Tuesday, September 10, 2013

my pms monster

"Okay girls, so today we will be discussing how for the next 40 to 50 years, in the days leading up to your period, you may quite possibly act like an irritable, irrational, hyper sensitive, paranoid and sometimes complete...raving lunatic," said no Sex Ed teacher, ever.

If only I had some kind of warning like this at 11, I would have saved so many relationships, Kleenex tissues and calories (from walnut fudge brownies). But no, they teach you where babies come from...kind of. But no one tells you about the dark world of PMDD.

For those of you who are not really familiar with the different between PMS and PMDD, here's a quick explanation I found (remember, I'm not a doctor so this is just from info I've gathered over the years). PMS is the week before and sometimes during one's period. Breast tenderness, headaches, fatigue, bloating and mood swings. PMDD is (this is the web MD definition), "Premenstrual dysphoric disorder, is a severe form of premenstrual syndrome (PMS). The symptoms of PMDD are similar to those of PMS but are severe enough to interfere with work, social activities, and relationships."

(This also from Web MD)
The symptoms of PMDD can include any of the following:

Mood swings
Depressed mood or feelings of hopelessness
Marked anger, increased interpersonal conflicts
Tension and anxiety
Decreased interest in usual activities
Difficulty concentrating
Change in appetite
Feeling out of control or overwhelmed
Sleep problems
Physical problems, such as bloating

So, PMS and PMDD are much the same except PMDD causes EXTREME symptoms. I think of PMDD as PMS on steroids. 

Sadly, it wasn't until late 2009 (yes, I was 30 at the time) that I started to be aware of how my severe PMS mood swings played a role in the failed relationships or bad moments in my life. I remember the instance that sparked my (slight) epiphany. I had a falling out with a friend about something completely ridiculous and I knew deep down inside that my PMS was the culprit. Instead of addressing this head on, like so many times before, I forcefully rationalized why I went off the deep end and how I was justified in my actions, PMS or no PMS. Shortly after, I was told by that friend that I did that a lot. I justified my negative and/or irrational reactions and blame everything but my crazy mood swings. I couldn't believe I was called out like this but I knew...it was absolutely true. Sometimes, I would have very heated arguments with friends, family and colleagues in those days leading to my period and as soon as my period would come...boom, those negative feelings were gone but not the damage that was done. 

Still not wanting to admit that all these unnecessary arguments and negative outcomes were repercussions of my "bad PMS", I began to study myself. For weeks after that incident with my friend, I learned (through writing in a journal), that my emotions did indeed follow a pattern. It was hard to accept this but part of me was relieved that I could now possibly predict my behavior. 

Through hours of reading, asking medical professionals and online research, I heard about PMDD for the first time. "I might have a PMS disorder?...Great, my horrible cramps just couldn't be punishment enough?" But, that sort of explained why I couldn't get a grip on things while other women I knew were mostly mentally rational during their PMS. If they did have issues, it was nothing they couldn't control with Midol. I hated them. 

Shortly after learning about PMDD, I saw a doctor who reaffirmed my discovery. Even after the diet and nutritional advice, I still wasn't sure if I could take it head on. There was still that very stubborn (Aries) part of me that thought I can just "control" my emotions when the time came and I didn't need to change anything about my lifestyle. I mean, I exercised, ate well and didn't drink alcohol or ever use drugs. I did however, drink too much caffeine (especially during my sluggish PMS days as a pick-me-up) and not enough water. I found out how important that was much later. I can handle this...I just need to have more self-control. 

In early 2010, weeks after this "discovery/denial", I started dating my husband and unfortunately saw signs that my mood swings were, "getting the best of me"...again. As much as I tried to control it, I lashed out at him for no reason and felt just emotionally out of control. Afraid that he was going to end up the next victim of my PMDD, I shamefully admitted to him that I had "bad PMS"...and I was well into my "weird days." Surprisingly, he told me he had an ex girlfriend with the same problem and understood what I was going through. So, (being the amazing problem-solver he is), he too started to track my cycle on an iPhone App called Period Tracker. It was one of the nicest things anyone has ever done for me. He literally would help me through my negative emotions (irritability and anxiety) and talk me through those times I thought irrationally. He named my PMDD, "The Monster", after the Smoke Monster from the TV show, Lost. The Smoke Monster was the main antagonist of the show that appeared mainly as...well...a cloud of black smoke. And, when that black smoke came around everyone was afraid, very afraid. It was almost comedic when he would say..."You're taking this too far, remember, The Monster is here." Lucky for him, I got pregnant a few months after we started dating (yes ladies, we moved pretty fast) and we were PMDD free for that time plus the time I was breastfeeding our daughter. Almost 2 years without PMDD. And honestly, the time I was pregnant, I was in the best mood ever, nearly all the time. My husband still calls it, "the best 9 months of his life." 

So, to try as much as possible to feel that way again, I do everything I can to ease the pain of my PMDD. I do this through meditation, exercise and multiple daily breathing exercises for an entire week before my period. In those "bad days", it's not so easy to work through. I have to literally take a minute and step back and clearly map out my thoughts so I don't feed into my paranoia or irrationality. Plus, another thing that doesn't help is that I have a hard time sleeping the night before I get my period. So, when I know my period is due, I do everything to help myself sleep better the nights leading to it. That entails plenty of exercise during the day, minimal caffeine and sugar intake and chamomile before I hit the sack. 

Even with all these weapons used against "The Monster", I still get a little irritable. But, it's nothing I can't talk through with my husband or friends. Sure, the tearfulness is still there...we laugh about it. Knowing and be proactive about "The Monster" has given me great insight on my body, my mind and my hormones. It's not debilitating or as intrusive as it once was. I've learned that it's my "Monster" and we are always going to be butting heads...but it belongs to me...it does not control me. 

Now, I don't mind saying to my friends or family, "Sorry, not completely myself right now but give me a day or two and I'll be right back to my old self again." Most people get it. We all get the "blues" and it's okay to, as long as you don't allow it be the color of your life. 

Here are some great tips and advice that have helped me battle PMS mood swings:

"Postpone any major decisions until you're past PMS time. When progesterone plunges, logic goes right out the window. During this week or so, you want to minimize stress." wikiHow

"Cultivate calmness and serenity: Practice letting go of feelings (they come and go anyway), by consciously taking deep, slow breaths rather than reacting. Though we know it's not easy, give it a try. Some women count to ten; ask themselves whether this situation will matter to them in a month; or try to imagine themselves in a relaxed setting. These strategies won't succeed in keeping you on an even keel every time, or all the time: you'll still have occasions where you may react, but with practice you'll notice that you get better at maintaining your equanimity. Many women use prayer or meditation to create a sense of deeper meaning and awareness in their life, and feel that this helps them to put smaller annoyances and troubles in their proper perspective." PMS Comfort

"Be organized. During PMS, because of hormone changes, many women feel overwhelmed by the tasks they normally deal with effortlessly. Plan your day and stick to the schedule. Accept no excuses; hit PMS where it hurts. One of the primary goals of PMS is to disrupt your life. But by being organized, you have weakened your opponent greatly." Cycle Harmony 

"Gratitude List (The Present) – Once when I was not feeling great, I pulled out a pen and a piece of paper and started writing down things that I am grateful for in my life. Half an hour and five pages later, I was still going. I couldn’t stop. The list was so long that I couldn’t help but feel a deep gratitude – which is one of the most powerful healing energies there is. It immediately lifted make my mood and made everything better." Cycle Harmony

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