For most of my adult life, I simply thought periods were synonymous with utter misery. I can’t remember a time when the week leading up to menstruation wasn’t dotted with fits of crying, screaming matches with my mom or a boyfriend, and breasts so tender it hurt to put a bra on. It was until very recently, when I read an article online about the differences between Premenstrual Syndrome (PMS) and Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder (PMDD), that the light went off in my head. Hang on! Maybe it’s not normal to hate my life during every period!
PMDD is not totally uncommon — nearly 10 percent of women who have periods suffer from PMDD. It’s a disorder that is best described as a severe version of PMS, and we still don’t know where it comes from, and exactly why we get it. We know that it’s more common in those who have a pre-existing mental illness, as recent studies have shown that low levels of serotonin in the brain are connected to PMDD. Without the proper levels of the chemicals we need to sleep well, control our moods, and generally feel well, PMDD easily sneaks in and pretty much wrecks a week or two of every month of our lives.
Symptoms of PMDD include, but are not limited to, the following: depressed moods and feelings of hopelessness, anxiety, noticeable changes in sleep and appetite, inexplicable anger, extreme bloating and menstrual cramps, and feeling overwhelmed.
Ever since I realized that PMDD is a part of my life, I’ve made some changes in an attempt to control the symptoms. I started keeping a period journal, I changed my diet, and I incorporated some therapeutic routines, such as acupuncture and meditation. It’s gotten better, but, frankly, it sucks sometimes.
Here are five ways PMDD significantly affects my life.
1. I get into big fights with friends and family
Anything can set me off. And when I’m set off, there’s no going back. I’ve had a boyfriend break up with me before because he “couldn’t handle my insane mood swings.” Fair enough. They used to get pretty bad.
Even now, after taking steps to treat the symptoms, I find myself getting upset with my friends and current partner for the dumbest things. Just my mom asking me if I’ve been making the monthly payments of my student loans ignites a monster inside of me. If the majority of these fights would happen any other time of the month, it wouldn’t be a big deal at all. But PMDD has an entirely different agenda on its mind, and I find myself stuck in a screaming match.
2. My nail-biting habit gets out of control
I’m not very happy to admit this because, well, it’s pretty gross. But there’s no use in hiding it, because I have a sneaky feeling that there are other women out there who deal with similar habits. My nerves get the best of me, and I incessantly chew on my fingernails. It doesn’t just stop there, though; I gnaw at the skin around my nails, pulling it back until I draw blood.
I’ve always been a nail-biter, but it’s like the habit is hyped up on steroids during this time of the month. By the time the week is over, I have to bandage up nearly all my fingertips. So, yeah, if you’ve got any extra band-aids you’d like to donate, send ’em over!
3. I’m exhausted, and I can’t get through the day without a nap
I never knew the real meaning of fatigue until PMDD debuted itself in my life. Within the first few hours of the day I feel sleepy, regardless of how many coffees I’ve pounded back. By the time the afternoon rolls around, my eyelids are heavy and I’m in dire need of a nap. I’ve had to excuse myself from work before in order to go home and sleep for a few hours.
This fatigue also makes it nearly impossible to do the everyday things that are normally a cinch. Showering is hard. Making eggs for myself in the morning is pretty much out of the question. There have been many days when I simply stay put in my safe zone — the bed — with no intention of leaving.
4. I binge-eat super unhealthy food
Don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing wrong with eating delicious food, even if it’s not technically good for you. But there is a line between enjoying what you eat and totally bingeing on junk — and I cross that line every month. I can polish off an entire pizza, followed by a tub of ice cream and a few candy bars — only to run to the corner shop an hour later with the sole intention of purchasing every bag of salt and vinegar chips ever manufactured.
I’ve been spending a lot of time working on this one in particular, because it tends to affect me the most. I get an awful belly ache, I feel nauseous, and I’m incapable of doing any responsible, adult-like things for the rest of the day.
5. It feels like nothing is going right in my life
This may sound dramatic, but anyone who has ever suffered from clinical depression or an anxiety disorder knows this feeling all too well. I wake up in the morning, stare at the ceiling, and have zero motivation to get my ass out of bed. Crying is about the only thing that feels good. Oh, and eating anything sugary, of course.
No matter what friends or family tell me about how well I’m doing, all I can think is what a failure I am. The worst possible memories of the past few years run through my head, and I can’t stop replaying embarrassing moments of my life that actually don’t have any effect on my present day life. The depression is overwhelming, and it consumes me. Yoga and meditation have really helped me overcome some of these feelings, though, and I try to make an effort now to make room for the positive voices inside my head, rather than allowing the self-loathing thoughts to take over.
My PMDD symptoms are not necessarily representative of PMDD everywhere. Every woman who suffers from it may experience different side effects, and no one person will be the same. If you feel like you might be a PMDD case, speak to your doctor immediately. There’s no harm in asking, and there’s definitely nothing to be ashamed of if you have it.