Let's talk about: PMS

Updated: Oct 16, 2018

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For some reason, periods and everything related are still a relatively taboo issue. This absolutely baffles me. How can we shy away from discussing a topic that affects so many? Even at school, I think I genuinely only had about half a dozen lessons discussing the topic. And when I say ‘the topic’, I say that very loosely. My experience of menstrual-cycle based education during my school years, consisted of the very basics; what a period is and how to use tampons and pads. Now I think I can vouch for a lot of women when I say the word cycle is used for a reason – the experience is ongoing and not simply restricted to days when you’re physically bleeding (yes I just used the word bleeding, get over it). So why are we only ever taught about those 3-8 days of the month? Why are we expected to self-navigate through the rest of it? PMS, period-related disorders, ovulation and fertility, birth control, cervical-cancer screening, menopause? Women in the UK are being short-changed when it comes to learning about their bodies and I think we need to start a conversation. I’m going to lead by example and tell you about my experience of PMS and the coping mechanisms I use to try and deal with it.

According to the NHS, “nearly all women of childbearing age have some premenstrual symptoms” – these symptoms are the indicators your body gives you to let you know that your period is on the way. Even doctors don’t know exactly what causes PMS, but it’s widely believed to be connected to fluctuating hormone levels throughout the cycle. Specific symptoms, frequency and severity of symptoms differs from woman to woman and it’s really important to familiarise yourself with your personal experience of PMS, in order to better understand and control what you’re going through. For me, PMS manifests itself in the form of 5 very specific symptoms and every month without fail I experience PMS in some combination or form;

Bloating - during the luteal phase (second part) of my cycle means my weight varies between half a stone every month. As someone who continually struggles with body image and weight acceptance, this really affects my self-confidence. I know full well that spending half my cycle paranoid about my weight isn’t good for my physical or mental health and yet every month it happens again.

Spots - As someone who usually has reasonably clear skin, towards the end of my cycle when my hormones manifest themselves on my face, it really bothers me. Nobody likes dealing with spots and the information on how to get rid of them is so mixed and conflicting that I just give up completely. Feeling fed-up and unhappy in my own skin really makes me feel insecure and teaming this with my loss of confidence from bloating, I turn into a hot mess.

Sore boobs - The word sore really doesn’t do the experience justice to be completely honest. By sore I mean achy, red-hot, rock-solid, painful to touch, painful to move, sensitive, do-not-try-to-touch-or-hug-me-because-I-will-scream-or-punch-you level of discomfort. Sometimes, for days on end, I struggle to even find a comfortable sleeping position because my boobs are that sore and lack of sleep in turn, has an effect on my emotional wellbeing.

Tiredness – By tired I mean the sluggish and lethargic feeling I’m left with following a day of other physical traits of PMS. I’m sure any woman would agree that constantly feeling uncomfortable and in-pain throughout the day really takes its toll and drains all your energy. My concentration is affected throughout the day too and by the end of it, sleeping seems like the only answer.

Anxiety – This is by far my most debilitating symptom. For me, PMS is like chain reaction, with the physical symptoms sparking the emotional ones. Worry, self-doubt, lack of motivation, overthinking, low-mood, lack of enjoyment, self-sabotage. You name it… anxiety does strange things to you and turns you into a shell. When my anxiety is going full speed ahead, I really do struggle to get on with daily life and function normally. It even affects me doing the things I enjoy most which can be really isolating.

My symptoms tend to last for about 10 days starting a week before my period and beginning to dissipate midway through. Now, to put this into perspective; I have a 26 day cycle and 10 of these days are spent suffering with PMS – this works out as roughly 140 days or 38% of the year on average. If I carry on having periods until I’m 50, it averages to just over 14 years of my life potentially being spent suffering with PMS. Pretty bleak when I put it like that isn’t it. This is exactly why it’s so important to know yourself, your triggers and your cycle; so you’re not blindly suffering for that amount of time. Every woman is different and every one of her cycles is different; this is why we should be talking about this more. To know that we’re not alone. Why are we all suffering in silence?

Dealing with PMS is something that I really struggle with but I do have a few things I do to try and make it easier for myself;