I become a totally different person.
For two weeks of every month I feel severely depressed, sometimes on the verge of being suicidal.
I question everything, including why I’m here. I feel like a failure and as though my life is a mess. I am in a dark hole and I want to get out of it.
I have PMDD – premenstrual dysphoric disorder, which is a very severe form of PMS (premenstrual syndrome). It causes a plethora of emotional and physical changes two weeks before a period starts.
For me, these two weeks feel never-ending.
It is a troubling time, where I hate my life and all the blessings within it. I go from a glass half full person, to a depressed, insecure, anxious person within moments. I suffer from hot sweats while having insomnia and wake up every morning in floods of tears.
I look at my period app, and the days stretching out in front of me, and know there is simply no running away from this nightmare.
I was never someone who experienced depression in my early years or adult years, and I found the onset of these feelings terrifying.
It started happening about three years ago, and I was baffled by why, every month, I would go through such extreme mood swings.
I could never shake myself out of it. I would ask myself if something had happened to me? Nope. Was there past trauma I was holding on to, that was now trying to get out? Nope.
After months of torment, I spoke to my mum and older sister about the way I had been feeling and they instantly looked at me and said, ‘It’s PMDD, we both have it’. They then told me my grandmother also had it.
In many ways, I wish the conversation happened earlier on so I could be prepared but I recognise that perhaps there was no language for it at the time my mum started dealing with it. She’d had it since her teens and PMDD wasn’t recognised as an official diagnosis until 2013.
I still didn’t really know what PMDD was but knowing there was an answer gave me a sense of hope, and so I decided to do some research.
I found out that PMDD occurs during the luteal phase (between ovulation and the beginning of the period) of the menstrual cycle. It lasts around a fortnight on average but this differs for each person.
PMDD is caused by the brain reacting negatively to the rise and fall of oestrogen and progesterone that happens during the cycle. It is a mood disorder – not a hormone imbalance – and therefore, won’t show up on a blood test.
My luteal phase feels like it goes on forever. During this time I wake up covered in sweat most mornings and have an insatiable hunger for anything greasy or unhealthy.
I feel lazy, I don’t want to exercise or socialise, I hate my life, and have this thick cloud over my head following me wherever I go. In short, I simply can not show up for myself.
There have been many occasions where my partner has walked in on me crying in the dark on the floor because I can’t face another day and he will look really confused because, yesterday, I was smiling about how life was finally aligning.
Then, after an agonising couple of weeks feeling like this, my period will start and I am back to being my bubbly self all over again.
The feelings shift so quickly like Jekyll and Hyde. Most people can’t stand when their period appears, but I tend to feel relieved when I see mine because it means I can resume normality again.
I did a poll on my Instagram discussing the symptoms and asked if any of my followers had suffered with PMDD. I got messages upon messages from people saying, ‘This is exactly what happens to me!’
I was in shock. If there are so many of us suffering with this, why is there so little research and medication available for us?
I had gone to the GP but felt dismissed as they had said to me that cutting out dairy and high carb foods could be good – but I had tried everything and even that didn’t work.
They had said it was PMS but it’s worse than that; I know my body.
Emily Holloway, therapist and counsellor at the PMDD Collective – a wellbeing service offering emotional support to people impacted by the illness – told me that 5-8% of menstruators are said to suffer with PMDD, and over 70% of these will have suicidal ideations.
She said: ‘These can range from having fleeting thoughts about not wanting to exist to requiring medical interventions to keep safe.
‘And 70% translates to as many as 630,000 people in the UK feeling suicidal every single month. Around 34% of people with PMDD will go on to actually attempt suicide.’
PMDD is often confused with PMS, which affects 90% of people who menstruate and has similar but less severe symptoms.
But they are different, with PMDD actually considered a disabling extension of PMS.
I believe PMS is acknowledged more than PMDD because it’s more common, and often, I don’t think people understand the severity of PMDD.
I always had PMS from when my period started aged 11, but it was always fleeting and in some cycles, it barely affected me – I could be raving like those women in the Always adverts, showing they can bleed and twerk. Or I could even go camping, and still be smiling, despite my period.
But in the past three to four years, PMDD has completely disrupted my life.
Lots of people struggling with PMDD are turned away by doctors and so are forced to take treatment into their own hands. How I tested for PMDD was through The International Association For Premenstrual Disorders, who have a self-screen on their website.
I now take my own natural supplements that help ease it. These help me relax and stay calm when I feel my mind is heavy.
It’s so important for doctors to understand it is more than just ‘mood swings’ or ‘time of the month’.
Understanding illnesses like PMDD is also about suicide prevention.
Women’s pain historically has never been taken seriously, and neither has our mental health – particularly not in the context of periods.
But it’s time that we were listened to. PMDD feels like you only have two normal weeks a month. As women today have an estimated 450 periods during their lifetime, PMDD is a long term diagnosis.
It’s so important to make as much noise as possible to educate everyone on how to spot PMDD and how to track their cycles.
PMDD awareness literally saves lives.
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