BY JEN OLENICZAK BROWN
*Content Warning: Suicidal thoughts, self-harm
Please note, I am not a medical professional. Just a person who struggled way too long with something that isn’t talked about enough.
I remember the exact moment when I Google diagnosed myself.
I had just wrapped one of my emotional roller coasters – I went from rage to paranoia, to severe sadness, all in a matter of just a few minutes. I couldn’t breathe with anxiety, and I was lying on my couch, thinking about how much better everything would be if I just weren’t part of the world anymore. Who was going to miss me? All I did was overcomplicate everything. During this particular rollercoaster, I screamed at my husband, tried to hurt myself and when he stopped me, sobbed for an hour.
Typing “crazy before my period” led me to a Self Magazine article where women talked about their experiences with premenstrual dysphoric disorder or PMDD. I read the first, second, tenth, fifteenth – they all could have been written by me. I sent the article to my husband with a “Please read this NOW” text – and he said, “Oh my god, this is you.” Stories that echoed the week before my period perfectly – so much so that I was sobbing again thinking about it. I wasn’t crazy. I had something very real.
The next few weeks brought me talking to my doctor, getting diagnosed with PMDD and serious depression – the latter brought on by my fear of living every single month with the rollercoaster. Getting on an antidepressant that probably saved my life, but then gave me aphasia, a condition where you forget simple words and phrases. Therapy, ultimately, got me off medication and back into a state where I could manage the one to two days a month that are just…bad.
The most unsettling part? The more people I talked to, the more I realized that quite a few people have PMDD, between 3-8% of the population of people that have periods, have PMDD. And quite a few people think it’s “just bad PMS.” It’s not.
PMDD symptoms are both severe and debilitating because they are both physical and psychological – and happen every single month, in the week before a period. Symptoms include severe fatigue, mood changes like irritability, nervousness, and depression, crying and emotional sensitivity, difficulty concentrating, heart palpitations, paranoia, coordination difficulties, forgetfulness, bloating, headaches, backaches, muscle spasms, hot flashes, dizziness, fainting, sleeplessness, vision changes, respiratory issues, easy bruising and heightened sensitivity. Oh, and what’s more fun? There’s no clear cause.
The good news, PMDD is getting more recognition. When I was first diagnosed, people told me “Oh, it’s just a bad period!” The number of people that said, “Oh, use a heating pad!” or “Oh yeah, I was super sad during my period this month, too” made me want to scream. It’s not just being super sad. It’s not just having a tough night. It’s sometimes a third of your MONTH, every month, and you know it’s coming, but you can literally do nothing to stop it. The other two-thirds of your month you spend picking up the pieces, taping your life back together – and then terrified for what is coming.
Between the recognition and people discussing their experiences, and people like you reading about them, we can normalize this very scary thing. I’ve been diagnosed for over two years and while it’s still there, I’m no longer on an antidepressant – it just didn’t work for me – and I am seeing my therapist every other month. I take supplements, I exercise and eat well – and probably the most important of all – I give myself grace every month because I know I might experience anxiety that when pushed, can turn into the beast that turned my life around for years.