A lot of us suffer from PMS, but what about those that experience PMDD?
Periods are bloody annoying aren’t they? For a week, every month, I become a bloated and emotional mess. My back aches, I can’t eat, my nipples turn into icicles and literally anything sets me off in tears or a wrath which hath no bounds.
Recently, and rightly so, there has been a lot of coverage on period poverty. In the UK alone 1 in 10 girls, aged between 14-21, are unable to buy sanitary products. In addition, 49% have had to miss a full day of school because of their cycle. Thankfully, the government has recently announced that free sanitary products will be soon introduced to all English secondary schools and colleges. And yet, what about all the other issues that come with our uterus’s becoming the Red Sea? What about the endocrine disorder and mental health problem, PMDD, associated with it?
Around 80,000 women, that’s 5-8% of us, suffer with it. And yet, I’ll be honest, until recently I hadn’t heard of it. I knew that most women got a bit more tetchy or sensitive during their time of the month, but I had no idea that some women experience a severe drop in their overall mental health during their cycle. So, to learn a bit more about this, I sat down with my friend Sammie who suffers from PMDD.
First off, she explained exactly what it is:
Sammie: PMDD, otherwise known as just severe PMS, stands for Pre-Menstrual Dysphoric Disorder and essentially it presents itself as a more extreme version of common PMS symptoms.
Me: Tell me about how you found out you had PMDD and what occurs when it flares up?
Sammie: I was diagnosed with this about two years ago after I realised that I was having episodes of ill mental health that were linked to my cycle.
Physically, I can gain up to 7lbs during my period, sleep for 10+ hours and need to eat a lot more than usual. But it is the mental symptoms that really affect everyday life. I become very hypersensitive and can become extremely irritated or upset over the simplest things. It also brings with it depressive and anxious thoughts, which can often be suicidal. All of these symptoms begin about mid-way through my cycle and a few days into my period, they completely disappear.
Me: In what ways does it affect your day-to-day life?
Sammie: I spend about half of my month barely able to concentrate on anything, because I find it very difficult to be motivated. It causes a lot of tension between myself and other people. This is really annoying, because it means once that period has gone away and I feel myself again, I have to face the fact that I am now behind and have had unnecessary arguments with people. Essentially, I spend two weeks unable to function properly and then another week trying to pick myself back up.
Me: What treatments are available? How have you found them?
Sammie: The problem with PMDD is that doctors aren’t 100% sure why it affects some people, but treatment is available. Some people find going on a combined pill works, but for others this makes things worse. For those who have it really bad, a hysterectomy is also an option. In general, counselling services are an option to help you cope with the symptoms, but it will never make it go away.
Antidepressants are also a treatment option and they work for me. Some people take antidepressants for the entire month, but I have them during the luteal phase of the cycle (the second half) and hopefully this will work well.
Me: Are there any self-care methods you follow?
Sammie: I have to track my cycle to make sure I begin taking my medication at the right time, and so that I am consciously aware of why I might be feeling bad. I also have to plan ahead for deadlines and try to get as much work done as possible outside of that time, so I don’t fall behind. Eating also helps.
Me: Do you think many people are educated about it or what it is?
Sammie: Definitely not. A lot of people think it is essentially the same as PMS, but the symptoms are more severe. Either that or they mistake it for PME (Premenstrual exacerbation) which is where you have a diagnosed mental health issue that is made worse by hormone changes.
Me: Do you think there is a stigma/people don’t realise how serious it can be?
People tend to think you’re making up excuses or completely overreacting. It is really frustrating when people think you just don’t know how to handle your emotions or you “don’t know how to take a joke.” I think sometimes people brush it off as if it is not a real problem, but it is.
It is great that as a society we are becoming more open about our monthly red alerts, me and Sammie in fact watched Channel 4’s recent documentary ‘100 Vaginas’, which covered childbirth, female masturbation, and women’s heavy flows. However, in order to fully neutralise and normalise the topic, all aspects of the subject have to be in the open.
Suffering from PMDD is nothing to be embarrassed about, you are not ovary-reacting.