Women's Empowerment Stories ...
PMS or PMZ?
A short un-researched, biased, and brief evolutionary herstory about premenstrual change time.
"I have this incredible creative energy that comes out of me when I am premenstrual. In ways I have come to accept it and really look forward to it." - What People Are Calling PMS, National Film Board of Canada
The Downside of Premenstrual Time
The Upside of Premenstrual Time
I now call it my PMZ time, that is, my premenstrual ZEST time. Of course I haven't always called it this.
Before the '80s I just thought I was nuts.
Way before the '80s, some of the things I learned about menstruation were:
(1) The mystery box in the bathroom contained large Kleenexes for my mom. (Ah! There was some mystery to being a woman!)
(2) At school we were given 'free' booklets from some big 'pad' company (who said schools were innocent of the product placement in the '70s?). I remember nothing I read from these publications, other than I should not go swimming.
(3) Finally, and somewhat later, I learned that many women in my mother's generation thought they were bleeding to death because they didn't know. I consider myself lucky. I have since learned some of my peers were not informed. My Blessed Mother did tell me. "Wash yourself," she said.
In the early '80s you could say the enlightenment began. The medical community started calling it 'PMS': Premenstrual Syndrome. Aha! I wasn't the only one who was nuts. Most women were nuts. At least I had company! Some of the recommended treatments included hormone therapy, taking B6, and cutting out chocolate. I took B6. I don't remember for how long.
To formalize things, this 'syndrome' was ultimately placed into the DSM-111, which is a formal text used extensively in the psychiatric community to diagnose and treat primarily mental illness (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, now with a fourth edition which further lists a new condition called PMDD: Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder).
So, now I could go to my doctor and maybe a psychiatrist and they could formally say I was 'sick' and perhaps give me a doctor's note to explain my 'mental instability' or something. Somehow I didn't feel this would help!
In the mid-'80s, ironically, I started swimming, which helped me feel more in control of the anger/rage I would at times experience premenstrually. At this time, I was working in a very demanding human service field.
For me there are two ways of looking at this: the 'then' way and the 'now' way. The 'then' way of looking at it was surviving it. At times I did manage to 'hide away' at work. I still thought I was weak, though, and somehow couldn't 'control myself' and practically, I couldn't hide every month. The 'now' way of looking at it is different. I didn't trust myself then. I wonder why? I see now that it was a natural indicator of how crazy and non-supportive some of the systems I worked in were and the lack of reverence for the feminine that has existed in our culture. It was a sign. But there was no cultural signpost. Until 'The Film.'
It's later than the mid-'80s now. I rent, from the National Film Board of Canada, the film, What People Are Calling PMS: A Film About Premenstrual Changes. In the film one woman is talking about her experiences. It is the only line, whose essence I remember to this day. She says, "It is the most creative part of my month." Hearing this changes my life! However, at the time I could not relate one ounce. But I've been hooked. I am on a new path. My worldview has been altered. I know now it can be different.
I now reject the pathologizing and syndromizing of my natural experience of being a woman. When it is written that 75% of women have PMS-HELLO!-it is not far to the equation that being a woman = being sick. NO THANK YOU! Somewhere along the path there has been some movement to have the label and its pathology removed from the DSM. I believe in the power of words. I do not choose to use the word 'syndrome.' I choose ZEST.
Since my enlightenment began, I have historically called it my 'premenstrual change time.' And it is only since I've given birth to my child and the definition of the word 'creativity' has gone through the roof, that I 'achieved' the state of being conscious of the creative period before my period (full pun intended). I rename it Premenstrual Zest Time - PMZ. (I must say I did enjoy NOT having a period for a year after my daughter was born while I breastfed and went about the great and overwhelming initiation of Motherhood.)
In some aboriginal cultures women were given a hut to go away to during this most sacred time in their cycle. I can now describe my PMZ time as including intense, positive energy, and spurts of creating. I now believe it can be a very powerful time for a woman, a very 'zesty' time. I also believe I have a responsibility to myself to create some space, to find my own 'hut' so that I don't stir things up in my inner fire and burn those I love the most. I've learned that my anger and sadness and other feelings are real. The gift my PMZ time has given me is an opportunity to pay attention to my feelings and emotions because they are trying to get my attention; things have become louder for me at that time of month. It isn't because I am unstable, or weak, or crazy. Not on your life! It is a sacred creation time.
I want to give my daughter a different experience. I want to celebrate this wonderful gift life has given her. I bought a book some years ago called Red Moon with this intention in mind. There are several other such books on the market now and when the time is right, she and I will have a cultural signpost to work and celebrate within.
When I was inspired to write this, I was in my premenstrual zest time. I was dancing heartily in the kitchen with my daughter. For a moment I felt a stab of sadness, a bitter-sweetness, a sense of loss through the ages. The joyful zest and sweetness I experienced was firstly abandoning myself to the movement of music and dancing with my daughter, and the thought of celebrating this time with other women. Simultaneously, I also recognized that I had not had that opportunity to celebrate as a young and maturing woman of this time, nor had my mother, or my grandmother. I needed to make a connection, so I phoned my friend and shared with her my thoughts and vision and experiences. She shared with me as well. Over the phone. At least. A Sacred Space and Time. Together.
Happy Sacred Zesting Time...
~ Patti Sinclair
Did you enjoy this piece? Patti has written a powerful book: Motherhood as a Spiritual Practice: A Journeybook. Click here for more information.
A portion of this article first appeared in birthissues magazine. http://www.asac.ab.ca/resBirthIssues.html
Boston Women's Health Collective. Our Bodies, Ourselves. New York: Simon and Schuster Inc., 1992. (A 1998 edition is now available.)
Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders: DSM-IV. 4th ed. Washington, DC: American Psychiatric Association, 1994.
National Film Board of Canada. What People Are Calling PMS: A Film About Premenstrual Changes. 1987. Available from NFB at 1-800-267-7710. Some bookstores will order it for you.
Gray, Miranda. Red Moon: Understanding and Using The Gifts of The Menstrual Cycle. Great Britain: Element Inc., 1994.
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