Anyone who has had the lovely luck of menstruating knows that it brings many weird symptoms with it. Like really weird. From boob pain to headaches to constant nausea, the list goes on. And likewise, premenstrual syndrome (PMS) is equally awful to experience. But have you heard of premenstrual dysphoric disorder? I’d bet anything you probably haven’t, but you should. It’s very similar to PMS, but it tends to be more extreme. PMS on steroids might be a way to describe it.
Like PMS, premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD) occurs before your period. It can be anywhere from one to two weeks before, and the symptoms should usually die out around two days into the period. The disorder brings bouts of depression and anxiety, which are more extreme than those found in PMS, and it affects around six million people worldwide. But here’s the real kicker, it tends to show up more commonly in people who already have depression and anxiety, usually making their symptoms worse. It’s the gift that keeps giving.
I have PMDD myself, and I can attest to the fact that it makes life miserable. My symptoms tend to show up around a week and a half before my period, and it’s usually more depression-related than anxiety. I feel a sudden loss of interest in everything happening around me, extreme fatigue that leaves me unable even to attempt the chores or activities I plan, and a deep, dark state of sadness and hopelessness that looms over everything I do.
I will say that I’ve gotten pretty good at hiding most of my symptoms, but for a long time, that was what kept me from discovering that I had PMDD. In fact, I had to research and figure it out on my own. My doctors knew about my symptoms, I talked to a counselor regularly about my troubles, but no one cared to help me look much deeper. Figuring it all out was an accident and then a google search.
It all started when my counselor asked me to start tracking my moods to help us figure out what might trigger my depressive episodes. At first, it seemed ridiculous. How would knowing my moods help me with depression? My moods were low during depressive episodes, and I knew that already. But her approach was different from what I imagined. She had me install an app that would allow me to log my moods multiple times a day and the activities completed during that time. She thought there might be a pattern related to my daily activities that could solve the depression.
She was right, and there was a pattern. It’s just not what she expected, and for a long time, she and I were confused because neither of us could see it. Then one day, while I was lying in bed, my sister asked if my period was coming up. She pointed out that I get tired and moody right before my period. And I decided to double-check that, opening the app I use to track my cycles and comparing it to the data on my mood tracking app.
It clicked for me then, but my counselor still didn’t buy into it, and my doctor was in denial about it as well. So I was left to solve things on my own. The most common ways to deal with PMDD involve specific birth control pills or depression medication. But due to some other circumstances, neither of those were options I wished to pursue, and instead, I decided to use this mood tracking idea to help me manage my symptoms.
One of the critical factors in my symptoms is the loss of appetite, which quickly leads down a slippery slope of losing energy for everything else in life. And tracking that, alongside my mood, usually helps me see if I’m coming up at that time of the month, allowing me to put plans in place to ensure I eat consistently and keep up my energy. Seeing my mood lowering and noticing that I’m finding less joy in activities also allows me to prepare ahead to get most of the crucial tasks out of the way and put systems in place to ensure I can have help on any other tasks as they come.
It’s been a lifesaver to know that I can now sort of predict when my mental health will slip and be able to handle things. Of course, it’s not perfect. There are days where I get slammed with depression out of nowhere, and my schedule falls apart then. But when things clear up just a little bit, I still have plans and routines that can help me get on track again.
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