Battling PMDD: The Evil Stepmonster of PMS

I had tears in my eyes before I had even opened them for the day. I laid in bed for 20 minutes thinking of possible reasons I could call out of work. Sick kids… nope, that was last week. Flat tire… nah, too obvious. Phone in a bomb threat? Too dramatic. Finally, I gathered the will to roll myself out of bed. Brushing my teeth, I looked at my reflection and despised every bit of it. More tears. Then frustration. Why am I crying? Why can’t I stop? Why was I fine yesterday, and today I am utterly convinced of my worthlessness?

Then it hit me once again. I looked at my period tracking app on my phone and had my answer. Ten days until my start date. Ten days until I would be released from the hormonal clutches of overwhelming sadness, extreme anxiety, non-existent patience, complete hopelessness, and a level of irritability that even I cannot comprehend.

Joy of joys, my “reward” when I was freed from that hell would be cramps that rival labor pains, insomnia, and a week-long, debilitating backache. BUT. At least I would be able to get out of bed. At least I would be able to stand the sight of my own face. At least I wouldn’t spend all day convincing myself that my husband and daughters would be better off if I just got in my car and drove away.

I was six months postpartum, and until that point, I had been convinced that I’d escaped the soul-sucking depression that almost wiped me out after my first daughter. It didn’t occur to me until the fourth month that I had my period back after my second daughter that I might have a problem. It was like clockwork. One day I was completely fine, and the next I could hardly breathe, talk to other humans, or make myself go to work. The feelings got worse and worse until the day my period started, at which point the emotional pain was replaced with physical, but at least I could function again.

About the same time as this realization, I was scheduled for my annual woman well-check. When my doctor asked how I was doing, the tears flowed again. I told her I felt like a failure because I couldn’t do better than this. I told her that I have everything — two healthy, gorgeous daughters, a loving husband, a beautiful home, a good job — and yet during those 10 tumultuous days of the month I cried myself into dehydration and hated most everything in my sight, including myself.

On this particular day, I was supposed to be home taking care of my sick baby and instead I could hardly take care of me.

She told me that I was suffering from PMDD, which stands for Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder. She explained more, and I listened intently. This was different than PMS. I am no doctor, but my takeaway was that people with this condition have a dramatic drop in serotonin (your brain’s happy juice) before your period starts, which leads to extreme sadness, hopelessness, worthlessness, and all of the other “lessnesses” that suck.

Premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD) is a severe form of PMS that includes physical and behavioral symptoms that usually resolve with the onset of menstruation. PMDD causes extreme mood shifts that can disrupt work and damage relationships. Symptoms include extreme sadness, hopelessness, irritability, or anger, plus common PMS symptoms such as breast tenderness and bloating. Prescription drugs and lifestyle changes may help. (source)

My doctor recommended that I take an SSRI (that’s an antidepressant to the layperson such as myself) for the 10 days before my period started. She also said that birth control is very helpful for some people in regulating their hormones and getting their PMDD under control.

Lucky for me (sarcasm), I am extremely sensitive to both SSRIs and the synthetic hormones found in birth control, so neither one of those were options for me. Sigh. Bring on the Kleenex and hibernation.

Thankfully, in addition to my hormonal woes, I also have a streak of stubborn that will not stop. I refuse to accept that half of every month — and essentially half of my LIFE — will be wasted buried under my covers with a wet washcloth on my face. So here’s what I’m doing, and thank the Goddess of Womanhood, it’s actually helping.

I cut down on caffeine and alcohol. I hear ya, I hear ya. Mama needs that coffee and wine. I’m right there with ya, only in this hugely sensitive time, caffeine ramps up my anxiety and alcohol intensifies my depression. It ain’t worth it.

I started taking Bach Flower. There are tons of websites where you can research all of the different kinds of Bach Flower to find one that works for  you. It’s all natural, and you can get like 30 different kinds at Whole Foods. It tastes just like vodka (maybe it is?) and it could just be snake oil, but I feel like it helps, so I’m keeping it up. #placeboeffect

I started exercising. OMG, I know. I hate this answer, too. But I tried it, and it helps. I’m not doing anything major, just a 30-45 minute walk when I can squeeze it in, or an impromptu dance party with my toddler.

I am giving myself time. I had to take a step back and realize that after you have a baby, “postpartum” is the rest of your life. My youngest daughter is not even a year old, and although outwardly I may look the same, inside things are still leveling out. Though I am insanely impatient, I am working hard to allow myself time for my body to do what it needs to do.

If you think you may have PMDD then my advice to you is this:

Relentlessly do whatever is right for YOU in taking care of yourself. If SSRIs or birth control are options for you, go for it.  If bathing yourself in essential oils and meditating sets your mind at ease, by all means, have at it. If you try one thing and it doesn’t help, then try something else until you find something that does. There is not a “one size fits all” solution.

Get someone on your team. Talk to your husband, your doctor, a friend… whoever will get it, so you always know that you’re not alone.

Give yourself some grace. We extend grace, patience, and understanding to other people all of the time. Why not ourselves?

Sometimes all the walking, talking, and trying just won’t pull you out of it. That’s okay. Cry. Drink the wine. Eat the things. But then get up and keep going. The down times do not define us, but the courage and tenacity that we find to work through them does.

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