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~Seek first to understand, then be understood~
This summer here on the blog I'm hosting a dialogue, so to speak, between women with PMDD and various partners, about what goes on during an episode of PMDD. Titled The Voices of PMDD, and presented with many thanks to their respective authors, I plan to alternate these guest posts--PMDD woman, partner, PMDD woman, partner--in the hopes of giving each side a glimpse into the mind and heart of the other. The posts are random, and none of these people know each other. But we are all hurting, and if these posts can help you in any way to open up to your partner,
or bring a new measure of peace into your relationship,
then perhaps some healing can begin.
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On the more analytical side, if you're looking for information on a particular topic, just type that word in the search box. You will then pull up all posts that include information on that subject.
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Thursday, June 24, 2010

Hormonal Imbalances and Mood Disorders

Last week I read the book Women’s Moods: What Every Woman Must Know about Hormones, the Brain, and Emotional Health. It was a great book about overall hormonal health and described how hormonal issues are physiological imbalances in the brain that manifest as emotional behavior, because the hormones involved affect the areas of the brain that regulate our emotions.

On the one hand, I wish I’d read this book years ago, as it was first published in 1999. On the other, I’m glad I didn’t. While the authors completely explain the devastating effects women's hormones can have on your emotional life, they are firmly in the camp of using medication to treat these brain disorders that affect women throughout our reproductive years.

That’s fine if you want to go that route, but there are other options available now to women who suffer from hormonal imbalances. These options are given a cursory mention and dismissed. Which means if I’d read the book ten years ago, or even five, I would have come to the conclusion that there was no alternative to my hormonal imbalance short of medication.

That, for me, would have been very depressing indeed.

I know there are millions of women out there who have severe hormonal imbalances that may well require medication to control them—notice I say control them—not manage them. Me, I manage my symptoms through nutrition and exercise and positive lifestyle choices. If I took medication I wouldn’t need to be so vigilant about my health—the medication would theoretically handle the problem for me. But in my case, with the PMDD, I can’t see taking medication every day for something that only occurs a few days a month.

Still, there are days when the thought of it tempts me. But most days it does not.

As I said, to have read this book five years ago would have been devastating for me. Because the authors insist over and over that without treatment, your imbalance will only get worse. There is no light at the end of the tunnel without treatment—this is absolutely true--but their treatment of choice is medication.

So, that aside, I was able to read the book and learn much about the causes of hormonal imbalance and how and why these imbalances can and do get worse later in life without some type of intervention.

Hormonal imbalance is a very serious and practically rampant problem for women, and is all but neglected by the medical community. The only people paying attention are those who can profit from the condition. Most of the information women receive regarding hormonal imbalances comes from companies whose drugs have been approved for treatment of these imbalances.

Which is why we need more books like Women’s Moods to read, even if it is somewhat outdated. Because we need more than to be told a certain medication can solve all our problems. We need to understand the underlying causes of these imbalances and find ways to heal ourselves and prevent the need for chemical solutions. We need to understand the unique female brain/body connection and how it makes us vulnerable to mood problems at the most challenging times in our lives. Puberty, pregnancy, post-partum, peri-menopause, menopause, and post menopause.

Every time you have a child, your hormones undergo an enormous amount of stress, and yet society acts as if there’s nothing to it. Life goes on and you cope.

But what happens when your ability to cope fails you? What happens when, as these authors aptly describe it, you have an internal “earthquake” and mood disorders erupt?

All this attention is given to heart health, but brain health is equally important. We need to learn to care for our brains as diligently as we do our hearts. Not only the heart can be strained by a woman’s genetic make up, life experiences, and stress load, but so can the brain.

If our brain doesn’t work right, we don’t work right, and all sorts of mayhem can ensue. No amount of “being strong” is going to re-regulate a brain that has gone askew. It just isn’t going to happen.

The way this book and many others describe it, our brains have neurological pathways that become worn over time like ruts in a road. When any situation arises, our brains immediately locate the memory of how we dealt with that situation in the past, so that we can effectively do so again. And each time we deal with that situation again, a new pathway is created over the old pathway.

This works fine if your brain is healthy, or operating at optimum level. But what if your brain is not? Then your brain is creating new pathways over damaged roads, and only more damage ensues.

Genetics plays a factor in this, of course, but so do your thought processes. In short, how we deal with stress affects our hormones, which in turn affects our brain. This stress can come from any and all sources, trauma from an accident or abuse, be it physical, emotional, sexual, mental, spiritual, financial, you name it, or from naturally occurring life events such as birth, death, marriage, divorce, loss of a job or health or relationship, to name just a few.

When your hormones are in balance, your body deals with these stresses in a normal and healthy way. When your hormones are out of balance, your body and brain do not. Little stresses can be magnified into big stresses, completely out of proportion to the situation. When your hormones are out of balance and your brain is dysregulated, you can feel like you are under attack 24/7. Your brain makes no distinction between the threat of an oncoming car or someone who simply disagrees with your point of view. Both, to your dysregulated brain, are threats to your very existence.

It’s not logical, in fact is completely irrational, but that’s what it is. Your dysregulated brain is not properly processing the threat.

This is why women with mood disorders like PMDD or even simple hormonal fluctuations seem so irrational at times.

But we’re not crazy, we’re simply out of balance.

Come back next week for ways to regain that balance.

6 comments:

  1. Liana, now I understand why I was often depressed without reason. Thank you for a great post.

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  2. You know, there such an emphasis in our culture of doing it all - having a great career, a great family, of being wholly satisfied with our lot - but it's a Hollywood version of the real thing.

    People have moods. They mess up. They don't all look or act like cookie-cutter people. This is a mixed blessing for the medical community because they traditionally hand out drugs to go with cookie cutter symptoms.

    Kudos to you, Liana, for knowing yourself and seeking the right answer for you.

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  3. Liana, I loved your look at hormonal imbalances. The times I noticed the imbalances were after I gave birth. My hormones were still in flux and I could feel them really raging. I also lost my 20/20 vision when I was pregnant with Joe because of my hormonal imblance. (That's what my eye doctor said) and yet, the only I really felt was the loss of the vision.

    This was very imforative and I am going to pay more attention to lifestyle changes and eating smartly.

    Smiles
    Steph

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  4. That's interesting, Steph, that you lost your 20/20 vision because of hormones. I never would have suspected they could play that big of a part on our physical selves.

    Excellent blog, Liana. Definitely a lot of food for thought.

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  5. this has helped me a great deal, I have been suffering with PMDD for many years and always tried to fight it and tried not to think of myself as a weak person when I cried or got angry at work, and each time it happened I promised myself it would not happen again... I have to consider my hormonal imbalance as a real and serious issue which I will need nutrional and medical assistance with if I am ever to improve it. Thanks for a great explanation.

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    1. Wow Anonymous, Seems we both are in that boat, I am finally out of denial about my painful and carefully traced mood swings right before my period each month, I'm truthfully like a lion , not good, and I'm currently now taking control of this awful hormonal situation I have now been going thru for some time, always thinking these awful mood swings would somehow disappear, they haven't, they have lessened a bit, but I'm suffering, and my relationships are too, Thankyou for posting this, as I am not alone in this PMDD, this posting has been a breathe of fresh air, I see my DR. this week, and am committed to finding out all the Medical ways of Hormonal replacement therapies, etc. Thanks Again:)

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