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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

Sunday, February 14, 2016

A PMDD Valentine: Not All Chocolates Are Equal

For Valentine's Day, a post about chocolate (and a few other things), first written in 2009, but updated and still relevant today.
Having come freshly off a week of spending up close and personal time with my evil twin, who kicked my butt so badly the last day she was here I had to take a three-hour nap in the middle of the day, on top of getting a full night's sleep, today I feel uber-qualified to write about how it feels to experience PMDD. The thing is, now that the episode (aka her latest visit) is over, it's the last thing I want to think about.
I look around and see all that didn't get done over the week, the laundry piling up, the floors that need to be cleaned, the clutter of all I didn't feel up to coping with and simply set aside, and would much rather regain some semblance of control over my life—if only its external appearance—than write about the dark place I inhabited for eight full days and change this time around.
Why such a long visit this time? I think I know. I think it had something to do with my recent road trip: the stress of travel, the staying up later than usual, sleeping in strange environments, the change in diet, the miniscule amount of alcohol consumed, although in comparison to my usual alcohol intake, it was a big jump. Add that to the copious amounts of caffeine I consumed while on the road, the pasta-heavy fare at the conference, and I think I'm getting the picture. At home, I'm usually alcohol and caffeine free-or close to it. An occasional cup of coffee, usually one cup of caffeinated tea in the morning, if I feel the need, and chocolate only when "the cravings" come.  I hadn't had pasta or bread in weeks before the conference.
Why? All of these are bad for women with PMDD. Caffeine, alcohol, sugar, flour, hence the bread and pasta. But why am I so sensitive to their effects? I know women who practically live on caffeine and sugar, others who drink freely, others who love their bread and pasta. Is it possible they feel as miserable as I do, or more so, but deny their misery and continue to self-medicate with food and drink?
Because attempts to self-medicate is what these addictions (for lack of a better word) are. My research is showing there are very few true physical addictions in life. Most compulsions are emotionally or psychologically based. Only in rare cases is an addiction physiological.
That's not to say we can't get cravings. But cravings are cravings, temporary urges for some kind of substance to relieve our mental, emotional, or physical discomfort. Cravings are not addictions, although when you are in the throes of one, it can feel like an addiction. But as someone writing a book on dealing with addiction recently pointed out to me, "You're not going to stick a gun in someone's face for a piece of cake."
Cravings are the body's signals that some physiological need is not being met. You're low on some vital nutrient, to be exact. Your body is saying, for instance, "I'm low on magnesium," and you feel a sudden urge to eat a banana, or some almonds, maybe some oatmeal, or, yes, some chocolate.
Chocolate is one of the best known substances we crave. What confuses the issue with chocolate is not only its physical healing properties (of which there are many), but its emotional associations. We associate chocolate with feeling good. But not all chocolate is equal. Some are better for us than others. Much better. Others are almost useless, physiologically speaking. In the example above, a banana would provide as much magnesium as a 1.5 ounce chocolate candy bar, but a handful of almonds or cashews would provide almost three times as much magnesium as either the banana or candy bar.
So why do we reach for chocolate? It's as much for the emotional fix as the nutrients needed. More confusion arises when we don't know the difference between types of chocolate, due to the marketing and advertising claims of their manufacturers. Manufacturers is the key word here. Quality chocolates from true chocolatiers abound with the beneficial properties of chocolate. True dark chocolate is a rich source of flavanoids and antioxidants, with the cacao bean containing more than twice as many antioxidants the so-called superfoods like blueberries, kale, spinach, or broccoli.
It's the cheap, mass-marketed brands that—while they may contain tiny amounts of chocolate's beneficial properties—have processed most of the antioxidants and flavanoids right out of the chocolate. To derive any benefit from eating these lower quality chocolates, you need to eat way more than is healthy for you. When this happens, the negatives outweigh the positives—and you could end up outweighing all your friends.
Meanwhile you're bewildered, thinking, "Chocolate is supposed to be good for me, right? Milk is supposed to be healthy for me. Isn't that what the ads say? By eating chocolate and drinking milk, I'm doing something good for my body, right? So why do I feel so miserable?"
Because all the chocolate in the world isn't going to solve your problems, honey, and while I may crave it like mad at times, neither is it going to make my PMDD go away. For all its mood-enhancing abilities, even the finest Belgian chocolate won't "cure" dysphoria.
Dysphoric is the opposite of euphoric. Euphoric means happy, dysphoric means depressed. As in depression. But only pre-menstrually, which I suppose can be considered a blessing.
In some atypical cases, however, the dysphoria can come AFTER a woman begins her period. Lucky me, I'm atypical. Mine usually starts on Day 3, if it's going to come. It doesn't always come. Which is what drives me batty, trying to keep on top of what I need to do—or to avoid—to keep it from returning.
I lead too full and rich a life to keep being knocked flat by this unwelcome change in my body. It makes me feel like I'm constantly behind—on everything.
As women, we all know "it will never get done," but to have something come along and steal a full week or more out of your month, something that no matter what you do or don't do seems to be totally beyond your control...it's more than frustrating. It's crazymaking.
I'm here to tell you you're not crazy. I'm here to tell you there are scientifically proven physiological reasons for why you crave the things you do—like carbs—and what happens to your body as a result of that. I'm here to tell you there's help, and hope, but it's far from easy, living in a body that seems to have a will of its own at times, and a manufacturing and marketing culture that promotes unhealthy foods as healthy because of their base ingredients, while completely ignoring the toxic effects of their processing processes.
That said, the first step is to forgive yourself for falling short of your own expectations, and to understand that what is happening to you is as involuntary a response as an allergic reaction. You cannot control it. You can try to soften it, to be sure, by living a universally healthy lifestyle (once you understand what that truly is) but you cannot control it.
Nor can you deny it and simply plow through it, as most women do. We have commitments, responsibilities, schedules, and deadlines. We have people counting on us to be there for them.
But first, we have to learn how to be there for ourselves. My book PMDD and Relationships, addresses this topic in detail. I can hit on a subject here and there in a blog post, but the book...the book covers it all, from start to finish. And if you are a partner here looking for information about PMDD and how to live with the woman you love: PMDD: A Handbook for Partners is for you. Click on the book covers in the sidebar for more information.
So be good to yourself today, and every day, and when it comes to chocolate—insist on the good stuff. 
Because you are most definitely worth it.
Happy Valentine's Day, all!
Remember: When it comes to chocolate, the darker, the better.  You might have to work your way up to it (I'm now at 70% cacao), as it can taste bitter at first.  But the darker it is, the better it is for you (and your blood pressure!).  And don't drink milk with it because that interferes with your body's ability to absorb the antioxidants in the chocolate and therefore dims its beneficial/healing effects.


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