At the start of this year I was diagnosed with a mental health condition known as Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder (PMDD). This means my mental health changes from being symptom free to having symptoms so severe I feel I can’t do anything at all. These changes happen in line with the different stages of my menstrual cycle. I have suffered from PMDD for over a year and a half now, and the majority of that time was spent not knowing such a condition even existed. Living undiagnosed was incredibly hard, both on me and on everyone I was close to.
The first symptom of PMDD that I remember having was outbursts of crying. At first I thought I was just more sensitive than others and less able to handle criticism. However, over time the things that would trigger my tears multiplied until I began crying at the smallest things. Along with my crying fits came extreme mood swings. I could go from being perfectly happy to completely miserable in under a minute.
The next symptom was anxiety. I had always been a very relaxed person and this seemed to change overnight. Things that had never been a cause for concern suddenly became the worst things in the world to me. I was so paralysed with the fear of having to do my college assignments that all I could do was stay in bed all day. My mind was filled with thoughts of everything in my life going horribly wrong that I began to isolate myself as much as I could.
Then came the depression. I started to experience deeply intense lows. When I was experiencing them I couldn’t see a single positive thing about myself or my life. My depression became so hard to manage that I began having suicidal thoughts. Living undiagnosed was not only extremely difficult, it then became life threatening.
Looking back on everything I went through I often wonder why I didn’t seek help sooner. I think there are two major reasons for why I left things as long as I did. Firstly, PMDD only affects you during the second half of your cycle (what’s known as the luteal phase) which is from ovulation to when you have your period. This means for at least half the month you feel entirely yourself. I constantly downplayed my symptoms because they would eventually stop and I’d be back to myself. What I failed to recognise was that this was a vicious cycle and my symptoms would return the following month.
Secondly, information on PMDD was not readily available. It was never mentioned to me that a women’s menstrual cycle could be linked to such severe mental health problems. Due to the complete lack of information I assumed that what I was experiencing was unique to me and was somehow my fault. I remember thinking I couldn’t go to counselling because I didn’t match the descriptions for depression or any other mental health condition I was aware of, as my symptoms never lasted longer than two weeks at a time.
It is believed that 3 – 8% of women of a reproductive age suffer from PMDD. Women can suffer from PMDD at any point in their reproductive years, meaning you can be affected by it from your first period or it can come about when you are much older. Sadly many women suffer in silence, thinking that their experiences are unique to them and that there is no treatment available. I remember thinking that even if I tried to explain what I was experiencing to someone else they wouldn’t believe me. For this reason it wasn’t until my friend told me of her experience with PMDD that I realised I wasn’t the only person who felt that way. The knowledge that I was not alone gave me the confidence to seek a doctor’s help.
8 months later, after receiving both counselling and medicine, I feel like a completely new person – or rather I feel like myself before I ever started suffering from PMDD. I rarely experience any symptoms and if I do they are never to the severity that they once were. Thankfully, gaining access to information about PMDD and having treatment I feel able to go about my life and not worry that my condition has to dictate it. Living with PMDD is a big struggle, one that seems to have no end, but the first step in breaking the cycle is knowing what you are struggling with.
This article was written by a SpunOut.ie volunteer. Check out our volunteering opportunities here and get in touch if you’re interested in getting involved.