Killing my entire family never seems like a really good idea, but, there is generally about one day a month when mass murder does start to seem like a viable alternative to folding everyone’s laundry. Again.
In some quarters, this admission would be enough to get me diagnosed with premenstrual dysphoric disorder. Here in reality, though, it’s just a sign that life has tipped into the unmanageable zone and it’s time for a long run outside in the sunshine or an evening out with friends.
PMDD is now listed in the The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders as an actual thing, which was probably inevitable, since the pharmaceutical industry was already marketing a drug to treat it. And, of course, there’s a cohort of women who are sure they have it.
I don’t doubt the reality of their symptoms. It seems intuitive to me – having been pregnant, nursed babies and all that – that we experience fluctuations in hormone levels in physical ways. So I’m sure that for some women on the edge of depression, anxiety and exhaustion, a cyclical change in hormones is enough to make their conditions feel that much worse. But, in those very real cases, the issue is not the hormone fluctuation that spikes things into the danger zone; the issue is all the underlying factors that have them so close to the edge to begin with.
In pathologizing the menstrual cycle – rather than, say, a culture that expects women to run themselves ragged as workers and caregivers – we’re missing a huge opportunity. We’re calling women crazy instead of admitting that it’s the demands on women that are, in fact, crazy.
In calling a bad mood PMS or PMDD, we dismiss its underlying causes. Why is that overwhelmed mom being such a bitch? Must be her hormones.
Personally, I’d rather get credit for being a thoughtful, rational creature. I’d like it understood that my moods have actual reasons behind them. If I’m unhappy or tense or angry, I’m willing to own that, to admit to it, and, though I’m still working on perfecting this skill, to ask for the help I need to make things better.
My four year old son is, of all my kids, the most like me. So, in addition to being gorgeous and charming, he is possessed of a nasty little temper. His mad face is serious business. I’ve watched him, as he’s grown from tempestuous toddler (how we all survived those years I don’t really know) into an articulate little boy. I’ve taught him, through grinding, soul-killing repetition, that, even when he is upset, we expect him to use his words. Being his mother has given me plentiful opportunities to practice dealing with bad days. And, because I love him, I can see his tantrums for what they are. They might not be completely rational—dude, you can’t go to that birthday party right now, even though you really, really want to because it’s not happening until next week—but there are always reasons behind them. And when I can stop what I’m doing and respond with compassion, acknowledging all the things—like he’s tired, bored, hungry, sniffly and deeply attached his well-honed sense of order and routine—that are feeding into his meltdown, I can generally help. At the very least, I can make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich for him and pour some milk into his favorite old blue sippy cup.
The lesson I’ve learned from this is that even at our most basic, animal core—those impulses that feel purely biological and involuntary—we are still complex, social creatures. We might react to things in a certain way because we’re chemically hard-wired to do so, but we can transcend those behaviors … IF we have someone’s help in doing so.
Maybe my own equivalent of the blue sippy cup will make things better for a moment so I can regain my composure. (And let’s be clear here, folks, by “blue sippy cup,” I mean “Reidel goblet filled with a nice Pinot Noir.”) Or, maybe there’s some bigger fix needed. Maybe I’ve allowed myself to get too exhausted and I need my husband to take early Saturday morning duty with the kids so I can catch up on sleep. Maybe I need a long day at the office to get control of all the projects approaching deadline. Maybe I need to talk to our nanny about taking on a little extra housework.
I’d like to imagine a world in which, instead of tossing that harried, shopping cart slamming woman a bottle of pills, we find a way to make her life meaningfully better. Not just one week a month. But always. Does she need better child care? More flexible hours at work? An online delivery service?
Or, maybe she just needs everyone else in her house to Pick. Up. His. Own. Damn. Dirty. Socks.
Oh, wait, that’s me.
This post originally appeared on www.debrapickett.com. Visit the website for more of Debra's writing and to connect with her via social media.
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