If you're not familiar with PMDD, check out my post about it for more details. PMDD is a hormone-based, cyclical mood disorder that affects women and AFAB individuals during the luteal phase of their menstrual cycles. The luteal phase starts just after ovulation and lasts up until menstruation begins, lasting about 2 weeks. This is when PMDD symptoms are present, and they generally end after menstruation starts.
PMDD has dominated my life in many ways. Before I really understood what it was, I felt like my feelings were invalid, like I was an imposter. I didn't have a mental disorder that could cause suicidal thoughts or these extreme ranges of emotions, so how could I be taken seriously? I would get frustrated, almost like I didn't have anyone to blame my mental state on but myself. I now know what it is - PMDD. But I still struggle with blaming myself to this day.
So I am making it my mission to open up and share my experience with others, so that they may understand, and if they recognize these symptoms within themselves, they can get the help they need too.
Here's what an average PMDD cycle is like for me.
The Beginning (14 days before period)
I first start noticing physical symptoms, which tips me off that the mental symptoms are well on their way. Usually I'll get that very specific, but subtle cramping feeling (you know the one), mild nausea, and breast tenderness.
I begin to notice some irritability. The urge to cancel plans becomes very enticing because exhaustion is setting in. Days start to feel longer, and I don't have the energy to do much. I notice I am becoming more sensitive to rejection and negativity around me.
But the worst is still yet to come.
It's around this time I usually try to do small things to maintain some level of sanity and try to control the incoming hard times.
The Middle (10-7 day before period)
The exhaustion becomes unbearable. No matter how much or how little sleep I get, it's mentally, and sometimes physically, painful to get out of bed. My whole body and mind want to shut down completely. I often say "I just want to crawl in a hole" and I actually mean it.
It's during this time going to work becomes extremely difficult.
I currently work in a traditional office environment, and in general this kind of work is soul killing for someone like me. Since I'm already pretty unhappy with my career (don't worry, I'm working on a new path), PMDD just amplifies it tenfold. The faked smiles and interactions start to overwhelm, to the point where either the anger or sadness sets in. I become very short with people, hide in the bathroom to avoid snapping or to just cry.
Working from home during the pandemic had been a BLESSING for many of us suffering with PMDD, and it really opens up the room for conversation on why employers need to recognize and accommodate those with this disorder, or any disorder for that matter. Remote work needs to become an option for us.
Irritability, fits of rage, and depression all start to set in. I am too exhausted to think, brain fog takes over, I can't focus and don't care. I try to distance myself from situations where anger might take over so that I don't start fights with people for no reason (flashback to my entire 20s).
The Ending (7-1 days before period)
This is when the mood swings are in full swing. Extreme, depressive lows, where I can barely think or function. I lose interest in anything and everything. The brain fog takes over, I can't think straight, I forget basic words, and having conversations can be embarrassing because talking is hard.
Emotional sensitivity reaches its peak. Some months, I cry randomly throughout the entire week before my period starts. Other months, it builds up to an entire day of what feels like a full mental breakdown and uncontrollable sobbing.
Just as suddenly as I became depressed, I now become reckless. Rebellious. Self destruction mode has engaged. I am completely out of control. I want to do something no one would expect of me, like go off the grid, change my number, quit my job, move across the country with no plan. There are also less intense urges like dying my hair (classic) or getting a tattoo (also classic). I feel like a child sometimes, acting out and protesting everything.
Suicidal ideation becomes a possibility.
Note that I have never, ever, and would never attempt anything, because I know it's not me and that it will pass. But this can be the most dangerous time for my mental health.
I also drink more during this time, as a way to cope. I am by no means at a level of concern with my drinking, however knowing that I'm doing it on certain days just to cope makes me feel worse. I also tend to binge-eat for a day or two to satisfy cravings. Luckily, as a vegan, these cravings tend to be things like sauerkraut, so I really don't feel too guilty about it.
Physically, I still have some exhaustion, but now the cramps and nausea are especially present. Some days I can barely eat at all. The breast tenderness is now very painful.
It is during this week that I find working out impossible. I mentally and physically can't, and I try, I really do. But this sends me into a downward spiral of self-hate.
It's Over...For Now
When my period starts, I have about 2 days where I'm doubled over in pain, barely eating because I just want to throw up all the time, and my insides are generally an absolute disaster. However, the exhaustion is gone. I feel happy again. I care about life again. It's like even though I'm physically miserable, I woke up from a horrible nightmare.
I'm ready to take on the world again. Only to know it will start all over in 2 weeks.
This is a typical month for me, with these 2 weeks dominating my life, turning my world upside down. PMDD has made maintaining relationships difficult. Those closest to me are so understanding and supportive of me during this time, which has been a tremendous help. I've become more comfortable explaining it to new people I meet. I've also been learning to manage the fits of rage and loss of control so that it doesn't not affect others.
I am still learning to live with and accept myself in this state. Self care has become so important to me to try to help manage the symptoms. Some of the things I do during these times include:
Music. My number one, forever and always, is music. Sometimes I take a night to just listen to some of my favorite songs or go down the YouTube rabbit hole and allow myself to get lost.
Journal. I try to plot out my days, set small goals, and write down my larger goals to try to stay focused on the bigger picture and not get caught up in the depression.
Meditate & Sage. I've found Tibetan bowls and shamanic drumming to be extremely calming for me, so I'll take some time to tune out, meditate, and burn some sage. I am not a religious person but this helps me feel more spiritual, grounded, and connected to the Earth.
Workout. This is a tough one because PMDD is debilitating to the point where I end up not working out for a week each month. This really throws off any progress I make in my fitness routine. Working out does not help in the week leading up to my period, but can help me manage my mood swings before and after the brunt of it all.
Hot Bath. My happy place is always in a hot shower or bath. It's where I feel most relaxed, wind down, and do my best thinking. A hot bubble bath with some music and candles really helps on my stressful days.
There is a long road ahead of me, but I am grateful to have found my voice so I can speak up and speak out on PMDD, and help others along the way.
If you suspect you have PMDD, please check out iapmd.org for helpful resources and a community of others who are suffering with this. And you can always reach out to me as well.