.
posted by What a Joke to Society & Culture (21 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
Coping: I can confirm that using estrogen-based pills to skip cycles (11 out of 12 months) changed my life for the better for this exact reason. Being on a predictably even keel, and not having reason to self-invalidate, are super-big life improvements.

I recently had to stop the estrogen pill for clotting-related reasons. Now I'm back to uneven keel, and one day a month (and not a predictable one!), I'm more irritable and less able to self-calm. Which you already know and understand with great specificity, and is not "throw chocolate and duck" handwaving. I suspect that whatever your concerns are are indeed rational, since you are a very rational human, but your reactions to them are amplified.

As far as your partner is concerned, there's a real difference between being helpful to the underlying you -- saying let's table this for a day -- and writing off your concerns. If he's tracking your period to help you deal, that's one thing, but if the end result is dismissing your concerns, that's another. Ask him which he'd rather be.
posted by Dashy at 1:54 PM on May 24, 2022 [3 favorites]

Response by poster: Oh I forgot to mention, when I saw the gyno she suggested Yaz since it is FDA approved for PMDD and there were questions as to whether I might have it. I am very sensitive to hormones, and have never been able to use hormonal bc in the past, but I tried it this time to show my partner I'm willing to work with him on this issue.

I got daily migraines, and felt like I had worse mood swings that were harder to control. My partner agreed that my mood swings appeared to be more frequent. I was not as angry but clearly labile.

I saw a headache specialist for the migraines who verified it was probably the b.c causing them, and he said that I was at increased risk of stroke based on having so many migraines from it. So, that did not work for me unfortunately.
posted by What a Joke at 2:04 PM on May 24, 2022

Best answer: There's lots of different options for hormonal bc. It sounds like they may be out for you (due to migraines/stroke risk). But if a lower-dose option might be worth considering, I'd look into if a hormonal IUD might work. I have a Mirena, and for me it means I don't get periods anymore. I also don't get the mood swings I got with a few other forms of hormonal b.c., which is quite nice.

That having been said, I think your problem here sounds a lot more like a relationship problem than a you problem. I did have mood swings before, but they were almost always about real issues that I actually was upset about; I just didn't handle that upset well. Getting rid of the periods did *not* get rid of concerns I have about feeling heard, having my issues listened to, etc. That was fixed by getting a better partner who actually listened.

Hopefully your partner is in the process of becoming better -- but honestly the "I started tracking your periods so I could dismiss your problems" reads pretty badly. I would call said partner out on this; it's bullshit sexism. The problems are real; the emotional response you have may be higher but the response is still being triggered by something.

If you're feeling unsure, you could try writing down something you're upset about during the tough time, and then reread it a week later. Are you still upset? Do you still think something unfair happened? If so, it's not the period that's the problem. It's the problem that's the problem.
posted by nat at 3:15 PM on May 24, 2022 [14 favorites]

You have my sympathy. I have seen several doctors for similar symptoms and more than one has offered an SSRI for part or all of my cycle, although I've opted to go the hormonal route for now. Perhaps that is something you could explore if birth control won't work for you.
posted by mcgsa at 3:42 PM on May 24, 2022

Best answer: I tried it this time to show my partner I'm willing to work with him on this issue.

That is nice of you. If your partner has gone so far as to track your cycles, what has your partner done to work on this issue?

Because, in an earlier stage in my reproductive life, I was you. A uterus having person with heightened sensitivity and inability to let things go before/during my period, and a partner who saw PMS as a "get out of fight free" card with the reason being "You are crazed with hormones." It was not great. And, honestly, if your partner has been tracking your cycles than what does your partner feel is happening since they can view these supposed "trends" same as you? Like, in my current relationship we each try to be mindful of the other's bad times and try to be extra gentle during these times in whatever way works for the other. So like if your partner wasn't trying to score points and instead would go down to the corner store for a chocolate bar and you both agreed to take up the disagreement the next day, would that help? A team approach?

if he sees irritation due to his ADHD causing rejection sensitivity issues

Oof that is a hard one because RSD is also real and that + PMS can make a really difficult bad combination. I've really had to work on my responses to things with my current partner's RSD so that I could actually be heard when we have conflicts. And I kind of resent it but also... I know he can't help it, you know? And, it's kind of similar? I feel like tabling the convo is kindest for both of you unless it's an immediate "who is going to take the garbage our right now" kind of thing.

As far as information I usually start with something not anti-sxist but at least pretty medically unbiased like the Mayo Clinic: Premenstrual syndrome (PMS) symptoms/treatments. This page from The US Office on Women's Health definitely has some issues (like that people who aren't women can have uterii) but also has sources and cites at the bottom which may be really useful for you.
posted by jessamyn at 3:56 PM on May 24, 2022 [8 favorites]

Once upon a time my first university girlfriend had certain issues. I pretty much moved in with her and her roommate, they had pushed the beds together to better use the space available and I'd sleep in the middle and occasionally wake up cuddled up to the wrong girl (girlfriend thought it was cute and would take pictures). We moved into a house the next summer (two rooms, yay!). They had lived together for a couple of years so their cycles were synced, they were also both Type I Diabetic (which is why they were roommates).

They both kept day-planners that tracked every time they had sex, every blood test, every injection, every period. I thought all girls would do that (minus the diabetic stuff). So two things to consider when things sorta go strangely askew... "have you check your blood sugar level" and/or/both "PMS?". And a lot of "let's circle back" in a couple of hours after some food or a shot or tomorrow or the next day. Girlfriend got bad PMS, roommate didn't.

I wouldn't immediately side-eye the guy for keeping track of the cycle. Seems to me to be a just "duh, of course", it would seem wrong to not know that bit of information (long term co-habitation wise).

All I could say is some women get PMS, some don't. Just the same as some people have migraines and some don't, some have low/high blood sugar, some don't. It's not a get out of jail free card, just a probation to be re-convened at a later date.
posted by zengargoyle at 4:44 PM on May 24, 2022

I think the question you're asking may be more clear to you if you remove the fluctuations from it. What you're asking is "are the things I'm asking for and the way I'm asking for them, reasonable and okay". This isn't answerable in the abstract, but only in the specific, and it isn't answerable for All Women either. In General, some people who are upset when another person isn't are experiencing anxiety or anger issues, and some are experiencing reasonable concerns that the other party is dismissing, and the only way to tell them apart is to get in to the concerns.
posted by Lady Li at 5:25 PM on May 24, 2022

Best answer: An anecdote: even my own life experience, some things I get mad about when I'm PMSing and then like, wait, why was I OK with this the rest of the time?? No, you don't get to demand I stay home and cook for you every night, and no I need to go out and see my other friends even if your ideal evening routine is to play video games all night with me in the same room. And if I think about those when my feelings are running less high I can express my needs better and more clearly, and more sharply identify why his pushback is not valid and respond with "no, you don't get to decide it's not a problem just because you're happy, I'm telling you it's a problem for me." / "I need you to respect my control over my own time" / whatever.

And some things I get upset about PMSing and I'm like, "I'm sorry, why am I having a life crisis inspired by a Swiffer commercial, I need to go drink some water and take pain meds and lie down, this is comically absurd."

I will say. YMMV, times a hundred. But getting into a relationship where I feel supported and have flexibility and autonomy and am loved and am encouraged to take a pain med when I have a migraine? It reduced my PMS symptoms by an order of magnitude. I don't even notice it most months anymore, except the migraine. There's just less ambient discontent and loneliness for me to grab on to and get irritated by.
posted by Lady Li at 5:32 PM on May 24, 2022 [9 favorites]

Best answer: I generally find most medical descriptions of PMS don't read as particularly sexist. Like if I google PMS the first result is from the mayo clinic and is very straightforward. It's more the cultural commentary around it that is problematic.

Based on what you wrote here, it seems like you may be hormonally sensitive, which lots of us are, and have some unresolved issues that aren't being effectively addressed in your relationship. Both of those things can be true at once. Perhaps you could try identifying your main concerns and talking about them in a more calm time in your cycle? That's not to say your feelings aren't valid. It just may be harder to have a productive conversation about it when you're emotions are heightened. I certainly don't communicate all that well at that time of the month.
posted by amycup at 5:58 PM on May 24, 2022 [4 favorites]

I got the jump on that stuff by getting a lunar calendar, and tracking my cycles, carefully. When it got near PMS time, and usually, I take time in bed in the morning, and listen to my own mood and chatter. If I was in a killing mood, then I knew that was my cue, to drink more water, eat well, and just watch impulsive comments and negative emotion based decisions. It was only a short time for me. Everyone else got through it, and me too.
posted by Oyéah at 7:16 PM on May 24, 2022 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I want to understand why society thinks PMS causes people with uteruses to randomly fabricate issues, vs "I'm fed up and can't pretend I'm not quite as easily at the moment."

I mean...the reason is that society hates anyone it thinks is a woman, a lot. Look at you, giving up a helpful tracking app because society hates you so much it will use that app to put you in jail, potentially, for not doing Uterus Having the way it wants you to.
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 8:07 PM on May 24, 2022 [7 favorites]

Best answer: It doesn't really matter why you are irritable, or what data you produce, your partner should be working with you to make things in the relationship work, and needs to accept his own agency in the situation, and his responsibility as a partner to help, and IMHO should do that because you state your needs, you shouldn't need research to convince him. And you know yourself and you know something is off or you wouldn't be posting here.

Some partners I've had were socialized to compartmentalize problems by person, which this sounds like. You are stronger together though, when it comes to things that affect your relationship.

People, in my experience, tend to blame shift because they believe that they will be rejected for making a mistake. I'd frame this not as an error or mistake, but as an area in which he can grow as a person, and your relationship can grow stronger by working together as a team. Be clear about what you need from him.

Maybe you need to set boundaries about your medical data too, like different people can view that tracking differently sure, but whatever you feel comfortable with should be how it's dealt with, and ideally he'd have asked first, IMHO.

Do you both communicate together well even when you aren't iritable? I get the sense not.

My suggestion would be couple's therapy, but if not that, I'd suggest you both sit down to figure out how he should react to meaningfully affect the situation for the better in a way that doesn't invalidate your feelings, and that the two of practice roleplaying that when you aren't iritable. You can also try roleplaying the converse situation, by having him be irritable about something, and show him how you would help him. That might give you both more hints at what help you need.

TLDR: ask how are we going to deal with issues better, make a plan together, practice it, and put it into practice.
posted by Chrysopoeia at 8:50 PM on May 24, 2022 [5 favorites]

Best answer: I'm going to suggest viewing this in the larger context of nervous system shifts that are influenced (but not determined) by hormones. I could have written this while a menstruating person, but then going through the chaos of perimenopause and now on the other side, in menopause, it is clearer to me that there are a great many things, hormonal and other, that influence the nervous system and get expressed in mood, communication, and relationships. The actual source, or timing, of those things matters way less than the quality of your relationships and your own self-awareness about where you are on your personal continuum.

So I'd encourage you to take this whole conversation out of the realm of some predictable "cycle" world understanding of when you're like *this* and when you're like *that*, and instead cultivate your own self-awareness of your body and mental state, your own ability to communicate where you are with that at any given moment, and work with both your own expectations and your partner's, with a view toward building your partner's ability to respond to whatever your current state and your own ability to identify, accept, and communicate your current state. Because this isn't a formula and it isn't all determined by ovulation. You're a complex, ongoing being for whom things are always changing, and mastering and understanding your patterns is important and helpful, but so is understanding that they will remain ever-changing.
posted by Miko at 9:09 PM on May 24, 2022 [6 favorites]

you need to read Chloe Caldwell’s book The Red Zone
posted by raisindebt at 9:20 PM on May 24, 2022 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I have had this discussion with my partner before, and while said partner needed to be willing to listen and digest a few of the things I said, that was not too much to ask of him.

What I think seemed to work, was to describe that time of uterine shedding as a time of bodily cleansing - and that just because I may bring certain issues to light or push on them a little harder, it is because my body is literally telling me that it is time to clear out the past and start fresh in a new cycle. It is a time when a woman feels like they need to purge things that aren't working for them, and if a partner regularly doesn't respect her expressed needs and personhood - then at some point, she is going to decide that perhaps it isn't just the unconscious internal shedding of uterine lining that needs to be done, but also possibly a consciously external shedding of situations and relationships that aren't working for them.

Yes, when I said these things, it felt like I was being somewhat aggressive and threatening, but at the same time, I was just speaking my truth. I decided that I only had so much time to speak my truth, and if I wasn't going to do it when it was the hardest to hold back, then when was I going to say it?!? I realized after saying this out loud that it wasn't aggressive at all, nor was it emotional - I was simply stating what I needed because I decided to put my own needs ahead of his. For once. Finally.

It worked, in that he has come to respect me and my needs when I speak them out loud instead of ignoring them... and I have also learned that I can put up with so much more than I realized because I feel listened to. He shows that he's heard me with small gestures, and I've come to appreciate little things about him that I knew were there, but were seemingly overshadowed by the issues I couldn't get through to him before.
posted by itsflyable at 9:38 PM on May 24, 2022 [4 favorites]

Best answer: "Your fuse would be a bit shorter, too, if you were about to bleed from your privates."

I mean, really.

Anyways, one thing I've learned is to not pathologize perfectly reasonable feelings based on perfectly reasonable expectations that we have for other people.

It is very reasonable for you to expect your partner to take you seriously, and not argue with you and bat your concerns away. That's true no matter where you are in your cycle.

If you're supposed to accommodate your partner's Medical Stuff, but your partner is using your Medical Stuff as a cudgel, then it's not about Medical Stuff.

It's about communication, and a fundamental imbalance of effort.
posted by champers at 4:29 AM on May 25, 2022 [5 favorites]

Best answer: Another way to frame this to your partner is that he's bad at managing conflict all the time, so 80% of the time you're taking on more of the burden of being the grownup in that regard. During the 20% of the time when you don't have the capacity to do that, he should be stepping up. If he's tracking your cycle, he can make an effort to be more agreeable and to make your life easier when you have PMS, instead of feeling irritated that you're not willing to do more than half the work 100% of the time.
posted by metasarah at 6:45 AM on May 25, 2022 [9 favorites]

I have absolutely found that my judgement is better when I have a shorter fuse for what are undoubtedly biological reasons.

My normal cheerful self will put up with a surprising amount of shit (from jobs or partners) and sometimes only my short fuse self has the guts to say out loud "no, this isn't acceptable, this isn't what I want".

Being "persistent in being heard" is necessary in a relationship, especially in a relationship with someone who's socialised by society to see your needs as less important. Consider that maybe you are not "momentarily crazy" but "momentarily brave". Consider who benefits, when women start believing that the one time they express their needs clearly is the one time they're crazy.
posted by quacks like a duck at 7:28 AM on May 25, 2022 [9 favorites]

Best answer: My partner asked me to talk to my gyno about it as he has actually tracked my cycle and, I dunno, graphed it to our text messages somehow and found correlation between PMS and an increase in conflict. I think that's a little weird that he did that

It's not as weird that he did that, as it is gross that he did that without involving you. Like, the adult and healthy way to approach this was like, "hey, partner. I have noticed that we have some recurring types of conflicts, and I'm wondering, can we take a look at this empirically and try to see the patterns, so we can maybe start preventing some of these conflicts?" What he did was secretly array Gotchas against you so that he could be all, "neener neener, that's just your VAGINA talking," and that's fucking shitty. "Material reductionist" my fat butt.

Also, FYI, it is fucking maddening to have a partner who is like, denying your lived reality. Now everyone's only human, and it's not a crime to misunderstand your partner or develop a working theory about them that turns out to be wrong. But good partners are ready to adapt those theories when the other human being involved says hey, no, you're off base on that.

Honestly, I think it's possible that the solution to your problem is actually to...have more fights. Start noting the issues that come to a head during your PMS days and bring em up all the damn time. They're problems, right? Well, he can't say they're made-up PMS problems when you're working on them all month long. I...kind of don't care that he's rejection sensitive, you're also a sensitive human, and him telling you you're just all hysterical because of your ladybits is ALSO a rejection, so he can just suck it right the fuck up.
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 9:49 AM on May 25, 2022 [10 favorites]

(To be clear, I have had partners who had ADHD and RSD, and I don't mean to dismiss the actual difficulties and suffering these things can cause. I recognize that your partner is actually working to address the problems these cause in your relationship, and that's great. But your partner isn't entitled to a life free of criticism or rejection just because he has a harder time with them than many people.)
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 9:53 AM on May 25, 2022 [4 favorites]

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