Period. It’s a taboo subject, often shushed and vilified when a conversation is broached. Men grow uncomfortable and shy away from it. Women avoid it altogether. And yet the reality is that periods are a major aspect of a woman’s life. A monthly visit of aching pains and bleeding is nothing to be so secretive about.
I have personally never tried to shy away from the conversation. If I’m feeling down on a day of my monthly cycle (and usually everything I am feeling is written on my face) and questioned about it, I’ll be honest with you. I’ll apologize in advance to my friends if I am too quick to temper for the upcoming week. Why? Because I’ll be on my period. I am open in speaking about it, because if we are not open about certain conversations we forget to look at its consequences on people. And believe me, periods have an effect.
Most women are not immune to premenstrual syndrome, caused by hormone changes between the time of ovulation and the actual period. Symptoms include “mood swings, tender breasts, food cravings, fatigue, irritability, and depression” (1). But some women suffer from an even severe form of PMS, termed PMDD. I am one of those women.
PMDD, or premenstrual dysphoric disorder, “causes extreme mood shifts that can disrupt work and damage relationships. Symptoms include extreme sadness, hopelessness, irritability, or anger, plus common premenstrual syndrome symptoms such as breast tenderness and bloating” (2). When PMDD hits, I am more emotionally sensitive, the fatigue I feel is intense, I find it difficult to concentrate, and the pain is even worse. PMDD is a big part of my life, with its arrival every month, and despite having learned to live with it and having made behavioral changes in an attempt to curb its effects, it’s necessary to acknowledge its ramifications on my physiology.
As my levels of progesterone and estrogen vary and fluctuate during this time, so does the connectivity between my two brain networks: the default mode network and the salience network. These networks “play key roles in creating [my] emotional life” (3). Increased connectivity neurologically means powerful emotions.
There’s a silver lining to be aware of here. By acknowledging the scientific evidence proving the physiological effects of PMDD, I am fearful of this being translated into someone weaponizing it into rationales as to why women are incapable. I want to make a clear distinction: I am not presenting myself as a helpless woman who suffers from PMDD that debilitates her. No, I am only saying that periods have an effect on the physiology of women, especially those with PMDD, and it is important not to be blind to this aspect of the conversation on periods.
Periods do not affect a woman’s potential. Already, across the globe, there is evidence that the stigma surrounding periods are affecting the potential of women. Women are perceived as being incapable leaders because of their periods. Women are perceived as unreliable because of their periods. And it is because we shy away from the conversation that we develop an intense stigma around it.
Take it from someone with PMDD. A woman’s period doesn’t affect her potential. I have given a speech and won an election on my period. I have led committee meetings on my period. I have held release parties for magazines during my period. I have scored in high percentiles on my exams on my period. My period hasn’t restricted me, and while I may express symptoms of PMDD, this has not affected my work ethic.
My period and my PMDD is a reality of my life. I will not shy away from speaking about it because it is important to be honest that while I am suffering from PMDD symptoms, I am still completing all my tasks. Periods don’t affect potential, and it is high time we as a society came to this realization.