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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

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Stress and the PMDD Woman

So what causes stress in a PMDD woman?

Well, trauma, for one.   Trauma, (such as a life-threatening accident, war, imprisonment, witnessing or being the victim of a violent crime, including abuse of any sort, a death or major upheaval in the family, especially one over which you feel you have no control) can predispose a woman toward PMDD.  Incidents of trauma like these create neural pathways in the brain that can lead a woman with PMDD to over-react both physiologically and emotionally to normal everyday stressors in her life by producing an excess of "fight or flight" hormones, among other things.  Once this neural pathway has been opened, via trauma, the ruts are established and only get deeper with each new stressor.
To top it off, stress can contribute to further chemical imbalances in the brain.

So which came first, the chicken or the egg?  Is it stress that aggravates your PMDD or does your PMDD stress you out? 
The answer is both.  Lucky you.

Other sources of stress that work both ways include: 


PMDD women are more prone to addictive behaviors, including sexual addiction, relationships addiction, drug addiction, nicotine addiction, alcohol abuse, and emotional eating, all of which bring stress into your life. 

Substance Abuse

This has to do with the reward/pleasure center of the brain, which is basically not working right during an episode of PMDD.  What you think will bring you pleasure or relief from your weepiness and edginess and anger in fact does not, because your brain is not processing information properly to start with.

The following has nothing to do with substance abuse, but is just one example of how my brain doesn't work right during that time...I walk around the track at my local gym.  I time myself.  On a good, comfortable day, I can do one lap in one minute.  Sometimes I can do it in 55 seconds, when I am pushing myself, and sometimes I'm just not feeling up to par and it takes an extra 5 - 10 seconds.  
But on an average day, I do one lap in one minute.

When I am having an episode of PMDD and force myself to go and walk around the track, and I feel like I am moving through molasses and every step is a challenge...imagine my surprise to discover that according to the second hand of the clock, I am actually moving at my normal pace of one lap per minute.

PMDD screws with your perceptions.  Of everything.

This includes what you see, what you hear, what you feel, what you think, and what you reach for to numb the pain.

Depressed people in general like to self-medicate (Remember, the first D in PMDD stands for Dysphoria, or depression) and jumpstart the reward/pleasure center of the brain with external substances, both legal and illegal.  But the PMDD brain does not respond properly to these stimulants, leaving the woman vulnerable to addiction.  Things that only add to the muddle going on in your brain are unresolved conflicts from the past, destructive behavior patterns, cycles of abuse, day to day stress, relationship issues, and cultural conditioning--all of which can lead to substance abuse in non-PMDD women as well.

So not only do the same things that set other women off set PMDD women off, but:

Our brains do not process the information properly during an episode...which leads to all sorts of drama...which only adds to our level of stress...thus leaving PMDD women more prone to substance abuse disorders, whether from the differences in our brain chemistry or the issues and situations that arise as a result of our choices and actions...which are also in part dictated by our abnormal brain chemistry.  

Did you get all that? 

The bottom line is it's a vicious cycle, and no matter which way you look at it, PMDD women lose.

Adolescent Abuse

Briefly, studies have shown that women who have been abused in adolescence are more likely to develop PMDD.

Childhood Abuse

A scientific link has been found between women who were abused as children, and women who develop PMDD.  Again, this has to do with the faulty neural pathways developed in times of trauma, affecting the "fight or flight" response in the brain.

Physical Abuse

Physical abuse has the same effect on the brain as trauma. Women in abusive situations are also more prone to anxiety and depression disorders, which adds to the burden on the brain.

Sexual Abuse

Studies have shown sexual abuse to be a precursor to both Major Depressive Disorder and PMDD, no doubt through the connection to trauma.  A link has been established between sexual abuse, PTSD, elevated thyroid ratios and PMDD.

Next up:  Ideas for reducing the amount of stress in your life.

Friday, September 14, 2012

PMDD and Neural Pathways

In next week's post (which I am already writing today), I'm going to talk about stressors specific to PMDD women.  I'm going to use words you may or may not have heard before.  Like neural pathways.  What does that mean?  Well, let's look at neural.  Neurology. Neurologist.  Having to do with nerves.  Ever have a pinched nerve or experience nerve pain?  Ever say to someone "You're getting on my nerves?"  A neural pathway is like a dirt road.  The more you use it, the more it gets worn down.  If you use it a lot, the road develops ruts.  When a road has ruts in it, you can get stuck in the mud. 
On the flip side of that, think of a pair of shoes.  Nothing better than a pair of shoes you've had so long that they feel totally comfortable. 
So we have these neural pathways in our brains.  The more we use them, the more they can either develop ruts we get stuck in, or the more comfortable they can become.   Sometimes we can get comfortable with things that are not good for us.  Like addiction and abuse.  But hey, they are familiar.  Better the devil I know than the one I don't.  So in times of stress, we reach for the familiar. Our brain sort of goes on autopilot and says "I know how to react to this" and sticks with the tried and true.

The brain does not distinguish between what is comfortable and what is a rut.  Left to its own devices, the brain just takes the path of least resistance.  To get a different result, or take a different path, you have to consciously choose to do so, and in a sense, give your brain instructions to do something different this time.  Because even while the brain reacts automatically, you are in control of your thoughts, your thoughts are not in control of you.

Hard to believe when you're in the middle of a PMDD episode, but bear with me here.

To take a different path, you have to let your brain know that's what you want to do.  It will be hard, of that there is no doubt.  Your brain has been conditioned to doing things a certain way.  It's quite content to keep doing things this way.  Basically, you have to re-train your brain. 
I'd much rather slip into a comfortable pair of shoes than get stuck in a dirt road rut. 
Screaming and yelling and crying and creating all sorts of drama is sinking into the rut.  Taking a deep breath, holding your tongue, going for a walk or into a room by yourself to calm down is breaking in a new pair of shoes.  It will feel unfamiliar and tight and pinched at first, but the more you wear those shoes, the more comfortable they will become.  The more you practice self-control, the more familiar and comfortable it will become.  Eventually, you will have created a new rut...one you don't mind being stuck in.  One that helps your relationships instead of hurts them, and one that doesn't leave you feeling destroyed every time you get stressed.

We're talking normal stressors here, the stuff people have to deal with every day.  A meeting with your boss, a new client, your kid's teacher, a presentation you have to give, just dealing with people in retail, or long lines at the grocery store.  Traffic jams, flight delays, spilled milk, and crayons on the wall.  Practice is how you retrain your brain to deal with that stuff.  Because PMDD women have a reputation for being unable to cope with everyday stresses.  But this is because our PMDD brains have been conditioned to over-react to normal everyday stresses.  We have to work hard to get out of those brain ruts and we have to start small.

One moment at a time.

Some think of PMDD women as being weak, but I think the opposite.  I think we are strong.  Stronger than most.  Because we're starting out from deep in the ruts, while everyone else is starting on solid ground.  And still we succeed.  We get the clients, give the presentations, raise our children, maintain our households, keep our families and businesses afloat,  bring home the bacon, create beautiful things, care for our loved ones, and win recognition and respect DESPITE having a brain that does not function properly.

So never put yourself down for having PMDD.  Doing so only creates another rut you have to crawl out of.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

PMDD and the Confrontational Relationship

So...why did I write that last post?  To show that no matter who you are, even if you know what you are dealing with and have the best of intentions, when you have PMDD, you will fail to come through for someone, somewhere, somehow, in some way.  It's inevitable.

My PMDD is part of why I work at home.  I realized long ago I could never work a full time job outside the home.  Going to the same place every day, seeing the same people, and me not being the same from day to day...

They would think I was crazy.  Like I thought I was crazy all those years.  What do you mean, your brain hurts?  You look fine to me.  What do you mean, you just can't cope?  What do you mean, you can't stay awake?  What's the problem?  Why can't you think?  Why can't you stay focused? How could you make such a mistake?  This isn't like you at all, Liana.  What's wrong with you?

I didn't have answers to any of those questions.  So I stuck to low-paying part time jobs to make ends meet.  I could handle being away from home for 3-5 hour shifts most days.

Now I work at home, don't have to deal with anybody if I don't want to, and only work on the good days.  When a bad day comes along, I take time off and pamper myself.  I realize most women do not have the  freedom to do this...however, I created that freedom as a result of understanding my needs regarding PMDD.  I've built my home and work life around my PMDD.

And I still screw up.  Just like I described in my last post.
I didn't have a meltdown.  No, my anger is more cold than that.  If I'm having a meltdown, you're safe--the only one in trouble is me.  It's when I get real quiet that you need to watch out.  Because when I get PMDD angry I mean to cut, I mean to wound.  I mean to kill your spirit.
I know this behavior is unacceptable, but in my PMDD state of mind, I do not care.  It's fight or flight, reptilian brain, survival of the fittest, and I am going to come out on top of this confrontation, real or manufactured, no matter what.  It's a fight to the death, baby, not because it really is, but because that is what my PMDD brain is telling me.
Just like in addiction, when your brain is telling you you'll die if you don't get another hit, fix, drink, or smoke, a PMDD woman's brain is telling her she is under attack and needs to win this one or she will die.  Either that, or it's telling her to flee, which is when your PMDD partner withdraws from the relationship, either physically or mentally/emotionally, and leaves you wondering What the hell just happened?

In the case of withdrawal, she is sinking into a deep depression where nothing matters, nothing at all.  Not you, not your relationship, and sometimes not even her own life.

Whatever the circumstances, be it addiction or PMDD, what your brain is telling you is untrue — but hey, it's your brain sending you these messages, and it's very hard to stand up to your brain.  (Try saying "It's hard to stand up to my brain" sometime and see what kind of looks you get.)  But it is very hard to mentally override the organ that completely runs your body, especially when your emotions are involved.  It's so much easier to simply lash out at the person in front of you instead—blame them for whatever's going wrong in your life. To blame your own brain would mean you were somehow not quite normal.  Defective, even. 
I am telling you this now, while I am in my right mind, so that you can see the difference for yourself.   In general I am a sweet, talented, intelligent, compassionate and creative woman.  I have a lot going for me.  I run a successful business, am an award-winning author, and make my own hours.  I am in a long-term relationship with an amazing man.  We get along super well, and being with him is just so...well...easy.  We don't fight...even when my PMDD self is looking for a fight.   He refuses to engage. 

What he does is listen, and speak quietly.
You don't need to shout to get someone's attention.  A quiet comment said without malice will do just as well...as long as your partner is willing to work with you on the relationship.  Maybe a code word or phrase between you will do:  I'm feeling fragile today.  It's one of those days.  It's not you, it's my PMDD.

I am dedicated to my relationship.  Devoted to it.  Willing to do what it takes to make it work in good times and in bad.

I am fortunate indeed to have a partner who feels the same.  One who is kind, compassionate, caring, generous, and truly supports me in my goals and ambitions.

And yet I can forget all of that in a heartbeat when my PMDD comes around.  I hope I did come off as selfish and ungrateful in my last post.  A diva, a prima donna, a pampered princess and spoiled brat.  Here I've been given the gift of a trip to Europe for Pete's sake, and I'm incensed about a phone call he didn't make?

Do you see how out of proportion the anger can get?

That doesn't make it right.  I am simply explaining what happens in a PMDD woman's mind.  I'm not saying you have to accept that kind of behavior from her.  There are ways to take the fight out of her with just a few gently spoken words, if she is open to communication about her PMDD.  But anything you say in a judgmental, condemning, or non-approving way will get you the exact opposite of what you want.
A PMDD woman knows when she's behaving badly and does not need you to point it out to her in any negative context.  Her negative thoughts are already creating a bonfire in her brain — adding any more will only fuel the fire. She hates herself during this time as much as you hate what she's doing to you and your relationship.

If your relationship feels like it is going nowhere, it could be because of this PMDD loop you're on.
A loop that won't end unless you consciously stop, take a step back, take time out from your heated emotions, research PMDD, find a way to communicate your true feelings to your partner (not your in-the-moment emotion driven ones) and agree to help each other get through this.

What a PMDD woman needs most from her partner when she's feeling ugly and unworthy and unloved is your love and understanding.  She wants and needs your emotional support.  If she doesn't get it, if she doesn't feel safe enough to be vulnerable around you, if she feels even the slightest bit rejected or judged, her fight or flight instinct will kick in, and she will turn on you. The reptilian brain does not distinguish between loved ones or enemies.  It simply fights to win...

Even when there is nothing to fight about.

You know what I'm talking about.  You've been there.  So have I.  None of it makes any sense.  It never has, and maybe never will.
PMDD doesn't make sense.  Period.   That's the only thing everyone agrees on.

To those of you still living the nightmare, my heart goes out to you.  I've read your comments and stories and know the daily chaos and confusion you experience.  I was married for sixteen years.  The marriage did not survive the craziness of not knowing or understanding what my PMDD was about.  As a single woman I made seeking and finding treatment options a priority--and have now been blessed with both wisdom and a second chance. 

I want nothing less for you.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

It's My Party and I'll Cry If I Want To

Hello, everyone.  I've promised my friends, family, and readers I would start blogging regularly again in September.  It's September.  Yesterday was also Wednesday, my best day, schedule-wise, for blogging.  Problem was, I didn't feel like writing.  About anything.

I got my first inklings something was up on Sunday morning, when I woke up groggy, head hurting, and ravenous.  Determined to beat the PMDD blues, I ate a bowl of Cheerios (quick acting carbs) and went back to sleep for an hour and a half.  The next time I woke up, I felt better, more on an even keel thanks to the carbs and an extra sleep cycle, and so I vowed to not let my PMDD ruin *my* day.

And it didn't.  Not that day or the next.  Almost nothing could get me down, although at the oddest times, I found myself looking off into the distance and just wanting to cry.

Tuesday I embarked on a project that would challenge anyone's ability to concentrate.  For hours I sifted through airline websites and travel reservation matrixes, trying to find the best dates, flight times, and price for two seats to Europe.  The print function on my computer wouldn't cooperate, so I had to hold all the information in my head from screen to screen to screen.  My desk was littered with sticky notes on which I'd scribbled the names of potential destinations, airlines, and prices.

I also learned something about redeeming rewards points with a certain airline that makes a big fuss about their rewards miles program, but shall go unnamed at this point.  If you have one person paying with mileage rewards points, and another paying full fare...at least when you're headed to Europe...it's almost impossible to get on the same flights.  They offer one set of flight choices for the rewards points flyer, and another set of choices for the paying customer.  I could get us on the same flight leaving, but getting us on the same flight coming home was like finding a needle in a haystack. 
I thought I had done it, but four hours later, when all was said and done, I had chosen outgoing flights that were ten minutes apart.  One said 10:30 a.m., the other said 10:40 a.m.  (This was while my print function was still working.)

So I started all over, this time coming at it from a different angle.  My partner's rewards points with his credit card company.  Success!!  Or so I thought.  Once I hit Select Flight, the price, advertised as 20% less than the going rate, rose exponentially.  Like to the tune of double the going rate.

It was cheaper to go with Orbitz and pay full fare for both tickets, rewards points be damned.  Some reward.  They like you to earn those points, but apparently aren't all that keen on helping you to redeem them.

So...flights chosen, I'm now filling out the information.  Here's something new.  I need to input the names of who will be traveling exactly as they appear on the identification we will be using -- in this case our passports.  I call my partner.  He doesn't know what his passport says.  He says he will check and call me back in less than an hour.

He gets busy and forgets.

My day takes a nosedive.  By the time he arrives to spend the evening together, I'm not speaking to him.

It's that simple.

I busted my brain on the computer for several hours, trying to do what *he* suggested.  In the end I found out it was almost impossible.  Sure, I could have managed one rewards ticket and one paid fare if I wanted to change planes twice and spend 19 or more hours getting home on a flight that takes 8 and a half hours non-stop.

In the end I got both tickets for $300 more than we would have paid had we gone with one free ticket from my tightfisted airline miles company, but we're on that nonstop return flight...together.  When it's time to come home, we're coming straight home.  No missed connections or lost luggage for us, baby.

But I digress.

He forgets to call.  I am furious.  Just that fast.  And there is nothing he can do to make it right.  And I mean no-thing.  I am in the mood for a fight.  And I don't care who I fight with.  My son makes an equally available target.  He disappears into his room as I start sniping at both of them.  Sharp tones and snide comments left and right.  I know I am doing it, and I don't care.  I feel unloved, unappreciated, unheard, unhappy, unhealthy, unfit, un-everything.  You name it.  No one understands me.  No one cares.  No one appreciates the things I do around here.

"I see the weekend is over," my partner says quietly.

We had an amazing weekend.  Truly amazing.  Went to church, went for a sunset walk, went to a festival, met all sorts of interesting people, played miniature golf, went for a drive in the country, cooked a couple of fantastic dinners, slow danced...he even presented me with a 30 minute DVD of  a slide show of my recent trip to Alaska, set to soothing music.  It was my birthday and it was beautiful.

But all of that was gone in my PMDD mind.  All that mattered to me right then and there was he didn't call me back, he didn't appreciate my time, my work, or me.

His quiet words were my cue that I had crossed the line.

I apologized.  Sincerely.  Because I knew I was wrong.  He kissed me good night and we parted on good terms, with him saying he understood.  I went to bed and again, just wanted to cry.

Yesterday morning I didn't want to wake up.  All morning I couldn't concentrate, couldn't stay focused on any one task.  Couldn't even contemplate writing a blog post.  By afternoon, my brain literally hurt, like it was inflamed or something, and I found myself reaching for my PMDD foods....almonds, oranges, cottage cheese, and chocolate.

By evening I knew why.

My period had arrived.