Let's be real though. Sometimes it happens more than once a month. That's when it is tagged as "depression," but when it happens like clockwork every 28 to 30 days in sync with my cycle then it is known as PMS.
Whatever it is, it is a storm of darkness. My thinking starts going on warp speed, my emotions start to tumble all over the place, my perspective shrinks to just the next step in front of me. And life feels impossible. Utterly, completely impossible. I don't usually get crampy or bloated or even crave chocolate. I just get really, really emotional. Like every decision feels monumental. And every step feels like the next great failure in my life. And the world feels too, too big and I am far too small to carry the weight of it on my shoulders.
I first noticed it in college when I was in French class one day and I did so-so on a quiz. I burst into tears. Like the hiccuping, sobbing kind of crying that lasts for a few hours. It totally shocked me. When I stopped and did an inventory of my life, I realized that my life actually was going okay. And the quiz wasn't going to ruin my grade. And I would survive until the next day. But that's not how I was reacting. I was reacting like that little quiz was the difference between my life as an Oxford scholar or living homeless on the streets of Detroit with my drug-addled baby.
The next day I started my period and I made the connection.
I found without a doubt that one month later, I was cry-sobbing again over something as seemingly inconsequential as that French quiz. The crying was a clue because I don't generally get teary very easily. In fact in my nascent acting career, I used to wish I could cry on command like some of the other actresses around me who could summon a crying jag within seconds of entering a scene. If I had pursued my acting career, I would have always been the actress who could only produce tears with the aid of convenient eye drops.
Unless that acting day fell during my monthly storm of darkness. Then I could cry with the best of them.
It's funny to me that all these years later, I still have to remind myself that my intense emotional upheaval does not signal the end of the world as I know it. Or the beginning of the apocalypse. I have to talk myself through it. And I'm only barely beginning to believe myself during those dark days that there is actually a light at the end of the tunnel.
This is me in the shower the other morning talking myself down.
"I am a rotten piece of scum."
"No, you are not the world's biggest idiot."
"I wish I would die."
"No, you will not die."
"Will I ever wade out of this misery?"
"Someday. Hold on. It looks terrible right now, but in a few days the sunshine will return."
"Am I destined to be a failure?"
"You feel like it. You are even certain of it right now. Just wait a few days, believe me."
No matter the soothing words, no matter the love poured out on me, no matter the blinding reality of the sun outside my door, I live for three or four days as if the world has been plunged into ice cold darkness and goodness and light will never return.
And then I wake up one morning and life feels calm, doable, and possible. I get reacquainted with the world that I love, the food I like to cook, the people who I enjoy so much. I feel able to do my dishes, study for class, pass a test or complete a project at work. All of that when just the day before I was in such abject misery I was convinced things would never, ever change. It is my own little monthly miracle.
I don't mean to downplay the darkness. Or knock its gifts. There are gifts that come from that rare, unvarnished, raw truth-telling. It strips away all pretense and vanity and forces me to face ugliness that sometimes I would rather avoid. It gives me great empathy and patience when others feel down or low as well. For I've been there too where the darkness seems all-encompassing and the fog will not lift.
It reminds me that tomorrow the sun will shine and I may wake up with a new smile. I love waking up on those days.