The many faces of premenstrual dysphoric disorder

I woke up this morning feeling sick to my stomach with worry. Well, that’s a bit of a lie. I never really slept at all. I just laid in bed, staring at the ceiling and throwing around about 100 different scenarios of doom in my head. It’s August 16th. It’s mid month. For me, it’s that time of the month where the whole world falls in on itself for me. The whole…entire…world. It has a name. It’s called premenstrual dysphoric disorder, or PMDD, and it’s a serious disorder. According to Harvard, 5% of women have this disorder and a shocking 15% of  women suffering from PMDD will attempt suicide. If you are a woman dealing with this, monthly, you aren’t alone.

I’ve written about this before, in normal times. In times when I wasn’t separated from my family, when I wasn’t constantly worried about my parents, my friends, the future of my job, the roof over my head and more. If you are an anxious person, this present Pandemic is anything but easy, to say the least. But, if you are a person that deals with this extreme PMS (again, premenstrual dysphoric disorder), I wanted to write this today to say… you aren’t alone. You aren’t the only one suffering.

Do you want to know where my mind goes to immediately at this time of the month? First of all, this is a three to five day time span. For three to five days, I spiral. And I can always feel it coming on because each and every time, at this time of month, my mind goes to two things – having kids and America. Those are my triggers. I’m sure that sounds mad. Or maybe you sympathise and your two things are career and relationship? Whatever the trigger, there is some sense of relief when I look at the date on the calendar and realise that the worries are tied to something that I can put a finger on. Dear reader, that does not mean the anxiety or fear dissipates. It simply means I can sprinkle the anxiety and fear with a bit of “ok, we go through this every month. Just hang in there, kid. It will be over in a few days. Buckle up.”

So what’s with the worry pattern on kids and America?

Well, I’m a 40 year old women with no children. That’s just what it is. The majority of the time, I think, I’ll just be a great aunt, a great friend to my friends’ kids. I’ll be the cool one without kids, to the kids. However that works. But, every month, during these five days, I’m the woman that never built a family. I’m the woman that isn’t doing what she was put here to do… to raise a family. Because that’s what my mom did, with four kids, and I grew up thinking I would do the same, just like my mom, like her mom and my mom’s mom’s mom. I love my life, I do, but the kids thing has always been difficult for me to reconcile. The demons around that come out in full force this time of the month.

The America bit… well, that’s a tale as old as time. Every single moment of every single day I juggle the question of America vs. The UK. Where is really my home? Where do I belong? Did I make a mistake giving myself such a big split in my life? But, most days, I’m so happy where I am that it only creeps in occasionally, usually when I’m on Instagram looking at feeds of girls that live in Charleston, or any southern city, really. That’s when it hurts. It hurts hardest on these mid-month days, however, because I have no common sense available to me to rationalise that I’m just in a hormonal state of flux. That Charleston and Beaufort will always be there, that I’m usually just a plane ride away from that heavenly slice of home.

So, what’s really the problem here? It’s perspective, common sense. Any form of “calming down” just disappears with PMDD. A seed is planted and it grows into an Oak Tree of fear in a matter of minutes. I can’t see past it, through it or any way around it. It’s my worry friend to deal with until the hormones calm down. And it scares the living daylights out of me.

For those of you that know me, or have been reading me for a while, I think you know I try to be these two things: upbeat and real. I lead with the upbeat, because I think life truly is a state of mind. But, the realness is always there with me, wanting to be shared as well, knowing that sharing is truly helpful in so many cases. Not sharing and acting like everything is perfect and glamorous is nothing but a big mistake and a lie. I’m allowed mistakes, but I don’t ever want to lie.

So today, I’m sharing this for those that need to read it. For those who suffer, in particular, with heightened stress and anxiety every month because you’re female. It ain’t easy, but there are coping mechanisms. There are ways around this, and I’ve tried a few. Sadly, most of the proven medical treatments around this monthly terror have horrible side effects for me, personally. That means I’m left with natural remedies to keep things in check. These are ways to calm things down a bit.

Here are a few suggestions for assistance with PMDD, both natural and medical. If you want more scientific data and doctor supported evidence on what PMDD is and how to treat it, Harvard have you covered. Read this article and I guarantee you’ll feel even more “normal” about what you experience.

Let’s start with the things I have tried, as prescribed by medical professionals.

SSRIs (antidepressants or anti-anxiety medication)

This I can absolutely speak to, with experience. Again, this is personal. I am not a medical expert, and you should consult one for your own situation. But, I will say this… the first year after being on anti-depressants was probably the best I’ve had in a while. Nothing seemed to phase me. PMDD disappeared. I wasn’t crying, I wasn’t blowing the littlest things out of proportion and I wasn’t dreaming up scenarios that would never happen.

So, why did I go off them? Well, I had some rather unpleasant symptoms that came with taking these pills, that only really came about after being on them for 12 months. But, I must be clear about the fact that I did not, for every a single second, feel any shame for taking a pill daily that could help me so tremendously. I feel like there is such a stigma attached to antidepressants and I cannot for the life of me understand it. It’s no different to taking a pill for a heart condition. If you need it to regulate insulin or your blood pressure and you take a pill, no one places judgement. This is exactly the same. You are treating a chemical imbalance.

I am open to trying new things, so this might be an option I explore again as medicine changes and new things come onto the market.

The Pill

I so wish this was something that I could have used. Every Gyno I’ve ever spoken to has promised that going on the pill would eradicate any form of this mid-month freak out. Sadly, every iteration of the Birth Control Pill has left me feeling sicker than a dog. Truly, we’re talking worshipping the white bowl for hours on end, every day. I’d rather have a bum week than deal with that every day of my life. So, it didn’t work for me. But, it works for a great percentage of women. It’s worth talking to your doctor about on your next visit, if this is a real problem for you. If one pill a day could change everything, why wouldn’t you take it? Same as antidepressants.

And now the things that I do now, that do help make the symptoms less severe:

Meditating

Ok, ok. Admittedly I rolled my eyes the first time this was suggested. I’m putting that out there front and centre. But, when things get really bad I do turn on Headspace (or any other app you use… this is just the one I’ve stuck with for years) and just give myself up to the universe for ten minutes. I do actually end up feeling better for a while. It’s not the fixer to end all fixers, but it’s a big helper in that general direction. It’s also become a daily practice that does help with anxiety in general, for those interested.

Watching Gilmore Girls

I am well aware of how ridiculous this sounds and it’s obviously going to be laughed at by any medical professionals. But, this might be the best advice I have for those that have the time to do it. When I was working 9-5, for someone else, I didn’t have the stresses I have now and was pretty much always run off my feet, so the stress began when I got home and tried to destress during this time of month. The one thing I did to relax myself… Gilmore Girls. It’s a show that’s so out of the realm of my own current reality, but what I always dreamt my life would somehow resemble that it comforts me. It’s like a big hug. Now, your show might not be Gilmore Girls, but, it’s needs to be an old favourite that you could dip into at any episode and know there is zero anxiety associated with watching. It’s your safe TV place. Don’t overestimate the power of this. I know we’re all trying to less screen time, but if this can help you why not try it?

Exercise

Ugh. Hate writing that so much. How many times has someone said, “if you feel horrible, throw on some shoes and get out of the house”? I get so angry whenever Steve suggests it, when I’m in a mood. But, after fifteen minutes of walking, I feel so so much better and always end up apologising for being so moody and disagreeable about going out.

Exercising doesn’t mean you have to go take a spin class, although that might be your thing. It can be as simple as getting out and walking around the block for fifteen minutes at the pace of a snail. Just get out. Getting out of the house is the best thing for your mind sometimes. Those four walls might not feel like they are closing in on you, but they ain’t helping.

Dietary changes

First off, don’t reach for that glass of wine, iced gin & tonic, large bar of chocolate or steaming mug of coffee.. It might provide some temporary comfort, but the crash on the other end will just make the condition that much worse. It’s better to limit alcohol, sugary foods and caffeine during this time. I find this so so tough as I regularly eat chocolate, drink coffee and have a glass of wine at least weekly. EEK!

Smoked salmon and cream cheese on a bagel for breakfast?

There are studies that have shown that eating foods rich in Omega 3s can improve your mood. I’ll be honest. Eating lox and cream cheese always cheers me up anyway. I’m not sure if that’s because they have Omega 3s or because I just love it as a breakfast. Which came first? The happiness or the tastebud satisfaction? Who knows? But, I do make sure I have salmon loaded breakfasts to treat myself during this time.

Therapy!

Talk it out! Sometimes talking is absolutely, above everything else, the best thing you can do. A therapist is there to help you see through the thoughts that are clouding your judgement. This time of month is no exception. I’ve found the greatest relief in sitting on a couch and saying absolutely everything going on in my mind and having a trusted medical professional talk back to me in a measured and concerned way. Sometimes just saying what you are thinking out loud immediately takes away the power of the thought, if that makes sense? Again, there is no shame in seeking out a therapist. And when I say, “seeking out,” I mean really finding a person you can talk to about anything and rely on for help.

CBD Oils

While my friends in LA have been talking about this forever, it’s still a relatively new form of treatment in the UK for all sorts of ailments and I can only recommend looking into it. I am not a medical expert and would never encourage you to do anything you aren’t comfortable with and haven’t researched yourself. But, let me tell you about the experience I’ve had over the past three months with CBD drinks.

I was sent Trip CBD Drinks, with 15ml CBD oil in every can, to try out a couple of months ago. I had one can immediately, when my head was on straight, but dealing with usual stresses, and I did find that a subtle calmness was restored within about half an hour of drinking. It did nothing more than make me feel a little more capable of dealing with things in a measured way. It didn’t make me feel tired or too relaxed. If anything, it seemed to just bring things more into focus.

Saying that, this morning, after I wrote the first four paragraphs of this piece, I reached for another CBD drink I’d been sent from Gibson’s Goodology. Their drinks contain 25ml of CBD oil in every can, apparently the highest dose currently allowed in the UK. In all honesty, it’s hard to tell the difference between a 15 or 25ml dose when you are believing the whole world is ending. But, again, I felt a sort of calm come over me, an ability to focus with a bit more perspective for the situation at hand.

Again, CBD Oils aren’t the be all and end all, but they are worth researching and seeing if they work for you. Apparently everyone has a different take on this and I do know so many women that have truly had their lives transformed because of this addition to their daily rituals.

So that’s it. That’s my little moment of talking about PMDD when I’m right in the thick of it. And I am right in the middle of this tornado of emotions. Don’t for a second believe that just because I can write about it means I’m not sitting here still feeling sick about opening it up for greater conversation and exploration, while also wondering if it’s too late to change my mind about moving back to America. But, it is what it is, and in a few days my world will go back to rotating normally.


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