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~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, April 27, 2011

PMDD Crisis Guide - The Mental Realm of PMDD

This week we continue with Cat Stone's PMDD Crisis Guide...welcome back, Cat!

You can find the Introduction to Cat's Crisis Guide here.. and her post on the Physical Realm here.

The Mental Realm

This realm is where you will find your thoughts, and inevitably, the things you say. Over time this realm is programmed with reactions and responses to things that you are told, or things that happen around you. This realm for a PMDD sufferer is usually very chaotic.

During the hormonal changes in a woman's cycle, her body will undergo changes and present physical problems. These are a little easier to deal with than the changes that go on in the mind during this time.

This is probably best represented by the term, 'mood swings' although that would suggest the problem is just an emotional one. It isn't. The chemical changes in the body actually create false moods, which often bring about 'false thinking'.

A PMDD sufferer will experience random thoughts, seemingly crazy thoughts during their 'bad' time of the month. Thinking outwardly becomes impossible. Seeing the bigger picture seems impossible. All thoughts become inward and bad memories surface. Reactions to what people say, can trigger a negative spiral of thinking that can be overwhelming.

For me, it's like a constant battle in my head. I KNOW how I would normally react, what I would normally think, but during that time, things are not normal. I begin thinking I'm the worst person in the world, that my kids would be better off without me. I think about my past and all the painful things that have happened. I think people should leave me alone, not bother with me.. I lose all my self esteem and belief. All the things that normally get me through no longer work... The clothes I wore last week don't look right, even though it's the exact same outfit. I look in the mirror and see something completely different. This change in perception is quite common in all women who suffer from PMS, but when it means you don't leave the house because you have tried on 10 outfits, are full of tears, anxious, stressed out and frustrated, you know you are suffering from something worse.

My thoughts spiral out of control during my PMDD time, but I am learning to control them. Realising that your thoughts are not really your truth, takes time to happen. I often say... 'In my good head, I know this is true... but right now, I think that blah negative blah' I can recognise what I would think if I were in a good week, and what I am actually thinking. Dealing with the emotions that these bad thoughts bring up is harder than trying to control the thoughts, but keeping your thoughts in check goes a long way to steering a breakdown off course.
After talking to many women who have PMDD, it is obvious that they all feel like 'Jekyll and Hyde'. In fact, you will find that term used quite often when describing PMDD.

A woman with PMDD will find herself thinking about abandoning her kids, and how she'd do it, and how she'd get away. Or leaving family, friends or job. She may think the answer is suicide and spend many hours debating suicide, going through plans or writing her note to leave behind. She may think about drinking till she sleeps, or hurting herself. Her thoughts will turn to guilt, and she'll sit and think about all the damage she has done to her family or friendships, how lonely she is, how no one will ever understand. I know this to be true because I have done all these things, on repeat... for years. These thoughts are what drive people to harm themselves, along with the negative emotions, and it's why it is important to try and get these thoughts under control.

What also changes at this time of the month is the way you speak. This is governed by your feelings, and the things that are going on in your head. A chilled-out, mild-mannered woman will turn into a screaming, shouting, crazy, scary beast. You think I'm joking? This is one area the most damage can be done to your family and friends. The things you say. I would bet that every woman with PMDD has had an episode, and when the storm has died down, has had to think about what she has said to the people she loves. Nasty, spiteful, bitchy, outrageous things. Stuff you would never let leave your mouth. Goddess forbid you argue or fight with a PMDD woman having a bad episode.... Sanity has left the room. Like a caged animal, you want to fight. You are feeling so tired, so low, frustrated, wired, scared, you want to die, you don't care what happens. In your head, your mind is telling you you are terrible, shameful, worthless, then it tells you you will never get away from this nightmare, you will have to do this till the day you die. You worry about every aspect of your life. Will my partner stay with me? What if I hurt my kids? How can I keep doing this? I'm tired... oh so tired... I just want to go to sleep and not wake up.... What will happen if I just walk out the front door now. Mind is on OVERDRIVE.

There is a great lyric, by one of my favourite 'bands'.

How hard is it to decide to be in a good mood, And then just be.. in.. a good mood?
Dan le Sac vs Scroobious Pip - Waiting for the beat to kick in.

Ha.. yes, it's a man talking, and he has never experienced PMDD, but sometimes, you do HAVE to just decide to have a better day! FOCUS on having a better day. Focus on other things other than the thoughts.

Writing or creative outlets can help focus the mind on other things. Baking a cake, going for a walk, going to the library. Having a job can be a great focus... Distraction, distraction, distraction.
If you cant work, volunteer.. or use your time more wisely. It is too easy to let yourself dwell on the past, and mistake hormonal thoughts for the truth. It's easy to let yourself spiral. It's much harder to find the strength to change your thoughts. (Italics added by Liana.)

Some days, it is too hard to get out of the spiral. Some days, you just CAN'T. So what do you do?
Allow the thoughts to come, acknowledge them, then let them go. It's holding on almost compulsively to negative thoughts that feeds the downward spiral. You can even start talking to yourself (assuming you don't already!) and by that I mean...

'Oh hello, negative thought... what was that? I am crap mother?'

'Yes.. you are the worst mother ever, look at you, you hardly take the kids out anywhere, and most the time you are so caught up in your selfish head, You are so selfish. You slept the whole day away and someone else looked after your kids... '

Now this can go two ways.... You can either agree, or totally kick its ass.

'So, you think I'm a bad Mum? Who else cooks for the kids and washes their clothes? Who else finds things to do on a shoe-string? Who else creates a tea party in the garden, with 5 mins notice?

I have seen my kids through everything, to the best of my ability... I love them, I put 100% in when I can, and when I can't, I may sleep, or be a bit distant, but isn't that better than screaming and shouting at them. I am not a bad Mum, and will not accept that. Next?

'You dont have a life.. you sit on your fat arse all day, and never go out. What career have you got? People think you are a sponger, you drain everyone. Your friends never ask you out, cos you never go. You might as well be dead.'

(Are you going to take that?)

'Of course I have a life! I'm here, aren't I? I have this and that, and am planning on doing lots of things in the future. Just because things have been difficult, doesn't mean I will always be like this. I do have friends! And the ones that don't bother with me, aren't worth worrying about. I'm happier with a few close friends, doesn't mean I'm not liked. I give what I can to others, when I can, so, NO, I don't accept that, today I'm feeling vulnerable and a bit depressed, but thats today. Not tomorrow.. or forever...'

Don't commit the future by how you are thinking or feeling on a bad day. (Again, Liana chiming in!)

If you can learn to remain calm, and blow up every negative with a missile of positive you will soon feel stronger and more in control.

We often feel we need outside help, but there is much that can be done by you, by just changing your thoughts.

If you feel you would like more professional help with your thoughts, I would recommend looking into CBT – Cognitive Behaviour Therapy, which helps you to define your thinking patterns so you can begin to change them, and NLP – Neuro Linguistic Programming, which helps you learn about your own ways of communicating and has an excellent way of re-shaping the way you perceive yourself, others and your thoughts and words..

We only use about 20% of our brains, and unfortunately, with PMDD sufferers, we have created such strong neural pathways, that we really do end up in one cycle of thinking. The connections our brain first started making years ago, that created the chemical imbalance, have become stronger and stronger. The more you sit back and allow it to happen, the more the brain feeds off the same thinking patterns. By attempting to break the cycle of negative thinking, you can start re-training your thoughts to support you, be your friend, rather than be your enemy.

Be careful of your thoughts, for your thought become your words.
Be careful of your words, for your words become your actions.
Be careful of your actions, for your actions become your habits.
Be careful of your habits, for your habits become your character.
Be careful of your character, for your character becomes your destiny.
~Author unknown

"Any intelligent fool can make things bigger, more complex, and more violent. It takes a touch of genius -- and a lot of courage -- to move in the opposite direction." ~Albert Einstein

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Taken By Surprise...

This has been an odd month for me. After a couple of years of only experiencing PMDD symptoms every few months--due to the onset of menopause--for the past two cycles I’ve been back to my regular clockwork schedule of symptoms and a refresher course of how miserable PMDD can be.

But now, I also know how to manage and minimize it. I now know I am not my PMDD, and my PMDD is not me. After nearly forty years of cycling through it, being buffeted by first regular, then random storms of PMDD, I have finally learned to separate myself from my PMDD.

To do that, however, takes a great deal of self-attention and self-awareness. You have to listen to everything your body tells you. The body never lies.

But a PMDD body does lie. Imagine that. Your own body lies to you.

No wonder you feel like you’re going crazy sometimes.

I am a very much a positive thinker. Calm, creative, goal-oriented, and optimistic. Generally I sail through my days without a problem. I don’t sweat the small stuff, and half the time don’t even sweat the big stuff. Life has a way of working out for me, and for that, I am grateful. The more it happens, the more I learn to trust—to trust in myself and my higher power—that all choices made from that quiet place within me can be trusted and will lead me to good and positive outcomes.

So imagine my surprise last week, when a day I had willingly chosen to give over to helping a loved one get the medical help he needed, for me turned into an endless loop of mental frustration. What is this? I kept asking myself. This day is no surprise, and I chose to spend it this way, and yet….

And yet I can’t seem to stop the thoughts of anger, resentment, and frustration from welling up inside of me.

I did not let them out. I knew well enough that the person I was spending the day with was not the problem. But Lord, how I wanted to. Just wanted to let loose with every negative thought on my mind. We even joked about it.

Did you catch that? I was able to joke about my feelings in the midst of a PMDD episode.

And I didn’t even know I was having one. I just knew something was “off.”

It wasn’t until the following afternoon that I began to suspect it was PMDD. Thursday morning I procrastinated until it was too late to leave for my Qigong class, which I absolutely love. There’s no reason for me to miss the class, as everyone there knows about my PMDD and accepts me as I am. They welcome my arrival no matter what my mood, which I often announce upon coming in the door.

“Brain’s not working right today,” I will say, and everyone will know I’m a little off my stride.

So I skipped class—all the while asking myself, “Why would you skip something that brings such good things into your life?”

Remember, PMDD doesn’t make sense. It just is.

That afternoon, I found myself unable to focus on what I needed to be doing. My handwriting was off, and I kept getting distracted by the latest shiny thing—a new email, a new link to explore, a phone call to answer, a note to write, a snack to make.

Speaking of snacks, suddenly, for the first time in weeks, I wanted chocolate.

Should have been another clue, but I wasn’t thinking PMDD yet.

Not until the next morning, Friday morning, when I literally did not want to wake up. I swear to you, it felt exactly like when I woke up to a carbon monoxide leak in my house last November. Debilitating, bone deep lack of motivation and fatigue. All I wanted to do was sleep.

The phone rang and I dragged myself out of bed. An hour and a half later, I’m still yawning, yawning, yawning. It took extreme effort to keep my eyes open. Coffee didn’t help. At all. I don’t normally drink coffee, so if I do have a cup, the effect is immediate.

Not today. Not a blip of relief. I felt like I had an iron band around my head, my tongue was made of cotton and was also thick and swollen (which is one of my PMDD symptoms—allergy aggravation), I couldn’t get enough water to drink, and I was ravenous both before breakfast and less than an hour after.

I finally realized I wasn’t truly hungry…I just wanted to eat. Believe it or not, there is a difference. My stomach was full. But my brain was sending distress messages. What those messages were, I have no clue, because there was nothing distressing that I know of going on in my life—you know, like the kind of situation that spurs emotional eating…

I just know the signals my brain was sending were manifesting as a nearly overwhelming desire to eat.

It was hard, but I didn’t succumb. My food charting (another experiment I hope to share the details of some day) told me I had already eaten as much as, if not a little more than, I had on any other day. So this was not true hunger. This was my PMDD talking, not me. I was not hungry. The chart clearly showed that on any other day, I wouldn’t have been the least bit hungry…and believe me, I am not one to deprive myself of basic nutrition, because I learned long ago that it will only make my PMDD worse.

So I compromised with my PMDD, and spent the day sipping my favorite chocolate drink, because suddenly all I wanted was chocolate.

I did, however, go to bed really early that evening, in deference to my fatigue. Added to that was now a strange aching in my legs, all the way down into my arches.

What had happened? Had I pulled/strained a muscle somewhere? Somehow? How could I, when I’d skipped class on Thursday? It didn’t make sense.

I woke up 12 hours later, still sleepy. Still ravenous. Still wanting chocolate. Still aching.

Okay…by now I am beginning to realize what is happening here. It must be my PMDD. By noon it was confirmed. I started spotting.

Suddenly everything that happened the previous three days made complete sense. The strange and unreasonable irritability on Wednesday, the clumsiness, disorientation, and inability to stay focused on Thursday, the lack of motivation, intense lethargy, fatigue, and ravenous appetite on Friday. The chocolate craving, the sensation of an iron band tightening around my head, the urge to weep, the dull ache in my legs.

I continued to eat normally, despite the ravenous hunger, sip my favorite chocolate drink, and headed off to the gym to walk around the track, even knowing it was the last thing I wanted to do. But exercise had helped before, and I wanted to experiment, wanted to see if there was actually something I could DO to make it better.

The first twenty minutes I felt like I wanted to vomit. No lie. Around the half hour mark, I started to feel a little better. By the 45 minute mark I was heading back toward an even keel. Came home, made a healthy, carb-laden supper, then went to church.

Things weren’t completely right, however, until I went out for a salty bowl of chicken noodle soup afterward.

Go figure. But for some reason, after the soup, I came home full of more energy than I’d had in three days. I was psyched, ready to take on the world.

Instead I rested and read and had a cup of tea. The storm wasn’t over yet; that was just the eye of it. Been here, done this enough times to know this thing comes in waves.

Sunday morning I was dozing again when the phone rang and woke me up. I didn’t have nearly as tough a time waking up as I had on Friday morning. Huge difference between then and now.

Why? The menstrual blood was flowing.

And because of that, I made it to my next Qigong class and the grocery store and was able to focus on a couple of creative projects I needed to complete.

The first wave of the storm had hit, and I weathered it. Mostly by repeating this is not me, this is my PMDD. I am not angry, resentful, mad—that’s my PMDD talking. I am not hungry, that’s my PMDD talking. I have no reason to cry—that’s my PMDD talking.

Unfortunately, there was not much I could do about the fatigue. But getting out for a walk definitely helped with that.

The good news is (except for one cup of coffee) I managed to avoid the quick-fix stimulants that so many of us use to get past our fatigue, stimulants that only make our PMDD hit back even harder. Tobacco, alcohol, caffeine, sugar, energy drinks.

You, too, can weather the storm, whether yours comes in waves, or all at once. It just takes an enormous amount of effort to do so. Not everyone has the time or energy or circumstances to be able to do it. I understand that. I accept that. You need to accept that too, and simply start wherever you are right now.

Start with what you have, start with whatever symptoms present themselves. Try to sort them out like tangled threads. This part is me, this part is my PMDD. I am not my PMDD. I am better than my PMDD. I am stronger than my PMDD. I will not allow my PMDD to define me.

And I will not allow anyone else to define me by it, either.

Because they have never slogged through the storm in my shoes.

Until you know how it feels to have a brain and body that sends basic biological signals contrary to all conventional wisdom and common sense, you will never understand.

To those who do, you deserve to be congratulated and applauded--not dismissed, discounted, and ridiculed.

We are the strong ones, we are the survivors, and we are not our PMDD.