Somewhere at the end of 2001 or the beginning of 2002 I started suffering from really serious pre-menstrual symptoms. It wasn't the symptoms of jokes and sitcoms. I wasn't particularly moody. I was just deppressed and absent-minded and my brain wouldn't work properly. I felt like I was walking through treacle, I couldn't focus, and in quite a literal way that I was hopeless - I had no hope. Even when I knew that soon it would be over, I didn't quite believe it would ever end.
It wasn't just the symptoms themselves, it was the length of time they lasted for. Usually I'd get between 10 and two weeks of symptoms, and the symptoms would get worse as the month went on. I was losing half my life, and living the rest distorted while I waited. About half way through last year I stoppped eating dairy products (I've had symptoms of intolerance since I was a child, and thought I should see what happened if I stopped eatng them altogether). I haven't had any symptoms since. I'm still sort of in shock over this - I was so used to my life being hobbled, that I haven't quite learned what it means to be well.
I find it really hard to read material about pre-menstrual syndrome, particularly that from a feminist perspective. Unless it begins "Pre-menstrual problems can be horribly severe and hard to deal with" I get angry, because I feel like they're denying my experience. You sometimes get feminist material that links pre-menstrual symptoms with feelings of shame about menstruation and it makes me realy angry.
I am actually going somewhere with this. I've been following a couple of impassioned feminist debates about bodies oer the last few days. One started on Alas where guest poster Rachel S said I want my period, at least until menopause Amanda at Pandagon replied Natural vs. unnatural is a cover to romanticize oppression. I tend to agree with Amanda's arguments more, even though I'm too scared of my hormones to as much as touch a packet of pills. But it's actually the discussion that interested me, and how many people, on both sides of the argument, had had exactly the same reaction I do, when people suggest PMS is all in women's heads.
The other debate was one I've already written about. Chris Clarke and Zuzu. Most of the debate happened at Feministe - and I think Chris Clarke hit the point reasonably early on with this comment
I would like it if we all had the feeling that our individual experiences were considered to be valid.The problem when it comes to discussing the politics of our bodies, is that there is nothing which is more personal, there is no other issue where experiences are more central to our analysis, there is no other issue that is centred as much in our 'self'.
What this means is that it is incredibly easy to discuss issues about our bodies that invalidate other people's experience. It's so easy for to read a statement about our personal experience as a political statement or a political statement as speaking for everyone.
I would go further than Chris and say any political action around our bodies depends on us talking about the political issues in a way that ensured no-one felt their experience was invalidated. I'm just not sure how to do that.
I have some ideas - precise writing and generous reading is probably a starting point. But I'm not sure it's enough. How can we write about bodies in a way that respects difference but still has political meaning?
EDITED: I want to add a caveat about my pre-menstrual symptoms - I don't want to give other people false hope, or give them another reason to beat themselves up about what they eat. I've had symptoms of a dairy intolerance since I was less than 3 years old, I stopped drinking milk when I was 5. I've no idea if other people would find stopping dairy products helpful. I worry, a lot, about giving women another list of ways they should be controlling their food intake.