My Invisible Demon: Life with PMDD & the Hormonal Journey to Wellness
because you’re going to be O.K.
For two weeks a month, I am anxious, fearful, indecisive, emotional, and find it difficult to concentrate. I never thought I’d feel like two different people, but that’s life with PMDD.
Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder or PMDD is a hormone-based mood disorder that is cyclic and affects a woman’s menstrual cycle. You can read more about PMDD here.
Imagine if it was PMED (Premenstrual EUPHORIC Disorder – just two weeks of pure bliss!?) Yeah, Ok – I’m dreaming.
PMDD affects up to 10% of women which is roughly 5,000,000 in the US alone. What is worrisome is the fact that there are thousands of women who live with it and don’t even know it. Many women are misdiagnosed as Bipolar, Multiple Personality Disorder among others. The key to diagnosing PMDD (as the medical community has not fully embraced it) is to track it for two months, looking for the telltale signs of Anxiety, Depression, Mood Lability (swings), intense cravings, Pain, Swelling, Changes in Personality, Rage, Irritability, and thoughts of suicide. In some severe cases, some women attempt suicide.
PMDD manifest in a rather odd way for me. I’m organized yet completely discombobulated. I go from being confident and ready to conquer the world to the inability to get out of a wet paper bag. Usually, I’m positive and always see the good yet I turn into a hopeless person full of anxiety and fear. The seesaw adventure in hormones leaves me filled with anxious questions like, first of all, HOW the hell is this possible? How can I be a different version of myself that I don’t KNOW? How can I be the best parent for my children? How can I teach my children to fight against life’s adversities when I struggle myself?
I never thought at 35 I’d struggle with my own identity; with the foundation of what makes me…ME, yet – I do. It’s not easy to explain, especially to someone who doesn’t have it. After the birth of my daughter in 2014 and 10 awful months of Postpartum Depression, my life changed. When the Postpartum Depression ended, I thought I was out of the dark, but as it would turn out, I wasn’t.
Since this disorder goes undiagnosed or even misdiagnosed, it probably wouldn’t surprise you to learn that it wasn’t a doctor who figured it out. It was my husband of all people (poor guy). He noticed a distinct and predictable pattern around my period. Exactly 14 days before I would get it, I started to change into a darker version of myself that rivaled PMS. The one who couldn’t make decisions, worried about nonsensical things, had irrational thoughts, anxiety, rapid heart rate, feelings of worthlessness, dizziness, spaced out, and even depressed.
While this unnamed storm was brewing in my body and psyche, I was still the mom and still working to keep my family healthy, happy, and organized. I don’t know how it all worked, to be honest. After an entire year of watching these sometimes frightening symptoms, my doctor finally recognized what was happening to me and said, “You clearly have PMDD. You’re not crazy.”
The end. No, I wish it was the end but my journey continues.
The silver lining in this storm surge was that not only did someone believe in me, but I was learning how to fight for myself. The utter willpower to get up, walk, talk, cry, scream out loud and reach for help. SHE was in me the entire time – I just didn’t believe it. She was just scared; tired and hopeless. I remember leaving the doctors crying. Finally, I wasn’t nuts and they were to treat me, right?
No. That wasn’t the case. I tried Zoloft but could barely care for myself. I felt like Norman Bates as it was – never alone adding Kathy Bates to the mix from Misery (great book and movie by the way).
Unfortunately, to this day, there isn’t a CURE for PMDD. Under the guidance of my physician, I tried Zoloft, birth control, and even natural medicines, but no pharmaceutical helped. That’s when my true journey began.
You’ve heard what didn’t work for me from Birth Control to Pharmaceuticals and after the haze of washed up pills left my system I was left with no other option than to fight this on my own, so I started tracking my cycles. I kept a journal and also used an app called “Clue”, where I could track everything from my mood to any physical changes. I did this for 3 months. After 3 months, I was able to see a clear pattern and I started to realize that there was some medical issue.
I also tracked my sleep. I realized that if I got anything under 8 hours during that time I was an absolute mess the next day. When I say mess, I mean not being able to think correctly, emotional, crying, taking everything the wrong way, thinking everyone hated me, my marriage was over, I was a failure, etc. Getting a full 8 hours or more was and still is key to managing my symptoms. You’re laughing, right? As a Mom on call 24-7, this can be a challenge but it’s something that I must do. I do my best to go to bed every night at the same time because it takes me forever to fall and stay asleep. If you need some support in this area, you can check out some of the specifics I do to help with sleep HERE.
Another simple hack that I started to do was take Epsom Salt baths. I know, who the hell has time for that? You must make the time, you must make a sacrifice some place in your schedule to take care of yourself. All it takes is 20 minutes, 3 x per week. That’s only 1 hour out of 168 weekly hours that you dedicate to yourself. Remember, the more you help yourself, the better you are at parenting, at work, in relationships, etc. Self-love and care isn’t optional. If you think you could benefit from an Epsom Salt bath, I put exactly what I do HERE.
There is support out there, though, and there are some things women can do to help alleviate the symptoms.
My children always know when I am having a tough day. They feel it. They live it. We are all very interconnected and close. I suppose that’s a great thing and not so great thing at times. When I’m riddled with anxiety I see it mostly in my son. He has trouble focusing and becomes highly emotional – we, as a family, all feed off of one another. This is why, for me, it’s super important that I fight hard each and every day. In those moments, I feel like the worst mother. Then I slap myself (literally at times) and remind myself that so long as they see me fight, they will see my strength.
They, too, will learn to fight during life’s adversities and not give up. On my toughest days, when all I want to do is cry and crawl into a hole, they see me doing push-ups, walking, dancing, and more importantly – acknowledging that I am human and that it’s OK to not always be Ok. I mean, who is without struggle?
The biggest gift I can give myself and my children is the ability to identify their own struggles and get through them. If you’re one of the 5,000,000 women with PMDD or think you may have it then know you truly aren’t alone. You’re valued. You’re loved. There is support, and more importantly, YOU ARE ENOUGH!
*Disclaimer – I am not a medical professional and should consult with your medical doctor should you have any suicidal thoughts and or symptoms that are interfering with your everyday life and relationships*