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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, July 11, 2012

PMDD and Why Me?

Okay, we’ve heard enough stories for a while of what it’s like to have PMDD. We all know what it is by now.  And we know there is not much we can do about it once an episode hits.  The best we can hope for is to ride out the storm.  So a question I’m sure all of us have asked at one point or another is Why Me?

Well, today I’m going to look into the possibilities I’ve uncovered so far.   First, however, a little background.  When does PMDD happen?  And How does PMDD progress? 
You don’t get it before your first period.  Girls, on average, in part due to the tremendous amount of environmental toxins being dumped into our lives, are now getting their first period at age 12.  Your probability of developing PMDD increases with each hormonal event in your life thereafter: pregnancy, miscarriage, abortion, or birth.  (You do not experience PMDD when you are pregnant, because you are not menstruating.) With each new pregnancy, your chances of developing PMDD increase.  And unless your PMDD is addressed, it will continue to worsen with each hormonal event, and as you age, becoming increasingly difficult through perimenopause, until it stops when you reach menopause.
But don’t start cheering yet…if your PMDD is not addressed before menopause, you run the serious risk of developing Major Depressive Disorder after menopause. 
The average age of menopause is 51. 
So, that means, on average, women have approximately 40 years during which we can develop PMDD.
What causes PMDD?
Nobody knows for sure just yet, but scientists do know it is a biological event that manifests as emotional symptoms.  What does that mean?  It means PMDD is caused by something that happens in your body and shows itself in your moods.  The closest science has come to defining what happens is that whatever happens, happens in concert with your menstrual cycle, and involves your hormones.  The hormones they are looking at the most these days are estrogen and progesterone.  It’s not that you have too much or too little, or maybe not even the balance between them, as this is still being studied, but that something goes awry in your brain when processing these hormonal fluctuations in your body.
That’s right.  Something goes wrong in your brain.  No news to us, right?  We’ve known all along something wasn’t right with our brains, with our thinking processes, during an episode of PMDD.  Why else would we say and do the things we say and do during an episode and not the rest of the month?
But I won’t go into all of that right now.  For now it’s good enough to know there is a biological “something” that happens where our brain does not properly process the fluctuating levels of our reproductive hormones during the second half of our menstrual cycle.  This leads to a disconnect in the brain, like when an extension cord comes apart from a plug, or when your cell phone coverage drops.  The result of this disconnect is a depletion of serotonin in the brain, the neurotransmitter that in part governs our moods, and our ability to be happy. 
This is why we crave carbs.  Carbs increase the level of serotonin in our bodies, and therefore improve our moods.  Problem is, most of us reach for the WRONG kind of carbs.  You know who you are and what you eat.  Not just any carbs will do.  But that’s the subject of another post. 
This is why doctors prescribe anti-depressants.  Certain antidepressants, called SSRI’s, help to increase the level of serotonin in our brains.  Problem is, we’re not low on serotonin all the time, and antidepressants come with a bunch of side effects that can make your symptoms worse.  Plus they don’t work at all for at least 40% of the women who take them.  (So if you’re one of the 40% or more, don’t blame yourself!)
This is why doctors prescribe birth control pills.  Birth control pills keep you from ovulating, which is the main cause of this shift in your hormones that your brain does not process correctly.  But again, this is treating only the symptoms and not the underlying cause, and birth control pills have their own array of side effects -- including death. 
Never mind that some women would rather be dead than suffer from another episode of PMDD.  I, for one, am not interested in taking something that could kill me when there are so many less drastic options to try.
Which brings me to the question of what contributes to PMDD?  Weight, lifestyle habits, including smoking, drinking, drug use, caffeine and sugar consumption, stress, trauma, abuse, and yes, genetics.  We’ll get more into genetics in another post.  For now it’s enough to know that in some cases, you really “can’t” help what happens to you when you’re experiencing an episode of PMDD.  It could be in your genes.
And if it’s in your genes, you’re not going to be able to cure it with a magic pill, be it synthetic or natural.  The best you can hope to do is manage the condition.
So what can you do about your PMDD?
You can address the things that apply to you. I’m not going to touch weight, because there are sooo many factors that go into a woman being overweight that it’s the most difficult of all for us to address.  (That’s a whole other blog post in itself as well, maybe even two or three.)  But yes, you can quit smoking, yes, you can cut down on your drinking, maybe even eliminate it altogether.  Same goes for caffeine -  you can cut out caffeine and not die – not like other options mentioned above.   You can cut back and even eliminate eating sugar.  And please do not make the mistake of thinking sugar substitutes are the answer to the situation.  If you’re determined to go that route, you’d be better off to keep eating sugar.  Raw sugar if you must, but no sugar is the best route of all.  Sugar feeds PMDD, and it also feeds cancer.  So think about it, and do what you can.
If you’re a sedentary soul, you can get more exercise.  Two to three half hour walks a week will do wonders for your PMDD.  45 minutes is even better.  Work your way up to whatever time you can spare.  Really, how can you not spare the time, when your life is at stake? 
Over-exercising is just as bad as not getting enough exercise.  More on why some other time.
Stress – starting to sound like a broken recording here, I know.  The stresses in our lives are as numerous and varied as our PMDD symptoms.  You know yours.  Get rid of them.   Don’t you deserve a better life? 
Rest – get as much as you can, especially during an episode.  Learn how to “Just Say No.”  Start small and work your way up.  And do it gently.  Don’t put it off until it becomes a snarl.
Nutrition – there’s a reason fresh, whole foods are good for you.  They’re packed with the nutrients your body, including your brain, needs to function properly.  You can’t get good nutrition from a box any more.  It just doesn’t happen.  And taking high quality, pharmaceutical grade vitamin supplements (not the cheap ones!) does help, but it doesn’t by a long shot make up for what you can do to make yourself feel better by simply eating foods as close to their natural state as possible.  Vitamins are meant to boost your nutritional balance, not replace what you lost from not eating right and depleting your body’s nutrients when you drink, smoke, and/or take drugs -- even common over the counter drugs. 
So there are a lot of things you can do to make your PMDD better.  Most, however, require time and effort.  It takes time to make good, healthy meals.  It takes time to listen to your body and become aware of what makes you feel better and what makes you feel worse.  It takes time to find the right treatment for your particular symptoms.  It takes time to make time for you, take time out for rest and relaxation, or deal with those messy stresses eating up your life.  It takes time to become comfortable with your emotions.  It takes time to work on your relationships.  It takes time to quit using the crutches you’ve been using to get through your however many years of PMDD.
But think of how many more years you have to go, and how it will only get worse if you don’t do something about it.  Do you want to spend your golden years depressed?
I know I don’t.  And I don’t want you to have to do it, either. 
You didn’t ask for the hand of cards you were dealt.  The best you can do is learn how to play them.  The information is out there. The willpower is inside you.  Are you going to sit around asking Why Me?
Or are you going to come to the table and say, Not Me. Not Today.
One day at a time.  That’s all you need to work with.  One hour at a time, if that’s all you have.  Pick one positive thing mentioned in this post, and do it for yourself, do it today.  Do the same thing tomorrow.  Keep doing it, one day at a time, until you have it down.  Then pick something else, and start the process all over again.  Baby steps are still steps in the right direction.
You can do it.  Because PMDD women are strong.  Super strong.  We have to be, with all that we have to deal with.


  1. I have recently been diagnosed with PMDD. i think I have been suffering with it for five years or more, probably longer if I were to sit down and work it out. I feel that IVF played a part in messing me up, but that's another story for another day! I wanted to say thank you for posting this blog. I have been looking for self-help for some time now but now need direct intervention and your experiences have helped me realise that I have been suffering with PMDD as well as depression. I am creating a diary of my symptoms and they reflect almost directly what you suffer. I definitely get mood changes around ovulation as well as menstruation, which I had never identified specifically before. So, once again, thanks for posting here and keep on posting!

  2. Thank you.

    I am 21 and basically self diagnosed myself. I've been to multiple psytochologists without any success. Every time an episode occured it was just linked pms and that I am over sensitive. It really does feel like my brain just switches off and I go crazy.

    Unfortunately I was a bit to late. PMDD worsend my relationship with my boyfriend in such a way that I would just start attacking my bf for no reason at all. He never did anything to hurt me back. Needless to say he dumped me. I am on meds now, so I'm hoping things will go better now and that my bf will come back

  3. Thank you...thank you..thank you, simply for having the courage to say what you've said. PMDD is real; if I ever get around to doing my OWN research into this disorder (I'm a physician), I also plan to shed some light on the serotonin connection. And, yes, we're strong!

  4. I think I had bad pms before the birth of my child, when my child came I had depression, I should have been happy but I wasn't, I didn't have post natal, I loved my baby and wanted him very much, I was just very sad, as the months passed I noticed a pattern, after every time I ovulated my mood went from happy to damn right depressed. Sometimes its so bad that I want to end my life, after a week or so of feeling like this I come out the "episode" wondering what the hell was I so upset about, then my life continues to be normal, content and happy till the next time I ovulate. I've kept a journal of my moods and my thoughts, I've self diagnosed too, I don't want to go to the doctors, I don't want medication, because of traumatic experiences in the past with anti depressants. I'm so happy to have found this blog, I always knew that something wasn't right with me, whether recognised as a condition or not. Thank you.

  5. I have PMDD and have been treating it with a daily dose of calcium for the last three years. I believe the research suggests women suffering with this disorder take 1300 mg a day, however I take 1500 mg/day. I feel great, and am happy to not be taking pharmaceutical medication. Hope this is helpful for some of you!