Chloe Caldwell | Longreads | December 2017 | 26 minutes (6,433 words)
The first outburst was about my landlady; the outbursts are always about a woman. My landlady had sent me a text message with a couple of aggressive exclamation points and capitalizations referring to a misunderstanding over a National Grid bill, and I ended up enraged and screaming for roughly forty-five minutes. My partner was at the ocean on Fire Island, completely blissed out. He’d been swimming and laughing in the waves of the ocean, he later told me. Then I called. Our conversation:
“I just want you to agree with me that she’s a bitch,” I said.
“I am agreeing with you,” he replied.
“No, you’re appeasing me.”
This went on and escalated for fifteen minutes until:
“Jesus Christ, Chloe, what does your heart need?”
“I need you to agree with me.”
“I am agreeing with you. “
“No you aren’t, not wholeheartedly.”
It didn’t stop there. After we got off the phone I had to bring it back up over text, and I had to bring it up the day after that, too. I brought it up again and again, until I got my period, and began bleeding, and that’s when I could see the humor.
* * *
Outburst number two came on just as quickly. Tony got back into town after his second week in Fire Island, where he was working. He works playing music for dance companies which frequently send him all over the US. He brought me back a beautiful black dress and a pair of earrings. I’d spent the day alone in manic love with him while he was at a wedding, playing piano. I felt utterly grateful for this generous human in my life. When he arrived back at my apartment, he said he had to check on his AirBnB-ers, three women who were staying at his place while he stayed at mine. They were at a local bar, a bar we go to frequently, and he wanted to swing by with me to say hello.
Instant rage. I interpreted this as the rudest possible thing anyone could ever do to me.
“I feel rejected, humiliated, and rejected!!!!!!”
I stormed out, slamming my door (I pity the new tenant who lives below me) and began walking down the street towards the river.
Tony caught up with me and we walked together, shouting.
When we got to the river we sat at a picnic table drinking wine I’d brought.
“This makes for great writing,” he told me. “You can slam the door, run down to the river, throw your phone in, then smash your car into a deer.”
I was laugh-crying by now.
“It is not as interesting on paper if you say: ‘Then we sat down at my kitchen table and calmly worked the problem out,’” he said. “Less drama.”
Damn. There should be a word for the feeling you get when someone calls you out in this way. I had never felt more seen-through, more transparent. Normally I am the one who sees through people; normally I am the more spiritual in my relationships, the one more interested in growth and communication, but I have met someone whose emotional intelligence surpasses mine. And it is fucking infuriating.
Those visuals did wonders for me: working it out at my kitchen table versus the violence of the slamming and shouting, running away. Sitting in the kitchen “working it out” reminded me of something that would go down in a Raymond Carver story.
That night we had sex on the couch and I began my period.
* * *
It was my therapist Sharon* who suggested I had PMDD — Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder — a severe and disabling form of premenstrual syndrome affecting up to 8 percent of women who menstruate. The disorder consists of a “cluster of affective, behavioral and somatic symptoms” that recur monthly during the luteal phase of the menstrual cycle. PMDD was added to the list of depressive disorders in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders in 2013. PMDD hits women in their childbearing age. I am 31. For some women, it gets so bad, they have hysterectomies.
Eight percent of women! That means you surely know someone with PMDD.
Sharon suggested this about eight months ago, around the same time I met my partner. My therapist is a woman, and she is my partner’s therapist too, by sheer coincidence. On the night of our first date, therapy came up — as it does — and we discovered we’d both been seeing Sharon regularly since 2013. That first night we’d gone to hear music together, then went to his apartment next door. Tony sat on the couch and I sat on the floor by the bookshelf drinking a can of Adirondack seltzer. Tony says that after I found out we went to the same therapist, I got up off the floor and sat on the couch. He told me he told our therapist this as well (having the same therapist is often like playing an intense game of Telephone), and she told him it was “very observant.”
It was my therapist who suggested I had PMDD — Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder — a severe and disabling form of premenstrual syndrome affecting up to 8 percent of women who menstruate.
Sharon writes notes down during our sessions, and I have discussed my period with her many times. Over time, in her notes she saw a pattern, and suggested it might be PMDD, basically PMS’s evil cousin who comes to get blackout drunk and act mean toward everyone at the party.
* * *
Here’s what PMDD is not: It is not crankiness and irritability. It is not a bad mood during which you crave dark chocolate. Chocolate won’t do shit. I have specifically felt the PMMD feeling kick in, like a drug. I don’t always get PMS — no chocolate craving or irritable mood; often I can be feeling quite wonderful until a PMDD outburst. I remember exactly where I was standing each time it has kicked in, and what I was wearing. By my window in the living room in my pajamas, toothbrush in mouth. On a random bridge in a Connecticut beach town in my bathing suit. At a bar next to the man I love. My hands shake with rage. (Anytime I have ever read about anyone’s hands shaking I didn’t understand, thought they were exaggerating.) Tony has told me he’s seen my eyelids convulse for ten seconds and my eyes roll into the back of my head. I panic, experience paranoia, I scream, and then I cry. Afterwards, in hindsight, my reactions seem volatile and unbelievable to me. But at the time, the feeling in my body is the realest thing I’ve ever felt.
Don’t get me wrong — I am not blaming PMDD for everything that goes wrong in my relationship. It just amplifies what’s already there. PMDD + moodiness + trust issues = once-a-month eruption.
In an article on Broadly/Vice called Living With PMS That Makes You Want To Die, I read:
“I used to describe PMDD as being like Alice in the looking glass,” Caroline Henaghan, a 36-year-old from Manchester, England said. “I’m in the same situation but I’m two different people. Yesterday things were alright and today everything has fallen apart.”
My PMDD, Sharon explained, has possibly always existed. She’s noticed patterns throughout the past few years she’s been seeing me. But now that I have a partner, I have a mirror, and can recognize the patterns more easily. She reminded me of huge blow-outs I had with my mother last summer, how I showed up at her house, screamed and cried and left. She reminded me of other fights I’d gotten into with women friends, vicious text fights, slamming the doors after screaming at each other, or the times I’d reach out to exes in an angry email or phone call during a certain time of the month.
From the Broadly article:
“In simple terms, PMDD is like PMS plus: Seriously dangerous PMS that can start around the time of ovulation and finishes when you come on your period. Women suffer for anywhere between one week to two weeks a month, sometimes more. Physical symptoms include migraines, fatigue, finding things much too bright or too loud, forgetfulness, irritable bowels, and stomach aches. Emotional symptoms can be anything from irritability and extreme tearfulness to total self-loathing and binge eating.”
* * *
Throughout my 20s I was one of those women who never so much as tracked her period. I was a woman who would leave for a trip to Jamaica without considering where I was in my cycle, only to bleed the moment I boarded the plane. I was a woman who stained all of her underwear and sheets with blood. I was a woman who didn’t know why she briefly felt crazy. Friends of mine have similar experiences. One says she used to become a She Wolf the week before her period. Aside from complaining about my cramps, though, I didn’t yet consider my period a major factor in my existence. I met my period with annoyance at how it disrupted my life because of the bleeding and having to pop ten Advil a day, but other than that I ignored it.
Whenever I tried to track my period I failed and gave up after a month. The apps I tried to use to track my period were cheesy and lame and maybe I was in denial. I preferred living on the wild side, staining my underwear, oblivious to when I’d get my period. It was a more unpredictable and risky way to live and I never could commit to an app. The first time I got my period, (at 12) I bled on the couch in my living room and pretended it never happened.
* * *
Red has been a theme in my relationship with Tony. The night he and I said “I love you” for the first time, we had sex and I bled everywhere. Red. The color of blood, love, fire. My astrological sign, Aries, is cardinal, and associated with red. I own bright red shirts, coats, shoes, nail polish; it is the color that makes me feel most attractive. That night Tony taught me period blood comes out of sheets. “It’s not like other blood,” he said, “It comes out easier. I was skeptical; he was right. As I kept apologizing, he assured me, “I do not give a shit.” Sometimes I feel dating someone who has already had a baby works in my favor — he has a strong stomach for bodily functions; he’s more patient; he has an appetite for and knowledge of the bloody mess of life. Our first month together, he asked if I had any hot sauce in the apartment.
I showed up at Sharon’s office the next day, wearing my bright red Worishofer sandals. She complimented me on them — she knew Tony and I were in love. “Of course your shoes are red today,” she said.
* * *
Everything clicked for me when I found the app Hormonology by Gabrielle Lichterman, after Sharon had me looking into PMDD. Hormonology is a genius invention, which I’m a little addicted to. I prefer it to all the other period trackers I’ve seen my friends use, as it gives concrete tips and facts. For example: Orgasms are stronger in the days leading up to ovulation. Taking ibuprofen each morning for three days before your period will ease cramps. During the second week of your cycle, pain is blunted, so it’s a good time to get bikini waxes or a tattoo. On the flip side, you’re also more susceptible to getting sick during week two, while estrogen levels drop. During week four of your cycle, you are prone to negative dreams because rising progesterone makes you more prone to worry and anxiety.
I explained the app to Tony and he asked, “If you’re acting a certain way, and I ask you what your app says, are you going to freak out? Or can you send me what is says on certain days?” It made me half-jokingly wonder whether there was some sort of companion app for partners. I looked in the app store, and sure enough, it existed: Female Forecaster. The first thing you see on the website is a photo of a happy looking couple looking at the app on a phone and laughing. You can see a ring on the man’s hand. He has long hipster hair. The website reads:
“Guys, have you ever gotten confused by the changing moods of your girlfriend or wife? Wonder why her romantic desire is super-high one day, then bottomed-out the very next? Wish you had a crystal ball that could predict what she’ll be like on any given day? Good news: You do–it’s the Female Forecaster App!”
Here’s what PMDD is not: It is not crankiness and irritability. It is not a bad mood during which you crave dark chocolate. Chocolate won’t do shit. I have specifically felt the PMMD feeling kick in, like a drug.
Each week in FF is a different color (the yellow week is the happy one, green is leading up to PMS, and red is seven days of PMS hell) and gives you a long essay explaining your female partner’s moods. After comparing the two, I noticed the FF horoscopes are much longer than the Hormonology ones for women, which seems dumb, as women are more apt to read longer horoscopes.
There are some sexist elements to the app. For example, the FF Horoscopes each have a section labeled SEX, letting a man know where his woman’s libido will be at, though Hormonology for women doesn’t have this feature, which is unfair on so many levels. But those elements are counterbalanced by other thoughtful ones. In one section, FF even suggests laying down a dark towel on the bed to demonstrate that you are okay about dealing with a little menstrual fluid. At another point it suggests building a fort for date night. So it’s not perfect, but it’s written with compassion (it’s written by a woman) and it’s all I have until someone invents something else. Get on that shit, dudes.
* * *
My therapist was right: There were signs of my PMDD long before I met Tony. In 2015, I was at a doctor’s appointment, and had my period. I was sick with cramps, a headache, diarrhea. I walked into her room and she said, “Are you okay? I saw you walking and you didn’t look too good.”
“I have my period.”
“And? It shouldn’t make you this sick, or this wiped out.”
“I get sick. Debilitating cramps, headaches, leg and feet aches, mood swings, acne.”
“Well, let’s do something about that. That’s a flush of serotonin leaving your body.”
She then explained to me I could go on a low dose of an antidepressant 14 days a month — from the day I ovulate until the day I begin bleeding. I declined the offer, and continued to suffer, to complain, instead of treating the problem. I never wanted to admit it was serious; I was in denial about it. Each month after my period went away, I’d forget about it until the next month, never wanting to illuminate it, to face it.
It’s a little unfathomable to me how much I don’t know about my own body. I had drinks with my 24-year-old friend last week, and explained the serotonin flush to her.
“I didn’t know about that,” she said.
Of course she didn’t. No one tells us. We think we are “crazy” and “moody” and “emotional” until we get to the point in our lives where we are interested in reading books like WomanCode: Perfect Your Cycle, Amplify Your Fertility, Supercharge Your Sex Drive, and Become a Power Source, by Alisa Vitti, with chapter titles like, From Vicious Cycle To Delicious Cycle and When Bad Hormones Happen To Good Women. I bought another book called The PMDD Phenomenon : Breakthrough Treatments for Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder (PMDD) and Extreme Premenstrual Syndrome by Diana L. Dell and Carol Svec, which I purposely left on Tony’s nightstand for a few weeks. He often Airbnb’s his apartment out, and we joked about leaving it on the back of the toilet next to his Jack Kerouac poetry book, to give his guests a little surprise.
* * *
During the AirBnB outburst, I accidentally spilled a glass of water onto my laptop and texted Tony that I was going to throw it out my kitchen window, into an alley. He came over.
“What did you do immediately after you spilled a glass of water on it?”
“I took a bath. Then I plugged it in.”
“Plugging it in is the first thing it says NOT to do, if you Google it.”
“I didn’t give a fuck about Googling it. I wanted to take a bath and chuck it in the alley.”
He held his head in his hands, laughing, frustrated. That night we had sex on the couch, during which I began bleeding. In the morning I felt back to my normal self. I used to think it was the times during bleeding which were miserable. These days, though, whenever I begin bleeding, the relief is so huge I want to throw a party.
* * *
My partner is a gorgeous human; so wonderful that I am resenting the impulse to write about him. I want him to be only mine, in private, and I don’t want you to know about his hysterical sense of humor, the way he tries on dresses and dances to Taylor Swift while his 7-year-old daughter and I laugh with our mouths as wide as they go, clutching ourselves. I don’t want you to know the nicknames he has for me or the mornings we hold hands when we fall back asleep. How he brings my bouquets of flowers on random days; how on one of those days I left them in my car too long and they wilted, so he showed up with another bouquet. I don’t want you to know how he makes my bed every single morning. I don’t want to write about him because he is real, available, and mine, and I am greedy about not sharing him. When I am not in PMDD mode, but rather in what he calls our “golden weeks,” we have a loving and supportive relationship. We help each other soar.
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Sometimes Tony diffuses the tension accompanying PMDD with humor, calling it PMXWRZ or DMV or DMXPLKDM in his texts to me. The humor works and helps me feel supported. (I’ve come up with my own name for it, too: PMD-Don’t, to remind myself when I’m in PMDD-mode to think twice, or I’ll surely do or say something regrettable.) Not everyone is so lucky. Historically, the female body and what it goes through, disconnects the woman from the man, but in our case, we use PMDD to bring us closer. I like to call it PMD-Don’t, to remind myself that when I’m in PMDD, I will surely do or say something regrettable.
* * *
Throughout my 20s I was one of those women who never so much as tracked her period. I was a woman who stained all of her underwear and sheets with blood. I was a woman who didn’t know why she briefly felt crazy.
On Reddit, the thread for PMDD is dubbed: The Werewolf Week. Tony and I were baked on edibles the other night and he was ready to sleep but I couldn’t stop reading it:
Need help coping with my desire to strangle everyone.
Don’t you love it when you get the sudden urge to kill everyone?
CBD is miracle cure for PMDD.
Spilled a Dr. Pepper and not only did I cry, but I threw the cloth napkin it spilt on across the room and screamed. I wanted to hit something else, but I didn’t.
How bad is this supposed to get? I just tore the shower rod out of the wall.
Significant other asked me if I was “back” last night and said he could tell. Broke my damn heart.
Fenugreek seeds cured my PMDD
Who turns to alcohol during the werewolf week?
I wanna burn my house down and make little animals out of clay.
Googling around to see what articles about PMDD were out there, I found one essay by my friend, the writer Diana Spechler, on The New York Times. Diana and I have had many drinks together over the years discussing Tinder, relationships, personal shit, but PMDD never came up. Of course Diana has PMDD! was my first reaction. That’s why we’ve always been so drawn to one another! Diana writes:
Most of my interpersonal conflicts happen just before my period — problems that would arise eventually anyway, but impaired by PMDD, I’m intolerant. I’m impossible. I pick fights. I jump to damaging conclusions. Maybe that’s the worst of me. Or maybe that’s me. Roseanne Barr once noted, “Women complain about PMS, but I think of it as the only time of the month when I can be myself.”
* * *
The third outburst was both the hardest to bounce back from, and in retrospect, the funniest.
I’d had a friend visiting me in Hudson, and we had a super fun day; we drank beer, had dinner, browsed thrift stores, because I refuse to say “thrifted.” We smoked a little weed, had some cocktails, and I walked her to the train. Tony was in Denver for work and traveled to Boulder for the weekend to visit friends. He was having dinner with his friend from music school and his friend’s family.
On the phone, Tony relayed an irrelevant detail about his friend’s wife’s plans to be out of town. But it sounded as if she actually was in town. This could not be more irrelevant, but it was werewolf week.
I said, “I thought you said Zach’s wife wasn’t going to be there.”
“She is here,” he acknowledged.
“I know. Why did you say she wasn’t going to be?”
I don’t know why I cared about this. I did not know Zach or his wife and it truly didn’t affect anything.
That’s when an eight-second audio message came in. Tony and I send audio messages all day, so this was not out of context. But when I hit play and heard:
Hearty laughter. In one full breath he said:
“Oh my god women are so fucking hilarious.”
More hearty laughter. From the belly. Not meant for my ears.
I flipped the fuck out. Hard. I called him a douchebag. I said I always knew he was a dick. I thought we were friends!
“I’m ALL women now?! I’m your employee? Ex-wife? Daughter? How the fuck are you going to categorize me as all women?!?!?!”
I’d imagined Tony sitting at a dinner party, laughing at my text and sharing it with everyone.
Tony’s version: He was alone walking to his friend’s car. His friend was already in the car and they were about to drive to a liquor store. They’d just eaten dinner with Zach, Zach’s wife, Zach’s mom, Zach’s two daughters, and Zach’s wife’s friend. His release of “ohmygodwomenaresofuckinghilarious” was borne from that. It is true that when I listened to the message again, I could hear that he was laughing alone. It is also true that I was being fucking hilarious.
I was in bed and while his friend went into the liquor store, Tony called to talk me off of the ledge, which took about an hour.
Instead of calling me a bitch or something like that, he moved towards kindness. “I understand that, sweetheart,” he would say, in place of the word “psycho.”
The next day I woke up bleeding, and the day after that, instead of hating on it, I treasured that voice message.
“Wow, that did a real 180,” Tony said.
Over the next week, when I’d calmed down, I forwarded the voicemail to a bunch of my girlfriends. Erika. Karina. Colleen. Everyone loved it.
When we feel batshit, we begin texting each other:
OMG WOMEN ARE SO FUCKING HILARIOUS.
He is so lucky he said hilarious. He could have said ridiculous. Annoying. Insane. Crazy. But no. Hilarious is gentle and well-chosen.
* * *
The pattern was getting too transparent for me to ignore anymore, so after getting through my 20s by self-medicating my moods with drugs and alcohol, I finally tried Zoloft this past September. The PMDD no longer affects only me; I have someone else to think about, and I’d gotten sick of cleaning up my PMDD messes. Zoloft is supposedly the best antidepressant for PMS/PMDD. You do not take it every day—only for 2 weeks a month, beginning the day after you ovulate and finishing the day you begin bleeding.
“So…you’re very emotional,” my doctor said, after I explained what happens like clockwork each month, the feelings, the outbursts, the way they affect my relationship and mental health.
“No, not very emotional. Outbursts. Volatile rage. Bouts of paranoia. Right before I bleed. Clockwork.”
* * *
I know I can be a frustrating woman to deal with, even when I am not PMDD-ing. PMDD is not an excuse for the other parts of the month when Tony and I have conflict. I know I am reactive, hyper-imaginative, quick-to-anger, obsessive. I know it takes a rare set of qualities in a man to deal with dating a woman who has chronicled her drug use and sexual relationships in three books. My partner is a feminist whom I’ve never heard call himself a feminist. I see it in his actions and speech and lifestyle, and couldn’t imagine being with anyone else. He does not proclaim how much he respects women, or wear those stupid feminist T-shirts, he just is. He brushes his daughter’s hair. He has more women friends than men and through all this period talk (it’s been a lot) not once has he said anything ignorant or condescending. In short, he’s a real man, and the one I love.
Everything clicked for me when I found the app Hormonology by Gabrielle Lichterman, after Sharon had me looking into PMDD. Hormonology is a genius invention, which I’m a little addicted to.
“How long do you want to hold on to this?” he will often ask me, about an argument.
“You are heard,” he will tell me, perhaps the most powerful statement anyone has made to me. The first time he said it, I said, “Huh?”
* * *
Tony got back from Denver the day after I put the Zoloft into my medicine cabinet. From Denver he brought me back THC cream for my cramps and an Amber pendant necklace. He always brings gifts back. Though I’d normally only be taking the Zoloft 14 days a month, my doctor said for the first month she wanted me to take it every day, to get my system used to it before my period came. I was to take 25mg (half a pill) each day, until the day I ovulated, at which point I would ramp it up to the full 50mg.
The morning after Tony returned home, he went to therapy with Sharon. When he got back, he knelt on the floor and told me he wasn’t dating me so that I’d numb out. He explained he likes my excitability, my large reactions. He was worried that on Zoloft, I wouldn’t be able to sleep well, eat well, or orgasm well.
“Those are fun parts of life,” he said. “And they are big parts of your identity,” he said, which is true.
“Chloe,” he said, “I love the difficult parts of you.”
I was deeply touched by his reaction. I (unsurprisingly!) began crying. He didn’t want me to throw medication at this problem. He could live with my mood swings. His motto is, “It could be a lot worse.” Tony throws love at problems, something that’s frankly difficult for me to fathom.
It hadn’t occurred to me to check with my partner before I got on board with taking antidepressants. I was used to making every decision alone. After our conversation, I almost threw the whole idea out the window, but still was curious about how my month on the antidepressants would go. So I took the 25mg for the next ten days, and everything seemed okay.
September 11th was my ovulation day, corresponding with the first day I was supposed to move up to 50 milligrams. I checked in with Tony. We agreed that for the past week I’d been fine, I’d slept normally, ate normally, drank normally. My sex drive seemed the same. “Actually my orgasms are noticeably weaker,” I admitted, “but I can still have them.”
“You even cried this morning!” Tony said, excitedly. I love this about him; that he wants me to be able to cry.
* * *
That afternoon I took the train into New York City to see my friend Elizabeth, who was visiting from out of town, give a reading at The Franklin Park Reading Series in Brooklyn. The weather was lovely as was my mood. I sat at the bar and read the chalkboard and chose a fruit-flavored beer that’s 4.2% alcohol.
My friends showed up and we all sat in a booth. Someone took a photo of us that three out of four of us ended up posting on Instagram. I ordered a burger. The writer Uzodinma Okehi and Elizabeth were talking near the room with the bar games, and Elizabeth motioned for me to come chat. I walked over, holding my beer, and stood talking to them and two other people. After a few minutes, just Uzodinma and I were left. We were discussing writing fiction (maybe that’s why we were the only ones left!). I remember telling him I wanted to treat myself to a writing class. He asked why I wasn’t working on a novel. I said I didn’t know how to write a novel. He laughed and said something like, “Join the club.” His braces started to look strange to me and I began sweating profusely and felt overcome with acute nausea and weakness. I saw the restroom sign behind Uzodinma and was thinking about how I was going to have to run in there and vomit my guts out.
I woke up on the floor holding Elizabeth’s hand while she said “It’s okay, it’s okay, it’s okay.” I did not know if I’d been unconscious for three days or an hour. It had been one minute. Elizabeth later told me I’d said I felt really hot before fainting. She said I was covered in sweat when I came to.
Uzodinma said I looked up at him from the floor and said, “I’m on antidepressants.” He’d thought I was making a joke.
Apparently (I don’t remember any of this) I stood back up, and then fainted again, caught by Elizabeth and Uzodinma. I was unconscious for another minute. When I woke up again, I was drenched in sweat. The bar was dark and hopefully people just thought I was crouched down getting something out of my purse. The bouncer was next to me, on the phone with 911.
Sometimes Tony diffuses the tension accompanying PMDD with humor, calling it PMXWRZ or DMV or DMXPLKDM in his texts to me. The humor works and helps me feel supported.
That made me panic, as my narrative about myself is that I’m perfectly healthy, with no problems. I never used to take medication, I’ve never broken bone,(or even sprained a joint, never spent a night in a hospital. I’m not even allergic to anything (that I know of). At my doctor’s appointments, it often felt gloat-worthy the way my forms always read no no no no no. No, I don’t have this, or that. I always felt I impressed doctors, and loved when they’d make an insinuation I was very healthy, and easy.
But now the narrative was changing and the ambulance was on its way. I went outside with Uzodinma and Elizabeth and my burger was in front of me. I was crying, a surprise to no one. Meanwhile, the bouncer was throwing questions my way. I was both touched by his care, and resentful of the intrusion. The people on the phone were telling him to tell me not to eat, and I wasn’t taking this news well. Elizabeth later imitated me crying about my burger. If you know me well, you know that a) I cry in public semi-frequently, and b) I LOVE burgers. I’d never cried in this way though, a sort of hyperventilating way.
“I think you should let her eat the fucking burger, man,” Uzodinma said with a little force, a statement I am eternally grateful for, as the bouncer finally agreed.
Then I took a bite of the burger and it was dry as fuck, so I couldn’t eat it. Looking back, I think after having fainted I experienced a panic attack, making me hyperventilate and sob, leaving me unable to eat.
Elizabeth and I went to the ambulance. A bunch of other writers were showing up by this point: Melissa Febos, Jenny Zhang, Tao Lin. A group of them saw Elizabeth and me get into the ambulance. I saw their concerned faces and told Elizabeth to tell them to go away. All of the attention and “What’s wrong?” inquiries when I didn’t know what was wrong scared me and I was embarrassed to be causing such a scene.
Elizabeth came in the ambulance with me, wearing black stilettos. The woman took my blood pressure and it was low. I told her I’d recently gotten blood work back and was anemic.
“Me too!” she said. “Eat more bloody steak.”
They asked me multiple times if I wanted to go to the Emergency Room and I declined. I felt normal, just hungry and shaken up.
During the rest of the reading, I was shocked, drained, confused, embarrassed. After my friend Chelsea read, I left without saying goodbye to anyone. I walked to the 5 train, then took to the 1 train to the Amtrak Station, and arrived in Hudson two hours later. I walked back to Tony’s, the same place I’d started the day. In bed I received an email from Uzodinma with the subject line, 9/11. You get home OK? he asked. Shit got crazy there for a second.
The irony that the tiny blue pill I’d taken to stabilize my moods led to me sobbing in an ambulance, was not lost on anyone. Tony and I laughed that night in bed, thinking about how many drugs I’ve taken, and have written about taking, how irresponsible my drinking and drug habits have been in the past, and how none of it had ever made me faint or landed me in an ambulance. Then I take a Zoloft and black the fuck out.
* * *
The Zoloft didn’t seem to help my anxiety or depression. I still cried a bunch, orgasmed, slept. I was conflicted about putting it back into my body after fainting, but felt I hadn’t come this far to not experiment with my period, which was due in a week.
The next outburst happened a couple weeks later. I was at Tony’s, sitting in the living room drinking a beer. He was on the porch saying goodbye to his daughter when his friend walked by and he invited her in to have a drink with us. I interpreted this as him having made plans without me (the horror!) and lying or something. I flipped out while his friend was in the bathroom. He implored me to chill the fuck out.
We went to the concert at the venue next door to his place, and I was still in PMDD mode. Tony said something I interpreted as sarcastic and I lost my shit.
I stormed out of the bar in tears, around the corner, back to his place. I planned to pee, get my phone, and go home. When I am in this mode, I take action; it is hard to stay still. Being the loving partner he is, Tony followed me back to his place and attempted to talk it out with me.
“When I went to the kitchen to make you guys drinks I pulled up Female Forecaster. I KNOW I’M IN THE RED ZONE!” he yelled holding his phone in the air like a protection device. “It told me I just have to be strong like a rock for you today.”
“Yeah, so it’s the week I’m batshit, what’s your point?!?!?!?!?!?!”
We got through this conflict more quickly than we had the past outbursts. We were both sitting on the floor. I recognized my feelings as familiar PMDD paranoia. I was able to say, “You are right. I am feeling paranoid and I am ready to let this go and move on.”
“Kiss me, you fuck,” he said, and we did, then walked back to the bar.
Tony had said that I was basing our relationship on just two days a month, even though it was great the rest of the time. That’s the frustrating thing — PMDD can kick in anytime after the day you ovulate — this means for FOURTEEN DAYS until your period, it’s all up in the air. Fourteen days a month is half of my life. Those days leading up to my period scare me, as I never know when it will kick in.
“Fuck,” he said. “So it can even happen in the green zone?”
* * *
More things came up that week, and the week after that, and they will come up again. I recently had a brief outburst and Tony later told me my eyelids convulsed for ten seconds and it looked as if my eyes were rolling into the back of my head. He says that sometimes he finds it hard to keep from laughing when my anger gets so intense about nothing. I found another app called Track Her PMS: The Warning, which, when aligned with my cycle, alerts Tony: Chloe should experience mood swings right now.
The pattern was getting too transparent for me to ignore anymore, so after getting through my 20s by self-medicating my moods with drugs and alcohol, I finally tried Zoloft this past September.
Tony is diligent about tracking my periods. One evening I was in the kitchen doing the dishes and he yelled from the living room: “What day did you get your period last month?”
“What time?” he shouted back, and I burst into laughter, realizing no one has ever asked me what time I’d gotten my period.
* * *
I did not even last one month on Zoloft because the fainting scared the shit out of me, and I didn’t see the point of putting it into my body again after that. Tony and I continue to work on my hormonal stuff as it comes up. Each month, I try a new holistic approach. Most recently I’ve eliminated the two to four cups of coffee I’d been regularly drinking, and I’m already seeing positive results. We have another ritual in that when my breasts become enlarged the week before my period, I text him a photo of them as a warning that a PMDD freak-out may be right around the corner.
Having brunch outside on Greenwich Avenue on a gray fall morning recently, Tony and I drank mimosas and coffee waiting for our food. We were discussing his ex-girlfriend and ex-wife, two of my favorite subjects.
“You really like what most people would define as ‘difficult’ women,” I said.
“Yeah, I do,” he said. “I like strong and opinionated women. Have something interesting going on. At least have a little PMDD or something,” he said, making me smile. Period.
* * *
Chloe Caldwell is the author of the novella Women and the essay collections I’ll Tell You in Person and Legs Get Led Astray. She teaches creative nonfiction in NYC & upstate and lives in Hudson, NY.
Editor: Sari Botton