The crazy cat lady from The Simpsons to Miss Havisham in Great Expectations, we all love a hysterical female character. The word hysteria originates from the Greek for uterus and unsurprisingly was the first mental disorder to be exclusive to females. This early suggestion that behaviour in women may be different to that in men has been followed by caricatured feminine fragility and lability of mood that has often become the butt of jokes and caused damaging stereotyping to all genders. Perhaps because of this, women are more likely than men to suffer from common mental illness and more than twice as likely to be diagnosed with an anxiety disorder though as my time of the month approaches once more, I am beginning to wonder if being a woman is a form of madness in itself.
When I say madness I am not meaning to suggest that all women have a psychopathology, but I am attempting to convey the dramatic effects that monthly hormone fluctuations can have on a female’s mental health. I am only able to talk from personal experience and I find periods a bloody nightmare in more ways then one. Pre-menstrual syndrome (PMS) and the less common but more debilitating pre-menstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD) have symptoms that shadow that of depression and anxiety but with the main differentiation that these symptoms occur at the same time in the menstrual cycle each month. Nearly all women of childbearing age experience symptoms of PMS and 1 in 20 suffer to the extent that it interferes with their lives, PMDD. So throw a mental health problem in with a monthly hurricane of hormones and you may get a disaster!
I fear my periods; genuinely. I am not one of the fortunate ones who is as regular as clockwork, mine tend to surprise me every so often. I would attempt to use oral contraception to regulate and minimise my PMS symptoms, but even these have been linked to higher incidences of depression. There just is no winning.
All I can say is that I can not wait for these monthly monsters to disappear. Oh wait, that means the”joys” (very sarcastic) of the menopause!