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Psssst… It must be that time of the month!

4 May 2019

Ok… I avoided the nasty acronym “PMS” in the heading lest it trigger a pre-cyclical reaction before you even read it. This applies to both women andmen by the way.  Here’s what the experts say about women and PMS:

 Premenstrual syndrome (PMS)is a combination of symptoms that many women get about a week or two before their period. Most women, over 90%, say they get some premenstrual symptoms, such as bloating, headaches, and moodiness.

PMS is a combination of physical and emotional symptoms that many women get after ovulation and before the start of their menstrual period. Researchers think that PMS happens in the days after ovulation because estrogen and progesterone levels begin falling dramatically if you are not pregnant. PMS symptoms go away within a few days after a woman’s period starts as hormone levels begin rising again.

Emotional or mental symptoms of PMS include:12

  • Irritability or hostile behavior
  • Feeling tired
  • Sleep problems (sleeping too much or too little)
  • Appetite changes or food cravings
  • Trouble with concentration or memory
  • Tension or anxiety
  • Depression, feelings of sadness, or crying spells
  • Mood swings
  • Less interest in sex”

According to the statistics at least 90% of you (women) experience some or maybe all of these nasty symptoms once a month.

While much has been written about the effects of PMS on women, there is less information of the effects of PMS on men. I thought I’d speculate on some of the symptoms that men suffer when their women experience PMS:

  • Extreme avoidance
  • Tension and anxiety
  • Fear of confrontation
  • Fear of unreasonableness
  • Fear of saying the wrong thing
  • Fear of saying anything, really
  • Fear of death in extreme cases; and
  • Just general fear

It seems this physiological phenomenon of women’s menses probably affects both males and females, although it may not be in equal proportions. There are varying responses from the male species to the first signs of PMS in their women. Often times males give a “knowing glance” when a woman is being testy, with the dreaded silent thought, “it’s that time of the month again”, or perhaps “Has it come so soon again?”. Braver men have been known to actually verbalise those thoughts, often to their regret. The more analytical types, may plan for these recurring events, plotting the dates on a calendar and putting in place a plan of action, which may include, running more errands (or maybe just running), visiting other male friends, gardening and other activities that take them away from the source of the hazard. There are also the patient types, that brace themselves with suits of armour, and brave it through to the end. Then there are the extremists who respond with irritability or aggression, causing minor and sometimes major explosions in a household. Needless to say, the latter is a response to be avoided for obvious reasons.  The rarest response is one of compassion and support towards the woman in distress.  Most likely, the fear symptoms experienced by men under PMS overwhelm any instinct of compassion and endearment under these circumstances. It seems that tears, stress, fear and avoidance  in most cases are destined to dominate average households once a month. Men are not absolved from PMS as they have to deal with the consequences of someone else’s emotional outfall. How they do this reveals their own maturity and growth as it requires not only patience, but empathy and emotional intelligence.

This led me to thinking that there must be something we’re missing.  Surely an occurrence so consistent and impacting can’t just exist for no reason. Scientists may explore biological phenomenon in humans, in order to understand the workings of the human body and to find cures for its ills. As an unapologetic Gnostic, I would like to explore the deeper universal aspects.  While we have much information on the science behind hormonal influences and emotional reactions prior to menstrual cycles, we have little information on the purpose of these processes in the human existence. Why do so many women experience cyclical emotional discomfort? Conversely why do men have to manage the outfall of that experience?

I started pondering my own reactions. I noticed an evolution in the nature of my reactions, during different phases in my life, depending on the situation at hand.  However, I searched for a pattern of consistency. It appears that although my reactions differ, my triggers remain the same.  The issues which usually trigger me, seem to be amplified during an episode of PMS, as if someone pressed the super-size button.  If I don’t take notice of my triggers, under normal circumstances, they are impossible miss during a hormonal drop. So why should I get a super-size boost of the things that irritate my psyche?  I cannot be irritated with something that does not irritate me, therefore an amplification of my irritation should lead me to examine the source of it and then to the reason that it is triggered in the first place.  A deeper examination of the self can unravel traumas and pains that we hold onto throughout our lives that shape our reactions to the world.  The worst of these reactions seem to be revealed in extreme events such as PMS.

There are other activities that may yield the same results. Anyone who has practised fasting (deprivation of food) for a higher purpose,  or even just hunger, will be able to testify to a similar reaction.  Muslims during Ramadaan tend to experience ease at the beginning when the body is replenished and can handle the deprivation. Further into the month fasters may experience one or more of the following symptoms:

  • Irritability or hostile behavior
  • Feeling tired
  • Sleep problems (sleeping too much or too little)
  • Appetite changes or food cravings
  • Trouble with concentration or memory
  • Tension or anxiety
  • Depression, feelings of sadness, or crying spells
  • Mood swings
  • Less interest in sex”

Does this look familiar? The same symptoms experienced by woman with PMS.   Before Muslims over-react, I am no way addressing the sacredness of Ramadaan, nor the numerous gifts of the month. This comparison is meant to bring to the surface one small aspect of fasting that is often neglected. In fact I have only heard one scholar address it –  Sheikh Ahmad Saad, who graced us with his wisdom last year in Pinelands, Cape Town.

Perhaps it’s no co-incidence that extreme conditions (hormonal fluxes, hunger) brings our emotional pain to the surface so that we may engage it and heal slowly but surely. If each of us takes responsibility for our healing, perhaps our engagement with each other as human beings  and with everything else on this planet will improve. The negative feelings are there to make us contemplate our humanity, our pain, our anxiety and get past it, and become better human beings. Patience and self-restraint are stepping stones to unlocking the pathway to growth and upliftment. Putting these characteristics into action, when one is in ‘hyper-mode’ takes extraordinary resolve and practice.  When we experience physical pain, it is an indication that something is not right in the body and we immediately seek remedies to fix what is wrong. Emotional pain is also a sign that something is not right with the psyche. Why do we not then rush to find the source and to fix what is wrong?  Perhaps these extreme events are an unrecognised mercy from God, which in the case of PMS, is  ironically seen by many as a curse or an inconvenience.  The path of introspection has many doors. Perhaps we can look at the extreme experience of PMS as a door to upliftment of the higher self.

To those entering Ramadaan, perhaps this is the opportunity to take the journey inwards, beyond the emptiness of the belly and towards the root of our discontent so that we may take that step towards healing and upliftment of the soul.  May the month be blessed and beneficial.

With love

Radia💜