An excerpt from my unpublished memoir Cramps and Other Rants from a Crazy Angry Bitch. The events, revolving around the fact that I had turned into Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde due to PMS, take place in Toronto during the mid 80’s.
You’re fired, he yelled after an intense, five minute screaming match. It was the second screaming match I had had with my boss in less than six months. I gathered my stuff and left. I didn’t go home but instead took the subway downtown and wandered around the Eaton Centre. I purchased a pair of red gloves with white leather palms that I couldn’t afford. I had no savings and no idea what I was going to do. I wandered for hours. The next morning I started my period.
I knew this was going to happen. Just a few months before, I had gone to a new doctor, an older woman who I thought might understand and be able to help. “I’m losing it,” I said to her. “There are times when I can’t cope and feel overwhelmed and emotional and depressed and crazy. And then my period starts. And because I don’t know when my irregular period is going to start, I can’t plan for it and before I know it I am in the middle of all that craziness and I am out of control. If I don’t get a handle on this, I’m going to lose my job.”
“I think it’s PMS” she said.
You think it’s PMS! What the hell is PMS? Of course, this was my brain screaming. In reality, I sat in silence still hoping for some useful advice.
She explained that PMS was the abbreviation for Premenstrual Syndrome. “I don’t know much about it,” she said. “There isn’t a lot of information available. You will need to do some research.”
I will need to do some research! If she, the healthcare expert, had little information about this, how was I going to do research? I somehow doubted that my local library or even the Toronto Reference Library would have anything to help me.
Now that I had been fired, of course, I would finally have some time to do that research. I just didn’t know where to begin. In the mean time, I also needed to find a job. I went to the employment office; but because I had been fired, I wasn’t eligible for benefits, making the job hunt top priority. I would need to rent a typewriter in order to redo my resume. Yes a typewriter, this was before the days we all owned computers. I would need to figure out how to fluff over the firing when explaining my employment history to prospective new bosses. I would need to get my act together to make sure it didn’t happen again. And yes, I would need to do that research.
I began at The World’s Biggest Book Store, a place that no longer exists; a place where one could spend hours on end roaming the aisles of books. In my opinion, the most relaxing place in the downtown Toronto core. This trip, I was on a mission and couldn’t let myself get sidetracked by the beautiful art books on display or the latest fiction that I usually didn’t have time to read. I roamed the health and self-help sections for at least an hour before I found it. A single book. It was a small, and not very thick, paperback with a yellow and red cover. PMS in large letters; and the two words Premenstrual Syndrome, in a much smaller font, split on two lines below. I bought the book and went straight home.
The problem with most self-help books is that they are written without conviction. The author needs to cover his or her ass. Everything is expressed in terms of maybes or possibilities.
Possible emotional symptoms of PMS may include the following:
• irritability – Check
• anxiety – Check
• lower coping ability – Check
• difficulty concentrating – Check
• lower libido – Do I have a libido? Who knows, it’s been a while!
• reduced interest in work and social life – What social life?
• mood swings – Check
• depression – Check
• aggression – BIG CHECK
It was possible that I might just be suffering from PMS. But then again, I had recently read an article in my doctor’s waiting room that had a very similar list. I had been flabbergasted over the fact that I was only in the second half of my twenties and was displaying some of the classic symptoms of menopause. It is very easy to see how people today can have themselves dying after a quick consult with Dr. Google.
The management and treatment of PMS symptoms was the section of the book that I was most interested in. I could hardly wait for the cure.
There are a number of things you can do that may help manage and reduce your symptoms:
1. Be physically active – I weighed one-hundred and fifteen pounds, and I walked a lot. I roamed the city freely and on foot, exploring neighbourhoods at will. I frequently walked from the Yonge-Lawrence subway stop to my apartment, which was just north of Lawrence, between Avenue Road and Bathurst Street. How much more active did I need to get.
2. Eat Healthy meals – I lived alone in a basement apartment with a bar fridge, so maybe I didn’t eat as healthy as I should; but I didn’t eat junk food. I just had a fairly large peanut butter allotment in my budget that I supplemented a few times a week with fresh meat, fruit and vegetables from Sammy’s Market on Avenue Road. Not sure I could have done much better on this front.
3. Reduce caffeine – I didn’t drink coffee. I drank milk and juice.
4. Don’t smoke – I didn’t smoke. My brother and I lifted a pack of dad’s cigarettes when I was twelve. I managed two puffs, which were too many for my lifetime, before the coughing fit began.
5. Reduce stress levels – Let me see, I lived alone, paid my own bills, worked full time and went to university part time. Could it be that I was more stressed then the next woman who was doing just about the same thing? Was I more stressed than a single mom with a couple of kids? Or someone looking after an elderly parent? Everyone was stressed; and if I didn’t find a job soon, there was going to be a lot more stress in my life.
Well that was disappointing. It wasn’t lost on me that this was the exact same list that appeared on all the posters for preventing heart disease. It looked like I sure as hell was not going to have a heart attack in the near future, but I wasn’t sure that my PMS was going to be managed by these suggestions.
In a tiny paragraph, almost as an afterthought was written: Vitamin B6 may be effective in treating PMS (emphasis on may be). Grasping at straws, I went to the drugstore and purchased a bottle, hoping, if nothing else happened, there might be a placebo effect. The investment was short lived.
A couple weeks after I was fired, I received a call from the Vice President of the company where I had worked. The President had asked him to meet with me. He offered me my job back, reporting to a new boss. It was the fly-by-the-seat-of-his-pants boss that seemed to be my trigger. The president and I had a great working relationship. One where he would invite himself into my little closet of an office for brainstorming sessions. I was very lucky that he loved my ideas and my work. This was the first time that my work would save me from some mess I managed to get myself into because I lost control. It wouldn’t be the last.
Thank you for reading.
Photo: Engin Akyurt, Unsplash