Today, I’m stepping outside the normal remit of my blog a little, so feel free to ignore this post if it’s not relevant to you. I very much want it to be relevant to all the ladies out there who, like me, are suffering from PMDD. I want you to know that you are not alone. If you can’t find a doctor who believes you; if everyone around you thinks you are a crazy; I want you to know that I believe you, and I understand. I want to connect with other women who are suffering from this condition, and also help their friends and families to understand.
This morning, I woke up and I hit the wall immediately I got out of bed. By this, I knew I must be around day 17 of my cycle. Extreme fatigue. Extreme noise sensitivity. Strong feeling of ‘wanting to be left in peace.’ I checked my previous PMDD post and sure enough, I’m spot on with the dates: Day 17.
The trouble is that this is just the start. At this point in my 21-23 day cycle I can still laugh and joke about ‘visits from Aunt Irma.’ I know what is to follow: feelings of hopelessness, self-loathing and suicidal ideation. Angry outbursts at my family. Extreme lethargy. Despair.
There’s a lot of debate around PMDD: whether it’s an endocrine or mental health condition (or a combination of the two); what causes it; and, of course (as with many women’s health conditions) whether it exists at all. I can only offer anecdotal evidence of what I experience on a cyclical basis every month. I have never received a formal diagnosis so call it what you will, but I still call it PMDD.
According to medical authorities, the two main chemical treatment options are SSRIs and certain types of contraceptive pill. The former is a big no-no for me because of a hellish experience with SSRIs in my twenties which I have no desire to repeat. I am in no way passing judgement on anyone who takes SSRIs. If they work for you, that’s great. I am just speaking from personal experience. The latter option I am considering, but I am wary because several versions of the pill that I have tried have increased my depressive tendencies and, more importantly, I miss out on the euphoric part of my cycle, which can last for up to two weeks. Who doesn’t want to be euphoric?
A Matter of Perception
I’m no medical expert, but from what I’ve read, PMDD seems to be caused by an extreme sensitivity to the action of various reproductive hormones on the body of the sufferer. It is more common in those with pre-existing mental health conditions, and can exacerbate these. Because it often results in extreme depression followed by feelings of euphoria, it can be confused or conflated with Bipolar Disorder. The fact that the two disorders are not mutually exclusive blurs the matter further. I was so affected by the extreme swing from depression to euphoria that I once told my G.P. that I thought I was Bipolar. He assured me I was not. Even at my most euphoric, my behaviour could never be described as manic. For this, at least, I am grateful.
As for how the action of the hormones of the reproductive cycle affect my mood, I choose an example from Virginia Woolf in her essay A Room of One’s Own. Let’s ignore the fact that she was describing how the standard of catering in various Cambridge Colleges affected her mood. What’s important to note in this context is the change in mood, from feeling one day like:
‘We are all going to heaven and Vandyck is of the company – in other words, how good life seemed, how sweet its rewards, how trivial this grudge or that grievance, how admirable friendship and the society of one’s kind.’
To the next day like:
‘We are all probably going to heaven and Vandyck is, we hope, to meet us round the next corner – that is the dubious and qualifying state of mind…’
To feeling, a day or two later (permit me the liberty to extend Woolf’s metaphor still further) as though:
‘We are never going to heaven and there is no hope of meeting anyone inspirational around the next corner, in fact, there is no hope at all.’
I have many things to be positive about in my life at the moment: I’m about to become a published poet; I am surrounded by family who love me; my husband is moving forward in his career at a time when many people are struggling to keep their jobs. All of these things make me feel almost euphoric during my ‘positive’ phase: like everything is happening for a reason, like life is wonderful and always will be, like I love myself. However, as I swing to the ‘negative’ phase, my perceptions change so that I begin to think like this: my poems aren’t that great and I will never be able to make a living from writing; my family will hate me if I continue to get angry with them as I often do at this time of the month; life is hopeless and futile; I hate myself. I’m noting all this down because I’m not at the nadir of my negative phase yet; I want to re-read this when I am, in the hope that it will pull me out.
My PMDD Prescription
If you choose (like me, for now) to battle this thing without chemical treatment, first of all, you (like me) need to know that you are NOT alone. I have found through trial and error that meditation and yoga work wonders for me during my negative phase. I’ve been starting my day with the following Sunrise Yoga from SaraBethYoga; it’s a great way to put yourself in a better frame of mind from the moment you wake up.
Do keep a diary of your feelings during your worst time of the month. This can be private, or it can be a blog which you can share with other sufferers like me. I’ve found it helps to read other people’s experiences of PMDD and I can recommend the following posts:
What we are doing in keeping these diaries is collecting anecdotal evidence which may prove useful to medical professionals in the future as more research is done and more is learned about this condition.
Women of the world, unite and stay strong!