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~Seek first to understand, then be understood~
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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.


  1. I need help. I just recently realized there was even a name for severe PMS! Looking forward to reading more on your blog and learning. Thank you so much!
    Here is a quick glimpse at my life:

    My Double Life

    Who am I really?
    Half the time I’m in a panic,
    The other half I’m manic
    I’m just a simple wife,
    Trying to co-ordinate my life,
    Plans and commitments I no longer make,
    For fear of who I’ll be when I wake.

    Am I an addict?
    Desperately trying to unwind,
    From my out-of-control mind.
    To pretend I am there,
    And that I actually care.
    To take me out of my isolation,
    Or just for sedation.

    Am I really that happy?
    I feel so attached.
    How long will it last?
    Before the next crash.
    Then she’s gone in a flash.
    But wait, I’m not yet done!
    I haven’t caught up from the last one.

    Who am I really?
    I am kind, loving and caring.
    I am sad, depressed, and at times daring.
    Confused about my identity,
    I just want to be me, but who is she?
    She’s a woman wanting to flee.
    She’s a woman that lives with PMDD.
    Posted on 12/07/11, 01:18 pm

  2. Wow - just found this blog tonight as I was reading on PMDD. I'm 43 and have had these symptoms all my adult life, and they keep getting worse and worse. I'm better when I exercise and eat well, but now I'm to the point where I can't keep my workouts up for more than two weeks...I've been beating myself up for being lazy, stupid and just plain crazy --- even though a psychiatrist I saw a year ago diagnosed me with PMDD and suggested medication for half of each month. I've always been against meds...but tonight I made an appointment with the doc as I realized I can't fight this fight alone any longer -- and I'd be insane (pun intended) to do so.
    Thanks for this blog, I'll be reading it up in the next few days while off work for Christmas. Happy Holidays !

    1. I also resisted the traditional medication route for 2 decades until I couldn't take it anymore. My life is still difficult and managed around the PMDD, but at least I have some good time now instead of all being taken by enduring or recovering from the episodes.

  3. Wow, just after reading all of these stories I have realized and am now going to accept that I have PMDD. I did not realize that my handwriting was being affected...wow. I always thought that I was just jittery..thank you for all of your insight.

  4. OMG! After hours researching, I found something that makes sense. It's like I could have written it myself. It's so comforting to know that I'm not the only one out there and there is an actual name for it besides "she's going off the deep end again!"

  5. Thanks for this blog, I just realize what I have and you helped me a lot.

  6. Hi There, Im a 28 year old mother who has been desperate to find answers to how I have been feeling, for the past 4 years I have been on SSRI's and its been worse for me. I kept teeling my doctor that I didn't think I was depressed and that it was possibly my hormones. He dismissed my statement and him and I have never seen eye to eye since, then a miracle happened, I got pregnant with my Daughter who is now 2. All my cray behaviour stopped, I had never felt more "normal" in my life! Of course once I gave birth and recovered it didnt take long for all of it to come back and I have been chomping at the bit (so to speak) to find out what this is and if other women encounter this what I call "Dark passenger" Here I am. After about an hour of reading and going to livingwithpmdd.com I sat here with my head in my hands and I cried, and I cried and I cried... All I can say is Thank you, you have in more ways than one made me feel "normal", understood and not alone. It was no coinsidence that I came upon this and I will forever be thanking you for starting me on my journey to better understanding ME! xoxxo Thank YOU.

  7. You're very welcome. I plan to do a blog post on SSRIs and how effective they are at treating PMDD within the next few months. I am researching the information right now, as many people have said the same--that the SSRIs didn't work for them. Know that that's not a failure on your part. You can't expect to treat delicate hormonal systems that are as individualized as the women themselves with a one-size-fits-all drug. At best, SSRIs only work for up to 60% of women with PMDD. If you're not one of those women, don't make the mistake of taking the blame onto yourself. Take care and God Bless.

    1. Still working on that post. I got distracted last year by several surgeries and recovery. But the post is coming, without a doubt, especially since anti-depressants have recently been proven to not be nearly as effective as we have been told.

    2. Actually, it's coming as a book now. Hopefully in 2016.

  8. Does anyone know what one can do when you one doesn't have the time for total self-care? In the past I've managed my life quite carefully, but I'm now the stay-at-home mother of 2 little "highly spirited" boys (2 and 5 years old). I just can't take care of myself enough right now as they are the priority. But I'm letting them down by letting my PMDD get out of hand. My husband does not understand why I need more time and space for self-care at this stage while the kids are young. I think we are heading for divorce unless I show vast improvement on medication (which I've avoided for the past 6 yrs due to pregnancy and breastfeeding). Any advice is greatly appreciated.

  9. The best things I can suggest are watching your diet (as described in other posts here) taking daily nutritional supplements, and if at all possible, participating in low-key activities on those days. If your husband doesn't support your efforts to "be well" (for the good of *all* the family), that makes things doubly hard. You should't have to fight your spouse when you're fighting for your sanity.

    1. Respectfully disagree this has much to do with husbands support or lack of it. I happen to be married to a woman who has this condition and has spent the better part of 15 years blaming me for it. I think people need to be responsible for their own wellness, their own actions, and most especially, to be 100% accountable for the horrible treatment they give others. No excuses, no blame, no shared responsibility. I have been very supportive of my wife throughout our marriage, have suffered horrible abuse from her, and no doubt I'll get flamed for even making this comment, but I am so tired of hearing on every PMDD blog that men basically just need to "man up" regarding their wives' atrocious behavior during episodes. It is probably harder for me to live with my wife's disorder than it is for her -- simply because I am the continuous target for her irrational, completely over the top rages, violence, destructive comments and behavior, and constant denial of her symptoms before, during and after the monthly episodes. I support the blog by the way, I'm not a hater, not a misogynist, and I am just trying to help my wife. But I just don't agree this is a problem that is the responsibility of anyone else to take care of but the person who has PMDD, especially since I have done nothing to deserve the horrible treatment I have received.

  10. Just reading this one post has made me choke up and laugh at the same time, because just yesterday I was getting mad at everything when in reality none of it was deserving of such intense emotion. Thank you. I am going to go through this blog from beginning to end. I wish no one had to go through this, but for the love of God I am so happy to know I'm not alone in this. Antidepressants helped for half the month but nothing can kick this craziness that I feel.

  11. Husband of queen of denial here.
    In general it takes time for the anti depressants to kick in.
    And there are side effects.
    But they did work for my wife. I can attest to it as I am the target of her monthly outburst.
    Unfortunately, queen of denial has stopped taking the meds and my life has gone down the drains again.
    No one enjoys taking anti depressants. But sometimes there is no alternative.
    Not taking meds or ridiculing them by questioning the logic behind giving antidepressants for PMS symptoms. Saying they are one size for all pants is just another form of denial.
    By not taking meds when they can help you. Or taking treatment dvecisions without input from targets of your abuse - husband and kids - is really unfair to them.

    1. Thanks "Husband of queen of denial" for sharing your thoughts. It's awesome to see the perspective of the other people in the household. I know it can be hard. My husband has seen the worst of me and I worry if at some point it will be too much. Of course I feel that I'm not all that bad, but I am biased. Perhaps I do at least need to try the antidepressants that the doctor perscribed. I was afraid of the side effects, but at least if I try and they don't work then I can move on to the next option.