Hi, it's me, Lara, the girl with all the Vagina Problems. A few weeks ago I asked people to share their stories of what it’s really like living with PMDD, or premenstrual dysphoric disorder.
For those of you who don't know — PMDD, according to the Gia Allemand Foundation, is a hormone-based mood disorder with symptoms arising several days before the menstrual cycle and lasting until the period actually begins. The NIH and Mayo Clinic define PMDD as a disabling, severe form/extension of PMS.
While some of the symptoms of PMS and PMDD may overlap, PMDD is a diagnosable psychiatric disorder and PMS is not.
Some common symptoms of PMDD can include:
* Feelings of extreme sadness or despair
* Feelings of tension or anxiety
* Panic attacks and/or mood swings
* Lasting irritability or anger that affects other people
* Lack of interest in daily activities and relationships
* Trouble thinking or focusing
* Tiredness or low-energy
* Trouble sleeping
* Feeling out of control
* Physical symptoms — such as bloating, breast tenderness, headaches, and joint or muscle pain
As someone who lives with this condition, I can say that there's not a ton of awareness or knowledge around it. I can also say that it isn't your average, run-of-the-mill PMS. Oh, and I can let you know that it consistently makes my life more difficult every month. In other words, IT'S A REAL BITCH TO DEAL WITH.
So, in an effort to get more information out there and spread awareness about this condition that affects around 5 million people in the US alone, I asked people who live with it to tell me what it’s really like:
Living with PMDD is almost like being two different people. For a few weeks, I'm my happy self — proactive, and willing to deal with people and stressful situations. Then, the week or two before my period, the bad feelings start to creep in. Being overwhelmed by EVERY. LITTLE. THING. I begin to feel worthless and like a burden to everyone around me. I become short-tempered and volatile. And all of those feelings are rationalized by my mind, which has been taken over by PMDD.
I am usually a happy-go-lucky person, but my PMDD turns me into an irritable, emotional, angry, and anxious person. PMDD makes it so much harder to concentrate at work. Every little thing sets me off into a crying frenzy.
I find myself getting irrationally angry to the point of wanting to quit my job, fight with my husband over the teeniest things, or end friendships that have gone on for 10 years. Then I get disappointed in myself for letting myself get that angry, the depression and anxiety kick in, and I feel like the most worthless human being ever. Medication has helped some, but tracking my period has helped a lot because if I know it’s coming, I can tell myself to chill out.
The worst part about PMDD is the monthlong experience of dissociation from reality. The most dangerous part is the urge to make semi-major decisions, like confronting my housemate about their mildly irritating behavior and threatening to move out, to the more major prospect of leaving my job or uprooting myself in some other way.
My periods are neither painful nor heavy, but the emotional toll often leaves me feeling like there's no way out and no end to the mental unrest.
I was diagnosed with PMDD about eight years ago. Everything made sense after that. I’d quit my jobs, start relationships, end relationships, and all kinds of other destructive stuff. Then I would get my period a few hours later and be left with a new crazy situation to get myself out of. It’s still pretty bad but knowing what’s going on really helps me to control my behavior.
I’m tired of being seen as a bitch or people thinking I have control over it. I literally feel like a monster when it happens.
My PMDD is a monster. In college, even on birth control, my rage over everything around me would leave me buzzing and unable to sit still. Suicidal thoughts became so routine that I became apathetic. I would scream and cry and break things. At its worst, I would have maybe a week to a week and a half of normalcy before it started all over again.
The best way I can describe PMDD is two weeks of tremendous emotional and mental pain every single month.
I feel totally out of control with my PMDD. I pick crazy insane fights with my spouse, experience intense rage at work (both always followed by extreme guilt that makes me break down and cry), and at its worst there were times I considered self-harm out of sheer frustration and depression. I feel foggy and angry 24/7. I noticed a drastic improvement when I got on NuvaRing and now I'm on Nexplanon which has been amazing. Not only are my moods easier but I don't even bleed anymore (I do get other symptoms like bloating and regular PMS mood stuff, but I've saved a fortune in tampons!! hahaha).
When I have PMDD, I feel like I'm going completely insane. I get so angry, cry at every little thing, and get lots of suicidal thoughts. I call the doctor, and we set up an appointment that always ends up being after my period has started. By the time of my visit, I feel and seem normal again and it's really hard to explain my symptoms, so they're often dismissed as normal or "having a bad week."
I began dealing with PMDD after the birth of my daughter. It started out as postpartum depression and once the pregnancy hormones changed it became a monthly battle for my life. The day before my period was the worst — I would lie on my couch crying for hours, feeling completely useless and drained. My hormones were so out of whack that I would fall into a deep hole mentally and emotionally in which I'd feel like nothing could pull me out. I even began to have suicidal ideations every single month. Luckily over the past two years I have been able to manage the emotional side of my PMDD through therapy and medication.
For me, my PMDD started after I had my second baby. Every month I would feel self-loathing and question my choice to have children. I’d regret so many of my life choices and spend as much time in my bed as possible. Then my period would start and I would feel AMAZING.
It's hard to decide which is worse. There's the week of extreme sound sensitivity, uncontrollable rage, and a strong desire to be left alone. But that's followed by a week of despair. Crying over nothing, not being able to do things because you just don't have the energy, losing all interest in the things you love. And the last three days in particular, you drop so low that you're sure you can never recover. All of a sudden you feel nothing, and you'd think it would be a relief but it's not — it feels worse.
Guilt and sadness all over again and then poof! Periods starts and you're a normal human. Congratulations: You've got two weeks until it all happens again.
My mood flips like crazy. I don't even know how to properly describe it, but one moment I feel the urge to hurt someone who slightly inconvenienced me, and a minute later I want to walk up to them with tears in my eyes and apologize on my hands and knees for my thoughts.
I used to think that's just what PMS was — that I was one of "those girls" who turned crazy before her period. I cried in relief when I learned that PMDD was a thing. I get severe mental breakdowns, worsening depression, and crazy mood swings, and my suicidal thoughts return more horrible than ever. It doesn't let me function, and it has ruined relationships in the past and more recently.
During the two weeks leading up to my period, everything feels "off" and I don't mean that I get moody, or weepy (though that does happen). What I mean is that the whole world physically and mentally looks and feels different. It's almost like being a different person, or being in an alternate universe. Everything is familiar, but nothing feels right. It's all off a few clicks, and interacting with people is a nightmare.
Besides the crazy mood swings and exaggerated PMS symptoms like SEVERE bloating in the two weeks prior to my period, I also get debilitating joint pain from the hormone fluctuations. It can be so hard to manage symptoms and balance work, family, and relationships.
But, for what it's worth, what helps me the most is a solid self-care routine. Managing PMDD is the hardest thing I have ever been faced with, but at the end of the day I feel like facing it and controlling it is my secret superpower. Because every day that I live with PMDD and manage not to let my life go up in flames is a huge accomplishment.
When my PMDD kicks in I feel nothing like myself. I’m irrational, anxious, and sometimes so depressed that I either become catatonic or have suicidal ideation. The worst is that you know that none of that is very “you” at all, but you can’t stop any of it. It affects my relationship, has affected school and work, and friendships. It interferes with every possible aspect of my life that it can.
My PMDD starts a week before my period. It usually consists of extreme breast tenderness, severe depression and anxiety, intense mood swings, nausea, and suicidal tendencies. Living with PMDD has made it difficult to go to work, socialize with friends, and even establish romantic relationships.
I️ had gone through therapy on and off for a year before being diagnosed with PMDD. I️ never felt like depression fit me as a diagnosis because it wasn’t all-consuming...except for the 7 to 10 days before my period. PMDD is so scary and powerful that it manipulates me into believing my happy relationship needs to end or that I️ am worthless. These things are not true, but when PMDD hits, I️ am blinded by a smoke screen of doubt and insecurities.
I️ now strongly channel the work I’ve done in therapy into reminding myself of the “why” behind my actions. The “why” is PMDD and it’s not who I️ am.
Every month with PMDD is like having something in you that "switches" and you can't recognize yourself anymore. I start behaving impulsively, I start to push important people out of my life, and I get urges to hurt myself. It's so twisted because once my period starts, I realize every negative thing I did while I was suffering for those two weeks, and then have to pick up the pieces and deal with the aftermath.
I will start by getting slightly more irritated, which I shrug off as normal anxiety, until I wake up one morning with so much pressure in my chest. And for no reason at all, I’m not happy. I’m full of anxiety which turns into me becoming incredibly irritable and I have absolutely no control over it. It takes so much energy out of me, and I spend that entire time trying to keep my emotions in check, because I don’t want to hurt my family by being an emotionally charged psychopath.
For me, PMDD brings with it — among other things — loads of paranoia and irrational thinking (though at the time, it all feels extremely real). It makes me question everything in my life, especially the people in my life and my relationships with them, and as a result I️ end up lashing out at them and (attempting) to isolate myself.
Living with PMDD is like being sane for two weeks, loving life, people, stopping to smell the roses, and enjoying everything. Then it hits you. You wake up one morning and you hate the world. You have this uncontrollable rage and you snap at everyone and start fights. Mix that in with severe anxiety that makes you believe everything is going to go wrong, replaying in your head over and over all night long.
Then also add in some massive depression. You don’t want to get out of bed or talk to anyone. There’s a little voice in your head that follows you around all day telling you what a horrible person you are and that nobody likes you and you can’t do anything right. And that if you disappeared, nobody would care. You cry constantly, yell all the time, and are constantly tired and bloated. And then your period comes and the world is beautiful again. And it starts all over. Again. EVERY MONTH! Sounds fun doesn’t it?