‘The strength of a woman is not measured by the impact that all her hardships in life have had on her; but the strength of a woman is measured by the extent of her refusal to allow those hardships to dictate her and who she becomes.’ ~ C. Joybell C.
My name is Annie and I am a sufferer of PMDD.
I have been suffering with Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder for about 8 years. I cannot be 100% certain, but I believe it was triggered by a sudden and traumatic change in life circumstances.
My husband and I parted ways back in late 2008, and I, taking the brunt of responsibility and guilt for our flailing marriage; renounced practically everything I owned to relocate half way across the world.
I moved from a subtropical continent, where I was very comfortable, living in my own home, with my own ‘things’ and supportive group of family members, animals and friends. We were financially comfortable enough to keep our 1st property as an investment when we bought our 2nd property, a nicer variation of an old house in a reasonably close suburb to the inner city. We had cars, furnishings, social weekends and all the mod-cons of a middle class young couple you could want.
We were living the modern suburban dream.
When I left, none of the material things we had accumulated seemed important, so I left them too. I flew to London with 2 bags, having stored a few small boxes of precious memories at my mother’s (note: these few things have now grown to an embarrassingly larger scale of items I shipped back and currently have no access too or need for, but still make themselves at home in the garage of my mother’s house!).
From the moment the decision was made to end our relationship, to the moment of departure for my one-way flight to London, was a total 2 month interval involving a drastic, sudden upheaval and intense emotions for both parties.
At the time, I was running on pure adrenalin and momentum. I hadn’t given much thought to how a sudden change in every single part of my life, was going to affect my hormones, to the degree it has today.
Let me be clear, I have no regrets in my life. None. These days, however, I am more tuned in intuitively and physically, to my mental, physical and subtle body than ever before.
While I am by no means an expert on the subject, and the only medical degree I can attest to is in Veterinary Nursing, I have explored, tried, tested, and experienced many holistic approaches and methods to managing PMDD.
During this article, I would like to share with you my own personal tips and recommendations on how to manage PMDD. I hope it will not only help others in my situation, but also aid in creating awareness for partners, family members and friends of sufferers, about how to be present and supportive with what is, a difficult and widely misunderstood disorder.
Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder causes are still up for debate, however, it may be an abnormal reaction to normal hormone changes that happen with each menstrual cycle. The hormone changes can cause a serotonin deficiency. Serotonin is a substance found naturally in the brain and intestines that narrows blood vessels and can affect mood and cause physical symptoms.
There are other risk factors associated, such as a family history of the disorder; pre-existing conditions such as depression and other mood disorders; and, interestingly, lower education and smoking.
For example, in my case; a serious and traumatic event, or series of events that led to dramatic life circumstances and changes led to a marked drop in serotonin, which in turn led to depression and PMDD. I dare say, this all stemmed from PTSD – Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Without getting all scientific and statistical about it, I have not had this confirmed or diagnosed by a professional, and there is also no definitive findings that I am aware of, regarding the role of reduced serotonin levels and PTSD.
It’s easy enough to do, let something like this creep up on you without the realization of the impact it is having on your mental and physical body. As it is, it’s hard enough adjusting to a life as a single person after almost 10 years, let alone a completely different way of living – people, culture, environment, diet.
So, what exactly is PMDD?
PMDD is a much more severe form of Premenstrual Syndrome. While PMS affects nearly 85% of women worldwide, PMDD affects only a small percentage of us, a number between 3-8%.
The disorder impairs sufferers to such a degree that women have trouble functioning in normal environment’s, such as their home, work place, social activities and close, interpersonal relationships.
Is it any wonder that one of the common symptoms of this disorder is isolation.
Other symptom’s are wide and varied, they include, but are not be limited to:
1) Very depressed mood, feeling hopeless
2) Marked anxiety, tension, edginess
3) Sudden mood shifts (crying easily, extreme sensitivity)
4) Persistent, marked irritability, anger, increased conflicts
6) Loss of interest in usual activities (work, school, socializing, etc.)
6) Difficulty concentrating and staying focused
7) Fatigue, tiredness, loss of energy
8) Marked appetite change, overeating, food cravings
9) Insomnia or sleeping too much
10) Feeling out of control or overwhelmed
11) Physical symptoms such as weight gain, bloating, breast tenderness or swelling, headache, and muscle or joint aches and pains
The general consensus is that at least 5 are required to make the diagnosis, and 1 of those must be within the first 4 listed above. I suffer from every single one of the above, plus a few others, depending on how well I’ve stuck with my usually, very disciplined health and stress-management routines (which I will go into in more detail later.).
The symptom’s are cyclical; in fact, if they are present consistently, it is likely they are related to other illness’s. It is important to note that if you are suffering with any of the above or more, you should always consult a health professional for confirmation and diagnosis before drawing your own conclusions.
The symptom’s will also change. The same symptom’s will not always be present for each and every cycle, you may experience some months worse than others; and this is where I would like to offer some of my own tried, tested and safe approaches to managing a life with PMDD.
Below are my own easy to apply holistic suggestions on how to work with PMDD, managing symptom’s and side effects to reduce the effect the disorder has in your life. If I slip up and get lazy in any of the following areas, it is very likely my next cycle will present me with many of the symptom’s listed above.
Rest – It may seem simple and you may be rolling your eye’s at the suggestion, but we all know too well how easy it is to get caught up in the whirlwind of events that is the ‘modern-day-life’. Whether it be a deadline at work, family or social commitments, or an endless stream of errands we need to run; we rarely give ourselves time to rest and recuperate. The time leading to menstruation, for any woman, is a serious time of depleted energy levels. Women are so good at nurturing and providing for others, that we often miss the warning signs our bodies give us when we need to start slowing down and looking after ourselves.
Diet – Are you eating enough and is it the good kind of enough? We should be eating smaller meals, more often. We should also be cutting down on caffeine, if not giving it up entirely. Alcohol is a huge trigger, as is chocolate. And if you think it’s ok to swap milk chocolate for dark, I am afraid it will only make matters worse. I am guilty of all of the above. After all, who doesn’t crave that caffeine boost first thing in the morning when the weight of impending menstruation is bearing down on you. Or that ‘medicinal’ glass of red with dinner in the evening to help subdue any physical pain; let alone those few little morsels of rich chocolate to satisfy our sugar cravings! Unfortunately, none of it will help.
As an added extra, if you’re vegan, like me, I find my symptom’s lessen when I eat a diet that is mostly raw.
Supplementation – Supplements, I would love to say that I live without them, but at this stage in my life experimentation, I find there are a few which I rely on to keep me on the straight and narrow with my hormones. Evening Primrose Oil, Magnesium, B6 and, as a bi-product of being vegan, B12. We take evening primrose oil for premenstrual syndrome (PMS), breast pain, endometriosis, and symptom’s of menopause, such as hot flashes. Magnesium supplementation will help alleviate symptom’s such as muscle cramps, facial tics, poor sleep, and chronic pain. And although vitamin B6 deficiency is not common, it can easily be caused by vitamin B12 and folic acid deficiencies. Vitamin B6 is involved in the syntheses of some of the neurotransmitters that affect mood. Vitamin B6 acts as a cofactor in the production of dopamine and serotonin – a key leading contributor to PMDD is reduced serotonin levels.
Apple Cider Vinegar & Blackstrap Molasses – I could put both of these in the sections of diet or supplementation, however; I consider both of these so fundamentally important to the management of my own symptom’s, I decided they needed a whole special section of their own! ACV is considered a bit of an old wives tale or folklore and a remedy for numerous health and non-health related issues. I use it to help combat water retention and acne, it also serves as a tonic to reduce food-related cravings. As an added bonus, I noticed my mood swings were a lot less severe when I take ACV, as opposed to when I don’t. All you have to do is google Apple Cider Vinegar to open up an endless stream of reasons as to why we use it.
Blackstrap molasses contains more calcium than a glass of milk as well as a host of other vitamins such as Magnesium, B complex, and vitamins K and E. It also has a high iron content, which makes the health benefits of molasses perfect for people who suffer from anaemia and a girls’ best friend during times of menstruation. Blackstrap Molasses is fat-free and capable of helping the body support a proper acid-alkaline balance. It keeps your skin, smooth and flexible, by boosting elastin and collagen production and it also contains chromium which helps in the metabolism of fat, protein, and carbohydrate. Combining it in a hot tea with your ACV will make it easier to ingest and use a straw if you have concerns about the effect of the acid on the enamel of your teeth.
I take both together as a tonic, first thing in the morning, on an empty stomach. There are varying ideas out there on just how much you should take, anywhere from 1-2-3 tablespoons of ACV once or twice a day when first starting with the tonic. Personally, I take 2 tablespoons of ACV with 1/2 teaspoon of Blackstrap Molasses once daily and find it effective for management of my symptom’s. You may find 1 is enough for you, depending on the degree of your symptom’s. Be prepared to trial and error your dosage within reasonable limits.
As a side note: I experience mores sensitivity topically, when taking Blackstrap Molasses and recommend you avoid excessive sun exposure. As a bonus, within days I noticed my eyes brighten!
Yoga – Naturally, we were always going to get to this topic. Yoga is one of the leading ways to exercise the body to improve poor circulation and mental alertness (both common issues with PMS and PMDD) in a safe and stress free manner. There are, of course, poses to avoid during the actual menstrual period, just as there are also poses we should be implementing more of during this time of the month. There are many conflicting ideas about what poses we should and shouldn’t be practicing during this time so I urge you to use your own awareness and better judgement of your body to make your own decisions. All in all, it is a physical discipline worth keeping up when we’re coming into our cycle.
Meditation – This is something I hold in such high regard, I would consider it of the highest importance if it weren’t for the fact that everything I have listed above, work best if all done complimentary to one another. Meditation is key for reducing stress, aiding in calming mental disturbances and confusion. It allows us to handle many things with greater ease, awareness and control over our emotional responses or reactions.
Support – Last, but not least, the support from our loved ones, family and even co-workers is vital for navigating these difficult waters. As we sink on down the rabbit hole thinking only to protect them from, what we perceive, to be crazy, delusional and uncontrollable patterns of behaviour; we only dig ourselves deeper into isolation and despair, fuelling an already toxic situation beyond their ability to provide help. Sometimes, just letting a friend, colleague or family member know what it is you are experiencing, is enough to remind you that you have not lost the plot completely and they will, hopefully, provide you with enough understanding and support, to see you through the truly bad days.
They may not fully comprehend exactly what it is you experience during these traumatic times, but when those times do come on suddenly, they will at least know enough to recognize it as a passing moment, without judging you for the crazy, delusional, psychotic woman you feel you have become.
I myself, have been misunderstood to the point of lost friendships and ruined professional relationships. It is really important to remember that, as a sufferer, PMDD is not something any one of us would ever possibly wish for, and I would far rather live without it, than use it as an excuse for bad behaviour or social isolation.
Anyone who has ever considered this, really should live in these shoes for a month to truly experience just how demoralizing, devastating and destructive it can be for someone’s life. I have been called moody, reactive, self-absorbed and sensitive. I have lost friends and been judged. I have lost the respect of my peers and co-workers.
Most damaging of all, it has caused me to think awful things about myself. Before I took control, and long before I was even half as aware as I am now, I suffered a severe panic attack and had seriously considered suicide as the only way out. PMDD is a legitimate disorder and not something to take lightly.
If you, or someone you know, thinks they might have PMDD, please see a health professional. Take control of your life. Look after yourself, you of all the people in this world, are worthy of your own love and care.
If anything, I hope this article has served as a reminder that we are all dealing with something, no matter what it may look like from the viewers platform, or the stories we tell ourselves about our friends and neighbours, or even ourselves. It is such a beautiful thing to live truly, without judgement and with tolerance to see our friends through their darkest of days.
The grass is not greener, merely a different shade.