I’m one of the fortunate few. Through years of carefully cultivated self-awareness, I’ve finally learned how to separate myself from my PMDD. I know that I am not my PMDD. But millions more women are out there, valiantly struggling to get though each day, secretly convinced they are going mad, and simply hoping, even praying, that one day they will wake up and the nightmare that lives inside their minds will be over.
On the outside these women may seem to be coping—some of them even coping brilliantly by all external accounts--but on the inside they are terrified by--and of--this mystifying cycle of emotional imbalance that hardly anyone understands.
They’re also afraid to tell anyone, for fear that those people, too, will think they are crazy.
Or worse, they’ve tried to tell others—friends, family, medical professionals--and have been discounted, dismissed, or simply not believed. Or perhaps the symptoms of PMDD have crashed over their internal walls and manifested themselves, and those they spend the most time with and/or are closest to have already deemed them as somehow defective. She’s a moody one all right, sweetness and light one minute, a raving bitch the next. What gives? What’s wrong with her? How can anyone be so freaking out of control?
Everyone wants to be normal, and PMDD women are no exception. But PMDD doesn’t do normal. PMDD is a biological imbalance in your brain that manifests itself both physically and emotionally. It’s the emotional part people can’t deal with. Women the world over are no stranger to physical discomfort. We can be feeling like something the dog dragged in three days ago and still meet our commitments, care for our families, run households and offices and companies and governments, head up foundations, give speeches, present or accept awards, create beautiful works of art, love our partners, and still get dinner on the table in time.
Women are awesome. We are born with the gifts of joy, laughter, insight, intuition, sensitivity, kindness, compassion, creativity, cooperation, and multi-tasking (our biggest downfall, as we routinely take on too much.) We have more endurance than men. We have more tolerance for pain, be it physical, mental, spiritual, or emotional. We are passionate in our beliefs, and loyal to those we love—even when that loyalty is far from returned.
If a woman had a broken leg, and was temporarily hobbling around on crutches, most people would understand if she was a little tired or edgy or weepy during the course of her day. Most people would offer to help, open doors, fetch and carry things for her, run some errands, give her opportunities to rest and refresh herself. Most would give her some leeway to maneuver as she tries to navigate through her suddenly complicated day. At the very least, they would try to be tolerant if her frustration spilled over.
But when our brains are temporarily broken, as in the case of the PMDD phase of our menstrual cycles, there are no boldly visible cues, like a pair of crutches. Sure, the sparkle in our eyes may dim, our heads and hearts and joints may hurt, our handwriting may become stiff and awkward, our reflexes slow and clutzy, but only those intimately acquainted with us may be able to notice. We might not even notice these things ourselves, if we aren’t paying close attention to our bodies. Which most women don’t, we’re so used to putting our own needs aside and fulfilling the roles we play for others—mother, daughter, sister, partner, caretaker, breadwinner, coordinator, confidante.
So silently we slog through our PMDD days, knowing we feel fragile inside, but with no visible way to communicate that to the world—other than our emotions. All through our lives, we’ve been socialized to believe emotions are bad for everybody but actors and actresses. Real people need to suppress their emotions. Emotions get you in trouble. Emotions are counterproductive. Emotions are messy and scary. Don’t make a scene, don’t make a fuss, don’t get hysterical, and for God’s sake, don’t ever cry.
People can’t handle it when other people cry. Men especially can’t handle it when women cry.
Anger is the accepted emotional outlet for men, but there is no acceptable emotional outlet for women. Women are not supposed to get angry. If we get angry, there’s something wrong with us—we’re being countercultural. Little girls are sugar and spice and everything nice. Women who show anger are frowned upon, called all sorts of derogatory names, dismissed, discounted, deterred and destroyed, one way or another.
And so most women turn that anger inward, where it manifests as depression.
This is what happens to someone who passes for a *normal* woman, mind you. But remember, PMDD doesn’t do normal. PMDD lifts the veil on all those suppressed emotions, all those bitten lips and mounting frustrations life throws at us, turns off the biological mechanism that holds all that suppressed emotion back, and flips the switch to ON.
PMDD is your steam valve, honey, and like clockwork, once a month it lets loose.
If you’re especially unlucky, it happens twice a month, catching you on your ovulation cycle, as well.
And when that happens, we fail. We fail spectacularly. We rant, we rave, we cry and throw things. We break things, too. Dishes and doors, spirits and hearts and hopes and dreams. We say things we don’t mean, and hurt the people we love the most.
Why? Because they can’t see inside our heads to where the synapses are temporarily not working right, because they can’t see that we’re fragile inside on those days.
Because they can’t see we’re temporarily on crutches.
And for that, people call us crazy.
We’re not crazy. We’re pre-menstrual. More about what this means next week. In the meantime, remember, You Are Not Your PMDD. It might take up a huge chunk of your life, especially since you probably spend your non-PMDD days trying to make up to everyone for the way you *supposedly* let them down on your PMDD days--but really, who let who down?
Think about it. If you were on crutches, wouldn't the people in your life treat you with more care?
So you are not your PMDD, and your PMDD is not you. It’s something you have to deal with, like you would if you broke your leg, but it does not define you. No one who doesn’t have PMDD has a clue about how much energy and effort is expended in trying NOT to blow up, NOT to burst into tears, NOT to ruin the party, the family outing, the meeting, the conference, the trip…
All others see is our failures. But I read the Facebook posts, and I see how hard everyone tries, and my heart goes out to each and every one of you as you describe for the others how you feel it coming on, how you feel the tension building, how you are in the middle of the storm, how you hate all of it…
And how you ache inside as you do your best to deal with the heartbreaking aftermath.
I am here, and I understand. Because while I have a better handle than most on my PMDD, can even separate it out and still get my work done when my mind is acting up the most, I know all too well how much energy that takes, and how drained you can feel at the end of the day.
And even when I make it through 90% of the day without weeping or snapping or snarling at someone, even when I’ve spent the day protecting others from myself and my moods, moods I have as much control over as I would an allergic reaction, even when I’ve done everything I can to make sure I don’t ruin their day…
There’s always the chance the dam will break.
And that is all they see.
Do not let anyone define you by your failures. It’s not right, it’s not fair, and you wouldn’t do it to them.
Take care and God Bless.