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The Crazy Lady Myth

As a woman, I have lost count of the number of times my emotions have been shunned by the other person saying, “Are you PMS-ing?" The long standing traditional belief of a woman going “crazy” while she is on her period wildly appropriates dismissing any sort of assertive behavior from her. Periods, and the accompanying pre-menstrual syndrome continue to be viewed as a woman’s fault instead of a natural process.

Premenstrual Syndrome (PMS) is a broad term that typically refers to a general pattern of physical, emotional and behavioral symptoms occurring 1-2 weeks before and remitting with the onset of menses. PMS is common, though clinically significant PMS symptoms have been reported in 3-8% of patients. The symptoms vary: one may get physical symptoms, or emotional symptoms, or both. Symptoms may also change during your life. Physical symptoms can include: swollen or tender breasts, cconstipation or diarrhea, bloating or a gassy feeling, cramping, headache or backache, clumsiness, and lower tolerance for noise or light. Emotional symptoms may include: irritability or hostile behavior, feeling tired, sleep problems, appetite changes, cravings, trouble with concentration, anxiety, feelings of sadness, sudden mood swings, and less interest in sex.

This is not to say that PMS turns women into “crazy moody monsters”.

The crazy-lady myth, as one can call it, is baseless. Women PMS, but not all of them have the same symptoms of irritability. While it can be argued that PMS is a recognizable condition, it does not legitimize dismissing women's emotions.

During her TED talk “The Good News about PMS”, Dr. Robyn Stein DeLuca, talks about how there is very little research behind the concept of PMS- the concept is vaguely defined, with 150 symptoms associated with it, surveys depend on the memory of PMS experiences, and most research only takes into account the experiences of Caucasian women. “With a list of symptoms this long and wide, I could have PMS, you could have PMS, the guy in the third row here could have PMS, my dog could have PMS” she says.

Yes, while it is correct that periods do affect women’s moods (let’s be honest- anyone will be irritable if there is blood constantly flowing out of your body for a week straight), it is highly stereotypical (and unnecessary!) to attribute any and all changes in a woman’s mood to PMS.

For some women, PMS symptoms may be so severe that it makes it next to impossible to complete everyday activities. Severe PMS symptoms may be a sign of Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder (PMDD). According to the Mayo Clinic, PMDD causes extreme mood shifts that can disrupt daily life, work and relationships. It consists of intense sadness, hopelessness and anxiety. One way to decipher between normal PMS symptoms and PMDD is to talk with your female friends and ask questions about their PMS symptoms to analyze the differences. PMDD is a disorder that calls for medical attention and should be taken seriously, as this mood disturbance results in marked social or occupational impairment. A recent study found that women with untreated PMDD were likely to experience a loss of three quality-adjusted life years during their lifetime as a result of their premenstrual symptoms, not including menstruation-free periods, such as pregnancy, breastfeeding and menopause.

PMDD is a real medical condition, which sometimes may even require medication or supplements (ranging from Vitamin B6 supplements to selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) to benzodiazepines). Lifestyle changes (cutting down on caffeine or alcohol) are also largely helpful.

To use it as an out for an uncomfortable situation, where one might have to confront their own behavior for causing discomfort or irritation to a woman, is weaponizing widespread stereotypes to excuse misbehaviour.

The fact that for a week every month, women cannot fit into society’s expectations of being a calm, collected, “happy” person is something that needs to be accepted. It is high time we accept that women’s irritability is not a sign of “madness” but of strain and stress that every individual has in life. Even young women have internalized the myth of PMS, the myth of the crazy lady, and discard their emotions by assigning them to the hormonal realm

Coping with periods is difficult. So for every woman out there who is tired of explaining her periods and moods to people: leave their opinions inside the room, walk out, and have a chocolate, or an ice-cream (or both).

by Harshita Chhatlani

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