We don’t hear a lot about it, but there are many women who are silently suffering from a certain type of depression. And being an avid traveler with a depression disorder that lasts over half of the month, is not exactly a conventional way to travel. What is PMDD?
One minute, I’m a sweet, patient, determined, and happy soul. I volunteer for local events in our community and church, I plan vacations and I bake brownies with my boys. I’m a people-person and I’m overflowing with a love for everyone I meet. I am Super Mom and a doting wife. I find joy in the small things and live life to the fullest. I’m confident and strong. I feel beautiful … because I AM beautiful.
Then, like clockwork, somewhere in me flips a switch. I feel it the instant it happens and I can’t stop it. My blood starts to boil and I’m overcome with every emotion all at the same time. I am no longer beautiful. I am now an ugly, vile, dark, depressed, cold-hearted witch who takes no prisoners. Awful thoughts shadow my mind and judgment and I only have foul or sharp-tongued things to say. I could care less how beautiful the day is outside. To me, it is the gloomiest day ever. I want to be a b*tch SO bad … but no one has done anything to me so I can’t and it bottles up. As much as I realize how vile I’m being, I can’t control the switch. It’s not one that I can just flip again – and it lasts for fourteen painful days.
I have… Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder, otherwise known as PMDD. Picture Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde – only with the self-control to not kill anybody.
The list of complaints that goes with most women’s cycle is long. We all have at least one symptom of PMS. PMDD has been tossed around as an enhanced form of PMS because it follows the same monthly pattern. But in 2007, a genetic connection was made. The vast majority of women with PMDD have normal hormone levels, which therefore means that PMDD is NOT a hormone disease. A woman suffering from the disorder has variants in their estrogen gene as well as a variant in another gene (the COMT gene) – which is vital in regulating the proper function of the prefrontal cortex – the part of the brain that controls our moods. So what PMDD does, is it lowers the serotonin levels – the neurotransmitter that controls moods, learning and sleep.
In other words, women (like myself) who have variants of these genes, have supercharged PMS symptoms. Debilitating symptoms like:
- Feelings of sadness or despair or even thoughts of suicide
- Feelings of tension or anxiety
- Panic attacks Mood swings or frequent crying
- Lasting irritability or anger that affects other people
- Lack of interest in daily activities and relationships
- Trouble thinking or focusing
- Tiredness or low-energy
- Food cravings or binge eating
- Trouble sleeping
- Feeling out of control
- Physical symptoms, such as bloating, breast tenderness, headaches, and joint or muscle pain
I have had almost every single one of these at some point in my life with 8 of them occurring every single month – again, like clockwork. I hide it well. Mainly because I flat out hide. I text, but I don’t call. I am seen, but only as a shadow. And if I do have to be seen, I’m a great actress and keep it bottled up.
For me, it began around the age of 9 – when I started to slowly enter adolescence. Most of my moods then were just uncontrollable outbursts. Had I only known, as I got older and started to realize that what I was going through wasn’t normal, I could’ve gotten help sooner.
It truly became apparent just how bad Mr. Hyde reared his ugly head a little over a year ago when we were on a family vacation in Disney World – the happiest place in the world – unless you’re suffering from PMDD. I should’ve just traveled somewhere alone. But in my defense, we had this trip planned for six months without figuring in the timing. I remember feeling out of control and having these small anxiety attacks about not making a fast pass reservation. I remember snapping at my husband and my kids all over not being able to make it to the ride in time. That’s just one out of many instances. I was ugly and I was unbearable to deal with. I have so many blanks from that trip even though I know we did things – fun things. I have the pictures to prove it. But I was not mentally present. My poor family was imprisoned by my moods but they managed to make the best of it. I was not a traveler that even I’d want to travel with! It wasn’t until we got home that ‘Sally Ragtime’ showed up. And I always know when I’m about to get it because a few hours before, my mood lifts. I feel a weight lifted off my shoulders and I can breathe again and see clearly. Crazy, right? I’m dead serious. A calmness sweeps over me and I get relief. When I say that I am pretty sure I’m the only woman in the world who looks forward to surfing the Crimson wave, I’m not joking. Hello serotonin! Please don’t leave me again.
It wasn’t until a few months after that trip that my husband and I started to aggressively look in to the normalcy of my monthly mood swings. I’ll try anything (legal) if people swear by it. Many women who have taken the holistic approach suggested chaste berries because the plant has been known to influence levels of the genes and hormones by reducing production of prolactin. All I know is that for me, it did not work and my wine consumption was getting a little expensive. So I turned towards my family practitioner who advised me of my other options.
With PMDD finally being recognized as an actual disorder, women are being treated differently. Serotonin reuptake inhibitators (SSRIs) are being prescribed in different dosages and durations. Before, these types of drugs (think, Prozac) were found to sometimes worsen the symptoms of PMDD but now, with the new dosage and duration treatment, they have been proven to be HIGHLY effective. And in my personal experience, after being on the medication for just the 10-14 days before my period, I only wish I would’ve gotten help sooner. But I can’t dwell on the would’ves and should’ves. I can’t even begin to describe how much better I feel. I stay my happy, loving, patient, self all month long. Sure I have my down days. But they are nothing compared to what they were before. And I can manage them like a normal person can.
Women are supposed to be cheerleaders. So when we aren’t that, everyone thinks something is terribly wrong. I went back and forth on whether or not to write this post about the disorder. The thought of sharing about a mental weakness can sometimes lead people to an automatic assumption and I didn’t want that label or judgment. People could throw me in to a bi-polar category. But there’s a difference – PMDD is consistent. It’s clockwork. And I owe it to every other woman out there suffering from this disorder. It gets worse before it gets better. PMDD affects women in many ways, so no one treatment or coping technique is perfect for all women. If you think you may have PMDD, please talk to your doctor. And whatever approach you decide to take to get treatment, I support you.
Since learning about this disorder and getting treatment for myself, life is fun again. Traveling is fun again. And not only am I worth all of that, but my family is as well.