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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, May 13, 2018

PMDD and Your Brain

A while ago, I read the book Women’s Moods: What Every Woman Must Know about Hormones, the Brain, and Emotional Health. It was a great book about overall hormonal health and described how hormonal issues are physiological occurrences in the brain that manifest as emotional behavior, because the hormones involved affect the areas of the brain that regulate our emotions.

On the one hand, I wished I’d read this book years earlier than I did, as it was first published in 1999. On the other, I’m glad I didn’t. While the authors completely explain the devastating effects women's hormones can have on your emotional life, they are firmly in the camp of using medication to treat these brain disorders that affect women throughout our reproductive years.

That’s fine if you want to go that route, but there are other options available now to women who suffer from hormonal issues. In 1999, these options were given a cursory mention and dismissed. Which means if I’d read the book any earlier than I did, I would have come to the conclusion that there was no alternative to my PMDD, short of medication.

That, for me, would have been very depressing indeed.

I know there are millions of women out there who have severe hormonal issues that may well require medication to control them—notice I say control them—not manage them. Me, I manage my symptoms through nutrition and exercise and positive lifestyle choices. If I took medication I wouldn’t need to be so vigilant about my health—the medication would theoretically handle the problem for me. But in my case, with the PMDD, I can’t see taking medication every day for something that only occurs a few days a month.

Still, there are days when the thought of it tempts me. But most days it does not.

As I said, to have read this book any earlier would have been devastating for me. Because the authors insist over and over that without treatment, your hormonal issues will only get worse. That there is no light at the end of the tunnel without treatment—this is absolutely true--but their treatment of choice is not mine.

That aside, I was able to read the book and learn much about the causes of hormonal issues and how and why these issues can and do get worse later in life without some type of intervention.

Hormonal issues are a very serious and practically rampant problem for women. Yet some days it seems like the only people paying any attention to us are those who can profit from our condition(s). Most of the information women receive regarding "hormonal imbalances" (a term I take exception to) comes from companies whose drugs have been approved for treatment of these "imbalances."

We need more than to be told a certain medication (or two, or three) can solve  our problems. We need to understand the underlying causes of our hormonal issues and find ways to heal ourselves from within and prevent the need for chemical solutions. We need to understand the unique female brain/body connection and how it makes us vulnerable to mood problems at the most challenging times in our lives. Puberty, pregnancy, post-partum, peri-menopause, menopause, and post menopause.

Every time you have a child, your hormones undergo an enormous amount of stress, and yet society acts as if there’s nothing to it. Life goes on and you cope.

But what happens when your ability to cope fails you? What happens when, as these authors aptly describe it, you have an internal “earthquake” and mood disorders erupt?

All this attention is given to heart health, but brain health is equally important. We need to learn to care for our brain as diligently as we do our heart. Not only the heart can be compromised by a woman’s genetic make up, life experiences, and stress load, but so can the brain.

If our brain doesn’t work right, we don’t work right, and all sorts of life-chaos can happen. No amount of "being strong" or "powering through" is going to re-regulate a brain that has gone askew. It just isn’t going to happen.

The way this book and many others describe it, our brains have neurological pathways that become worn over time like ruts in a road. When any situation arises, our brains immediately locate the memory of how we dealt with that situation in the past, so that we can effectively do so again. And each time we deal with that situation again, a new pathway is created over the old pathway.

This works fine if your brain is healthy, or operating at optimum level. But what if your brain is not? Then your brain is creating new pathways over damaged roads, and only more damage ensues.

Genetics plays a factor in this, of course, but so do your thought processes. In short, how we deal with stress affects our hormones, which in turn affects our brain. This stress can come from any and all sources, trauma from an accident or abuse, be it physical, emotional, sexual, mental, spiritual, financial, you name it, or from naturally occurring life events such as birth, death, marriage, divorce, loss of a job or health or relationship, to name just a few.

When your hormones are doing what they should, your body deals with these stresses in a normal and healthy way. When your hormones are compromised, your body and brain do not. Little stresses can be magnified into big stresses, completely out of proportion to the situation. When your hormones are compromised and your brain is dysregulated, you can feel like you are under attack 24/7. Your brain makes no distinction between the threat of an oncoming car or someone who simply disagrees with your point of view. Both, to your dysregulated brain, are threats to your very existence.

It’s not logical, in fact it is completely irrational, but that’s what it is. Your dysregulated brain is not properly processing the threat.

This is why women with mood disorders like PMDD or even simple hormonal fluctuations seem so irrational at times.

But we’re not crazy, or imbalanced--far from it. Rather, something has compromised our hormonal system, something that has yet to be scientifically identified and verified, something we have no more control over than we do an allergic reaction.

This is not to say there is nothing we can do to prevent our hormonal eruptions.  We all know that once one begins, it is unstoppable, because the PMDD brain is out to win at all costs.  But there are ways to minimize our eruptions, and this blog* is full of tips for that.  If you're looking for the information all in one place, try my book, PMDD and Relationships, or, for the supportive partner, PMDD: A Handbook for Partners.   Both are based on the posts in this blog.

*Use the search box at the top of the page to locate topics you are interested in reading more about.  Type in the subject, and if I have written anything about it, a list of posts will appear.  This will save you a lot of time spent scrolling past stuff you're not interested in.