What Is PMDD?
Premenstrual dysphoric disorder is a scary place where PMS overdoses on steroids. It’s a fate that 3 to 8 percent of women meet, as per UpToDate. PMDD isn’t new, but it may be new to you. It’s a label that many never hear of until they or someone they love are diagnosed with it. With that diagnosis comes a tidal wave of emotions. Women are relieved to have a name for what’s going on, but they’re also shattered inside that they may be living inside of the chaos PMDD creates for years to come.
What Are The Signs Someone May Have PMDD?
There are many signs that a woman may be suffering from PMDD. Much of them overlap with typical PMS symptoms, but they vary in intensity and may become quite severe during the luteal phase of a woman’s cycle. Medical News Today lists the following symptoms as common markers for PMDD:
- Mood instability marked by severe irritability
- Extreme emotional sensitivity
- Trouble focusing
- Poor coordination
- Memory lapses
- Trouble sleeping
- Painful menstruation
- Decrease libido
I know from my own personal experience with PMDD that it took very little convincing on my part to get a doctor to listen to me. As soon as I found one who had heard of PMDD, I came in for my first visit with my list of premenstrual complaints. Off she sent me ten minutes later with a prescription for Prozac in hand. Said prescription, re-patented as a low dose of Prozac named Sarafem, was reportedly a drug looking for an illness. The medication had already been developed before it was even slated to treat PMDD, according to the Journal Sentinel. It was convenient timing since Eli Lilly was at risk of losing their monopoly hold on the drug patent, The Washington Post reports.
Yes, I had PMDD, and no, I don’t anymore. Nope, I’m not taking drugs, and I didn’t have a hysterectomy. When I share this story, I am routinely met with disbelief and shock. It’s not possible, right? It must not have been PMDD then? What I’ve come to find from my own experience and others’ who’ve recovered in a similar manner is that we indeed had PMDD, but that it is not at all the “disorder” we were told. For me to recover, I first had to know the cause.
What Causes PMDD?
Throughout the years, I’ve spent a lot of time talking with other women who were living under the PMDD diagnosis umbrella. While the medical industry seems to paint PMDD as something that just happens, it’s clear to sufferers that it tends to develop on the heels of a few things:
- A pregnancy, whether it was full term or not
- The use of hormonal birth control or prescription progesterone supplements
- The onset of menstruation
- After a trauma
My Postpartum Connection
I knew from the start that the issues I was facing were linked to pregnancy, but it was the journey that PMDD was going to take me on that I did not expect to learn so much from. What a humbling journey it was. Embarrassing myself every few weeks to the point of wanting to crawl under my bedsheets and never resurface.
Within weeks of my pregnancy spontaneously ending at 14 weeks, I was in a downward spiral. I was picking fights with my partner over things that never bothered me before. I was fighting tooth and nail to win arguments to the point that I no longer even knew what I was yelling about.
Each time, those arguments would culminate into a knock-down-drag-out battle that often wagered the possible end of our relationship. My partner would do all he could to stave off the argument, but I wouldn’t hear of it. He would proceed with caution, trying to appease me, but ultimately, he had to snap back in my direction.
Only then would my feelings shift from anger back to sadness and hurt. The release would come in the form of one too many tears shed. I’d lay in bed wondering why I even started that fight and why this was happening to me. Sound familiar?
So, Is There A Cure Then?
The truth is, you could ask ten different women this question and get ten different answers. Many physicians will insist hysterectomy is the only solution. On the flipside, some medical providers will tell you that hysterectomy is a gamble, albeit one many women are willing to take. I’ve seen more of the latter actually come to fruition among women I’ve supported, but I am no doctor.
But is there risk? Sure. A lot of those women come out on the other side of hysterectomy only to find themselves sicker, or developing other illnesses. Many only discover post-ovary removal that their ovaries were never the problem to begin with. Once upon a time, the protocol was that we should be ruling out mental health disorders before removing reproductive organs to treat this condition, but it seems many providers have ran with the chance to tack on another surgery and have nearly skipped that step altogether.
Many of the self-reports I’ve read over the years—especially while running support groups for PMDD—have led to me to question why we aren’t exploring PMDD on a deeper level. That’s a story for another day. But we have this collective of women who are struggling, and they may not have to. They deserve to know they have options that the medical industry sheds little light on.
Is it possible that many of us have been diagnosed with this one disorder when we are all suffering from different things? Absolutely. In fact, it wasn’t until I stepped back from the label and let it go that I could see myself in a different light. As long as I was identifying with that label, I wouldn’t be able to treat myself as anything but a woman with PMDD. Instead, I was a woman who was sad. A woman who was confused, hurting and unhappy. A woman unfulfilled who wasn’t living a life anywhere near its true purpose.
Back To Basics
I went back to the beginning. I started at square one and instead of letting a list of symptoms (which overlap with symptoms of oodles of other problems—from medical ones to otherwise) convince me I was doomed until menopause or beyond, I took myself at face value. And what came next was a revelation.
Here is this hurting woman. What will make her feel better? No, it’s not just that PMDD needs to go away. I didn’t need the absence of something to make me happy. I needed to feel full. Full of life. Full of joy. I was seeking an answer in contentment, but content isn’t thriving. That’s not who I wanted to be. Hoping for a content, placid life would never feel amazing.
What did it take for me to get to where I am today? It started with bravery. I had to start saying no to things I couldn’t handle, and not feel bad about it when I did. I had to remove the people from my life that didn’t lift me up, encourage me to be better, and inspire me. I had to love myself more than other people loved me.
I had to quit the job that made me that person who hated their job. Even on the days that I didn’t loathe it, I didn’t love it. That’s not enough. I had to make peace with the child I didn’t know that kicked all of this off. I had to let go of the anger I felt over that. I had to forgive myself. I did womb blessings. I started respecting the body that I hadn’t been so kind to and opting for nourishing foods instead of candy bars and ice cream during late luteal, and so much more.
But the biggest catalyst that rocked my world was that I started honoring my cycle. In my years spent running support groups for women, I continue to be shocked by how many are unaware of the true purpose of their cycle. In fact, many don’t even know how to track their own fertility. Hint: It has little to do with marking what day your period starts in an app on your phone.
Women aren’t being educated about their cycles. Long gone are the grandmothers and mothers who routinely did this. We are powerful. We are a force to be reckoned with. Society knows this and the medical industry—whether intentional or not—has disempowered women by turning the menstrual cycle into a burdensome once-a-month event. There is far more to be learned about the womb than pregnancy and periods. Once I figured that out, my entire life changed.
I’m not the only one either. I found once I started sharing my recovery story in PMDD support groups, that other women came forward. They too had completely recovered through holistic measures. No supplements or drugs or surgeries need apply. They were met with much of the same reception I had been. In other words, the women who aren’t ready to hear this message are often enraged and upset by it. That’s okay. I was once that woman, and look who I grew into. But I had to learn that the mind and body are one, and they cannot be separated.
So Where Does One Start?
Can others recover too? Why not? We’ve tried it all, right? I know I did. I took the supplements, the antidepressants, the birth control, went to therapy, prayed and prayed and prayed, jumped on the exercise bandwagon, the clean eating one as well, and on and on and on.
In short, I wouldn't call my experience a cure. That almost implies that some other substance or entity did the work. Don't get it twisted. I did this work. The only thing that healed me was confronting who I really wanted to be and why I wasn’t honoring my cycle and allowing myself to manifest into that woman. When I changed that and began to use my cycle for what it was intended—a roadmap for my life—the opportunities started opening up and have never stopped. The depression, anxiety and rage melted away and there was no place for it in my life anymore. I want that for all women living under the label. Do not give up. There is another side to this, and it will present itself when you are most ready for it. May you have patience in the interim.
About The Author: Danielle Lasher is a menstrual mentor and advocate for women’s health and wellness. As the creator of BumpMama.com, she seeks to unite women and regain the sisterhood. From her BA in Psychology to her work running support forums for women and mothers, she is committed to making sure women are given the full scope of the information they need to make choices for themselves. Because, if you aren’t informed, it’s not informed consent.