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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

Sunday, November 22, 2015

PMDD - Owning What's Yours and Discarding What's Not

Hopefully this post will provide some information or inspiration to help get you through the next six weeks of supposed holiday cheer.  For weeks now, we have been (and will continue to be) inundated with media images of joy, happiness, laughter, good times and carefree events with friends and family.  
  But this isn't even close to the reality of what happens for most people during this time of year. 
  Not to mention what happens to women with PMDD.
  But still we try.  Over and over and over again.  Because we love our families, and even when we feel miserable inside, we want to make things good for them.
  So this post is for women with PMDD who are unwilling—or literally unable—to take a break from your family.  And this means any time of the year, not just the holidays.  I'm offering this post today, though, because I know relationships tend to be super stressed once we start heading into Thanksgiving and families start spending more time together than usual.
So...Recognizing that

You can’t fix something you didn’t break


It takes two to make a relationship, and two to break it,

There is only so much you can do.

If the person you are trying to connect with, be they parent, partner, sibling, or child, is not interested in having a positive relationship with you—the reason why does not matter—there is nothing you can do but hang on and hope for the best.

Prayer can be very effective when you have reached this sort of impasse with someone in your life.

But I also want to make sure you realize that if you are having a bad relationship with someone, anyone, in your life, and you are doing your best to take responsibility for whatever shortcomings you may bring to the relationship, and it still isn’t working...

Then the problem isn’t you, and you have no business taking full blame for the faults in or failure of the relationship.

Many relationships are broken because the person you are in relationship with is also broken. They do not love themselves, and therefore literally cannot love you until they heal. This is not always their fault, this inability to love, but once people reach adulthood, how much love and goodness they have in their hearts and their lives is a direct result of their choices in life.

Yes, happiness is a choice. So are peace and harmony, anger and strife. People choose to be happy or sad, appreciative or critical, content or bitter, encouraging or derisive. It is absolutely true that when you have control over nothing else, over no other circumstances in your life, you still have control over your attitude. (I am talking about the other half of whatever relationship you are thinking about right now. This does not apply to you, the woman with PMDD, just yet. We will talk about you a little later.)

The fact that whoever you are having a relationship with chooses not to be happy, or not to work with you to better the relationship, or not to participate in the relationship at all, is not your fault.  That is their fault. Fully, completely, and entirely. Do not take the blame for anyone’s bad behavior but your own. Ever. Any time, any place, any where. If you are an adult, you are responsible for your own behavior. If you are under the age of 25, you can still get away with some stupid stuff, because your brain is literally not fully formed yet, and people in their twenties tend to do things without thinking them through.

That’s part of life, that’s part of growing up. But once you cross that line, and start heading into your thirties, it is time to start acting like an adult, or you will find yourself in relationship after relationship that does not work, and, if you have any sense of self-awareness at all, will leave you wondering why.

The first tenet of being a grown up is to take responsibility for your actions, good or bad. It’s that simple. You hurt someone or their feelings, you apologize, and do what you can to make it right. You don’t blame them for being too sensitive, clumsy, slow, scattered, discombobulated, or anything at all. Aside from the one to three percent of the population who are genuine sociopaths, we all know right from wrong. We are born knowing this right from wrong. In some of us, that knowing gets killed/suppressed/obliterated very early on, but for the rest of us, we know. We know when we are at the receiving end of something wrong, and we know when we are at the dishing out end of something wrong. That we choose to do whatever it is we are doing anyway, is exactly that...a choice. And adults take responsibility for their choices, be they right or wrong.

So if you have someone in your life who doesn’t understand your PMDD, it’s because they are choosing not to understand. Choosing not to love. Instead they are choosing to believe you are crazy or lazy or out of control because it suits some purpose that works for them, not you. (This is assuming you are making every effort to enlighten them.) They may or may not be aware of this on a conscious level, but either way, this is what is happening. If they can keep the focus on you and your failings, there is no need to look at their own. If they can get you to take the blame for whatever is wrong in the relationship, they don’t need to carry their own half of the load.

Being in a relationship takes work under the best of circumstances. If you are in a relationship with someone who thinks “love is all hearts and flowers╦« or “relationships just happen” then you have your work cut out for you. First of all, you’ll be doing double the work while they do none of it. And when something goes wrong, since you are doing all the work, you will most likely get all the blame.

Tell me how that is fair. Tell me it hasn’t happened to you.

Whether it’s with a friend, relative, spouse, or a  child, to make a relationship work you have to spend quality time together, and you each must make the effort to understand the other, and to find ways to create memories that make you both smile—instead of cry. No one can tell you what, where, or how this balance in your relationship should be. This is between the two of you and no one else. You and the other party are the only ones in the relationship, and you and the other party are the only ones who can figure it out, based on your individual levels of maturity, needs, personalities, time availability, emotional awareness, you name it.

Just like every woman is different, every relationship is different. You can look across a room and see a couple you think has it all, but you don’t know what goes on in that relationship. I don’t care what you think you know. You only know what you see and what you are told, and even then the information is skewed unless you are told by both parties in the presence of each other. When this happens, you still may not get the full picture. Couples regularly leave private details out of stories they tell about themselves.

But I digress. The bottom line is the people in your life are always responsible for their own actions and choices, even when they refuse to take responsibility for them. Not taking responsibility does not mean you are no longer responsible. The responsibility is still yours, whether you accept it or not.

None of this, of course, applies to a woman with PMDD when she is in the PMDD zone. Right now we are talking about partners/relatives who are in full control of their faculties at any given moment. Once a PMDD-ing woman enters her personal PMDD zone, all bets are off until her period comes and she returns to her regular state of mind.

But guess what? Once you have a handle on your own behavior, they can’t use it against you any more.

That said, no one who does not have PMDD themselves has the right to judge, blame, dismiss, discount, provoke, or otherwise torment you into making your PMDD worse. Neither do they have any right to excuse themselves for their behavior during an episode, especially while casting all the blame on you and your condition/disorder/disease/illness. Doing either—tormenting you and/or blaming you for your own torment—is abuse. Whether it’s fostered by ignorance or done deliberately, it’s still abuse, plain and simple.

It’s so easy to blame your own failings on someone who has legitimate burdens to carry. Do not fall prey to this tactic, this emotional abuse. As women we are often socialized to accept either responsibility or the blame for the bad behavior of those around us. This is doubly true for women with PMDD. Having PMDD makes us easy targets for blame.

Do not accept that blame unless it is truly yours. Daily I hear from women about something that happened during their latest PMDD episode, and without fail, they take the entire blame for the incident, even when the other party was a total jerk.

This has to stop.

Own up to what is yours, whether you are in the PMDD zone or not. And do not for one moment take responsibility for something that did not come out of YOU.

If awareness is the first step, and it is, shedding guilt and blame is the second. The book, Guilt is the Teacher, Love is the Lesson, by Dr. Joan Borysenko is an excellent resource for helping you to do just that. It changed my life, and if you want to change yours, it’s a great place to start.

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 this blog. Both books are also an excellent resource for understanding your PMDD and for starting a meaningful conversation with loved ones who want to know more about this debilitating disorder we live with daily.  More information on PMDD can also be found on Liana's Facebook page, Living with PMDD.

PMDD Wisdom for the Holidays and Beyond

I received two excellent comments from readers this week, both of them spot on, and rather than leave this straightforward wisdom buried in the comments section at the end of an older post, I thought I'd bring it front and center for your consideration.  Please keep these comments in mind as we move into the craziest and most emotion-filled time of the year, and may your next six weeks be filled with more peace and understanding because of it:

Here’s some advice for anybody who lives with a woman experiencing PMDD from somebody who has it herself: If you suddenly find that the woman you live with is irritable, seems distant, or has actually left to be by herself, leave her alone! She’s not mad at you, you didn’t do anything wrong. If you follow her around, touch her, stare at her, and ask her questions when all she needs is to be by herself for a bit, you’re going to piss her off. Look at the calendar. Is she premenstrual? Yes? Then that is your explanation for her behavior. She doesn’t need to explain it to you every month. She doesn’t want to talk about it. This is super predictable, guys. I know you may see her not feeling well and worry about her and your natural reaction is to touch and comfort and find out what’s wrong. For the love of all that is holy, just leave her alone. She can’t control how she feels and she doesn’t like it either. Don’t make it worse. She most likely already feels terrible you have to deal with her. :(  ~Anonymous comment on my post, Dealing with PMDD - Advice for Men

Guys. I’m a wife. I’m a mom. I have PMDD. I get how you would think that if your wife/girlfriend can keep it together at work that you would think you are not her top priority. But, consider this. What if she is a mess around you because you and your kids are everything to her? Think about it. Work is important, but it’s just a job. Friends are important, but they are just friends. Wanting to be a good wife and mom is everything to most women I know. Personally, I find it challenging, if not impossible, to be a good wife and a good mom at the same time. Both roles require completely different demands. This is stressful. So then, take into account that when your wife is premenstrual, she has lost her ability to cope. She’s so stressed out and so overwhelmed she cannot deal with anything. It’s upsetting when the toast is taking too long to pop up let alone the child who is screaming because she said he can’t play with the electrical cords. So, it’s hard. We care so much about being a good wife and mom, that when we can’t be, we feel incredible guilt. We are incapable of being loving, fun and efficient all time and feel so bad about it that we think you and the kids would be better off without us. These feelings can affect us physically to the point that we can’t fulfill any of our roles. If we didn’t care about being a good wife and mom, it wouldn’t stress us out. When we’re premenstrual, we can’t handle the stress.
If that’s not the case with your wife, there’s another explanation. If she’s at work all day and comes home to you and the kids at night, that means she has spent the whole day trying so hard to not be a monster. This is exhausting. There is so much she wants to do and say, but she can’t. She holds it in. Coming home to the demands of being a wife and mom put her over the top, she has nothing left. She just can’t deal with it anymore. It’s not that you aren’t her top priority, it’s that when she has time with you, she literally has nothing left to offer.
Another reason would be that work is validating for her. She's probably good at what she does, and she gets a paycheck for it. There's a reward and purpose and it feels good to be a good employee. There is not much that makes you feel good about being a wife and mom. If the house is messy, you don't know what to make for dinner, dinner sucks, laundry isn't done, etc., it's easy to feel like a subpar wife. If your 3 year old isn't potty trained, your 15 year old doesn't know how to load a dishwasher, your kids watch too much t.v., your kids eat nothing but junk, your kids fight, your kids don't obey, you forgot your tooth fairy duties, etc., it's easy to feel like a failure as a mom. It's not hard to feel inadequate at home. Maybe the "needed benefit" for her going to work is that she feels good about herself the 8 hours she's there, and that 8 hours is what gets her through the other 16 every day.
There you have three explanations. I hope this gives you insight on what you’re wife might be thinking. We’re all different, but it was sad for me to hear you think you’re not a priority or of less importance to your wife because for me, it’s the opposite. It’s the anger and frustration and questioning of our love for you that gets us stuck in depression. Try responding to her with love. If she comes home from work a crazy angry person, or if you come home from work and she’s clearly irritable, that would be a good time for you to say, “Kids, Mom doesn’t feel well. Come to me for everything you need. Let’s clean up your toys, I’ll help with homework, I’ll feed you dinner, I’ll give you baths, I’ll put you to bed.” Just try it. See how much sooner she feels better. She needs to know you love her even though she’s having a bad day. I know it’s a lot of work to do everything at home after you’ve worked so hard all day, but contemplate this: If you get divorced or she kills herself, which is something women with PMDD think of often, you’re going to be doing everything every day anyway for the rest of time. ~Anonymous comment on my post, Dealing with PMDD - Advice for Men

Monday, November 16, 2015

PMDD and How to Survive Family Gatherings, Part One

The following is an excerpt from my book, PMDD and Relationships.  

There are a lot of us who genuinely would like to get along with our families and have our family gatherings filled with happy memories of good times shared. There are also a lot of us, who, for one reason or another, aren’t willing or ready to make any sort of break with our fundamental family ties—because without family, what are we, but alone?
Nobody likes to be alone. Especially on the holidays, when according to what we see on television, everyone else is having the time of their lives.
So in this section I want to offer some positive thoughts and information on things you can do to make your family gatherings, be they over the holidays or for any family occasion, a little more pleasant.
1. Lower your expectations. Most people go into the holidays with Norman Rockwell expectations and end up deeply disappointed, even depressed and suicidal. Where do most of these expectations come from? The media. Starting as early as September, advertisements abound showing happy families sharing holiday joy. Keep in mind that these advertisements are designed to sell you products, and are not a realistic representation of what goes on in most families. Just like rail-thin runway models are not true representations of the average woman, warm and fuzzy advertisements with everyone laughing and smiling around a holiday table as they pass the food and drink are not true representations of a holiday family gathering. They are somebody in advertising’s image of an ideal—and ideals are extremely hard to reproduce in everyday life.
So don’t blame yourself if your holiday event falls short of the idealized version you see on TV. This is tantamount to blaming yourself for not having a body as hot as your favorite movie star’s. Looking good is what they get paid to do. If you got paid to look that good, you would, too. Any woman can look sexy with the right hair, clothes, and make up. If you don’t have access to the same spas, trainers, dieticians, life-coaches, personal chefs, housekeepers, nannies, drivers, and secretaries or assistants they do, then how can you expect yourself to look as good as they do?
The same goes for the happy families on TV. If you don’t have access to the same funds and props and wardrobe and production crews that they do, how can your family holiday be as picture perfect as they portray theirs to be? They probably don’t even know each other. They’re just a bunch of strangers acting like a happy family.
Don’t fall for the hype. Work with what you have, and stop trying to imitate some marketing specialist’s unrealistic image of what your holiday gathering should be like. For instance, for Thanksgiving this year my husband and I tried out a new recipe for veggie chili, made cornbread, bought some ice cream, invited one (one!) friend over, and had a great time. This same friend and I used to do the whole turkey dinner thing with a big group of friends, which was fun at the time, but since then have shifted to more low key activities.
For Christmas, we went our separate ways. No harm, no foul. For Easter, my husband and I spent the weekend in a lakeside cabin with different friends, from my high school.
It’s all good.
2. Arrive with a smile and determination to look for the positive throughout the day. If someone brings up a topic you’d rather not discuss, just smile and say, “Gee, I really haven’t thought much about that lately.” Then excuse yourself to head off for the food and or drink table, maybe ask if there is anything you can bring back for them. Deflect, divert, disarm. (If you’re already at the table, pick up the nearest serving dish and offer some food. “Would you like some more mashed potatoes?╦« Switch the focus to them, in a polite, non-threatening way. Don’t let them get your goat.) Once you’ve returned with whatever they might have asked for, just smile and say, “Here you go,” and then be on your way. Either way, the uncomfortable topic has been diverted.
3. Use the event as an opportunity for growth as a person. Practice the skills of patience, kindness, tolerance, acceptance, and/or self-control. Congratulate yourself every time you manage to take the high road and not snap out at the person who is trying to get you to lose your cool, either deliberately or inadvertently. Use the occasion as an opportunity to learn about how and, as I said in chapter three, who you “don’t” want to be.
4. Set your intention to have a good time, no matter what. Do everything in your power to get a good night’s sleep beforehand. Read up on prayer or positive thinking and prepare yourself to view the gathering as a “spiritual╦« event. One in which you know your spirit will be challenged, and you refuse to let anyone shake your good mood. One of the best books I’ve read that has to do with dealing with difficult people is Thank You For Being Such a Pain, by Mark Rosen.
5. Eliminate three words from your vocabulary for the day -- Always, Never, and Ever. Try it. Practice in advance. As in so many other areas, awareness is the key. Become more aware of these “conflict coals” and do your best to not add any more to the fire. Or, as an exercise in self-entertainment, start to notice how often others use these coals of conflict to fan the flames of family discontent.
6. Stay sober. I know this is a hard one, because a lot of people use alcohol to get through the day, thinking it’s the only way they will be able to deal with it, but in truth alcohol only contributes to the problem, because it magnifies whatever issues are already on the table, or lurking just beneath the surface. Besides, a woman with PMDD needs to stay away from alcohol. Like stress and trauma and abuse, alcohol only makes your PMDD symptoms worse. If you must drink, down a full glass of water in between each alcoholic beverage to both hydrate and pace yourself. My personal philosophy is when you get to the point where you feel like you “really want” another drink to keep that buzz going—the buzz is already on and it’s time to start backing off or you’re sure to regret it come morning.
7. Don’t choose sides in any conflict that develops. Period.
8. Stay away from discussions involving sex, politics, and religion. Arrive prepared with alternate topics to bring up…bring (or bookmark on your phone/tablet) photos of the kids or your last vacation. Anything important to you or your family that you’d like to share. Try not to get your feelings hurt if your efforts to share are brushed off, ignored, or dismissed. Congratulate yourself for at least having the willingness to try.
9. Invite a friend or two who has nowhere else to go for the holiday dinner. Sometimes bringing new people into the situation will help to keep unruly relatives on their best behavior. Or will at least make them consider restraining themselves in the presence of guests.
10. Drive separately, so you can escape if need be. If you can’t leave the house, then leave the room. Go into the kitchen and see if you can help there. Busy yourself with clearing plates and empty drink glasses/cans. Or just go and refill your own (preferably non-alcoholic) drink. Maybe spend some time in the bathroom, practicing deep breathing exercises. Go for a walk if you can. While you’re in the bathroom or on that walk, text or call a friend you’ve arranged to contact beforehand if things get dicey. Enlist some moral support, and do it guilt-free. If no friends are available to text, there are always PMDD groups on Facebook you can vent to. There is usually someone online 24/7.
11. It may well go against the grain, but if you feel you absolutely must go to the family gathering, then go and aim for one positive encounter during the event, and build from there. Next time aim for two, and privately celebrate your successes. It might take a few years to get where you want to be, but if this is your family, or your partner’s family, you’ll have as many years as you need to work on it.
12. Another sanity-saving option is to arrive late and leave early. Limit your time with your relatives so that whatever of the above you might be willing to try has a bigger chance of success.
When all else fails, disengage.

Because sometimes nothing less than to Just Say No will do. Plan an alternate holiday gathering/event and proceed with it guilt-free, telling your family you’re taking a break and will see them next time around.

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 this blog. Both books are also an excellent resource for understanding your PMDD and for starting a meaningful conversation with loved ones who want to know more about this debilitating disorder we live with daily. More information on PMDD can also be found on Liana's Facebook page, Living with PMDD.