I’ve been trying to sit down and write this post for days now, but every time I think about doing it I clam up, feel tears forming behind my eyelid ducts and the chest pains tighten right above my heart even more than it already is and I feel like I’m about to die, or at the very least have a panic attack.
But I need to get this out. For me. For anyone going through the same thing I do on a month-to-month basis so maybe you won’t feel the same level of loneliness I do. For those who have loved ones who experience this so maybe they, too, can understand and empathise with how crippling PMDD can be, and want to help.
Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder (PMDD) is a severe form of premenstrual syndrome (PMS) — they’re similar in that some of the symptoms are interchangeable, but PMDD is severe enough to affect a woman’s day-to-day activities, relationships, work, and so on; it’s not limited to just those, because it’s different for all of us. Some months can be better than others, but you never really know until it happens. PMDD affects somewhere between 2 and 10% of menstruating women; those with a family history, or own experience with depression, anxiety or postpartum depression are at a higher risk of having PMDD.
Symptoms usually start between 5 and 10 days before menstruation and can carry on for a few days after. Some of the symptoms are so completely debilitating they consume every single thought process no matter who tells you everything is going to be okay, because it feels anything but.
It is not just PMS, or feeling a little sad or getting a little tearful about issues that don’t directly affect you. It’s not just feeling a little extra hungry or bloated, or even just a little extra cranky; it’s so much more than that.
So I’m going to try and tell you what it’s like.
I didn’t realise I’ve had PMDD until recently, and it’s progressively gotten worse as I’ve gotten older. Because I already struggle with anxiety, each month, for upwards to a week it is heightened to the point where it consumes me so much mentally and emotionally I don’t think it’s ever going to get better. There is a constant black cloud following me around everywhere I go; sometimes there’s a bit of a break and some sun gets in to lighten the mood, but it’s the calm before the storm.
Sometimes all I want to do is sleep. If it’s a weekend, I’ll get up for a few hours and try and go about my day, but plenty of times I’ll be back on the couch, coasting through a two-to-four hour nap. Other times I’m up all hours of the evening even though I know I’m tired and should probably sleep, because there’s no way in hell PMDD is consistent with which sleeping pattern you’re given.
Then comes the hunger – the wanting-to-eat-everything-and-then-hating-myself-for it, which is accompanied by the self-loathing and absolute disgust I feel for myself when I look in the mirror. Everything about me sucks. The hair. My body. My face. The outfit I’m wearing. It physically hurts to look at myself because all I see is someone so completely appalling, who the hell would want to look at me if I don’t even want to look at myself?
I know I’m fully in PMDD mode when the tight, pulsing headaches begin, usually sometime in the afternoon (but sometimes I get them right when I wake up), in my right temple. They’re so tight and tense I can press my finger against it and it moves. It feels like I’m tying to work out a kink in my back, except it’s my head and it’s a headache and I can’t do anything else because it’s taken all concentration away from me. I can take something for them, but it’s never very long until they resurface later that day or the next morning.
This isn’t even the worst of it.
When I’m in a bad spell of PMDD, I can’t focus on anything else other than what’s trying to drown me while I’m failing miserably at keeping afloat. The extreme sadness and tension; the irrational irritability and anger that overwhelms me so much I don’t even recognize who I’ve suddenly become; the crippling anxiety that causes me to create scenarios in my head I know aren’t true or haven’t happened, or aren’t even likely to happen, but I’ve somehow convinced myself it is to the point where I’m not even sure what the truth is anymore. The tight chest pains caused by the anxiety that make me feel like I’m going to have a heart attack and die because it’s on the left side of my chest right above my heart. I know I’m not going to, but the irrational fear inside me tells me I’m going to.
The crying. The incredible sadness I feel when moments before I felt fine. It can happen at work or at school or anywhere in public and then there’s the added stress of ‘oh god I’m awkwardly trying to hide that I’m crying in public, I hope no one notices.’
It can be triggered by anything, and that anything turns into everything because it takes one scenario and run with it, creating a million more different and related ones along the way. Most of the time I know whatever irrational thoughts I’m having are irrational. I can usually separate the two, but with PMDD, even though I know they’re irrational, I can’t stop them. I can’t stop the triggers because I don’t always know what they’re going to be, so I can’t really prepare myself for when it comes. All I feel like I can do is know that this is going to happen to me, every month for anywhere between 5 and 10 days, and try dealing with it best as I can when it comes.
With the sadness, anger, depression and tension comes the feelings of self-worth. Not about my appearance but about who I am as a person and how awful about myself I feel. I can be told a million wonderful things about me but I’m so hard-pressed to believe them, even when they come from the people who love me the most. It’s not that I don’t think they’re not telling the truth, it’s just that I’ve succumbed so far into this dark pit I can’t see out of it. I feel like I don’t deserve anything good that’s happened to me, especially, especially how I feel like I don’t deserved to be loved by the person whom I love the most. Instead, I feel like a burden, while trying to suppress these feelings as much as possible. I try not to. I don’t want to. But I do, and I try so hard to believe during this godawful time that I’m loved and that I’m worthy and deserving of being loved, and that I’m not alone. It’s not easy.
Sooner or later I come out of it and I start feeling like me again, but I know this is always just around the corner, it’s just taking time getting to its destination; sort of like a driver who’s turned the left-hand signal on long before making that eventual turn.