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Funmi Iyanda
Lagos, Nigeria
Funmi Iyanda is a multi award-winning producer and broadcast journalist. She is the CEO of Ignite Media and Executive Director of Creation Television
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Wednesday, May 14, 2008

The longest two weeks

The storm was awful, through it I shook, I screamed, I shouted and I wept. At the end I felt drained, achy, confused and depressed. As I lay back on my bed unable to control the tears, one of the survivors peeped through the door, she is 7 and her almond eyes looked at me in reproach.

We had a conversation.
How does it feel when I beat you? Painful
How does it make you feel inside? Like someone is angry with me
How else? Sad
And? Unhappy and my heart feels like there is ice block in it
Do you think you deserve it? No it is not fair, it is not fair because it is painful and makes me very sad
But it was supposed to be painful. It is not fair, I just made a mistake, I forgot.
So what should I do when you are naughty? You should punish me.
How? Hmmm, maybe make me do what the aunties do.
But you won’t do it well and you won’t feel it, how do I know you will feel it? Well you can just try it. Think about it mummy. And don’t shout at the aunties, I feel sorry for them because sometimes they just make mistakes.
Okay darling I am sorry I beat you when I was angry and shouted at the aunties I won’t do it again.

But I might. She did not deserve it as she had only misplaced her ruler. They are inefficient but then they always are so why scream and shout when it clearly is irrational and ineffective? Well because, every month for 10 to 12 days the clouds gather until it crescendos in a storm which destroys everything in its path. I have severe PMS and all my psychological and mental will power cannot stop the monster, which is of course part of the problem, too many of us see PMS as a sign of weakness to be conquered. Too many people do not understand or acknowledge it. Gods knows how many PMSing, pre menopausal and menopausal women have been stoned to death as witches in our communities.

I have started to find solutions and as soon as I find solutions that work for me, I will share them with both the women who suffer, as well as their confused or angry partners, family and friends.

Having a supportive BFF who is an exceptional gynaecologist and academic who also happens to suffer from PMS helps. Here is a really good piece she wrote about 6 years ago.

The longest two weeks

For a change, I’m in a place and time where I am thinking of writing or in a writing frame of mind and my laptop is right next to me (albeit shut down so I started off with paper (quelle horeur-modern writer you see), and I also have the time to do so, but I digress.
I want to write about depression. I was about to start explaining why I wanted to add to the mountains of material that has been devoted to this issue but then stopped, as I owe no one any explanation; I want to write about a brief low point and I shall.

I am not about to pretend that I have been to the very bottom of the pot as far as depression is concerned. At best I have only skimmed the surface as it where. For one I had insight into my problem and two, I could still function relatively well i.e. go through my daily routine with only my look and (I like to think) uncharacteristically irritable behaviour giving me away. It was at a time when I had everything to be happy about. I had just been promoted at work; I was looking forward to earning almost twice my previous salary. I was two weeks away from travelling for a conference in Sydney, Australia, and I was presenting a paper for which I was being sponsored to go. I was also going for an 18-day workshop in medical education in Philadelphia, a few days after the conference, also sponsored. I had just been given another prize for a postgraduate medical exam I passed a year ago. My work was going well, I had my husband and an adorable and –as well-behaved-as-she-can-possibly-be two and a half year old daughter.

So life was great yet I was waking up in the morning not wanting to face it, crying or being close to tears if someone so much as looked at me disapprovingly. A few problems I had such as some financial debts, the thought of leaving my family yet again after just coming back from travelling just two months before and I can’t even think what else suddenly seemed insurmountable, even though I could see that I could make good by just trying to save a bit more than I normally would and my family would survive without me for 5 weeks!

It was awful. I had a presentation to finish preparing (for my conference), a major lecture to prepare, my postgraduate student’s case book to correct and so much else to do. As an academician i.e. a lecturer, as well as being a clinician (in my case a gynaecologist) I am an extremely busy person. Part of the reason for this is because I guess I am someone who strives high to excel. Although I’ve never really seen myself as being over-ambitious, I suppose there are many who would think I was and innately-lazy-always-looking-for-an-excuse-for-their-own-inadequacies people would probably say I was aggressively so.

Anyway the stress of all the preparation probably aggravated my problem, which was quite simply ‘Pre-menstrual syndrome’ (PMS) or more specifically ‘Pre-menstrual dysphoric disorder’ (PMDD). And it’s a mother-fucking monster. I have had a close friend who is also medical describe depression to me before and I got to fully understand what she was talking about.

I was tense, had perpetual symptoms of body aches and pains, stomach upsets, was moody, snapped at people, got emotional at things I would normally ignore. I managed to be normal with my patients but it took a great deal of will power to do that. I was running on reserve though and I knew something had to give at some point. It did. My period came and my mood started to lighten. Wild eh. It’s for real oh. And we say it happens to less than 10% of women. Can’t move, don’t want to get out and face the world-certainly not the Lagos traffic world, can’t laugh, don’t find anything funny, shut out the people who care about you the most, crave certain foods yet feel bloated or get stomach upsets after eating them, can’t speak about it much ‘cos it’s so difficult to explain without seeming ‘precious’. Oh I’ve got PMS you say after you’ve just bitten someone’s head off and Oh, get a life at the same time they think. It’s not an ephemeral ‘onyibo’ type thing for people who think too much either and ‘have no real problems but are trying to create some for themselves). It’s for real. Trust me, I’m a doctor.

I suppose it’s quite easy to brandish it around as an excuse for poor behaviour. Manipulative people would see it as a tool against their spouses, their colleagues and the like. But I am not a manipulative person and I suspect that most of the people who suffer from this cruel mood and physical disorder are not either. Something was wrong, luckily for me because of my profession, I knew what it was, yet even I could not help myself in time to prevent it going the whole hog. Like all ‘mind’ illnesses, it is quite difficult to treat or prevent. But it is not impossible and I promised myself that it was not going to get that bad again.

To prevent it, I’ll just keep making sure I keep the stress away-get a driver, try to convince myself that I can’t make everyone happy and so stop worrying about things I can’t change (part of what causes the stress), drop the work and do other things that make me relax. This must include doing so during the week as opposed to just weekends, and forgetting about the deadlines. During this last episode, as busy as I was, I was still trying to fit in an application for a reproductive rights fellowship whose deadline coincided with that of the presentation I was trying to finish. I gave it up albeit reluctantly. Some things should be allowed to go; they are not worth the consequences.

After prevention, there is treatment, some drugs have been found to work and it is just a matter of finding which one suits one the most. So if anyone reading this finds they have similar symptoms (they need to go out and describe it to a professional first) I hope it is at least a comfort to know that they are not going mad, it’s their hormones that are. PMS usually happens during the last two weeks of one’s menstrual period and gets relieved when the periods commence. The symptoms vary from person to person, ranging from the physical (bloating, breast tenderness, headaches, stomach upsets) to the non-physical (moodiness, irritability, weepiness). It is worsened during periods of stress but can be prevented to an extent. Treatment also helps reduce the symptoms.


Suby & Sinem said...

Hi Funmi,

Good blog here, just came across your blog while randomly searching the net for anything Nigerian. Seems you also have a Tv program, good on you, always good to see young Africans excel in their chosen field.

Keep up the good work and have a lovely week :)

"Ars Longa, Vita Brevis"

Anonymous said...

I identify very much with this article. I go through PMS every month and it is exactly as described. Alot of unecessary arguments occur at his time. Everything gets blown out of proportion during this period. Last year I started using a medication (over the counter) called Midol prescribed by my physician and also suggested by a friend who faces the same thing. It has been a huge relief since then. So now, once I feel the symptoms coming on I just reach for my Midol. And it usually happens 2 weeks before my period commences. Thanks for shedding light on this issue. It helps me and other women know we are not alone in this crazy PMS alone. Keep up the good work!

Anonymous said...

couldn't wait to get to the end of this before leaving a comment. this MOVED me. thank you, thank you, thank you. i appreciate your sharing and your helping me see past the fog. i hate what PMS does to me. it makes me feel like a train wreck on steroids. i especially hate that the people around me have to bear the brunt. it's unbelievably hard to walk around with a brave, chirpy disposition when you feel like sh*t.

thank you both for making me feel less alone in this. funmi, you amaze me. can't thank you enough for this. you're incredibly brave and strong and i thought i admired you before, but i definitely adore you now. okay, i must return to reading the rest. brb.

Anonymous said...

am 25,and have all the symptoms of PMS, is that normal?

Anonymous said...

Please shed more light on what you are trying to talk about, i'm a guyt but i may be able to help my girlfirend, you said pre-menopause and the article from your friend said pre-menstral, sorry are they the same thing? or you have pre-menopause and the symptoms are the same? Please explain

Anonymous said...

Hi, can you please shed more light on this discussion? You said that you have pre-menopuase and the article your friend wrote is on pre-menstral. I'm a guy, i'd like to know the diffrence and if they have the same symptoms so that i can help my girlfriend if she's going through that. What exatly do you have Funmi, pre-menopause or pre-menstral

Anonymous said...

Thanks so much for this post. I have suffered from PMS since I was a teenager - I'm 30 now- but it seems to have gotten worse with the years and the ensuing stress. My husband and I always have a horible arguement before my period EVERY MONTH! It has taken over my life, makes me reckless at work etc.... And all of a sudden,as 'suddenly' as it sets on, it is gone and I'm all sunny and cheerful like it was just a bad dream.
I had been considering getting counselling.....I will try Midol.

Anonymous said...

Actually mine is more like PMDD, at least that's what my well learned Indian doctor told me after i explained to her my symptoms, more like asked her why i break down & bawl on certain times of the month and she was quick to blurt out PMDD.

You couldn't have described it any better...clouds gathering and all what not, monsterous and the whole nine.
Yup, there's a treatment - the other brand of Prozac, which makes you feel 'OK' that you're not on Prozac but I ask, if the active ingridients are EXACTLY thesame, are you not then on Prozac? Oh well, they call it Serafem....generic name is still same as Prozac, so in my mind, I became part of the Prozac nation the day i got my meds!!!


I prayed though, I prayed hard and fought hard (Lord knows i hate meds) and i can happily say it is UNDER CONTROL, without MEDS! YES! Hang in there and i applaud you for discussing it, not sure if mainstream Nigeirian media talks about these issues all the time.

Anu H said...

Poignant and brilliant piece! I don't have bad PMS but my periods are pretty brutal. From irritability to diarrhea, to cramps that keep me awake all night long.

I do however find that although this is normal for women, we are made to think we are less competent because this happens to us. Should we mask our feelings while in the corporate world? Or is this hiding caused by the patriarchal and male-normative society we live in? If the personal is political, we must be forced to think otherwise.

-Anu .S. H

pumping! said...

You couldn't have done this better and your besto really did put the icing on the cake.
For me its cramps like all nights and the bloaty feeling. I get very moody and not my chatty self.
Would try Midol or better still see a doctor.
Thank you for this piece.

Sherri said...

thanks for sharing this!
am sure it wud be comforting to other females to know they're not alone..

my poor shrimp! mind yaself o!

Emmanuel said...

Hello Funmi,
You are an inspiration to the New Nigerian Ladies, keep it up. You can also do well if you start up a programm that will benefit and empower ladies , mostly 20s and 30s. What Tyra Banks is doing can be emulated and not really be done on models.

You have the talent and skill , please you have just started.
We at www.phcityonline.com have opened our doors for you , you can contribute and correct us in any way.