It seems to me like PMS is a joke to the whole world. “That time of the month,” the post-menopausal doyenne stage-whispers as her granddaughter knocks an entire carafe of Veuve Clicquot off the dining room table. Or the gals in the office whisper about their manager, “She always has PMS, like all month,” while rolling their eyes and walking out to their mid-sized sedans in the parking lot. Or the guy at the bar who wants to buy a pissed-off-looking young lady a drink, which she refuses because she’s in no mood to start up with some dimwitted sleaze, responds, “What? You have PMS or something? You think you’re better than me? Or are you just a bitch?”
PMS seems like a trope, a joke, a thing we’ve all heard of but nobody really talks about. Me at age 19: (Wearing cropped hair, baggy workpants, a nose-ring and a Smith College T-shirt): “PMS does not exist. It is an invention of the patriarchy to keep women out of positions of power. Who would want a president who is irrational five days out of the month?” Except I was totally premenstrual. I followed that statement by throwing a promotional tumbler out my window and eating an entire box of Oreos. And the point about irrational presidents is moot. Irrationality seems to be a prerequisite for heads-of-state worldwide for at least the past 200 years.
Nowadays, I walk around Crown Heights, Brooklyn and look at all the well-adjusted moms and wonder if they ever have PMS. I think they don’t. I think I am the only one who does get premenstrually depressed and anxious, and they just float through life farting rainbows and turning turds into gold. They eat salad by the bucket-full and never want to gorge themselves on simple carbohydrates. They don’t get into bad moods because they don’t have moods at all. They just function as automotons, pushing their $1200 baby carriages in their tight skirts and pointy shoes and long wigs and never have feelings about anything. They eat potato kugel every Shabbos and still manage to stay thin. That must be the benefit of having no internal life.
I sure get premenstrual. “Get” isn’t exactly the right verb. It’s more like it descends on my mind and body like a dust cloud. Nothing happened, but I feel wrecked, despondent, weak, and about to cry. Or I feel angry and lose my shit at strangers. And the only thing I want to do is eat large quantities of fat and simple carbohydrates, especially ones that are covered in chocolate.
For me, the only antidote to full-tilt PMS is Klonopin. I’m not a big, “HEY LET’S GET DOPED UP ON BENZODIAZEPINES” kind of person, but I make an exception like once a month when my anxiety starts overriding my ability to be nice. I can’t even take a whole Klonopin because it puts me to sleep, so I take a piece of one and for the next few hours enjoy the feeling of everything being just fine, of total peace and contentment, with not a negative thought in my mind. The change of mood is at once produced in a lab and sold through a pharmacy, but also totally genuine and lasting.
When I get PMS, I feel so bad that I start to empathize with people who do unspeakably destructive things to themselves. “I get that heroin addict,” I recently thought. I was in such a foul mood that I would have done anything to feel better. (It only took half a Klonopin, thanks G-d.) I start to understand people who feel so depressed and hopeless and useless that they would do almost anything to feel some relief. I mean, I’m a person who thinks of the long-term effects of certain decisions and I am also very afraid of vomiting (and therefore have not pursued a drug habit because drug habits inevitably result in vomiting), but I still can empathize with people who get to a point where they feel the lowest of the low and decide the best course of action for them is to stick a needle in their arm.
Then, like two days later I’m OK. My energy is back. I’m happy. I like people again. I look at my own face and think, “Hey, where did all that cystic acne you had two days ago go? Your skin looks clear!” I’ll be happily menstruating and it’s as if the PMS never happened. Vanished, like a cowboy in a Western who has tromped off beyond the horizon.
Am I the only one? As a frum woman, I feel so much pressure to appear like everything is OK all the time and like “Baruch Hashem” is truly what I mean when you ask me how I’m doing. (When I have PMS, it’s more like, “Baruch Hashem I didn’t stay in bed and cry this morning.”) I don’t think it is convincing. I can barely put on the act. My wig is always a mess and that is because I every time I take it off I mutter, “Get this piece of crap off my head” while throwing it on my bed. My wig looks like how I feel when I am premenstrual: Disheveled.
When someone asks me how I am doing, I wish I could just say, “I have PMS,” and that would explain it all. It would explain that nothing in my life is actually wrong, but I feel like I’ve been emotionally bludgeoned with a two-by-four. But PMS is such a taboo. It’s taboo enough that I feel like I am the only one who gets it, like it’s my own defect of character and not something totally natural. Because all the women here are perfect, because if we’re not our kids won’t get into yeshiva.
ADDENDUM: CHAREIDI CEREAL BOXES ARE AMAZING. This is a picture of the back of the Kemach Toasted Oats box. We live in a world where even generic Cheerios are an opportunity for ahavas Yisroel. When you save a life, you save a whole world.