Cat's story: Living with premenstrual dysphoric disorder
I have lived with premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD) since I was 13, but I was only diagnosed at 27. For over 10 years I had been diagnosed as depressed and in and out of community mental health departments.
After stopping the Pill and having a baby aged 21, my hormones went crazy and I suffered pre- and postnatal depression. In the years that followed I began noticing a pattern to my moods and depression. At times, I thought I really was severely mentally ill. I always had PMS, but I realised that my worst times happened when I was due on my period. My PMS was so severe that it had begun to take over my life, wreck relationships, ruin jobs, studying and caused me so much emotional pain that I often found myself considering suicide. I would become housebound, with no social life or friends and fearful of ever making an appointment because I could never guarantee how I would be feeling.
It was only my persistence and researching that made me realise I did in fact have a mood disorder and not straight forward depression. I Googled 'mood disorders' instead of depression and discovered PMDD â Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder. I read the only book available at that time, and began to track my moods using a chart from the book. I found a GP willing to listen, took in printed information and my charts and got the correct diagnosis of Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder. Coming to terms with what that meant took many years, and sometimes I still struggle.
PMS is one thing, many women suffer with moodiness, anger, irritability at pre-menstruation, but my PMDD threatened to destroy everything. As a mother, I felt I wasn't well enough to look after my children, I have been unable to work and feel really separated from the rest of the world. Only 3-8% of women suffer with PMDD, the rest get through each month without disaster. It is very difficult to find people to talk to who understand what I'm experiencing when PMDD is so rare, and when menstrual problems are often seen as something to joke about or ridicule. I have often dealt with comments like 'pull yourself together' and 'get a grip', and even people denying that PMDD exists.
PMDD is distinguishable by the dysphoria that is experienced. Feelings of being completely overwhelmed, spiralling thoughts, outrage, anger, frustration, anxiety and suicidal ideation coupled with the physical symptoms, which can include, bloating, IBS, tender breasts, cramps, lower back pain, lethargy, and sleep and appetite changes. I am sensitive to the changes in hormones during my cycle, and I also experience a few days of unstable moods and physical symptoms during ovulation. My PMDD does not occur once a month but twice a month, leaving on average 10-14 days of feeling like me, and the rest being spent coping with symptoms. This will continue until menopause.
I am now 34 and have tried every medication offered to me. I have discovered that I am very sensitive to any type of hormone and cannot tolerate the Pill or IUD. I spent a total of 5 years on anti-depressants, which never really worked for me. They took the edge off, but didn't stop the extreme lows and outbursts. I have seen psychiatrists and gynaecologists. At one point, I went through hormone treatment to stop all my hormones and put me into a chemical menopause. This is often a route that works for PMDD sufferers, and many go on to have hysterectomies. Unfortunately, this option did not work for me, and the treatment made me very ill.
I have found that counselling has helped, along with mind techniques such as CBT, NLP and meditation. Finding support is essential. Being able to talk through the irrational thoughts can usually avert disaster. Keeping busy is also a good way to keep the mind focused, so I draw, create, paint, write and bake lots!
I am now medication free for the first time in my life. I have had to learn my cycle and I now plan things around it. I avoid busy social situations when I know it will be too much for me. Eating healthily, regular exercise and avoiding stress has also helped improve my symptoms. Making sure I continue to communicate with loved ones and work through problems, finding strength to leave the house even when I don't want to and being open and outspoken about my disorder all contribute to life feeling easier and less stressful and traumatic. Fitting into society and getting a regular job is a whole other problem. After all, who would employ someone who can only function and deal with stressful situations for 10-14 days out of every month? I focus on my children and being the best mother I can be, my writing, art and getting through each month without trauma. One day I hope to be self-employed.
Living with PMDD is very challenging, but I am trying to make the best of my life, for me and my children. There is always hope, the negative feelings and dysphoria will always pass. Life is a rollercoaster but as someone once said to me you're a long time dead. Women need to speak out and stop being ashamed of suffering from PMS/PMDD. Every voice helps change the way people think and I find talking and being honest is always the best option.