Hello and Welcome!!

~Seek first to understand, then be understood~
If you're looking for information on a particular topic, type that word in the search box below. If I have written about that subject, a list of posts will appear. If no posts come up, I haven't written about it...yet. Emails, and questions in the comments section for possible posts, are welcome.
I have a "friend" who shows up once a month. She turns my world upside down, over and over again.
I am a good person, caring and sweet, but when she comes to visit, I could rip off your head.
She takes no prisoners, foul words she does spout, I try to keep the words in, she lets them come out.
People don't understand me, or what this is about, to have this creature inside my head.
I despise who I am, half of the time, I feel sorry for my daughter, family and friends.
There's no way to describe it, for those who don't know, it's a living nightmare, she really needs to go.
~Neysia Manor, Rest in Peace

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Dealing With PMDD - Advice for Men

I’ve spent quite a bit of time searching the internet for Resources and Advice for men dealing with a woman who suffers from PMDD. Unfortunately, most articles lump PMS and PMDD together, which does a great disservice to women with PMDD. In the comment sections of these articles both men and women express anger and resentment toward the women who experience true PMDD: the men claiming the articles give women a license to behave badly two weeks out of the month, and the women claiming the women with extreme mood swings give all women a bad name.

So, to clear a few things up…

20% of women suffer no pre-menstrual symptoms at all
80% of women suffer from some combination of pre-menstrual symptoms
20-40% experience moderate discomfort pre-menstrually
Up to 10% of women suffer from PMDD

This post is written for the men who have partners in the last category.

But before we get started, a quick primer on the differences between PMS and PMDD.

PMS deals primarily with physical symptoms. Bloating, aching, cramping, tenderness, fatigue, headaches, food cravings, and mild mood swings are the most well-known of the more than 150 symptoms possible. A little irritability, tension, sadness, weepiness, or any combination thereof is par for the course.

The major component of PMDD is mood swings in the extreme. PMDD actually affects your brain’s capability to regulate itself, and therefore affects just about every other hormone in your body. That’s not to say a woman can’t have the bloating, aching, cramping, fatigue, cravings, and other physical symptoms. If she does, it may well be that she suffers from both PMDD and PMS, and once she gets her PMDD under control, all she’ll be left with is some PMS.

Frankly, I think most women with PMDD would be happy to simply suffer some form of PMS. Because PMS is to PMDD what a headache is to a migraine. There is a distinct difference, and that difference is biological—not mental. The biology of PMS and PMDD share many similarities, but at some point they split into completely different paths. An explanation of that is beyond the scope of this post, but I’ll be happy to write about it some other time.

For now, it’s enough to know that PMS and PMDD are two completely different things.

That’s not to say your relationship won’t benefit from the advice in this post if your partner simply has PMS. But we’re not talking about PMS here today, we’re talking full-blown PMDD.

1. Both you and your partner should mark the time on a calendar when you expect her to be pre-menstrual. This can be hard if her cycle is not regular, but do the best you can to identify patterns. An explanation of my pattern is here, and can give you an idea of what symptoms to look for.

If your partner is in denial, and claims there’s nothing wrong with her—mark your own calendar separately. In many cases, the man can tell before the woman that she’s entering into her pre-menstrual phase, because he’s watching from the outside, while she’s busy trying to cope—either consciously or sub-consciously--with the unwanted changes going on in her brain and body.

Please note: There are women who are in complete denial that anything different is happening to them, and then there are women who know what’s happening, but “really don’t want to deal with this right now” because they are too busy to, and so they pretend nothing is happening, and they really aren’t feeling any differently, until it’s too late to do anything about it, and the episode erupts full force.

Determine which type of woman you are living with, and keep track accordingly. Apparently there are several applications available on the iPhone and Android phones to help you track her cycle, but an old-fashioned calendar will do just as well.

2. If she’s indicated that this is what she would prefer, try to stay clear of her until the episode passes. This has nothing to do with you, or her love for you. It’s simply due to her heightened sensitivity to any combination of the five senses. She literally can’t handle any more sensory input—be it bright lights, loud noises, touch of any kind, strong smells, or even certain foods. If a PMDD woman has allergies of any kind, they can be exacerbated pre-menstrually. If she has any another condition, such as arthritis, diabetes, or fibromyalgia, they can be exacerbated as well.

Even if she’s otherwise healthy, during an episode of PMDD a woman is literally is a walking bundle of nerves. Unfortunately for both of you, this heightened sensitivity and discomfort can be so distracting that it causes her an inability to focus on things like questions, requests, conversations, or simple instructions. (Now you know why she forgot to pick up your suit at the cleaners.)

Take the first one, for example: You have a question that requires more than minimal thought and consideration.
Examples would be:
Major purchases—car, appliances, maybe that boat/motorcycle/sportscar you’ve always wanted (not a good time to bring it up)
Health decisions
Financial decisions
Employment decisions
Decisions involving having or raising children
Vacation plans
Any change of routine or structure in your life

Why? Because during a PMDD episode a woman’s brain is not functioning properly. This has nothing to do with how smart or intelligent she is. This is her brain chemistry being disrupted due to the hormonal shifts taking place in her body. During a PMDD episode it can take all of her concentration simply to focus on the basics of getting through each day. If you come at her with anything resembling a major decision, it could overload her brain and cause a meltdown.

So if she asks for space during that time, please give it to her.

3. Be patient. Dealing with anybody on a short fuse can be challenging. If she snaps at you, or does something that irritates you, don't lose your temper and fight back. It won't do any good, and in most cases will only make things worse. Just (discreetly) take a deep breath, maybe say a prayer, and ignore whatever she just did that bothered you. Remember that she's not normally like this and she’ll be herself again soon.

4. Do not enable immature behavior. I’ve said all along, PMDD is an explanation, not an excuse. Being emotional does not excuse inappropriate behavior, any more than being drunk excuses offensive behavior. If she’s being immature, yelling, shouting, stomping, snapping, cursing, slamming or throwing things, don’t respond with your own immature behavior. She at least has an explanation for it—a biological explanation. What’s your excuse?

Stay calm and leave the room if you have to, until she settles down. Let her know you love her and you’ll be nearby, but you can’t have a conversation with her when she’s being irrational. Believe me, she knows she’s being irrational. But without conscious effort at awareness, she can’t stop herself any more than she could stop an allergic reaction. If you calmly point out that she’s being immature or irrational and say you’ll be happy to continue this conversation another time, things will settle down a lot more quickly than if you respond with your own emotional outburst.

5. Listen to her, even if she’s not making any sense. Try to figure out what the REAL problem is. If she’s complaining about something that’s never bothered her before, or doesn’t usually bother her, most likely what she’s saying is “I feel miserable, and there’s nothing I can do about it, so I’m looking for something else to change and hoping that will make me feel better.” This is a time of true desperation for her. She’s looking for anything, rational or irrational, that will make her feel better. This is a good time to suggest she take some time out for herself, maybe a hot bath, or a cup of tea and a good book, or whatever soothes her soul. Let her know you support her need to have a little time to pamper herself in whatever way makes her the happiest.

But beware of sending her out on a shopping spree. Retail therapy will only make things worse when the mood has passed and the bills come in.

6. Don't take it personally. During an episode of PMDD, you can count on her emotions getting the best of her, and she'll probably question your relationship. She might question you. Might question her whole life and everything she believes or stands for. This is normal and natural for a woman during an episode of PMDD. As mentioned in Number 5 above, she's feeling helpless, and sometimes when people feel helpless they look for other things they can control, and that might mean bringing up topics or suggesting changes that trigger your emotions. Your best defense against this is to stay level-headed and calmly say, "Ok, I understand." What you really understand is that you're still the same person she loved before her PMDD episode kicked in, and her change in perception of you and her life overall is the PMDD talking, not her. For more information on this, see my post It’s Not Personal – It’s Just My PMDD.

7. Be compassionate. Think about a time when stress or physical changes made you hard to get along with. Have you ever been sleep-deprived? Maybe you had an accident or were the hospital, and the chronic pain made you want to lash out at everybody. Put yourself in her shoes. Not only is she experiencing uncomfortable physical symptoms, but her hormones also ebbing and flowing, making it almost impossible for her to know how she feels or what she wants. Think of the effect testosterone has had on you, like when you get sexually aroused, or on any occasion when you felt aggression or rage. You remember how you felt caught up in the emotion, how it made you want to say and do things you ordinarily wouldn’t say or do. That’s what’s happening to her.

8. Be forgiving and reassuring. Her insecurities will definitely come up during an episode of PMDD, and with her heightened sensitivity, every negative thought she has will be magnified ten times over. If she doesn’t consciously stop the negative thoughts, they will flow through her mind in an endless loop. If you can get her to talk about them, fine. Some women won’t want to, because they know the thoughts are irrational, even while they are having them, they just don’t know how to stop them. Nobody wants to share irrational thoughts, and then remember they did so when the episode is over—even if the only one remembering them is her.

If she feels unloved and insecure, she’ll probably act out, which will make you not want to be around her, which will "confirm" her negative thoughts. Most women feel insecure about their bodies to start with, maybe even their lovemaking, child-rearing, housekeeping, or professional skills, and if they’re in any way insecure about your feelings for them, this is when that insecurity will come out. So try to give her a few extra compliments (and don’t be offended if she doesn’t believe you, or snaps at you for it), and—if she’ll let you (remember those heightened sensory sensitivities)--be more affectionate. If she won’t let you near her, don’t make her feel badly by taking it personally. Guilt is the last thing she needs when she’s feeling unlovable. Tell her you understand and you’ll be around if she changes her mind. That could well be all it takes to melt her defenses.

More on this next week, as that’s enough for now. For more information, I invite you to scroll through my most popular posts, as indicated in the sidebar.

Take care, and good luck!

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Relationships and PMDD - Finding the Right Partner

Okay, today’s post begins the one I had in mind when I started this series on relationships. But once I started thinking about it, I realized that for any of us to have a successful relationship, we have to start with ourselves. We have to know ourselves, like ourselves, and be friends with ourselves before we can successfully have any sort of relationship with anyone else, be it friendship, a family relationship, or a relationship with a significant other.
People will only treat you as well as you treat yourself. If you don’t know yourself, don’t understand yourself, how can you explain your PMDD to anyone else? If you don’t treat yourself with kindness, care, and consideration, how can you expect anyone else to?
So I started with Relationships Begin With You, then emphasized the importance of getting to know yourself as well as you would a friend, and then offered some ideas on how to be a friend to yourself, or how to treat yourself the way you would a friend. Because, face it, most of us treat friends better than we do ourselves. We’re there for friends, but when it comes to taking care of ourselves…for any number of reasons, we drop the ball. Those issues go way beyond the subject of PMDD, so this is not the place to explore them.
I then tackled the topic of family—offered tips on how to get along with your family, especially during family gatherings--and if for reasons beyond your control, you just can’t get along with some family members—I wrote about how to “just say no” to family gatherings for your own peace of mind and well being. This is not opting out. This counts as being good to yourself, and treating yourself like a friend. If a friend came to you and said, “I just can’t deal with my family, family drama stresses me out, or I love them but they just plain make me feel crazy,” what would you tell that friend?
Then tell yourself the same thing. Do what you can to get along, and learn to let go of the rest. Take a break from the family if you need to, if you need some time to get your head together. The only person you have control over and are responsible for is yourself. If others behave badly, that’s not on you. But if you’re the one behaving badly, then you need to take a look at that, take some time out, and do your best to figure out what you could be doing differently. Be the change you want to see in your world. Start with taking care of yourself.
Many of us are already in relationships, and have children. Children who depend on us to be there for them, no matter what kind of day we are having. Taking care of ourselves helps us to be better able to take care of them. When we’re calm, relaxed, and happy, we’re much better able to weather the storms life brings into our days, and provide that emotional stability our children need to grow into happy, well-adjusted adults.
They can’t do that if we’re in a bad relationship, whatever the reason. So if you’re not willing to put forth the effort to find or create a healthy, stable, and supportive relationship for yourself, then do it for them—the kids who are counting on you to show them how to navigate life’s many challenges. If you don’t show them…who will?
To have a good relationship, you need a supportive partner. Period. If your partner isn’t supportive of your needs as a woman with PMDD, you might as well be a salmon swimming upstream. But for your partner to be supportive of those needs, you have to know what those needs are, yourself. When you’re having an episode, do you need calm and quiet, or do you need to be held? Do you need to be left alone, or do you want someone who can gently and lovingly help to ease you out of your negative mood? Will flowers and candy help? Do you just want to watch TV or read a book, or do you want to talk?
The answers are as varied as can be. But the key to any good relationship is communication. Maybe one month you’ll want to go out to dinner. Maybe another you’ll want to take a long bath. Maybe you’ll want to make some popcorn and watch a comedy. Maybe you’ll want to go for a walk. Maybe you just want to feel appreciated.
Whatever you want, you need to be able to communicate that to your partner. And if your partner won’t cooperate…is he or she the right partner for you? I’ve said all along, PMDD is an explanation, not an excuse. It’s not an excuse to behave badly. It’s not an excuse to take your anger, irritation, or sadness out on others. It’s not an excuse to withdraw and/or abandon your responsibilities.
But it is an explanation for why you feel tempted to do these things when having an episode of PMDD.
The first thing you need to do is chart your symptoms, to discover what your pattern is. I detailed mine in my post, A Perfect Storm of PMDD. Once you know what your pattern is, you need to let your partner know when your bad days are coming, and ask for some extra consideration on those days. If you have a really good relationship with your partner, he or she might be able to see the storm coming before it arrives. I know there have been many times in my life that I was completely unaware that I was starting to act out of character, until my best friend, a man, pointed it out. Then I had to decide if he was right or not, because nobody knows my mental, emotional, or physical state as well as I do.
Sometimes he’s right, and sometimes he’s wrong. When he’s right, we go into PMDD mode. When he’s wrong, I do my best to figure out what’s really bothering me, and if he’s involved, we talk about it. If he’s not, I might ask him to help me figure out ways to deal with the person or situation that is causing my anger and or tears.
Beware of partners who tell you that you must be having an episode just because you’re upset with them for one reason or another. There come times in everyone’s lives when we are genuine angry or upset with someone about something. And that’s okay. Anger and emotional upset are normal and natural signals that something is not going right in our lives. They’re like warning lights, letting us know that here is something going on that needs to be addressed. The key is to know the difference—are you genuinely angry, or has your PMDD kicked in?
If your PMDD has kicked in, revert to the list of phrases I mentioned in my last post. What works with children and family members works just as well with partners. Or make up your own list. Agree on these code phrases beforehand, when you are feeling well. Then, when the bad days come, you’ll have them ready to diffuse tense situations that arise.
A good relationship of any kind is based on mutual admiration and respect. If you’re in a good relationship, your partner will respect your need for space or extra attention when the bad days come. If you’re not, you will likely find yourself with a partner who ignores you, demeans you, eggs you on, refuses to believe you, and/or abandons you when you most need love and support. Partners like this only add to the problem, because they create stress. Stress exacerbates PMDD and PMDD causes stress.
So the best thing you can do for yourself is to find a partner who will not add to your stress when you are already stressed. If your partner simply won’t listen, then there’s more going on in your relationship than just your PMDD. Don’t let anyone blame you or your PMDD solely for the failures in a relationship, be they friends, family, or your significant other. It takes two people to have a relationship. If you’re trying, and the other party isn’t—it’s not just about your PMDD. They’re using your PMDD as an excuse to avoid looking at whatever else may be going wrong in the relationship.
I don’t know any gentler way to say it. If somebody loves you, truly loves you, they will work with you to find a way to make your life easier and your episodes more bearable. They will be open to information and resources on the subject, and will want to help you get better. They will not walk away, and they will not cast 100% of the blame on you. They may not be happy with you at times, but they will be there for you.
If they are not…then you need to start at the beginning again…and learn how to be there for yourself.

Liana Laverentz is the award-winning author of two books on PMDD, PMDD and Relationships, and PMDD: A Handbook for Partners.  Both books are based on the most asked questions by her readers, and therefore the most popular posts on her blog, Living on a Prayer, Living with PMDD.  Both books are also an excellent resource for understanding your PMDD and starting a meaningful conversation with loved ones who want to know more about this debilitating disorder we live with daily.  More information on PMDD can also be found on Liana's Facebook page, Living with PMDD.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

It's Not Personal, It's Just Your PMDD

Okay, we’ve covered your relationship with you, learning to treat yourself as well as you would a friend, how exactly to have a relationship with yourself, choosing your friends wisely, avoiding relatives who are toxic to you if you can, and tips to get along with them if you do choose to attend family functions.

Now we’re going to look at your relationship with another aspect of your family—the people you live with every day.

This could be any combination of people and or ages. Mother/guardian and children; parents and/or siblings (you, living with your parents and siblings); adult woman living with parents; adult woman caring for parents; roommates; mother, partner, and children; childless couples; same sex couples, you name it. But these are the people we are closest to, physically, if not emotionally. It would be nice if we were as emotionally close to them as we are physically, but for any number of reasons that often isn’t the case.

Stress at home is bad enough, but for a PMDD woman, it can be the key element that keeps you from getting well, as any kind of strife at home only exacerbates a PMDD woman’s symptoms. During a PMDD episode, we are biologically sensitive creatures, as in sensitive to light, sound, touch, taste, and smells. This has been proven. A PMDD woman’s five senses can be enhanced during an episode, enhanced to the point of discomfort and beyond, which makes us react in ways not welcome or understood by those who do not suffer such on again, off again changes in sensitivity to light, sound, touch, taste, and/or smell.

Please understand this: It’s biological, this shift/change that is happening in our bodies, but we react to it/manifest it emotionally.

Anger has been a basic form of self defense since the cave dwellers. Our bodies are hardwired to react with some form of flight or fight (including anger and aggression) when we feel threatened.

You’re having a PMDD episode and the kids are being too loud? You snap and snarl to get them to quiet down. Your head is pounding with a PMDD migraine, you tell your beloved to shut up and turn out the lights. Both of these reactions are nothing more than self-preservation instincts kicking in. Too many flashing lights? Too much electronic noise? Same deal. Significant other giving you a hard time? Everybody wants a piece of you at the same time?

Your biological responses kick in, and you lash out in self defense.

The target of your attack responds with “What’s wrong with you? I was just…?”

They wonder if you’re crazy. You wonder if you’re crazy. Some are even so mean-spirited as to taunt you and make you do it again and again and again…because when you’re out of control, the focus is off of them. Just remember that.

The best way to fight this form of mean-spiritedness is to become your own best friend, get to know yourself better than anyone else knows you, sort through what is your fault and what is not, then amend your own behavior—such as catching yourself before you explode into anger or tears—and learn how to apologize when you don’t.

Never apologize for “being the way I am.” You are who you are. And God loves you just the way you are. If your family or partner doesn’t…you need to think about that. Think about some changes you might need to make before you can be well again.

But right now you need to focus on you, to get a handle on your PMDD.

If you don’t catch yourself in time, apologize immediately for the hurt you caused the other person. Not for being upset in the first place. When you snap out during an episode of PMDD, unless you are aware of what you are doing and actually feel it coming on, you have no more control over what you say and do than you would over an allergic reaction.

Because it’s biological in nature, and deals with, among other things, your stress responses.

Which came first, the chicken or the egg? Which came first, stress or PMDD? Stress contributes to PMDD, and PMDD causes stress. The only thing you can do to break the cycle (short of taking drugs that only mask your symptoms and give you various side effects to deal with) is to get to know yourself as well as you possibly can, and learn ways to head off these “natural as an allergic reaction” responses to stress.

If you chart your symptoms, which really is a must for a PMDD woman, you can tell when things are going to start getting dicey in your life. You can plan around those days, plan to take it easy on those days if at all possible, learn to pamper yourself a little. You can also warn those you live with that those days are coming.

If they are not sympathetic, do not explode. Simply be the change you want to see in the world. Model the type of behavior you would like to receive from them. Do unto others….

It all starts with you. Why? Because if you don’t take care of you, nobody else will. If you have to start being nicer to someone so that they will be nicer to you, then so be it. Give peace a chance. There are those who won’t respond positively, or who won’t respond at all. That does not matter. The only person whose behavior you are responsible for is you. And once you have a handle on your own behavior, they can’t use it against you any more.

So think about that.

My house is a haven. It’s where I go to find peace, to recharge, to rest and relax. It wasn’t always that way, and I had to make some serious choices and changes to get to where I am today. One baby step at a time.

But now, if I am having a bad day, all I have to do is say so, and everyone knows it has nothing to do with them and everything to do with me and my PMDD. The best course of action is to avoid me, make no demands, agree with me if I start something, and not take anything I say or do personally.

My job is to stay aware of what I am doing, go about my business quietly, gently remind people who forget and start to ask for something I can’t give at that moment that I am having a bad day, do my best not to start anything, and not take anything personally.

The best advice for everyone involved is to not to take anything personally on those days. This is not a license to freely do and say what you want to during that period, but an agreement that if things should go awry or even get out of hand—it’s not personal. It’s just your PMDD.

Remember, PMDD is an explanation, not an excuse.

And if others in your household are behaving badly when you are having an episode of PMDD, what is their explanation for it?

Think about that one for a while.

You’ll soon realize it’s not just you.

So stop taking the blame for everything that does wrong in your relationships. Recognize that it takes two to have a relationship and both parties have to want the relationship equally for it to work.

I’m talking about adults here.

When it comes to kids, it should be easier to simply explain to them that Mommy is having a bad day, and needs some quiet time, and it would be a really big help if they could find something quiet to do while Mommy rests so she can feel better sooner.

If your kids don’t understand or refuse to honor this simple request, then a parenting class might be in order. If your partner doesn’t understand or refuses to honor this simple request, a relationships class might be in order. There’s nothing wrong with asking for a little peace and quiet, a little time to yourself to regroup, especially when you are not feeling well.

Around here, we use words like…
I’m feeling fragile today.
I can’t handle too much information today.
I’m having a bad day.
I’m having a sad day.
Whatever you say or do today will be wrong, so it’s best to steer clear of me today.
It’s not personal.
It’s not you.
She’s baaaack! (Meaning my evil twin).
Guess who’s visiting? (The Alien, which is another name for her.)
All I want is chocolate.
Let’s go out to eat.
I can’t stay awake today.
I think I’ll just read a book for a while.
Not today, hon, I can’t seem to hold onto my thoughts for very long.
I think I’ll just end this day now and go to bed. (Usually said when I am extremely irritable, and no matter who says anything to me, they are likely to get blasted. I simply remove myself from the situation and temptation.)

That’s enough for today. I hope I’ve given you some food for thought.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Relationships - How To Survive Family Gatherings

Although many of you enjoyed it, and very much I appreciate your saying so, I wasn’t completely happy with my post last week. I generally try to offer positive insights and information, and somehow the idea of leaving it at “If you don’t get along with your family, then just don’t go,” didn’t set well with me.

Because there are a lot of us who genuinely would like to get along with our families and have our family gatherings filled with happy memories of good times shared. There are also a lot of us, who, for one reason or another, simply aren’t willing or ready to make that kind of a break with our fundamental family ties…because without family, what are we, but alone?

Nobody likes to be alone. Especially on the holidays, when, according to what see on television, everyone else is out having the time of their lives.

So, this week I want to offer some positive thoughts and information on things you can do to make your future family gatherings, be they over the holidays or for any family occasion, a little more pleasant.

1. Lower your expectations: Most people go into the holidays with Norman Rockwell expectations and end up deeply disappointed, even depressed and suicidal. Where do most of these expectations come from? Your television. Starting well into October, advertisements abound showing happy families gathering and sharing their holiday joy. Keep in mind that these advertisements are designed to sell you products, and are not a realistic representation of what goes on in most families. Just like skinny runway models are not true representations of the average woman, warm and fuzzy advertisements with everyone laughing and smiling around a holiday table as they pass the food and drink are not true representations of a holiday family gathering. They are somebody’s image of an ideal—and ideals are extremely hard to reproduce in everyday real life.

And don’t blame yourself if your holiday event falls short of the idealized version you see on TV. This is tantamount to blaming yourself for not having a body as hot as your favorite movie star’s. Looking good is what they get paid to do. If you got paid to look that good, you would, too. Any woman can look sexy with the right hair, clothes, and make up. If you don’t have access to the same spas, trainers, dieticians, life-coaches, cooks, housekeepers, nannies, drivers, and secretaries or assistants they do, then how can you expect yourself to look as good as they do?

Same with the happy families on TV. If you don’t have access to the same funds and production crews that they do, how can your family holiday be as picture perfect as they portray theirs to be? They probably don’t even know each other! They’re just a bunch of strangers acting like a happy family.

So don’t fall for the hype. Work with what you have, and stop trying to imitate some marketing specialist’s unrealistic image of what your holiday gathering should be like.

2. Arrive with a smile and determination to look for nuggets of good humor throughout the day. If someone brings up a topic you’d rather not discuss, just smile and say, “Gee, I really haven’t thought much about that lately.” Then excuse yourself to head off for the food and or drink, perhaps even asking if there is anything you can bring back for them. (If you're already at the table, pick up the nearest serving dish and offer some food. "Would you like some more mashed potatoes?") Switch the focus to them, in a polite way. Don’t let them get your goat. Once you’ve returned with whatever they might have asked for, just smile and say, “Here you go,” and then be on your way. Either way, the uncomfortable topic has been diverted.

3. Use the event as an opportunity for growth as a person. Practice the skills of patience, kindness, tolerance, acceptance, and/or self-control. Congratulate yourself every time you manage to take the high road and not snap out at the person who is trying to get you to lose your cool, either deliberately or inadvertently. Use it as an opportunity to learn about how you “don’t” want to be.

4. Set your intention to have a good time, no matter what. Get a good night’s sleep beforehand. Read up and prepare yourself to view the gathering as a spiritual event. One in which you know your spirit will be challenged, and you refuse to let anyone shake your good mood. One of the best books I’ve ever read that has to do with dealing with difficult people is Thank You For Being Such a Pain, by Mark Rosen.

5. Eliminate three words from your vocabulary for the day -- Always, Never, and Ever. The reasons why are explained in this article.

6. Stay sober. I know this is a hard one, because a lot of people use alcohol to get through the day, thinking it’s the only way they will be able to deal with it, but in truth alcohol only contributes to the problem, because it magnifies whatever issues are already on the table, or lurking just beneath the surface. Besides, a PMDD woman needs to stay away from alcohol.

7. Don’t choose sides in any conflict that develops. Period.

8. Stay away from discussions involving sex, politics, and religion. Arrive prepared with alternate topics to bring up…bring photos of the kids or your last vacation. Anything important to you or your family that you’d like to share. Try not to get your feelings hurt if your efforts to share are ignored or dismissed. Congratulate yourself for at least having the willingness to try.

9. Invite a friend or two who has nowhere else to go for the holiday dinner. Sometimes bringing new people into the situation will help to keep unruly relatives on their best behavior. Or will at least make them consider restraining themselves in the presence of guests.

10. Drive separately, so that you can escape if need be. If you can’t leave the house, then leave the room. Go into the kitchen and see if you can help there. Busy yourself with clearing plates and empty drink glasses/cans. Or just go and refill your own drink. Maybe spend some time in the bathroom, practicing deep breathing exercises. Go for a walk if you can. While you’re in the bathroom or on that walk, call a friend you’ve arranged to call beforehand if things get dicey. Enlist some moral support, and do it guilt-free.

11. And it may well go against the grain, but if you feel you absolutely must go to the family gathering, then go and aim for one positive encounter during the event, and build from there. Next time aim for two, and privately celebrate your successes. It might take a few years to get where you want to be, but if this is your family, or your mate’s family, you’ll have as many years as you need to, to work on it.

12. Another sanity-saving option is to arrive late and leave early. Simply limit your time with your closest relatives, so that whatever of the above you might be willing to try has a bigger chance of success.

Below are some other excellent resources for success:

Overall tips on dealing with holiday stress:

This article from Spiritual Zen has some really good ideas, such as be prepared and have a plan, seek to understand rather than be understood, and know when enough is enough.

And for the less spiritual and more practical among us: Practical Tips for Dealing With Difficult Relatives Over the Holidays

When all else fails, disengage.

Because sometimes nothing less than Just Say No will do. Plan an alternate holiday gathering/event and proceed with it guilt-free, telling your family you’re simply taking a break and will see them next time.
Next week: Dealing with your immediate family when you have PMDD. Until then, Happy New Year and be blessed...