After deciding to come off of The Pill recently, my hormones became a sticking point between my partner and I.
I do my best to keep them in line, recognising my PMS symptoms and working on a routine for how I manage some of the physical pain (wheat pack and some strong ibuprofen to the rescue). But there are situations that catch me off guard. My natural instinct is still to react with outbursts of emotion.
Coming off The Pill threw me quickly into the deep end of hormone discovery. I felt different and not like my usual self. Doing my best to manage with limited information, I knew something had to change, and that’s when I began spending time talking more openly with my partner about my hormones and periods, and realised it wasn’t just me who needed clarity.
I’ve taken sick days because of cramps and blamed it on a cold, blushed at checkouts when I’ve needed to buy tampons, and avoided the period chat with some of my closest friends and family to avoid making them feel awkward.
Often, friends tell me they’re lucky to get their period on a weekend, because it means they can avoid an awkward conversation with their boss about why they can’t come into work, and I know women with endometriosis who experience excruciating pain every month but still feel uncomfortable talking about it.
Periods have been a taboo topic for hundreds of years. They still are. But in recent years, a burst of podcasts, social media, and essays has inspired communities of women to share their experiences.
I’d love to live in a world where my PMS was nonexistent, where I felt 100 per cent every day, and where the rest of the world was always aware of how I was feeling.
I came off the pill two years ago. My doctor told me it might be a good idea if I was thinking about falling pregnant in the next couple of years. She said it could take a while for my body to adjust and, as became clear pretty quickly, she was right.
Suddenly, my periods became extremely irregular and almost non-existent. I read online about other women in the same situation, and how many of them had used an app to track their cycles. Considering I was just relying on my memory and some random notes on my phone, I had nothing to lose.
The app I used, My Flo, gave me insights into how my cycle was affecting my energy and mood, how exercise could help, and what food I should be eating to manage my PMS symptoms better.
In my rush to find a birth control that worked for me, and a lifestyle that worked along with it, I never took the time to educate myself on what was going on with my body and the hormones I was manipulating within it. Some days I felt irritated, other days I felt over the moon.
Often, friends tell me they’re lucky to get their period on a weekend, because it means they can avoid an awkward conversation with their boss about why they can’t come into work.
One day, I dived in a bit deeper into the app and discovered I was able to “sync” my cycle with my partner. Obviously, he doesn’t have a cycle, but I wondered if his frustration in my PMS boiled down to his lack of understanding.
For a long time, I didn’t think my partner would ever understand what it felt like to be shaken by the waves of female hormones. Sometimes, his lack of empathy towards the whole thing really bothered me, and I worried he only saw me as a moody bitch. He’d say I was being irrational and not acting like myself.
Now signed up to “experience” my cycle with me, my partner would be sent updates via email, with science-backed sex and dating tips, advice on how he could emotionally support me, and information on what hormones were running the ‘Courtney Show’ during any given week.
When I first told him about it he was curious, but not convinced. Particularly when I explained he’d be receiving the information via an email update. He’s not great at checking his personal email at the best of times, and he was upfront about this, but I still got annoyed at how quickly he dismissed the idea.
I mulled over our conversation for a day, until I realised something: It wasn’t the fact that he didn’t want to know more about my periods that was bothering me. I was just approaching with email, a form of communication we’d rarely use in the first place.
It wasn’t just my partner I wasn’t communicating with.
A few months ago, I realised my PMS-induced mood swings were affecting my social life, too. My energy levels would fluctuate, and I would agree to go to things I just didn’t want to be at. I found it hard to say “no,” and even when I did say “no” it would come as a shock to people. They would ask me “what’s wrong” and tell me that I wasn’t acting my usual happy self.
I began overthinking what my friends thought of me, and felt like I was letting them down. Still so fresh in my mind, there was one morning when one of my best friends asked sincerely: “You don’t seem yourself.”
Those words struck a major chord and I broke down. I had just got my period, had work piling up, and hadn’t been sleeping well. I was keeping everything bottled up.
Realising this was a major breakthrough for me. Not only did I need to talk, I was comforted by a friend who could relate. It was a stressful time of year, leading up to Christmas, but everything I was feeling was heightened by my hormones. Until I started to accept and understand that was happening, nothing ever felt in my control.
Once I began learning more about my cycles and understanding the science behind it all, I felt less anxious, and finally in control of my body. It didn’t stop me from losing my shit every now and then. But it did change my attitude towards it all.
Now, I let those close to me know when I’m leading up to my worst weeks, so they’re aware that I’m going to be extra sensitive. It is not, obviously, an ideal situation: I’d love to live in a world where my PMS was nonexistent, where I felt 100 per cent every day, and where the rest of the world was always aware of how I was feeling. But that reality isn’t how things are just yet. We’ll get there eventually.
For now, I’m working on a few small changes: If I snap, I’ll walk away, and then explain to whoever I snapped at that I didn’t mean it and I’m feeling extra hormonal. I’m working on feeling confident saying “no” to social occasions when I really just need some alone time.
Talking to your loved ones. Monitoring your cycle. An app. I know it sounds so simple, but the key for me was realising that I was lumping complex emotions into generic explanations, or phrases that just weren’t helpful.
“Oh, it’s just time of the month” I’d say. Or “I’m not just feeling that great.”
Once I started to understand more it became a lot easier to communicate why I was acting and feeling the way I was.
Now, my partner tries to understand what’s actually going on in my body and accepts the fact that sometimes I am going to cry about nothing, or speak like I have daggers shooting out of my mouth.
Instead of keeping him at a distance with period chat, I embraced his caring nature and took the time to communicate the actual biological reason why I was feeling or acting a certain way. Our relationship, I think, is stronger for it.