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My PMDD Story

When I was 11 years old, I started my period. My life hasn’t really been the same since.

Throughout my teenage years and into my early 20s, I struggled immensely with low mood and irritability for 2 weeks out of every month. For years I thought there was something fundamentally wrong with me. am a caring, empathetic person, but for two weeks out of a month, I didn’t feel any connection to that part of me. It made it hard to know who I really was, because no matter what I did, nothing seemed to change. Ultimately I’d always end up feeling that intense low again. For two weeks out of every month, I was in so much emotional pain that on many occasions I thought about harming myself just to make the feelings stop.

When I was in my teens, my cyclic moods were attributed to me being a stroppy teenage girl with raging hormones. I always assumed it would get better as I got older. As I did get older however, my cyclic mood swings and irritability persisted. This began to impact my work as well as my romantic relationships and often left partners struggling to cope with my sudden, and apparently unprovoked changes in mood. My coping mechanism during this time had always been to isolate myself, which led to my first diagnosis of agoraphobia and social anxiety. In my early 20’s, I sought further help and was referred to mental health services. Based on the fact I experienced mood swings and had experienced historic trauma, I promptly received a psychiatric diagnosis of EUPD. I accepted this diagnosis for a number of years, despite the fact that 2 out of 4 weeks of the month, I felt stable emotionally and did not experience any mental health symptoms outside my general anxiety. Looking back, I feel incredibly frustrated as I distinctly remember telling every healthcare professional that my mood swings were NOT a persistent challenge and were cyclic in nature. The diagnosis of EUPD created a road block for many years; any help I attempted to access meant a referral to psychiatric services, and based entirely around my EUPD diagnosis, which proved unhelpful.

I have always been interested in hormones, and studied biological sciences as an undergraduate. In my mid twenties, I pursued my dream of becoming a mental health nurse. This began to form my interest in women's health; particularly how hormones, and sensitivity to hormones, can impact on women’s mental health. It was around this time that I learnt about PMDD. To test my theory that my cyclic mood swings may correlate with my menstrual cycle, I began to chart both my moods and my periods. I have continued to do this for the past 4 years. Interestingly, I became pregnant during this period, and during my pregnancy, my cyclic moods were entirely absent. To me at least, this provided unequivocal evidence that my mood swings were affected by the luteal phase of my menstrual cycle. I began to read more and more about PMDD, and had my lightbulb moment at 28. For years, I hadn’t even acknowledge that any of this could be related to my menstrual cycle. Looking back, it seems so obvious. I took this information first to a male GP who I had to explain the disorder to. I then took it to a female GP, expressing that I felt I was actually struggling with PMDD. She was the first person to acknowledge that I know my own body, and agreed based on my symptoms and documented mood logs, that I have PMDD.

I continue to log my moods, as it allows me to predict when my luteal phase will be. This has been my biggest saving grace, as due to the severity of my own PMDD, I have unfortunately had to learn to adapt my life around it. I am unable to take combined contraceptives, but I am aware that a number of studies note the value of these in PMDD treatment. As a healthcare professional myself, I have huge concerns that women are being referred to services that are not suitable. Healthcare professionals need to be better educated on women's health issues, including PMDD.

About the Author: My name is Jo, I am a mental health nurse based in the North West of England. I am passionate about using my position as a nurse to inform others about women’s health issues, including PMDD. I am also an advocate for autistic and neurodivergent women.

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