Yesterday I discovered, via the Singing Librarian’s blog post on the subject, that this week (21st-27th May) is Mental Health Awareness Week in the UK. I’ve been thinking about writing something about my battles with (or rather defeats at the hands of) Premenstrual Syndrome (PMS) for a while now, so I thought that perhaps now would be as good a time as any, seeing as PMS is something that affects the mental health of many women (and possibly, indirectly, the health of some men as well).
I wasn’t sure whether it would really be OK to write this post under the banner of ‘mental health awareness’, because I think a lot of people probably don’t think of PMS as something that affects mental health. Or, alternatively, they just think something that makes women grouchy and unreasonable at their ‘time of the month’ and write it off as ‘women’s problems’, or women making a fuss, or just something not to take very seriously. I was (and am) a bit worried about this post coming across as me making a fuss about nothing, even though I know it’s not nothing. However, as Mr C said, if people think PMS isn’t something to be taken seriously they should talk to the people who have to live with it.
So how does PMS actually affect mental health? During the menstrual cycle the levels of particular chemicals in the brain change. When there are changes to levels of chemicals which affect mood, such as serotonin, this can lead to symptoms such as those I experience:
- feeling angry for no apparent reason
- feeling very aggressive – lashing out at people or (preferably) objects (verbally or physically)
- feeling in despair
- feelings of hopelessness
- crying for no real reason
- low self-esteem/self-hatred
- restlessness (I have to do things and can’t really sit still)
- or, alternatively, inability to do anything because I feel too sad
- food cravings
I wonder whether being a person who is quite anxious and doesn’t have a massive amount of self-esteem anyway makes me more likely to suffer the psychological effects of PMS. It would not surprise me if this was the case! I find that my symptoms can last for quite a lot of the month, to varying degrees of severity, but, again, I’m not always sure whether I’m feeling the way I am because of the PMS, or whether it’s just me being me. Sometimes it gets to the point where I feel like when I’m feeling OK is just a short respite from the majority of the time when I’m not, but not every month is the same.
When I’ve felt really bad, I’ve seriously considered going to see my GP, but I’m a bit worried she’d just tell me to go away (in a nice way), and, anyway, I’m not really sure what she can do, apart from prescribe medication – the side of effects of which might make me feel worse than I do already. I’ve decided to make some lifestyle changes to see if these help, for example trying to avoid caffeine and alcohol, and eating regular healthy snacks to try and avoid ups and downs in blood sugar levels which can affect mood. I’m also making a chart to monitor how I feel each day, scoring myself, with ‘well-balanced’ being 0 and then plus or minus scores as appropriate. It’s not very scientific, but I’m hoping that monitoring my mood will help me make more sense of it, and if I ever do decide to go the GP I can take my chart as evidence!
In the meantime, and in the spirit of Mental Health Awareness week, here are a few things that I find are good for my mental health:
- Singing! This has been scientifically proven to be good for your mind. Hooray!
- Walking. Even just walking up the stairs instead of taking the lift makes me feel a bit better.
- Good conversation and spending time with people I like.
- Playing the flute (which I don’t do often enough).
- Reading a good book. Anything that sucks me in is good – it doesn’t have to be fiction.
- Learning Hebrew. I find this strangely relaxing! I suppose because it demands concentration, so I have less mind-space to, e.g., worry about things.
- Writing things down. I don’t mean necessarily writing down my feelings, but maybe just writing down the things I’m worried about, or writing down what I really want to say about a situation but wouldn’t really say in real life – it can help get things out of my system a bit.
I’ve written about my experiences of PMS before, and I’m not entirely sure why I’ve felt the need to write about it again. I suppose it’s been on my mind (literally and otherwise) a lot recently. I’ve felt like it’s been getting worse, particularly the anger and aggression, and writing about it helps me to sort out my own feelings about it (see above!), as well as hopefully being of some use to people who might be going through the same things and thinking they’re the only ones doing so.