PMDD: The hidden struggle
At the beginning of 2019, I was diagnosed with PMDD. More than anything, I felt ashamed and alone. It was such an embarrassing diagnosis. Even PPD or regular anxiety felt like they would be easier to talk about (for me personally). But PMDD sounds like it's not real. It sounds like a fancy name given to someone who just can’t control their emotions.
So what is PMDD?
PMDD stands for Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder. It’s a “condition in which a woman has severe depression symptoms, irritability, and tension before menstruation. The symptoms of PMDD are more severe than those seen with premenstrual syndrome (PMS). ... In most cases, the symptoms stop when, or shortly after, her period begins.” I’m not a doctor, so I always recommend doing further research on your own - but here’s what PMDD is like through my experience.
The week leading up to my period, I feel like I’m tightly wound - like I’m using ever ounce of my strength and mental capacity to just hold it together. But it leaves no capacity to exhale. No capacity for patience. No capacity for grace, for myself or my family. I just want to scream at my kids to leave me alone, to stop being loud, to stop having issues, to stop asking for things. Everything I know about how to parent, Is gone. I find myself needing to lock myself in my room, and curse my children behind their backs. I’m an Enneagam 8, so I don’t cry - I fight the burning tears back, and in place of sadness I experience deep anger and irritability. I spiral. I see my husbands clothes on the floor and determine he doesn’t care about me. He’ll never care. Our marriage is hopeless.
All situations feel hopeless. I’m genuinely convinced that any tension means I need to run away, I need to give up. I even quit a job while on my PMDD week, before I had received the diagnosis.
Every lie I’ve ever believed about myself resurfaces. I’m not cut out to be a mother. I’m destined to be a failure, I’ll never amount to anything. All the people who said I’m not good enough were right. Everyone hates me. My husband doesn’t really love me - how could he? He’s so good and I’m worthless.
And in the worst and lowest of lows, I even struggled with suicidal ideation. I feel tears now as I think back to that night, when my husband was away at a men’s retreat, and I curled up on the floor by my bed and could not stop thinking about what it would be like if I could just die. I didn’t want to commit suicide, but I COULD NOT stop the thoughts. Wouldn’t it be easier? Wouldn’t everyone be better off?
Above all, when I struggled with my PMDD week, I felt completely and fully out of control.
I cry now thinking about all this, because I hate how alone and confused I felt. I hate how out of control of my emotions I felt. And I hate that there are so many other women out there struggling, who don’t even know they have a condition and don’t know they can get help.
1. TELL SOMEONE: When my husband came home, it was the day after I started my period. For me, there is almost an immediate relief and release of the tension. For some people, it takes the entire cycle to wind down. When the kids went to bed, I cried in his arms and begged him never to leave me again. For me, this feeling was a low. I’m supposed to be the woman who can do it all. I’m confident and strong and don’t need help. I HATE feeling vulnerable and needy and incapable. But I begged him. And then I told him how bad it was, the thoughts I couldn’t stop. How much I screamed at our kids. How I didn’t feel like myself.
2. CHART YOUR CYCLE: Include a medical professional, even if you don’t plan to use medication (we’ll talk about that too). For me, I mainly worked with a licensed counselor. She had me track my emotions and menstrual cycle for 6 months - and over the course of 6 months, there was a clear pattern. Within a few days after I ovulated, my irritability would start to rise. It would get worse and worse the closer we got to my period, with the days before being the darkest. Then my period would start and the symptoms would go away. I’d even look back at things I thought the week before and was so aware of how crazy it all sounded. But while I was on my PMDD week, it was perfectly rational.
3. LOOK INTO TREATMENT: My doctor said that antidepressants and/or anxiety meds were an options. I respectfully declined - but you have to talk to your doctor to see what’s best for you! For me personally, I didn’t want to be on meds 24/7 for something that is one week a month. I also don’t like what some of those meds do to you, so I wanted to give natural approaches a shot first. Something HAS to be put in place for support - it doesn't just "go away" on its own.
Everyone’s journey will be different, but here is what helped me!
1. Going to therapy! I cannot encourage therapy enough. Everyone needs it, and if you’re struggling with PMDD a therapist can help you with practical tools that are unique to YOU and YOUR experiences
2. Having a support team. For me, that’s my husband and my best friend. My husband was SO SUPPORTIVE during this whole thing - he wasn’t perfect though! I can’t tell you how many times I’d lash out at him that he wasn’t compassionate, that I hated that he didn’t remember it was my PMDD week… ugh its embarrassing to admit how out of control I was with my anger! But all that to say - ITS A PROCESS. Talk to your partner BEFORE your PMDD week about things that will help you. My husband learned to: NEVER say “oh its because its your PMDD week”Send me on trips to target aloneNot make plans to golf or go out, because he wanted to be home to support our family as much as possibleLet me vent“Tag me out” when I would get irritated with the kids
And my best friend, even though she lives all the way in San Diego (and we’re in the SF Bay Area), was always available to text. I could tell her how crazy I felt and she never judged me. She just listened.
3. Taking ownership. It’s not all on my husband to help me - I had to help myself. It took time, but I started setting my own boundaries for myself. I’d mark my calendar and brace myself, and also RELEASE myself from making ANY decisions or judgments. If I was stressed at work, I told myself “No, I’ll think about this next week when I feel better.” If I was mad that the kids made a huge mess, or didn’t want to eat dinner, I started saying “I’ll try a new approach next week”. One week of Mac and cheese and chicken nuggets won’t hurt them. One week of lots of movies on the couch isn’t the end of the world. Find these things that I COULD DO during my PMDD week helped me regain a sense of control, which is a huge win specifically for the condition’s struggles!
4. Finding an outlet. For me, yoga was a huge help! Any kind of working out is a good release and a great opportunity to have a break from the rest of life.
5. CBD! I cannot speak high enough praises about CBD. I started using Winged CBD’s Happiness capsules during my PMDD week - I’d take one around 3pm, just before school pick ups and that window of time where you’re cooking dinner and all your kids want your attention - you know that time? Winged is an incredible company that formulates their products specifically for women’s needs, and they use only full spectrum, organically grown hemp extract. Quality matters with this stuff! The Happiness Soft Gel Capsules I use also include Evening Primrose Oil, Chaste Tree Berry and Black Cohosh extracts to support hormonal balance, and 5 HTP and L-Dopa to promote positive mood. There is NO “high”, you don’t feel “under an influence” at all - it just naturally takes the edge off your emotions. So so helpful! You can use code CAROLINA10 for 10% OFF your order too!
6. Knowing that nothing is wrong with me. Having PMDD does not make you an awful person. Nothing is wrong with you, you are just experiencing a condition that requires management. It is not a reflection on you as a person.
As time has passed, I've seen how God has used this for good. All those thoughts about who I needed to be - strong, capable, in control, perfect - were too heavy. And having a week each month with PMDD was a reminder that my worth isn't tied up in all those things. It's helped me connect more deeply with my husband. I feel closer to God, reminded of my reliance on Him and encouraged by His faithfulness to carry me through such a dark week.
Now that I'm pregnant again, my symptoms completely went away! It was actually one of the first signs that I was pregnant, because during my PMDD week I was fully in control of emotions and so rational! What's amazing is that the tools I've learned to manage my PMDD are helping now with juggling pregnancy and four kids - they help me be a better mom every day, help me have more grace for myself daily, and I'm so excited to use these same tools during my postpartum season!