If you’re reading this you probably already know what PMDD stands for and I’m just 1 of 1 in 20 women and AFAB individuals that live with a Premenstrual Disorder. As a child I was diagnosed with Premature Adrenarche, an overproduction of androgens (sex hormones)
I first started my period aged 10 but I hit crisis with mood symptoms around
age 13. There is no credible evidence suggesting PMD’s and Premature Adrenarche are linked, but a sensitivity to hormonal fluctuations has been present my entire life.
The symptoms of PMDD for me then, were similar to as they are now, today,
extreme mood fluctuations including: rage, tearfulness, suicidal ideation, panic
attacks, fatigue, migraine, insomnia, intrusive thoughts, and more.
The trouble with being a thirteen year old girl living with these symptoms in the early noughties was, everyone thought I was just ‘acting out’ or an ‘angry teenager.’ There was some acting out, there was also a suicide attempt (one of a few.) Looking back now I can see how prevalent a role PMDD played in my not wanting to be here, though at the time I was prescribed antidepressants and birth control and sent on my way.
It wasn’t until around ten years later that I approached my doctor again, armed with cycles worth of symptoms and research relating to PMDD. There was little information on PMDD back then and I remember my GP looking blankly at me, as if I’d plucked a random and seemingly fictitious diagnosis from thin air. She said my symptoms were the result of PMS and I’m sad to report, though appropriate diagnosis is improving, depending on who I see, it still gets referred to as such.
I’m now 34 and a mum of two. I have been tracking my menstrual cycle for over 15 years. I’ve tried every contraceptive available, bar sterilisation and many, many, SSRI’s both month round, and only during the luteal phase. PMDD, unfortunately worsened after each pregnancy and most dramatically since the birth of my second child. I’m eighteen months postpartum now and have been struggling to find yet another treatment capable of holding me firm.
I also have a fibromyalgia diagnosis, and in recent years particularly, symptoms of the condition have been much less manageable during the luteal phase. Allergic reactions, chronic pain and flu likeness increase around ovulation, which is also when intrusive thoughts and panic attacks start to cripple me.
I’m sensitive to what feels like everything, for two weeks a month, sometimes longer, and it’s no fun.
I know that sounds like a lot, and none of it very reassuring if you’re here reading this for tips on PMDD management, but it’s also important to note, whilst I am not that much further in my quest to being PMDD free, I definitely have learnt a few tips and tricks to help me manage during the luteal phase.
Over the last twenty years I’ve tried many SSRI’s. I’ve seen therapists and counsellors on and off too, but I always seemed embark on treatment after a traumatic life event, as opposed to particularly for PMDD. The trouble, if I think about it, is that PMDD has been the cause of many of these traumatic life events. And hell would break loose if I drank alcohol during the luteal phase. I’ve been arrested, I’ve fallen out with friends, family members, employers, and I’ve taken unnecessary risks and found myself in situations I wouldn’t wish on my enemies. Instead of relating these life lapses to PMDD though, I always just thought I was a bit of a fuck up. Unable to bear rejection, constantly seeking validation but never actually getting it, have all been patterns of behaviour for me. It’s true I’ve always tracked my symptoms, but I did it as a way to predict my next cycle as opposed to a tool that could help me heal. Until recently, I’ve always been a person who gave the bare minimum in therapy while expecting maximum results. Then as soon as I would start to feel better again (usually during follicular) I would shut down and quit.
Sadly, it took me a full on psychiatric breakdown after my son was born and a whole year of therapy to realise it’s not just my personality. PMDD is not who I am. It’s something I endure.
During that year I completed a 3 month course of Dialectical Behaviour Therapy (DBT) of which I am now a huge advocate. DBT is great for PMDD because it focuses on distress tolerance and offers skills that are perfect for use when in crisis. I’ve also recently been seen by a gynaecologist who is familiar with treating those with PMDD. As a result of this I now use HRT in combination with SSRI’s as a treatment. I’ve been doing so for seven months and for the last two cycles have seen positive results. The reality is PMDD is a complex disorder. It takes prisoners. It destroys self esteem, and hinders so much of our lives. No two people with the condition will experience the exact same symptoms. Your sanity may be questioned both by yourself and the people you love. But there is hope, a combination of treatment and the right support network is keys. Along with raising awareness of and providing insight to premenstrual disorders, because PMDD awareness is suicide prevention.
Written by Steph Cullen
Steph Cullen is a writer, fundraising co-ordinator for IAPMD and PMDD survivor. Steph has bravely shared her experience of PMDD with us, she is dedicated to raising awareness about PMDD.