Monday, March 19, 2018

Dear Future Preteen Daughter: Periods are More Than Just a Bunch of Blood

Dear future preteen daughter,

Let's talk periods.

Way back in the 1980s they divided up the girls and the boys of the fifth grade and sat those groups down to learn a little something about s-e-x. And when I say a little something, I mean a very little something. There was the usual video of the poor egg besieged by all those pesky sperm, talk of hair growing in places where there was no hair before, and if you were one of the girls, a quick menstruation primer plus a bulky mattress-like pad sample.

We learned the basics. Once a month, if we were healthy, blood (or something like it) would gush out of our vaginas - hence the pad - and that meant we were physically capable of getting pregnant. Yay? Sometimes, they told us, menstruating was a little uncomfortable and so you might want to have some Tylenol handy (ask your mom) along with your monster pads. And you might cry a little, too, but it's okay because you're a woman now!

Fast forward a few years. Most of us by 12 or 13 had gotten our periods and boy, were we mad! A little uncomfortable? Besides the fact that we were leaking blood from our nethers into what was essentially a diaper with its wings clipped, there were the deadly cramps and the outsized Queen Bitch mood swings that nobody warned us about.

For the former, screw the Tylenol, and grab three or four Ibuprofen along with a heating pad. And then you need to pray that you're not like some of my friends who grew up having cramps so bad they were nearly bedridden once a month. As for the other stuff, don't buy the line that PMS is just this slight inconvenience that we ladies can easily deal with (but milk for all it's worth because the poor menz don't know any better).

Fun fact: the mood changes that hit you like a ton of bricks before and during your period are no joke. At least that has been my world since I turned 12. Ask me about my history of epic freak outs. Better yet, ask my mom. Now here I am in my late 30s and I didn't create the coping strategies that actually worked for me until about 8 years ago. And jokes on me, they only work some of the time.

It took me so long to develop those strategies because first I had to figure out that the feelings I was drowning in were cyclical and not the result of me being totally mentally unhinged. And THAT took me so long to figure out because way back in the 1980s (and in the 90s and in the early 2000s, too) periods were mysterious blue liquid that didn't stop you from horseback riding on the beach. And talking about mental health? Was not actually a thing.

Maybe you'll get lucky, and you'll just feel a little off kilter every 28 days. But since genetics plays a big role in all of this, I'm going to say fat chance. Here are just some of the emotional symptoms you'll probably have to deal with until menopause:
  • Hyper rage that seems totally appropriate in the moment and awful when the moment's passed.
  • The intense nagging feeling that all your friends hate your guts.
  • The same intense nagging feeling, but this time it's that your SO doesn't love you.
  • Deep swells of sadness that make you think about suicide in a dreamy sort of way. 
  • Extreme highs and lows that make you alternately creative and directionless.
  • Hopelessness that makes it seem like your world will never be bright again.
  • A strong desire to smash things, Hulk style.
They didn't mention any of that in fifth grade. Maybe they didn't want to scare the shit out of us. Being a woman is clearly WEIRD and also GROSS, but when you're talking to a classroom full of wide-eyed nearly pubescent girls you are contractually obligated to say some bullshit about womanhood and femininity. Possibly because parents would sue if you told them that, hey, sometimes your vagina is gonna hurt and you're gonna have cramps so bad you literally barf. 

Now that you have an idea of what you're facing, the question is what to do about it. You can try popping Midol, raiding the chocolate, and watching sappy movies like the chicks on TV. Or you could just let it all out and hope for the best. These strategies probably work for some people and honestly, Midol rocks. Some people are able to use fake hormones to trick their bodies into not menstruating but after much experimentation I can say that I am not one of those people. If that turns out to be your experience, too, and those mild mood swings they told you were coming turn out to be frigging epic, here's what has worked for me.

Remember that feelings are all just stupid brain chemicals. Maybe you have a legit reason to be raging right now but before you go full on Hulk, take a tiny fraction of a second to ask yourself whether your hormones are playing tricks on you. Stop and think. Why would your friends keep hanging with you if they hate your guts? Will the thing currently crushing your soul still matter in 10 years? Will it still matter tomorrow?

Sadly, going full Vulcan will not make any of these special feelings associated with the blessing that is womanhood go away. But acknowledging that your feelings aren't necessarily reality can make it easier to phone a friend for support, channel your mood into creative pursuits, or say "I'm sorry about how I reacted - my brain chemicals are just all messed up right now" after you lose your shit.

In conclusion, periods suck ass. Welcome to the club.

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