Sometimes, when I come off of a particularly bad bout of PMDD, it is like waking up from a hangover of epic proportions, finding out I’ve done a lot of things that I would not have normally decided to do, a la the movie The Hangover (which I actually haven’t seen, but I’ve seen enough to know what it’s about. That, and it’s mostly self-explanatory).
The post-PMDD days can be like walking out of your safety bunker or house after a devastating storm has passed, and witnessing the destruction all around you, and wondering how you are going to clean it all up. Actually, I think it is more like the weather analogy, and all of the extreme systems that have hit the US and countries around the globe recently have made me think of this analogy. Also, because they lined up with what felt like a particularly bad month with PMDD for me.
So, first of all, you might not know what PMDD stands for. It stands for Pre-Menstrual Dysphoric Disorder. Oddly enough, the NIH (National Institutes of Health) didn’t have a good description of PMDD and lumped it in with PMS, so I am going to quote Wikipedia:
Premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD) is a severe and disabling form of premenstrual syndrome affecting 3–8% of menstruating women. The disorder consists of a “cluster of affective, behavioral and somatic symptoms” that recur monthly during the luteal phase of the menstrual cycle.
Or, as I like to say, it’s like PMS on crack. Hm….that’s maybe not a good way of putting it. It’s like PMS, but cranking the dial to 11. No, 12. No, 20. Okay, more like 50.
Can we get one thing out of the way? This is one of my pet peeves. And, admittedly, the way PMS/DD shows up is different for everyone, and it can and usually does vary month to month. But seriously. The “pre-” in “premenstrual,” which applies to both PMS and PMDD, means “before.” It comes from the same Latin root as any other “pre” word, like “precede,” “preclude,” “premeditate,” “prepare.” It means you do something before something else. In this case, it is before menstruation. Meaning, the symptoms show up 7–10 days before menstruation, then usually disappear shortly after the onset of such. In my case, sometimes they disappear at the exact same moment as onset, like clouds suddenly parting.
So it really bugs the heck out of me when people suggest that women “go crazy” or “are emotional” at the same time when they are having their periods, i.e. menstruating. Because that isn’t what “pre” means. Yes, I might have cramps then. You might also, and it might make you cranky or feel sick. But to me, that is an entirely different cluster of symptoms and sensations. And anyway, it’s not pre-anything. It’s post. And it’s not what I’m talking about. Moving on.
According to one therapist I saw several years ago, I am “on the spectrum” for PMDD. This made a lot of sense to me. I can get very, very depressed, especially as I get closer to when my period is about to hit. In those last two or three days, I can start to feel depressed and anxious for no reason. I can even get to the point of suicidal, where I was not the week before, and there is no basis for it. Sometimes I can even know that it is a PMS/PMDD symptom, and *still* feel the full effect of it.
I will have other symptoms, too, like hypersensitivity to EVERYTHING (even more so than normal, which for me is a lot) — heightened sensitivities to sound, touch, light, vibration. And this hypersensitivity can lead to irritability, because I cannot “tone down” these sensations. So in this time, I can sometimes get snippy with people, or I might be a little reclusive, because I don’t want to get snippy with people, but sometimes you just have to go out and do stuff, you know? I do whatever I can to self-soothe, or to avoid the person chewing gum on the bus. But sometimes there’s only so much you can do.
And there is almost nothing I can do about my PMDD except ride it out. Much like a storm. I am where I am. It comes, it tears my life apart sometimes, and then I am left to pick up the pieces. More on that later.
I know what you might say. But there are treatments! You can take hormone pills! Birth control! First of all: none of your business. And second of all, yes, I know. I’ve tried those. And I can’t take them, because in my situation, they make everything worse. And yes, I know there are other options. I will kindly ask you to refrain from making suggestions as to what I should do to manage this, medically or otherwise. It is for me to explore, and to find the best ways, together with my doctor(s).
What I want to do here is open up the discussion. To say, “Yes, this happens to me. My experience is real.” And this happens to other women, too. Your experience is also real. It’s important to know that someone else goes through it. And maybe your experience matches mine, and maybe it doesn’t.
I do not think that what I have is typical. It is a thing that I struggle with, and sharing it, writing about it — it helps me. This, right here, this is part of what I am doing to help me manage, to cope; just to observe and track what happens, and make it visible to more than just me. And if something here resonates with you and you want to share your experiences in the comments, I would love that!
Yes, this happens. My experience is real.
So, back to that destruction piece. Yeah. This was a bad one. I knew I felt “off” last week. And I pretty much knew why. And yet, when certain things came up in my life, they produced an inner response from me that was so strong that while I was doing my best to contain my outer response, I know it probably looked like I was going over the top. I can be, in this time, hyper-sensitive also to how other people are treating me. Something they do might seem to slight me in some way, and I might take issue with it, whereas I won’t be so concerned the other three weeks of the month. And that can be pretty destructive, if it catches me off-guard, and if I am tired and run-down, and don’t have the spoons or the mental resources available to re-center myself and take stock before responding. I might just jump into or cause a drama that wouldn’t otherwise be there, and sometimes regret it.
And sometimes — this is maybe the weirdest thing for me, and the hardest to deal with — sometimes, old issues from the past will suddenly crop up in my mind. I wasn’t thinking about them, and then all of a sudden they are there, as fresh as if it had just happened. And it’s usually a feeling or an interaction I had with a friend or other person in my life, where I felt there was an issue that was not 100% resolved for me. And this issue will pop up in my mind, and I will feel this strong internal drive to reach out and to “resolve” this issue with this person, once and for all. To speak my mind, tell them my truth, and put it to rest. Spoiler alert! It doesn’t really work.
Yeah, sure, I may contact them. But most of the time, this person had forgotten the issue altogether, was just minding their business, and for them, it comes out of the blue, out of left field, and smacks them in the face, much the same way it came out of the blue for me, but at least I have a context for it. They don’t. And this can wreak havoc on relationships, and has done so on more than one occasion.
Oh, yeah. Because the other thing that happens when I am in this hormone-induced state is that I seem to experience heightened impulsivity as well. So whereas normally, I might think of a thing, and then say to myself, “Nah, that’s not a good idea to bring that up now. Let’s move on.” Instead, when I am in a PMDD haze, it seems like a suuuuuper good idea to write to whomever it is about whatever it is. In fact, it may seem downright urgent, or mandatory, like I *have* to, or else the world, or I, will not feel complete.
And often, I do experience a momentary release, if I send out a message (it’s usually a written thing) expressing my “feelings.” I wash my hands of it and go on my way, my mind is clear. But it’s not over. Because now I have disturbed their peace. Now I have made a conflict for them. And sometimes they get angry. Sometimes they get hurt. Sometimes they walk away.
I’ve lost friends through this, or through other aspects of PMDD. They don’t know that, but I do. But also, even though it is sad every time, and devastating when it happens — because I value each one of my friends, and treasure them in my life — part of me always has to come away from that situation and say, “Well, maybe they weren’t really that great of a friend.”
Because first of all, if I had this feeling of resentment building over time, based on something that happened that didn’t sit right with me, then that means whatever they did bothered me. And it makes sense to talk about it. Because if you don’t, the resentment only builds more, and then you don’t have a good relationship. That’s the philosophy I start from.
And the second piece is, if I bring up this feeling I have over something that happened, even if it was a while ago; even if they had moved on and weren’t thinking about it; even if, hey, maybe I come across a little strong just then… If I am expressing how I really feel, and they reject me for it: that’s not a friend. In my book of how I imagine friends, that is not a friend that I want. I want someone who will listen and respond. I want a friend who accepts me when I am “a little crazy,” and when I’m not. I want a friend who loves me through whatever anxiety, whatever hard moment I have, and comes with me to the other side of that. I want a friend who, when I express that I am hurt or upset by something that happened, will consider my feelings, and either explain their actions so that I see their intention better, or apologize if they really did something wrong that wasn’t good for me. And my opinions about what that meant to me would matter.
I do know people like this. I do have friends like this. I myself try to be that kind of friend, that kind of person. I view that as taking responsibility. If I feel upset, even if it is heightened by a hormonal state they don’t even know about, that’s still how I feel. Those feelings are real. Not only are they real, they are under a magnifying glass for me. I can see and feel every detail, every particle of them. I do not have the luxury of escaping them or running away. And if my “friend” runs away, well, then, she is not my friend. It’s the best way I’ve been able to think about it.
It is almost like a weird, painful spiritual/personal/life cleansing. It doesn’t always happen the way that I want. It is often messy and leaves me feeling broken and bleeding internally, and I’m sure the other party fares no better. But like a wildfire, sometimes this scorching of my personal earth is a process that lets new seeds take root and grow that would not have otherwise. Sometimes — often — most of the time — always — new friendships and relationships are waiting for me just around the corner, in the next moment, even before I am finished cleaning up the debris.
The only thing that is constant is change.
This piece is not meant to be a complaint. Far from it. If anything, maybe I want you to come away with a sense of awe. What I have is powerful. It is larger than me. And asking or expecting me to control it is like asking me to control a hurricane or a tornado. Could you do it? I don’t think so. Not much better than I can. And I have found that expecting myself to “control” it is not useful either, and leads to me just feeling worse in the end.
At some point, I do hope to live more fruitfully with this force of nature. I hope to be able to experience more of the positive effects, and less of the destruction. But to some extent, maybe some of the destruction is necessary and will always happen. It may always be there as part of the cycle of life. A part of the power and good. And part of the way for me to cope with it is to trust myself more, not less.
That said, I mourn the loss of every relationship, every friendship, maybe even jobs that I’ve passed up, as I have gone through these moments and “awoke” to find those things gone. And grieving is ok. You can grieve, too. That is part of the process. Those people, those experiences were with me at a time when I needed them. And even if I wanted them to be with me now, maybe it just is not right for me. And I have to trust that, too.
Thank you for reading! I post personal, deep musings here. There is no set schedule for posting. No single theme. I write as topics come up.
Please feel free to leave a comment, if something moves you. I would love to know what you think!