Chloe caldwell is the bloody brilliant author of The Red Zone: A Love Story and three other books: the essay collection I’ll Tell You in Person, the critically acclaimed novella, WOMEN, and Legs Get Led Astray. We fell in love with Chloe's writing after devouring The Red Zone cover to cover in a single day. The book is a double love story: the hilariously relatable story of how she and her partner fell in love, alongside the deeply personal story of how she came to love and embrace her period whilst dealing with PMDD. We caught up with Chloe to discuss life with PMDD, the most rewarding part about writing The Red Zone, and why it’s so critical to speak openly about often overlooked women’s health issues.
Why do you think it's so important to destigmatise periods and speak openly about our experiences as people who bleed?
What I learned while writing my book and thinking about menstruation culture for four years, is how many people have been taught to suffer in silence. The fact that half of the population is bleeding and moving through the word in a cyclical way, should be honored and respected. This could begin with education around periods, which almost no one receives. When I turned thirty I realized there was so much about the menstrual cycle I did not know, which was alarming. In the nineties when I grew up, periods were used to bully one another in many ways, and in my thirties I began to question that and see periods through a new lens. There is so much about women’s health that gets ignored: PCOS, PMDD, Endometriosis to name a few, and unless we speak openly about our uteruses, nothing will change.
Tell us about your period toolkit, what mix of products do you use?
It really differs from month to month. Some months it’s a hot water bottle and weed. Other months it’s macaroni and cheese. Always brownies, and one snack I had recently was CheezIts crushed into cottage cheese.
What's your period persona?
What's your period anthem? (what song best describes it)
I love the entire album Apocalypse, Girl by Swedish singer songwriter Jenny Hval which has blood and period themes. She has another album called Blood Bitch that is equally good, especially the songs Period Piece and In The Red. I used her song “That Battle Is Over” for the epigraph in “The Red Zone.”
I loved reading the section where you pop in the responses from the Reddit thread asking "What stupid thing did PMS make you cry about?" How would you answer?
Well, I put that chapter in to show the difference between PMS and PMDD. I was actually jealous that these people were crying about receiving the wrong order from Mcdonald’s or how fluffy their cat was, because with PMDD, that wasn’t my experience at all; it was much more severe. So PMS didn’t really make me cry, but PMDD did make me have a huge argument about the “correct” way to make nachos (in the microwave, NOT the toaster oven).
CC RZ Bathroom HWB Part 1 - 12
For those who haven't read The Red Zone yet, can you describe the writing workshop you held about creative ways to cope with PMDD?
Yes! In 2018 I attended a conference the International Association of Premenstrual Disorders held, called Break The Cycle. I submitted a proposal to teach a class called Coping Through Writing: Creative Strategies for Managing PMDD Symptoms. In the class, we did a mix of writing exercises. One was to write about your first period. At the time, I was somewhat shocked at how much emotion it brought up for people, and that’s where I got the idea to write the chapter “The Linen Closet” in my book, which is a chorus of voices from family members, friends, friends of friends, throughout different generations, writing about their first period. I think it can be healing to see how our very first one was treated (or not treated!) because the first one is meaningful and it’s likely you formed a relationship with your period then. Another exercise we did was writing a letter to yourself in the present moment, to read when the PMDD feelings came on.
After receiving your PMDD diagnosis you write,"I sat and stared at it for a while. I took a photograph of it because it felt like a true selfie. I considered sending it to people but kept it to myself." Can you describe why you think it's so validating to have a proper diagnosis for PMDD?
Since there is so much conflicting information about PMDD, and so little still known, getting a doctor to not only believe you, but also agree with you and put it into your medical history. For centuries, women have been gaslit and condescended in doctor’s offices. Even now, in 2022, women are told it’s all in their head, or that their PMDD is just normal PMS, or misdiagnosed with Bipolar disorder. I’m resigned now to being my own health authority and researching and learning as much as I can before going to the doctor so that I can advocate for myself. No one knows your body as well as you do.
For people who are struggling with PMDD, is there any advice you'd give them?
It is so fucking hard and I’m sorry you’re going through it. Read everything about it you can, because you are not alone. Read and ask questions on the Reddit Werewolf Week Group.
What's been the most rewarding aspect about writing and publishing The Red Zone?
I love hearing from other people who have struggled with PMDD and especially when someone gives the book to someone who doesn’t menstruate. For example, a student just had her father-in-law read it. It’s been rewarding to see the book in the world the way I envisioned it, even though along the way there were times I wondered if it would ever see the light of day.
If you could go back to your younger self, what's something you'd tell her about coping with periods?
I would tell her to ask questions. You don’t have to bleed all over your khakis. You don’t have to suck it up and take eight Ibuprofen, silently suffering. You can tell someone you’re in pain.
Now as a mom, what wisdom do you hope to pass onto Sadie regarding menstruation/teenhood/womanhood?
Thanks for asking that! I want to give her space to have whatever feelings and experience she has, instead of projecting my own. My hope is that she can have a neutral to positive experience with her period, and I think she will. She’s already lightyears ahead of where I was at that age when it comes to knowledge and emotional maturity.
When do you feel your most fantastic?
I’ll have the occasional period that feels really powerful and actually good when I bleed. I love that feeling though it’s really hard to describe. I also feel the most fantastic when I’m taking good care of myself; eating well, sleeping well, and prioritizing my mental health.
What are you most grateful for right now?
Stay up to date with Chloe's work here.
Image Credit: @chloeeeecaldwell