That's it for our PMS Prep series. Thanks to all of you for your encouraging emails along the way. They keep us going! We've compiled all the posts onto a single page for easy review before your next "time of the month." Hope this serves you, Nicole
A grandmother once told me about how she suffered from postpartum depression after the birth of her first baby. She didn’t know what was happening to her. No one had told her to expect this. No one assured her it was normal. No one offered comfort or counsel. They just didn’t talk about things like that back then.
But hormonal challenges are real. PMS, menopause, postpartum depression—whether mild or severe—are honest to goodness trials. It is no use being pseudo-spiritual, thinking we as Christians are immune to such temptations. Better to humbly acknowledge the frailty of our human condition. Better to remember, as God does, that “we are dust” (Ps. 103:14).
But God “knows our frame.” He’s counted every hair on our head and knows the exact level of every hormone in our body. He made us this way. And not as some kind of cruel joke; but rather, so that through our weakness, His power may be “made perfect.”
Yes, the hormones may be raging, our feelings may fluctuate and our body may have worn out. But God’s grace—that comes to us because of what Jesus accomplished on the cross—is real. It is not a myth or a placebo. His grace is real. And it is more powerful than any out-of-whack hormones in our body. It is, as God told Paul in 2 Corinthians 12, “sufficient for you.”
Unpredictable hormones may be the proverbial thorn in our side. We may plead, as Paul did with his ailment, that God would take away this trial. (I admire Paul’s self-control in only pleading three times!) But often, God has other plans. He wants to position us so that the power of Christ may rest on us.
Therefore, let us be content in weakness. Not that we don’t do what we can to alleviate the symptoms. We should avail ourselves of the common grace of naps and vitamins and paper plates and a shoulder to cry on and even a doctor's visit, if necessary. But our hope is not ultimately in these things. Our salvation is from God. Our hope is in His power that is sufficient to see us through.
Today, women are much more educated than that grandmother about the reality of hormonal challenges. But we, as Christian women, should testify even more loudly of the grace of God that is real, the power of Christ that is sufficient.
Along with other practical ways of escape, taking care of our bodies in the midst of PMS, menopause, postpartum depression etc. is wise and helpful. Because we girltalkers have no medical expertise whatsoever, we consulted two Christian doctors, Dr. Jeffrey Trimark and Dr. Christopher Mays and asked for their advice.
First, Dr. Trimark explains that:
"Treatment for either PMS or PMDD (premenstrual dysphoric disorder, a severe form of PMS) begins with non-prescription interventions. I recommend women take Vitamin D 1000IU daily, Calcium 1000mg daily and Vitamin B6 100mg daily. In addition, I recommend avoiding caffeine and alcohol and participating in regular aerobic exercise (150 minutes weekly). As always, a balanced diet is recommended, but there is no evidence to suggest certain foods will improve or worsen symptoms. Because the symptoms of PMDD and PMS are cyclical, I also encourage women to be intentional to spend some additional time in prayer and meditation during these challenging times."
Dr. Mays adds for those experiencing menopause:
"Although PMS and menopause are conditions that are primarily hormonal, they are obviously not the same and the treatment for the most part is not the same. The non-prescription interventions for PMS (Vitamin D, Calcium and Vitamin B) are important in menopause, but they will not treat the symptoms of menopause. Non-prescription treatments include Vitamin E, black cohosh, and naturally occurring estrogens called phytoestrogens. There are several other prescription options as well."
Both doctors concur, in Dr. May’s words, that: “The main message when it comes to treating PMS or menopause is that each patient responds differently and often a physician will need to try several treatment options before a successful combination is reached.”
As Christian physicians they do, as Dr. Trimarks says, “believe there is a God-honoring role for prescription therapy” and so, if your symptoms are severe, you should consult your physician.
However, both doctors caution their patients “to not excuse the sinful behaviors that occur during these times of increased temptations by thinking of them as simply a result of a disease.” That is why we’ve spent the majority of this series examining ways of escape, so we can stand up under the increased temptation during PMS, postpartum depression or menopause.
Wise doctors are a gift from God. We are so grateful for the common grace of medical wisdom, and to Dr. Trimark and Dr. Mays for their willingness to serve the girltalk audience. Tomorrow we’ll look beyond the helpful advice contained here to the promises of God’s Word, which is sufficient to sustain us, regardless of the severity of our trial.
After reading Friday’s post, girltalk reader Andrea encouraged us to check out an essay from John Piper’s A Godward Life entitled “Talking to Your Tears.” We’re quoting a small excerpt here, but you’re really going to want to read the rest; so go ahead and buy the book!
“Those who sow in tears shall reap with shouts of joy! He who goes out weeping, bearing the seed for sowing, shall come home with shouts of joy, bringing his sheaves with him.” Psalm 126:5-6
“This psalm teaches the tough truth that there is work to be done whether I am emotionally up for it or not, and it is good for me to do it. Suppose you are in a season of heartache and discouragement, and it is time to sow seed. Do you say, ‘I can’t sow the field this spring, because I am brokenhearted and discouraged’? If you do that, you will not eat in the winter. Suppose you say instead, ‘I am heartsick and discouraged. I cry if the milk spills at breakfast. I cry if the phone and doorbell ring at the same time. I cry for no reason at all, but the field needs to be sowed. That is the way life is. I do not feel like it, but I will take my bag of seeds and go out in the fields and do my crying while I do my duty. I will sow in tears.’
If you do that, the promise of this psalm is that you will ‘reap with shouts of joy.’ You will ‘come home with shouts of joy, bringing your sheaves with you,’ not because the tears of sowing produce the joy of reaping, but because the sheer sowing produces the reaping. We need to remember this even when our tears tempt us to give up sowing.” A Godward Life, pp. 89-90
So what fields in your life need to be sowed today? Even if you cry while you do your duty, you will, one day reap with joy.
It might be the last thing in the world we feel like doing, but God will provide the strength; and grace to endure will come as we obey. It’s a simple “way of escape” that this poem describes:
“Many a questioning, many a fear, Many a doubt, hath its quieting here. Moment by moment, let down from Heaven, Time, opportunity, guidance, are given. Fear not tomorrows, Child of the King, Trust them with Jesus, DO THE NEXT THING.
Do it immediately; do it with prayer; Do it reliantly, casting all care; Do it with reverence, tracing His Hand Who placed it before thee with earnest command. Stayed on Omnipotence, safe ‘neath His wing, Leave all resultings, DO THE NEXT THING.
Step by step, next thing by next thing, God will be faithful to help us to glorify Him in these challenging seasons.
The conclusion of our PMS Prep series next week, and Friday Funnies before the day is through…
“I have been unexpectedly catapulted into menopause because of the chemo I was on last year” wrote a friend who is recovering from cancer. "This is a fairly common side affect for women my age. In my effort to ‘get back to normal’ I have been trying to go full throttle with everything. Wondering why I keep crying. Anyway, I think the hormonal changes have a lot to do with it. I am making an effort to simplify and look for a ‘new normal’ in this season. Thank you all so much. You have really encouraged me.”
My friend is right. We often need to find a “new normal” in these seasons of our lives. We need to adjust our lifestyle to keep the most important things most important. We brainstormed and came up with just a few “strategies to simplify.” These can all be useful for the week of PMS, the months of postpartum depression, the years of menopause, or any other unusually busy or difficult season.
To feed your soul:
Do whatever is necessary to spend time in God’s Word each day. If you are unable to do so in the morning (the ideal time), carve out space in the afternoon or evening. And if you don’t already, make sure to have a good Bible-reading plan to feed your soul. We highly recommend DA Carson’s For the Love of God, Morning and Evening by Charles Spurgeon, and Spurgeon’s commentaries on the Psalms.
Create a list of verses and gospel-focused quotes that can feed your soul. You could write them on index cards or even make a little booklet. Often, in these difficult seasons, we need simple, bite-sized truths from God’s Word to sustain us.
Focus on food and laundry (and not much else!). And keep it basic. No gourmet meals or new recipes! Go paper plates. Freeze meals ahead of time. Buy already prepared food. Do cereal if you have to! And simplify laundry by sending dress shirts to the dry cleaners or getting the kids to help sort.
My mom always said: "If you make your bed and do the dishes in the sink the house will feel a whole lot cleaner!" Don’t worry about the toys on the floor or the baseboards that need scrubbing. Just set simple, achievable goals like getting the bed made every day.
Get a shower. You’ll feel a whole lot better.
Take naps and go to bed early.
We told you these were simple ideas. Although they may seem elementary, we often ignore them in favor of more complicated strategies designed to stuff our lives as full as possible. Instead, during these seasons, we should look to make extra space to meet with God and serve our families. And if we’re more peaceful in the process, then we’ll be a blessing to all around us.
My life is pretty simple these days. I’ve cut way back on activities and responsibilities. As I wrote in a previous post, I have been more sick (and emotional) this pregnancy than with Caly. When sickness first set in, I tried hard to keep my normal schedule: still waking up early and tackling my to-do list. But I was failing royally. I was exhausted and couldn’t keep up. Change was needed. I knew I needed to simplify.
I had to acknowledge that the Lord had placed limitations in this season of my life. It was humbling, but these limitations were God-given and for my good. So, I pared down my life to the two most important things: tending to my soul and caring for my family (to the best of my ability).
Making these two areas a priority meant cutting out other projects and pursuits and even disappointing people at times. I have said “no” to certain social events and photography jobs. I have barely picked up my camera in over two months. (And for someone who used to take pictures every day, that is pretty drastic!) I purposefully take one to two naps every day. All this so I can conserve my energy and spend it on a quiet time and caring for my family’s basic needs.
How can you simplify in hormonal seasons so that your family and your spiritual life are the main priorities? What do you need to cut out of your life temporarily so that these two most important things don’t get crowded out by less significant activities and events? If we don’t purpose to pare down in these difficult seasons (or days of the month), then we’ll most likely end up overwhelmed and exhausted, neglecting what is most important.
This week I have begun to feel the sickness lifting. Slowly but surely my energy is returning. And soon I will begin adding things back in to my schedule. But in six short months, when baby number 2 arrives, it’s gonna be a “simplify” season once again.
As promised, we’re going to spend the rest of the week considering some practical ways “ways of escape” in the midst of hormonal seasons such as PMS or menopause or postpartum depression. The first is, “Get Ready.”
Now, of course, we can’t always plan ahead. Maybe we are caught totally unawares by postpartum depression or perhaps menopause comes early or our monthly cycles are irregular. This will be true for many of us, and God’s grace is available to help us through.
If these seasons do come unexpectedly, though, we can still stop and pray and plan for the duration. Maybe we pull away for a few minutes when we realize it’s a PMS day. Or, we take an afternoon to pray and read if we find ourselves floundering in the midst of menopause or postpartum depression.
Here are three simple suggestions to get ready:
1. Check the calendar: If you know you struggle with PMS every month, then figure out
when that might be. Tell your husband or roommates as well. If you experienced postpartum depression with your first child, be aware (not afraid) that you might experience it again. And while we can’t predict when menopause will come exactly, we do know it will probably be in the middle to later years of our life.
2. Read up: Soaking ourselves in gospel-centered materials will help strengthen us for the fight ahead. Consider reading books such as Spiritual Depression by D. Martyn Lloyd Jones, When the Darkness Will Not Lift by John Piper (you can read online) or Chapter 13 in Seeing With New Eyes by David Powlison, entitled "What Do You Feel?" Also, getting a medical education (from a biblical perspective) can be of great benefit. We suggest you begin with Blame it on the Brainby Ed Welch. Or, if it is something as predictable as PMS, simply having a verse at the ready can be invaluable.
3. Get Help: If you think menopause might be around the corner, pursue godly women for practical and spiritual advice. If you believe you might experience postpartum depression again, ask for help from your husband and a godly woman to prepare. Or simply ask someone to speak truth to you in the middle of PMS. Obviously, help from your doctor may be in order as well. We’ll touch on that later in the week.
Some practical "in the middle of it" thoughts tomorrow...
Way of Escape #2 (and #1 in order of importance) is to remember the gospel. More specifically, remember that we are justified—declared righteous—before God on the basis of what Christ has done for us on the cross and not our performance during PMS.
When hormones are raging, we’re often prone to focus on our (lack of ) obedience and become discouraged when we fail. We sometimes (wrongly) feel we can’t “get right” with God until our postpartum depression goes away. We tend to walk around in a cloud of condemnation instead of coming to God, repenting, and receiving forgiveness for our sins, and strength to endure.
That’s why we must remind ourselves more vigorously than ever that we are justified ONLY by what Christ has accomplished for us on the cross. We are not less able to come to God on days when we feel discouraged, depressed, or have been irritable than on the days when we are rejoicing and victorious. That’s because we are only ever acceptable to God because of Christ and what He has done for us on the cross.
Or to paraphrase Jerry Bridges (in a way I’m not sure he intended, but hopefully one he would approve of): Our PMS days are never so bad that we are beyond the reach of God’s grace, and our best post postpartum depression days are never so good that we are beyond the need of God’s grace.
Tomorrow: we’ll continue with more practical “ways of escape.”
I used to think that if I didn’t feel happy, I must be sinning. So during PMS, all my unhappy feelings were compounded by the guilt and condemnation I felt over my unhappy feelings which only generated more unhappy feelings!
This bit of advice from D. Martyn Lloyd Jones has helped to break that unhappy cycle:
“There is all the difference in the world between rejoicing and feeling happy. The Scripture tells us that we should always rejoice [Phil. 4:4]....To rejoice is a command, yes, but there is all the difference in the world between rejoicing and being happy. You cannot make yourself happy, but you can make yourself rejoice, in the sense that you will always rejoice in the Lord. Happiness is something within ourselves, rejoicing is ‘in the Lord.’ Take the fourth chapter of the Second Epistle to the Corinthians. There you will find that the great Apostle puts it all very plainly and clearly in that series of extraordinary contrasts which he makes: ‘We are troubled on every side (I don’t think he felt very happy at the moment) yet not distressed’, ‘we are perplexed (he wasn’t feeling happy at all at that point) but not in despair’, ‘persecuted but not forsaken’, ‘cast down, but not destroyed’--and so on. In other words the Apostle does not suggest a kind of happy person in a carnal sense, but he was still rejoicing."
Happiness is something within ourselves, rejoicing is ‘in the Lord.’ What liberating truth. Our feelings and emotions may fluctuate, but the eternal God never changes, and we can rejoice in Him, no matter what time of the month it is!