I know a lot of times I post lighthearted, goofy, off-the-wall kind of stuff. And when I do post serious stuff, I try to make light of it, or talk about it with some humour. Today, I’m not going to attempt that. I’m laying down something that’s on my heart, something that I have had a lot of trouble admitting to, and something that has been a huge disruption in my life, from the time I was 12 years old.
What I’m going to talk about is very controversial, and not very well known. As one Law and Order episode comments “Wait, PMS made her do it?” A lot of people are going to confuse what I have to say, and the illness I have to talk about, with common, run-of-the-mill PMS. And I’ll be honest. PMS sucks. But what I’m going to talk to you about is a serious, diagnosable illness, called Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder, or PMDD.
PMDD is so severe it can be debilitating. People with PMDD are known to have what my mother refers to as “three bad weeks, and one almost-good one.” Only 3 to 8 percent of women suffer from it.
Having five or more of the symptoms below are a good indication that you might be affected. I hate to give symptom lists, because it’s so easy to think you have every affliction under the sun, but when I talk about these symptoms, they aren’t ones that go away after a day or two. These are symptoms that a woman with PMDD experiences, severely, two weeks before her period starts, until a couple of days after bleeding starts.
- feelings of deep sadness or despair, possible suicide ideation
- feelings of tension or anxiety
- increased sensitivity to rejection or criticism
- panic attacks
- mood swings, crying
- lasting irritability or anger, increased interpersonal conflicts. Typically sufferers are unaware of the impact they have on those close to them
- apathy or disinterest in daily activities and relationships
- difficulty concentrating
- food cravings or binge eating
- insomnia or hypersomnia; sleeping more than usual, or (in a smaller group of sufferers) being unable to sleep
- feeling overwhelmed or “out of control”
- increase or decrease in sex drive
- increased need for emotional closeness
- physical symptoms: bloating, heart palpitations, breast tenderness, headaches, joint or muscle pain, swollen face and nose
Other symptoms that are common and more specific to PMDD include:
- physical symptoms such as breast tenderness or swelling, headaches, joint or muscle pain.
- an altered view of one’s body – a sensation of ‘bloating’, feeling fat or actual weight gain.
Viewing this list opened my world up a lot. When I was 12, I got my first period. I know, my readers were all dying to know that. Not long after that, I became a very moody girl. Around the age of 15, I started really experiencing the effects of my issues, though. I would be having a great day, and all of a sudden, one little off comment would send me either bursting into tears, or into a screaming fit of rage. I would just… snap. And I couldn’t control it. I would be fine one minute, insane the next. Like Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. At first, it seemed almost bipolar. But bipolarity follows a certain cycle- it isn’t a good-bad-good within 5 minutes kind of thing. It has longer phases of mania and depression.
When this first started, I would go through weeks where I wouldn’t want to eat at all. Food didn’t interest me. I picked at it. Then, I’d go through two or three weeks where I stuffed my face with everything in sight. I never seemed to stop eating. I’d stay up until 5, 6, 7 in the morning, operate on a couple of hours of sleep. And, after a few weeks of living like that, I’d crash. I’d have this desire to sleep and sleep and sleep, and not wake up for hours.
My moods were the worst, though. It caused conflicts, breakups, family issues, more conflicts, lost friendships, more breakups, and more anger and aggression on my part. It was frustrating. What was wrong with me?
I gained weight. I lost a little. I gained more than I lost. I lost a little more. I gained even more. My weight yo-yo’ed, but mostly went up. And with it, my self esteem went through the floor. I hated my body. I may have been a Haley Hasselhof, but I was convinced I was a Nikki Blonsky. Not that there is anything wrong with Nikki– she’s gorgeous– but I had serious body dysmorphism. I thought I was larger than I was, and for that, I hated myself.
Cue the therapy. See, I had gone to therapy as a child. I mean, my dad was MIA, and my mom felt like I needed someone to talk to about it. I saw this fantastic therapist. But she doesn’t see adults, so, when I was in college, and found out I really should go back to therapy, especially after my miscarriage (which seemed to only make the mood swings worse), I had to look elsewhere. I started seeing a free therapist through the school, an intern. She was lovely (she’s still alive, so I’m sure she’s still lovely, and a total sweetheart. It’s just her internship, and my therapy, is over, so… past tense it is). She was the first (or rather, the second. My mother noticed it, and even told me, but, as much as my mother is my best friend, who listens to their mother, anyway?) to see my disorder for what it was. It wasn’t depression (like a few doctors thought). It wasn’t bipolar disorder. It wasn’t any strange mysterious illness.
It was PMDD. She recommended something that tends to help a lot of women suffering from PMDD. Birth control. I got on Loestrin 24, which has done wonders for the cramps, but really never did get around to keeping my mood swings out of the way, or my paranoia or depression.
But just because I started taking the medicine, just because I admitted to my therapist I had PMDD, didn’t mean I admitted it to me. Or, really, much of anyone. A few people knew, of course, but my struggle has largely been very private.
See, I was reading the statistic. 3 to 8 percent. That means if this gets 100 views, there’s a chance that 3 to 8 of you have PMDD (factoring out any men who may view my blog, I guess… whatever, I sucked at stats). That means that if you have 300 females on your facebook page, 9 to 24 of them might have it.
This is a real illness.
I will admit, I thought the Birth Control would be a miracle cure. For many women, it does help it. I thought B vitamins would be a fix. And for a lot of women it is. But there are some women with PMDD who have to go the extra step, and look into things like Prozac. I never wanted to be that woman. I never wanted to admit that my PMDD was bad enough that it destroyed relationships, made me snap in an instant, made it hard to get out of bed some days, but harder to get INTO bed and fall asleep others. I didn’t want to admit that I have a problem. I didn’t want to admit that I have to fight to contain this monster I feel is inside of me, and I definitely didn’t want to admit that sometimes, I lose that fight.
It’s a struggle. Every single day, I have to make the decision to be happy and positive. And sometimes, a lot of times, making that decision, isn’t enough. I can fight and work to contain it, and it doesn’t always happen. And that’s hard for people who haven’t been there to understand.
For me, what really woke me up was the following story. I was talking to someone today, about how I just… I have this feeling. Where I just snap. I just… snap. I can’t control it. She’s someone who knows my story of PMDD very well, and has been there through the whole battle, but, for her protection, I won’t disclose who she is. She’s seen me struggle with the monster my PMDD is since I was 12. She saw it get worse when I was 15, and again when I was 16, and again at 21, and a lot of times between. She said to me today “I always thought, oh, you can control it, you just don’t want to. That you were just not being as good as you could about keeping your emotions inside. That you were over dramatic. Until one day, I just… snapped. I was having an otherwise good day, and one little off comment made me just go off. And then it happened again. And another time. I realized, that must be what it’s like, to be you. To have everything going okay, and for one person to say one thing, and then all of a sudden, you just get upset, or angry. You burst into tears, or you yell.”
Now, by snap, I don’t want any of you thinking the worst. I have never physically harmed anyone during a fit. I scream. I’m learning, slowly, to control that. I cry. A lot. I can’t control that.
And now, I’ve realized, as much as my illness sucks, as much as I hate I have it… I do have it. And ignoring it won’t make me better. Getting the help I need will. But more than that, letting others who face this know they aren’t alone will, too. And if that won’t make me better, at least letting them know it’s an option, to actually go get help, will.
Today, I took a major step in deciding that I’m ready to take control of my life. I’m ready to stop letting it spiral out of control. I’m ready to learn a new way of living. I’ve decided to get the medical help I need, and I’ve decided to explore medicating myself. Before, medicine meant admitting I had a problem that I didn’t want to believe existed. But now, medicine might mean that fine line of control, rather than snapping, so I’m ready to try it.
This seems like so much to admit, but like I said, I felt so alone, until one person, just one, finally understood how I felt, and identified with how I cannot control it. If just one person feels comforted by this, my blog did it’s job. If it helped me reach out to one reader with PMDD, it was worth airing my life out to the masses.
I’m not prepared to think about the consequences, or how posting this could make people see me, or how it could affect me in the future. I just know that I needed to air this out, tell you about it, and hopefully, help someone take that step to sorting out their own issues.
If anyone needs to talk, I’m here. And if you don’t want to air it out in the comments, I have an email. Jengerbread88@gmail.com. Please don’t hesitate to contact me.