I was scrolling through headlines when the story caught my attention: yet another school shooting had resulted in yet another fatality. A young girl was dead at the hands of a classmate, her parents shattered by grief, her community forever changed. I felt undone. It was only 8:00 but I put myself to bed immediately, where I commenced with sobbing.
The next morning I got my period.
Ever since I was 12 years old, when I suddenly and inexplicably started despising my best friends for an imperceptible insult, the primary symptom of my monthly menstrual cycle has been extraordinary emotionalism. Other women get cramps; I get hysterical. I’ve learned to be almost thankful for my solitary physical symptom. If not for the tell-tale bloat that makes it nearly impossible to button my jeans, I wouldn’t be able to convince myself that I’m not deeply depressed or off my rocker. I’ve spend many a menstrual period making amends, having realized that I didn’t really despise my best friends nor, in more recent years, intend to divorce my husband. It was the hormones talking.
For several years I had a break from this crazy-making cycle, as pregnancy and breastfeeding granted me a temporary stay from the monthly rhythms of menstruation. I wasn’t fully exempt from the terrors of hormones; I endured an episode of postpartum depression and anxiety after the birth of my first daughter. I’m done bearing children now. Having decided that a hormonal birth control method that might curtail my premenstrual symptoms is tantalizing but not ultimately in the best interest of my overall health, I am back to having mild to moderate emotional breakdowns. On a monthly basis. Given that I’m still a decade or so from menopause, that’s a lot of breakdowns on the horizon.
I struggle with this manifestation of my gender (or, more accurately, my sex). My emotionalism make me feel irrational and unstable—basically, as though I live into all of the most galling stereotypes about women and prove right the people who would limit female leadership for biologically determined reasons. But the fact of the matter is that I do have to be very mindful about the ways in which my hormones inform my behavior. Depending on where I am in my menstrual cycle, I could potentially respond quite differently to a contentious committee meeting, a well-meant comment about my preaching, or a tragic news headline.
And yet sometimes I wonder if this cyclical hypersensitivity is not all curse. Take, for instance, the night I wept for the high school senior who was shot and killed by a classmate. One might argue that my reaction was not commensurate with the circumstances. After all, I did not know the girl, or live in the town, or have any other immediate personal connection. When I’m premenstrual the veil that protects me from the sorrows of the world dissolves. I don’t have the option of turning away. I am charged—called, even—to pay attention, to bear witness, to let my heart be broken by that which should break my heart.