Like 20% to 30% of women and about 3% to 8% women in their 4th decade of life, I deal with bouts of depression during my cycle. The dreaded PMS (Pre-Menstrual Syndrome)! I also had an extremely tough time after the birth of my son with postpartum. It’s lonely and even lonelier when you don’t have someone who can be compassionate about it and support you through it or in my case someone who burned out because they grew up with a bipolar mother who would never medicate to give anyone else an emotional break. So your pleas for help are met with “boohoo poor you” comments because something in their childhood shut off Emotional Empathy (makes someone well-attuned to another person’s inner emotional world, a plus in any of a wide range of callings, from sales to nursing – let alone for any parent or lover) for their survival. The downside of Emotional Empathy occurs when people lack the ability to manage their own distressing emotions can be seen in the psychological exhaustion that leads to burnout. The purposeful detachment cultivated by those in medicine offers one way to inoculate against burnout. But the danger arises when detachment leads to indifference, rather than to well-calibrated caring. My personal need for understanding could not be genuinely empathized with. That’s what childhood trauma does to some people, and it’s challenging to see it in yourself.
I think the most painful part of PMS depression is you can feel it coming and try as you might it still kicks you in the gut, and you have sort of an out of body experience floating outside of the person you usually are and watching it happen in slow motion while reaching for an anchor that is not there. Having past trauma and children adds even more layers. Having people in your life and raising children that have Compassionate Empathy ( the ability to feel what others feel and take steps to help them or to support them to help themselves) is imperative to get through those days and sometimes weeks of sadness that you need to be supported. You can put yourself in a further funk by beating yourself up about something you have little to no control over.
Hormonal depression is nothing to feel ashamed of. It is what it is, and you may be lucky enough to have people around you that choose to make you laugh when you’d rather cry or be a shoulder to cry on or sadly someone who doesn’t care enough to support you through it because they can only manage Cognitive Empathy (merely knowing how the other person feels and what they might be thinking. Sometimes called perspective-taking, this kind of empathy can help in, say a negotiation or in motivating people). This kind of empathy is great for managers to motivate employees but will not be useful in a relationship. Also, doctors tend to use this detached kind of empathy and can seem cold and unfeeling.
Whoever is there supporting you or not, there is one thing that is a fact. PMS is not your fault and do not deny your feelings! It’s easy to be gas-lamped by people and society that say you are merely a negative person even though you are out in the world smiling any other time of the month. Feel it and get help because you are not alone. Like all traumas talking about PMS heals! So talk to your friends, family or anyone who will listen with Compassionate Empathy.
When explaining your current emotional state to your kids tell them that you are not feeling emotionally well. Tell them directly that you may need some time to yourself and find someone to help you make that happen but make sure your children know it’s not about them. Say it as many times as you need. Children are emotional sponges, and they can sense when their parents are not well, and their aptitude for Emotional Empathy or Resonance is predictable. Children need attunement to feel secure and to develop well, and throughout our lives, we need attunement to feel close and connected.”
So, be honest with your children. They need to know that you are a multi-faceted human being. They may not understand all the details so don’t try to give them all unless they ask. My son asked so I made it a sort of science lesson! “Momma doesn’t get enough serotonin/happy brain juice during her menstruation/woman time, but I’ll be fine after it passes. So be gentle with me okay? My irritability and/or tears are not about you.” Doesn’t usually work to quell his tantrums or neediness now but I’m hoping like most habits and lessons they will seep in over time. It also makes me remember something I used to say while teaching my OESL classes “When I remind you I remind myself.” One thing I know for sure is it adds to their ability to grow into empathetic adults.
Take care of yourselves Mothers and Fathers! If your cup is empty, you have nothing to give.
Daniel Goleman “Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More Than IQ.”