Hey, guys. What do the following comments remind you of? "Jeez! I feel so bloated!" "Everybody better damn well leave me alone today." "I feel like I could just sit down and cry my eyes out." Prompting a guy to respond wisely: "C'mon. I've got some chocolate in the pickup." Or "Not tonight, honey. I'm having really bad cramps."

Of course, it's that dreaded monthly problem known as PMS - premenstrual syndrome - the butt of many jokes, but no laughing matter to women.

Recently forced to spend one month in a PMS simulator, I've created a handy checklist of symptoms and strategies to help you guys. It's a survivor's guide. While I'm assuming you're all smart, sensitive, supportive types, that's not enough.

Each month - after you've survived another PMS episode - many of you guys look like shell-shocked war heroes, having experienced something horrible and reduced to babbling. So, Y chromosomers, heed this wise counsel on how to handle those unpleasant episodes.

One major PMS symptom is irritability. Roughly 7-10 days before the onset of her period, a mixture of gunpowder and buckshot is released into a woman's body, causing her to "shoot her mouth" off at the slightest provocation. It may not seem fair, but when you make a simple request, like "Pass the ketchup," you may get in trouble. Better to play it safe, get the ketchup yourself, or eat your hamburger plain.

Bloating is another real, physiological phenomenon whereby women suck in all the humidity within a five-mile radius of their bodies. Overnight, their clothes no longer fit and they're very uncomfortable. Avoid any attempt to reassure her that: "You look fine." You'll become an easy target. (See "irritability.")

Mood swings. It's hormonal rage time. Women swing from caring, angelic, devoted Madonnas to crazed, psychopathic B-movie She-devils within the blink of an eye. So don't be surprised when someone like Amanda Kissandhug says, "Rub my back. Don't touch me! I love you. Leave me alone. Hold me, you idiot." All in the same breath. Best strategy? Simply back away slowly, as you would do when facing a rabid dog.

Finally, women experience intense sensations known as cramps. Aspirin, ibuprofen or margaritas may help a bit. But for a man to understand what their pain must be like, try this experiment (as did I in the PMS simulator).

Lie down and stuff three baseballs down the front of your pants. Ask a small child to walk upon them. That's like mild cramps. To replicate severe cramps, using the same baseballs, have an obese friend perform Lord of the Dance on them.

We guys simply can't understand what women's cramps are like. When guys experience something like, say, stomach bloating or indigestion, we usually resort to periodic belching or intestinal gas expulsion to deal with our "problem."

Besides understanding those four major characteristics of PMS, heed the following five Do's and Don'ts to insure that your walk through the monthly minefield is safer. (1) Get a calendar and use it. Learn to expect the onset of her symptoms. That may insure that you never make the deadly mistake of asking, "What's wrong, honey?"

(2) Do keep a special supply of Hershey's Kisses and chocolate chip cookie dough within easy reach. Treats calm them.

(3) Don't play bomb squad. A guy's inherent reaction to PMS is to "fix" the problem. I guarantee you'll cut the wrong wire and investigators will find pieces of you five counties away.

(4) Don't, even jokingly, use nicknames women give their periods. Aunt Flo, Monthly Visitor, Special Friend are off limits to anyone not containing ovaries at birth.

(5) Don't attempt to placate a woman by telling her how "miraculous" or "beautiful" the whole menstrual process is. Every woman I've ever known learned early on what an inconvenient load of crap it is to leak monthly.

Beyond occasional bouts of testosterone poisoning, we guys simply can't fathom the PMS problem. But you know what? Several female friends - like Kathy S. at Sentry - have advised me that guys, too, suffer from PMS symptoms. We just don't admit it.

Kathy's right. I've sometimes felt a bit bloated, anxious to be left alone, ready to cry, or irritable. I frequently make others uncomfortable with my outbursts. Gosh, there are some real similarities here.

Fellows, remember that words like MENtal illness, MENopause, and MENstrual cramps - imply a gender connection. Just ask any GUYnecologist (pardon my poetic spelling).

Reach columnist Robert Brake at oobear@pacifier.com.

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