I haven’t written about PMDD for a while, because I’ve been trying out a new approach for dealing with my symptoms. I wanted to make sure this was working before reporting back and sharing my experience with fellow sufferers. It is important to note that this is not medical advice, I am most certainly not a medical practitioner. It is only the story of how I am coping with this condition. Take from it what you will, if you think it may benefit you.
My battle with PMDD
For those of you unfamiliar with the condition, PMDD is related to PMS but far more severe. Experts believe it is caused by the brain being hypersensitive to the increased levels of progesterone produced during the luteal phase of the menstrual cycle. Hormonally, sufferers are ‘normal’ – but physiologically and psychologically, we are not. Symptoms can range from extreme tiredness, irritability and rage to extreme anxiety, depression and suicidal ideation. PMDD is no picnic.
I have described PMDD variously as ‘a beast’ and ‘a devil’ and even likened it to Guy de Maupassant’s Le Horla. I have sought chemical means to tame the condition, such as alcohol (before I got sober 15 months ago), tranquilisers and hormonal birth control. None of these worked, and all had nasty side effects. I realised that it was time for a different approach.
A visit to the doctor
This month, I finally visited the doctor, the first time since my move to Slovenia in June. I was wary of seeking medical advice for this condition, because unfortunately many doctors are unaware of it, or worse, they don’t believe it is real. I was given the ‘there, there, take a tablet approach’ by the last (male) doctor I saw in Spain.
I wisely chose a female doctor, and serendipitously she turned out to be around the same age as me. When I described my condition and its symptoms she seemed interested. She said she would read up on the condition and refer me to a gynaecologist. When I explained that my PMDD started after the birth of my first child, she said that she had experienced similar symptoms and that she would pay a visit to the gynaecologist herself!
This was an eye-opening experience: women’s health does not always get the attention in badly needs, so we women must advocate for our own healthcare and to have our voices heard. A bit like when we had to fight for the vote. Now we are fighting to have our health taken seriously. It may be the 21st century but I think we have a long way to go in this field.
My PMDD Toolkit
I decided to try and deal with my PMDD using the only approach which had ever shown any signs of helping; namely mindfulness, meditation and yoga. Here are my top tips if you want to try this approach:
- Track your symptoms: I use the Me v PMDD app. I have been tracking my symptoms over the last 5 months, and this has helped me realise that my symptoms always appear on the same days of my cycle in the same order. This way, I know exactly what to expect, and when. Forewarned is forearmed.
- Practice mindfulness and meditation: do this every day of the month, even when you are feeling well, for a minimum of 10 minutes per day. This will help you detach from your symptoms when they arrive. I like the guided meditations from Boho Beautiful.
- Practice Yoga, if you can: It doesn’t have to be stretching and flexing, yoga also refers to the practice of becoming one with the divine within you. If you can practice the physical postures, this helps with the journey. Great things can be achieved with small steps every day. I average 15-20 minutes daily, though I don’t always fit in a daily practice. If there is a physical reason you can’t practice, simply lie down in Savasna. This translates as ‘corpse pose,’ but don’t be put off: it’s all about stilling those feelings which drive us to distraction in our all-to-often hectic daily lives.
- Practice self-care: Self-care is important at all times, but never more so than when you are feeling physically and mentally challenged. If you feel overwhelmed, take a break – even just tuning out for 10 minutes with a meditation will help. If you can, take a nap or do something you enjoy which doesn’t require much mental energy, such as watching a movie or listening to music.
- Detach from your symptoms: This for me has been the key to dealing with my PMDD. Recognise your symptoms for what they are: a mental and physical reaction to your brain being under extreme physical stress. You may feel anxious, depressed, or angry, but don’t give these symptoms the time of day. Make like John Nash in A Beautiful Mind and they will lose their power over you:
I have found this approach is working for me. I don’t fly into rages like I used to: I recognise when I am getting overwhelmed, explain to my loved ones that I need to take a break, then do it. I don’t spend every minute of the day obsessing over my symptoms. I know that the symptoms come in waves, and that in every day I will have moments of peace and joy, even during ‘hell week.’ I accept my condition as one that will be with me for the long-term, and I am finding ways not only to live with it, but to learn from it.
If you are a PMDD sufferer or know someone who is affected by the condition, I hope you found this post helpful. You are welcome to reach out to me by commenting, or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org. I hope that you, too can kick this beast in the butt just as it deserves!
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