Tuesday, April 25, 2006

The curse

Yet another warning: the following post is rated F. It contains stuff that may Freak some people out.

Years ago, when I was in a writer's group, I heard that the first rule of writing is "write what you know"*. So, with that in mind, a brief entry about problems associated with menstruation.

Obviously, menstruation is not my forte. But I used to live with a girl who had considerable difficulty during this time. I mean lying in bed screaming and sobbing all day, clutching her lower belly and crying, vomiting for three to five days every month while her boyfriend dabbed at her pale brow. She'd given this a lot of thought, and didn't want to take artificial hormones in any way, shape or form, and pretty much planned to write off ten to fifteen percent of her life between the ages of fifteen and fifty or whatever.

It was, to be honest, a difficult time for all concerned. You want to help but there's about eighty reasons you can't and shouldn't and don't. On occasion her mother would come around and wail with her and make her a hot homeopathic infusion to drink, which the boyfriend would later clean off the wall.

After the third time I did a lot of study in the library.

Anyway - Nadia had it bad, but others have had it worse. Many catamenial (and God, that's a lovely looking word, isn't it?) - many catamenial pathologies are relatively common and well known. The latest issue of the DSM (the famed DSM IV) described premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD) - serious premenstrual distress severe enough to interfere with occupational and social functioning, a full-strength version of the more common premenstrual syndrome (PMS). It stresses that PMDD is a severely distressing and disabling condition that requires treatment.

Anti-depressants, by the way, apparently work on this, and can be taken for only part of the cycle. Obviously, they aren't going to work if you are getting irritable and depressed because your husband's a tool**.

You can't medicate away distress or misery, and there are relationships where either you or he or both only permit the wife's distress or misery to be expressed perimenstrually: when it is insulated and diminished as a symptom of a pathology. That way you can both assume that the woman's sobbing or gorging or throwing things is part of her irrational (and therefore irrelevant "women's troubles"), and get on with business as usual.

Anyway, there are also other, less well known pathologies. I saw a woman the other day with catamenial epilepsy - a thin, blond woman in her thirties who had three or four grand mal seizures every month and was otherwise fit and well. This was a bitch, because the anti-epileptics - there is a huge overlap between the anti-epileptics and the mood stabilizers - are often hardcore drugs, and she was on them for the next decade at least.

And a brief search of the literature reveals other, surprising conditions. Catamenial haemoptysis - coughing blood once a month. The way this works is cells that normally grow only inside the uterus can grow elsewhere - like in the lungs - and every month, you get the bleeding. These cells can also occur elsewhere - I have heard of some growing in the brain. Just like normal menstruation, it can be controlled by the oral contraceptive pill.

What else? Catamenial anaphylaxis. Every month you get itchy red welts, sometimes stomach cramps or diarrhea, maybe low blood pressure or difficulty breathing. Allergies are weird - the entire immune system is something I don't understand, mindrootingly complex - and my first girlfriend, the Uniting Church minister's daughter, was actually allergic to cold. We would go swimming and she would get hives and shortness of breath. She nearly died one time (not that I knew it at the time), I remember us both sitting on a rock out at Bremer Bay, her wheezing in short, sharp breaths and me trying to keep her warm, dimly aware something bad was going on and trying to look down her top.

And the other day I heard about catamenial pneumothorax. Every month, along with the bleeding and the other stuff, a bit of your lung collapses - usually the right. I heard about it occurring in a woman in Japan a few years back, and thought "What are the odds?", and then found out they're quite high. Here are some twin sisters who both get it, and .

What happens in this case is you get endometriosis of the diaphragm, that dome of muscle underneath the lungs that is basically responsible for you being able to take a breath. Blood gets in between the diaphragm and the lung, causing (part of) the lung to collapse every month. The woman gets sharp, severe pain in her chest, worse on breathing in, and maybe shortness of breath - there is no "always" with pneumothoraces, you can have a sizeable one with minimal symptoms and vice versa.

Anyway, I have to write and tend cats and stuff today. Thanks for listening,
John

*The first rule is a load of crap. You write what you think someone will buy, or you write what you have sympathy for, or are angry or sorrowful or lonely or curious about, or you write about whatever is in there that can't be reached by any other method. You write because some things can't be spoken, they can only be told. But if you only write what you know, at the end of it, you haven't done anything, haven't moved forward or grown or whatever.

You have to know what you write about, of course, to stop making a spanner of yourself with basic factual errors. But you don't write what you know.

**Usually a proctoscope

2 Comments:

Anonymous Camilla said...

That's it. I'm never complaining about period pain ever again. '0_0'

1:51 AM  
Blogger Foilwoman said...

I end up torn between the completely unfair thought that this is all just men trying pathologize the female reproductive system and the equally unfair thought that these are women who have never realized the beneficial effects of ibuprophen, chocolate, exercise, potato chips, and red wine when applied, ingested, or inserted in a timely fashion.

Then I just think, gosh, I'm glad it's not me. I'll take mere moodiness, bloating, and willingness to maim males* for $200, Alex, instead of collapsing lungs, epileptic fits, or those other fun conditions you described.

*And why not, I ask you? Even if it's not his fault, even if he's entirely blameless, I'm sure he really annoyed some other woman at some other point in time, and deserves to be punished, punished, punished.

10:53 AM  

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