It was the tea towels that clued me in. Printed with little dachshunds and the words “home is where the dog is”, I didn’t realise I was pre-menstrual until I found myself in Sainsburys thinking I might buy them for my kitchen. Fortunately, I came to my senses – though I cannot deny, home is indeed where the dog is – and put them back on the shelf. But there it was. The strange impulsivity, the lowered inhibitions that come upon me at the end of week three and beginning of week four, every month without fail.
It has taken me 17 years – yes, getting on for two decades – to realise there is far more to PMS than fearsome irritability, insatiable hunger and crying over things that include but are not limited to: babies, elderly couples being nice to each other, “the fact that it’s raining”, and “having to wait a whole four minutes for the next bus”. Sure, the syrup-thick tiredness – the ability to sleep for ten hours and still feel like your bones are made of lead – and the unshakeable conviction that you are a hopeless, irredeemable failure are also absolute givens. But there’s a raft of stranger symptoms that appear like clockwork alongside the old faithfuls.
The impulsiveness is a major one. Things I’ve done or seriously considered during this time include: dying my hair an even brighter blonde, planning but not booking a solo trip to New York, subscribing to Country Life (didn’t do it, in the end), conducting an extensive search for the perfect jumpsuit (which doesn’t exist when you’re 5’1″), and developing a taste for whisky (nailing that one, thankfully, and I don’t think I’ve done anything to make my stepfather prouder). I have a friend who, despite not believing in the power of crystals, has a recurring urge to buy an amethyst. Make-up artist Lisa Eldridge tells a brilliant story about purchasing a pair of bright purple neoprene trousers while in the grip of raging hormones. I’d be genuinely interested to see a graph of my spending habits throughout the month; I have a feeling I know exactly where they’d peak.
I asked Twitter for other people’s slightly weirder PMS symptoms and reader, I was not disappointed: replies ranged from a madly heightened sense of smell, horrible dreams, severe pain in the backs of knees, a desire to wear clashing colours, unholy cravings for the strongest possible cheese, and… hot eyeballs. For a moment I had no clue what “hot eyeballs” was supposed to mean, but then it clicked: waking up with eyes that feel like they’re wrapped in dusty parchment. Oh, yes. Hot eyeballs, I know them well.
When I feel a ridge of inflamed skin along one or both sides of the inside of my mouth, it’s a more conclusive sign of what’s to come than mainlining Green & Black’s while sobbing. Or when the skin on my arms, legs and back feels that little bit drier and more sensitive, making most clothes feel unpleasant and knitwear absolutely torturous. And the muscle aches, good grief. I’m writing this on a Thursday and pretty much everything from my lower back downwards hurts after being at a gig in London and doing lots of walking and standing on Monday. Three weeks out of four, I do a minimum of eight dog walks across seven days with nary a twinge afterwards. The fourth week though, I feel more 89 than 29.
And because “ooh, is it that time of the month?” has been a punchline for so long, it can still feel like a sign of weakness to discuss feeling completely out of sorts. Are we supposed to admit to having diminished control over our own emotions? When I was in a relationship and therefore had someone in the house acting as a shock-absorber for my periodic (ha) angst, I described it to him as “like being surrounded by Dementors” – because for a few days a month, I honestly believed I’d never be happy again. The infuriating thing is, knowing it’s hormonal misery doesn’t actually help. Telling yourself “this will pass” doesn’t make it pass any quicker. You always believe you’re destined to stumble around in this blue-grey cloud of sadness forever. And sometimes, the molar-grinding ache of period pain actually feels like relief. The end is in sight; you’ll taste joy again in a matter of hours.
So please bear with the PMS-ing person in your life – their eyeballs are just uncomfortably, unignorably hot.