The thing is, last Tuesday, I had my period. And my period feels like this: an army of tiny spiders dancing the rhumba in steel-toed-stilettos across my uterus for at least 24 hours.
Then, in case that wasn’t fun enough, there is the mental torture of my hormones jumping on a trampoline. A typo, a dropped pen, a spilt coffee – can send me into a psychological tailspin so dramatic I may end up in a cyclone destined for Oz.
Last Tuesday I spent an hour sobbing under my desk.
How is working from home going for the rest of you?
I am one of around 90% of women who suffers from some form of PMS, someone who dreads her period because of its torturous mental and physical conditions. This particular period I dreaded the most, as it was my first in lockdown. How were my emotions going to cope in an already volatile climate?
Reader, they did not cope well.
And so that’s how I ended up crying under my desk last week, hiding from my inbox as if it could see me, willing everyone to leave me alone and wishing that the army of spiders in my uterus would chill TF out.
“I’m not even sure I want a baby” I wept to my boyfriend, after screaming at him for ‘walking too loudly’ in the corridor, “Can’t I just postpone my period until I know I even need my uterus??”
Unfortunately, that’s not exactly how biology-or your menstrual cycle- works. At least that’s what expert gynaecologist Dr Shree Datta told me.
“There are various different hormones released during the menstrual cycle and PMS is basically the signs and symptoms that we see of those hormones working,” she explains, giving me the scientific reasoning behind my spider-dance-volatile-temper-hell; “It is generally seen in the second half of our cycle, when progesterone levels are slightly elevated and impacting on our mood and physical symptoms too, such as feeling breast tenderness and bloating as we come up to our periods.”
I tell her that, despite always suffering from bad menstrual cramps, I have only recently begun experiencing particularly bad emotional symptoms.
“The evidence suggests that as we get older, there is actually a slightly higher risk of developing more overt premenstrual symptoms,” she says, “There’s no real explanation as to why that is but, like many things as we get older we can become more sensitive or just more in tune with our bodies.”
I turn 31 this week, is this some kind of awful biological birthday present?
But Tuesday’s meltdown has more to do with our current situation than it does my rapidly ageing uterus (hi mum, if you’re reading this). After all, PMS in the midst of a global pandemic? Not ideal.
“We are under a period of stress anyway and a lot of us are at home where we are not able to do the things that we love and take for granted as things that will cheer us up,” says Dr Datta, who says that PMS is going to be A LOT worse in the current climate; “Tempers are going to be frayed for a lot of people and that – plus the cyclical changes your body is going through- will definitely magnify symptoms, making us far more anxious and stressed than we otherwise would be.”
I wondered how everyone else was coping. My friend Charlotte famously suffers from massive dark clouds when she gets PMS. She is currently self-isolating alone, so I am already checking in on her on a regular basis. She had her period last week too. I ask her what she does to help her PMS.
“Yoga,” she says, detailing the home classes she signed up for almost the minute the shutdown happened; “I am an exercise junkie anyway and it’s where I get my endorphins. Because I know it makes me happy when I’m not on my period, it’s something I lean into when I am. It helps with both the physical and emotional strain of PMS.”
Anything else? I am not exactly exercise-friendly…
“Oh, strong painkillers,” she adds.
But Charlotte admitted to me that PMS was undeniably harder in lockdown; “My emotions are all over the place right now, and the hormonal up-and-down of PMS just made that ten times harder.”
Another friend, Bea, admitted that her first period under lockdown was a nightmare.
“I’m not going to lie, I started day-drinking at work,” she says, “If there’s one plus side to working from home, I guess it’s that!”
Dr Datta agrees that PMS under lockdown does, actually, have a lot of plus points. (Although she’s not too impressed with the day drinking).
“Yes, lockdown is going to make PMS worse but it is also a good opportunity to get in tune with what your body does and doesn’t like- which foods have an impact, if exercise helps, when you feel the most emotional,” she says.
She suggests that now is a prime time to start actually tracking your period. There are tons of great apps out there- from Clue to Flo- but Dr Datta says it’s even helpful to just keep an actual old fashion symptom diary: “something you should keep for three or four cycles to see if there’s a pattern emerging.”
This is because understanding your body’s reaction to PMS is a perfect way to alleviate the worst symptoms. Just as Charlotte knows her body reacts well to exercise, my only reference point so far is that my body reacts well to crying under my duvet and watching Netflix. Dr Datta doesn’t officially disparage my remedy, though.
“Rest is important, but everyone is different- some people will respond to yoga, others a walk, others Cognitive Behavioural Therapy or mindfulness,” she says, “But now is a good time to explore what else you could be doing to help.”
She suggests looking at my diet. I am currently existing on a menu of Whatever Was Left On The Shelf After Everyone Stockpiled, but she has some edits. Eating well during your period means staying hydrated (keep up that water!) and lots of iron-rich foods- be that red meat or spinach and broccoli- to compensate for the natural iron you are losing as you bleed. You should also keep up a steady intake of fruits, especially bananas which are rich in magnesium which helps with relaxing your muscles, and oranges, which are rich in vitamin D which can help anxiety.
She suggests looking at my sleep patterns and make sure I am getting a lot of it – easier to remedy on lockdown with no chance of an all-night-rager at a club – but also massively reducing my alcohol consumption, which has increased since a glass of red wine became my go-to Zoom call accessory.
However, some PMS can be in the extremes and, if that sounds like you, you should not suffer alone, especially if you are self-isolating solo.
“If you have extreme pain and emotional distress during PMS, you should definitely speak to a doctor,” Dr Datta says, “Having kept a symptom diary would be enormously helpful as a document to show your GP the range of symptoms you have experienced.”
“But it is worth being in tune with your cycle anyway,” she continues, “If anything, lockdown gives you an opportunity to get into tune with what the baseline of your symptoms actually are. This is a good time to work out what normal looks like for your body.”
So instead of crying under my desk, I’m going to try and use lockdown to get to grips with my menstrual cycle, find out what works for me and what doesn’t. See if anything- from yoga to spinach to keeping a PMS diary, can help quiet those dancing spiders and mental tempests.
Here’s to my next period in lockdown – wish me luck.