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, November 16, 2011

PMDD and Denial

So what did I do two weeks ago when I was hit with my latest double header? (And yes, that means I am in the throes of another one now -- right on schedule.) I worked, I wrote, and I slept. (Three hour naps are not unusual when my hormonal system gets so far out of whack.) I just pared my life down to the bare bones, ate take-out from the Whole Foods Co-op or heated up all-natural frozen entrees, focused on my work (I work at home, due in part to my PMDD), and wrote my heart out. Took a walk when I needed a boost in my serotonin level. Took time out for me.

But I didn’t do any of that until I finally admitted that I was having a problem. And so, it got me to thinking. Why was it that I waited so long to admit my PMDD was acting up again? Why was I so deep in denial? Because I had work to do, a schedule to maintain, a life to live. I didn’t have time to give in to some strange, intangible brain disorder that keeps me from getting the things done I wanted to get done. I wanted to be normal.

PMDD women want to be normal more than anything else in the world. We don’t want to admit there’s something going on in our brains that just isn’t quite right. Something that even the medical professionals can’t agree on, much less define. We can find a thousand excuses for why we are so clumsy at times, or so ravenous, or irritable, edgy, disoriented, anxious, or weepy. We deny and deny and deny there is anything wrong with us, or that we are in any way acting strangely, because to admit that we are doing so means we will have to stop and deal with it somehow, and how can you deal with something that defies description?

Somehow we’ve convinced ourselves it’s just easier to ignore the symptoms we can’t explain and plow onward. Because that’s what women do. We just keep going until we can’t go any more. PMDD women are especially strong and stubborn in this regard. We go and go and go until we collapse. Or until our behavior becomes so erratic that someone in our life can’t stand it anymore and says, “What’s wrong with you?”

Even then we deny it. There’s nothing wrong with me. If you’d just pick up your clothes, fix the faucet, turn down the TV, do your homework, call me, stop calling me, show up on time, take the trash out, talk to your parent/child/boss/sibling, move your car, paint the bedroom, fill out the report, do what I ask, everything would be fine. The problem is you, not me. You’re what’s wrong with me.

And off we head into another relationship disaster, be it with our children, parents, co-workers, siblings or partners.

The bottom line is there is something wrong with us. But it’s not something we have any control over, any more than we have control over our allergies, genetic predisposition to any number of diseases, eye color, or shoe size. And it’s not something we can explain, unless we’ve done a whole boatload of research—only to find out it’s different for every woman, because we each live in different circumstances and environments and the biological rhythms of our bodies are unique to each of us. No two women are alike. Some have some symptoms, others have others. They come at different times of the month. Before periods, after periods, some even before and/or after ovulation.

What we do have control over is how we respond to our PMDD. And denial is just not an option. Not if you don’t want to leave a landscape littered with big mistakes, bad decisions, and tattered and broken relationships behind you everywhere you go.

To get a handle on your PMDD, you need to get a handle on yourself. You need to find a way to spend time on you, spend some time with yourself, getting to know your body and your unique hormonal rhythms. You need peace and quiet to do this. You can’t do this in the middle of your latest financial, household, work, school, or family crisis. You also need to like yourself to do this. You need to believe you are worth the time and effort.

Sometimes I feel like I live a totally self-indulgent life. I do what I want to do, go where I want to go, see who I want to see, and generally manage my life so that it encounters the least amount of stress and conflict. No drama queen here. I don’t have time for drama. It only sets off my PMDD, and God knows I don’t want any more experiences with that if I can help it.

So I take care of myself. I eat right, I exercise, I manage my stress. And even then I still get hit with the occasional strong episode of PMDD. But just imagine if I didn’t do all of that. How out of control my life would be. How joyless, how miserable, how sad and self-destructive.

Ignoring your PMDD is like ignoring a train bearing down on you. A wreck is inevitable. Studies have shown that if you leave your PMDD untreated, it will only grow worse over time, and you have a very good chance of ending up with a major depressive disorder. Is this what you want for your life? I know it’s not what I want. I also know that ignoring my PMDD, denying it, doesn’t make me more normal at all. It only makes things worse.

Fortunately, I am surrounded by friends and family who are supportive. I have worked hard to reach that place in my life, and have had to weed out those who were not understanding or supportive of my efforts to acknowledge, understand, and manage my PMDD. I say manage, because there is no cure, despite what many on the internet will tell you.

There are many things you can do to lessen the severity of your symptoms, and most of them are mentioned somewhere in this blog. Most of them are also free, or relatively inexpensive. Which is why you don’t hear a lot about them. The only ones you hear about are the ones people are making money off of. And while some of these methods may work in part, they don’t address the overall problem. Only you can do that, though a careful assessment of your life, priorities, relationships, nutritional needs, and fitness activities. No magic pill is going to do that for you, no matter how hard you might try to convince yourself that it will. PMDD is not a one-size-fits-all disorder. We’ve got to stop treating it like it is. Putting PMDD women on anti-depressants to suppress (not solve) their hormonal imbalances, is like asking every woman to wear a tent dress. It might cover the body, but it’s not a good fit.

That aside, however, the first step is to stop denying we have a problem. Forty years later, I’m still guilty of doing it, even with all that I have learned about the disorder. Is it any wonder those who haven’t done the research I have are equally caught up in denial? And what about those who don’t even know PMDD exists? All they do is run around thinking they’re crazy, but denying it to themselves and everyone else.

You can’t possibly think that to wake up one morning feeling fine, then slowly start to lose your fine motor skills, become agitated and confused, weepy, exhausted, irritable, and ravenous before dinner time is normal. The ability to wash away all of that with 45 minutes of aerobic exercise is also not normal. The fact that doing so buys you a couple of hours of PMDD-free time is not normal. The inevitable sink in mood and energy level when it wears off is also not normal.

But it is what it is, and it’s all we’ve got to work with. PMDD doesn’t do normal. Accept that and just do what you can to get through it. Surround yourself with people who will support you in your efforts toward good health and wellness. Weed out the people and situations in your life that don’t. Take time for yourself, be good to yourself, and most of all, when the episodes come…don’t deny them. Just find your own way to relax and go with the flow—no pun intended J.

Friday, November 4, 2011

The Queen of Denial

She’s baaaack! And I’m not talking about me, writing this blog post. I’m talking about The Alien, or my PMDD self. After several months of relatively mild episodes, suddenly I’m hit with a humdinger. You know from my previous post, A Perfect Storm of PMDD, that I am one of the unfortunate many who have atypical PMDD, in that it occurs both before and after I menstruate. Kind of like a hurricane, with menstruation in the middle, serving as the eye of the storm, where I might feel lousy physically, but I’m clear-headed and things are relatively calm.
So, about ten days ago, I could feel a storm blowing in. I notice I’m starting to get agitated about things that don’t usually faze me. I realize I am emotionally looking for a fight, anywhere I can find it. I check the calendar, confirm it’s about that time of the month, and warn those closest to me that it may be a rocky few days. I back away from conversations and situations I know will set me off, and postpone any important decisions or discussions for a few days.
The storm came and went, no major incidents, other than a couple of afternoon naps due to extreme sleepiness. Menstruation started, and life was good again, aside from the physical discomforts of having a period. Usually, the second half of my PMDD begins on Day 3 of my period. So when Day 3 came and went with no trouble, I thought I was in the clear, home free, another PMDD episode averted. Kudos to me once again for not letting my PMDD get the better of me and wreaking all sorts of havoc in my life and personal relationships.
But this was not my usual period. This one lasted six days instead of three. Not a problem. I’m okay. Life is still good.
But then yesterday morning, I started noticing things. Like I tried to address an envelope, and my handwriting was all jumpy and spiky. My hand couldn’t control the pen the way it usually does. My typing was off, too. Kept hitting the wrong keys.
No matter. I’m just in a hurry.
Then I went to a funeral, at a church I had never been to before. I got lost. Suddenly I’m feeling anxious, confused, and my thoughts are scattered.
No biggie, it can happen to anyone.
At the funeral, all I wanted to do was weep.
Not a problem. People are supposed to be sad at funerals.
I came home, fixed myself something to eat. I work at home (in part due to my PMDD), so I started to work in my sun-drenched living room.
Suddenly I couldn’t keep my eyes open any longer.
Nothing unusual there, I told myself. The room was warm and I had just eaten.
Never mind that the room is equally warm and sunny most days, and I eat lunch every day about the same time and don’t get sleepy.
Finally I give in and take a nap, unable to concentrate or stay awake. It still hasn’t dawned on me, what is happening.
I wake up, totally ravenous, and wanting nothing but CHOCOLATE.
Still haven’t caught on. Or if I have, I’m in denial. I don’t have time for this nonsense. I have work to do.
A friend calls. We’re supposed to meet later on, go to Qigong class together. I want to know how soon “later on” is. Is it 4:30, 5:30, 6:30? If it’s sooner rather than later, I’ll wait to eat with my friend. If it’s later, I’ll eat now. No big deal either way, I just want to know, so I can plan my evening accordingly.
Somehow that simple conversation goes totally awry, and I end up in tears.
Bingo. The Alien has struck again. Now I know what’s going on. My PMDD has returned for round two. My head hurts, my eyes hurt, all I want to do is cry, and go back to sleep. But I’m too agitated and upset to go back to sleep, and I’m so effing hungry I want to scream. But I just ate a full meal a couple of hours ago. There’s no logical reason to be so hungry.
My friend calls back to see if I’m all right. How do I explain that everything is fine…but it’s not? How do I explain PMDD? This isn’t the type of conversation you want to have over the phone. It’s best that the other person can see the glassiness in your eyes, the exhaustion on your face, the lack of energy and slump of your body.
I fix something to eat (healthy carbs!) and work on a small project that only needs minimal concentration for an hour or so.
My friend arrives, and I try to explain what happened. He asks, “What can I do to help?”
The only answer I can come up with is, “Just be nice to me. I’m fragile today. Oh, and you might need to run interference for me at class. I’m not feeling very social right now.”
We go to class, and all goes well. I manage to muddle through the social aspects of class. The Qigong exercises get the blood circulating, produce the necessary boost in endorphins and serotonin. By the end of class, which was the absolute last thing I wanted to go to—I’d much rather have crawled back into bed and tried to sleep away my exhaustion—I was feeling 100% again, and had bought myself a couple of PMDD-free hours.
Because in my PMDD-induced confusion and misery I had forgotten what I could do to help myself. Light aerobic exercise. When I’m in the throes of a PMDD episode, and the last thing I want to do is get up and move, that’s the very thing I need to do. A simple walk is all it takes. After about 30 minutes, I start to feel better. By 45, I’m back on an even keel. An hour of any kind of light cardio activity and all symptoms are gone…
For about two hours.
So by the time I got home, I was back to being myself again. A totally different person. I was able to make it through the rest of the evening without incident.
But as soon as I opened my eyes this morning, I felt that heavy wet blanket of depression closing in on me again. The iron band around my head, the irritated eyes, like I’ve been crying (but I haven’t), the mental fuzziness, the sense of exhaustion even before I get out of bed.
There’s no denying it this time. It’s going to be another PMDD day.

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.