So, I am currently really in struggle mode.
As you all know for the last year or so I have had a very hard time with anxiety and anxiety attacks. Finally, this year I got a diagnosis for it. I have something called Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder (PMDD). Basically, for two weeks out of every month (during the luteal phase of my cycle), my mental state gets hijacked by darkness; this shifty shadow sits on my shoulder, and tells me I am a terrible human who doesn’t deserve anything good. It also drums up some epic anxiety, lethargy, a lot of sleeping, catastrophic thoughts and anxiety attacks. Each morning during this time, I get handed this platter of debilitating emotional pain, and I have to navigate my way through. If I am not working, I just hide in my bed. If I am working, it becomes a massive struggle to get through the day. And, it is getting much, much worse. I used to only get this mental pain every couple of months, but this year it is every month and it is beyond something I can deal with at the moment. I’m losing half of my time to this.
PMDD affects around 3-8% of women, and 15% of women with it attempt suicide. It’s a frighteningly real condition. It’s not PMS. I miss having PMS. This is much more debilitating. Then, a switch gets flicked and suddenly I’m back to me again. I’m exhausted. I’m overwhelmed. And, I’m also mad. It’s getting to the point now where I am terrified of traveling when I am on my “two weeks from hell.” I’m so frightened of having an anxiety attack in an airport (happened), or alone in a hotel room (happened), or walking along the street (happened). For half of my month there is a part of me, every single day, telling myself that I don’t deserve to live. I’m not suicidal. But, there is a part of me that works hard to try and convince myself that I am pointless. It’s terrifying. I’m 26. I want my life back.
Nobody knows why this happens. There’re a few theories floating around about damaged/underactive hormone receptors. But, this is a major problem that affects nearly as many women as diabetes does both genders, so why is there not more awareness and research around this? I feel that this is probably due to societies lingering stigma around women’s hormonal systems - we are raised to not feel like we can talk freely about women’s menstrual cycles, that they are dirty and not socially acceptable.
I am FURIOUS that there isn’t more awareness around this problem. My entire life gets interrupted monthly. I am thankful that my work is easy for me to book time off, because otherwise I do not know how I would get through my life. I am sick to death of hormones causing me to wage a war internally half of my time. There are a couple of options for symptom control, but nothing that gets to the core of the issue - because there has not been the resources put into learning more about it.
I am also sure that it affects way more than 3-8% of women.
Freud’s (psychologist, 1853 – 1939) patients were in the gender majority of women; he treated a lot of ‘hysteria’ (fun fact – hysteria actually comes from the Greek word for uterus). Female hysteria was dropped from the American Psychiatric Association in 1952, as it was realized that this ‘disorder’ was linked to the fluctuations in female hormones. But the stigma still lingers on. We need to stop labeling women as crazed, unreasonable creatures, who just need to be put out in the pasture until our natural hormonal cycle makes us socially acceptable, because regardless, still in 2018 when a woman is being assertive or emotionally charged, she is presumed to be “on the rag.”
Time is up.
Last night was a rough one. Thankfully, I was with my amazing family in New York, because I was on track to a bad place. I can feel when it’s going to be a bad night: the precursors have a special sting all of their own; they exist in my palms and under my rib cage, and I know that there isn’t anything I can do except ride it out. Sitting on the train, I was in tears. Walking home, I was fighting off an anxiety attack. Being around loved ones pulled me out for a while. It always does. But, lying in bed, it all came over me - heart pounding, nausea, sweating, hysterical crying, shaking and my brain playing one loop of a song on repeat; then, the memory black out. The strangest part of all of this is that there was nothing specific in my mind triggering this.
I don’t ruminate excessively. I keep my life as free of stress as possible. Two weeks out of every month I am happy and light, focused on working towards my goals, with a life relatively free of major stressors. When these mental attacks occur, my mind is completely empty - I am not being triggered by anything in particular. When I am asked “what is going through your head right now,” the answer is always “nothing.” I am crystal clear. It truly feels as if my body is out to get me. Maybe this is revenge for all the years I didn’t feed myself properly. If only we knew more about PMDD…
Whilst PMS is common, I do not believe it should be common monthly occurrence. And, PMDD is a whole other ball game. More research needs to be done on both of these conditions. There are women attempting and committing suicide from this pain I am feeling; pain that I believe deserves as much attention as diabetes. This is a condition that hurts women all over the globe. It is time to stop brushing it aside to favor research into diseases that affect both genders. It is 2018. We have progressed along the road to equality, but it is glaringly lacking in arenas relating to women’s health. Because this isn’t PMS. This isn’t depression. This isn’t something that you can stiff upper lip through. Trust me, I have tried. This is a whole other beast, and it’s terrifying to me that we don’t know its face. And, it’s especially infuriating because if this affected men, there would be much more research spent on this.
Once diagnosed, I was so relieved that there was a name to the problem I had been dealing with for over a year. I thought I would try to handle this naturally. I have tried working out, sleeping more, less caffeine, including fish in my diet, not including fish, being in the sun regularly, being with friends, being alone, reading happy books, meditation, acupuncture, reiki, happy thoughts. I have tried blood work (I’m all good – a little low on Vitamin D, but have been supplementing like a mofo), naturopaths, fistfuls of herbs and supplements, and hours and hours of therapy. By far, the most beneficial thing has been the therapy - the insight into how, and who that shifty shadow is has been a game changer. And, what to do mid anxiety spiral has saved me many times. I am a big advocate for therapy. Everyone can benefit from having a mirror held up to them, and seeing for the first time what is truly reflected back.
However, I still cannot stop myself from being swept away when it is coming. I am much easier on myself now that I know something is off, chemically. And, recognizing the signs of danger is slowly getting easier. But, the attacks are getting worse. The anxious/depressive fugues that come over me are like a wave that I have no hope against. My self is swept away and I am left as a shell with a very angry subconscious. These last two weeks have left me on my knees. I’m getting very real with you all, because I can’t bear to carry this alone anymore.
This is so isolating.
Trying to explain to someone just how terrifying it is to have your body send waves of depression, hopelessness and anxiety (coupled with extreme exhaustion and lethargy) whilst there is nothing significantly wrong in my life, is hard and strange. When there is nothing to reconcile this with, what do you do?
This is my next step; I am determined to figure this out.
So, basically, I am taking a breather. I won’t be active on Instagram or Twitter for a couple of weeks or so. I will be writing weekly on this blog, but social media is the worst thing for me right now. As I lie on the couch, unable to move without the shifty shadow telling me I am worthless, everyone’s “perfect” lives on Instagram makes existing 100% worse. After all this time, it STILL gets to me. I’m not ashamed to say that. Social media can be great. Campaigns can be launched and lives changed. We have all watched that happen many times in the past year. I have also experienced clients move towards authentic users, and have found my social media platforms to be quite a positive place of late. But I need this time to focus on what I need to get well, and as this is a mental journey, my energy needs to be focused inwards. This is a retreat to come forward. And I will be back soon.
At the end of the day, I am not ashamed to say that I am far from ok right now. I need to take a step back, and figure this out. My life is too amazing. There isn’t a day when I don’t wake up and pinch myself that this is my existence. I have an incredible job filled with people I love, I get to travel the world, and I am surrounded by inspiring loved ones. There is a lot of love in my life, and I cannot go on anymore losing half of my time to PMDD. I reject the idea that I can only live half of my time to my full potential.
I have so much love for all my friends and family who have supported me through the dark moments. I would be lost without you all. Thank you for all trying to understand what this is, and never once making me feel insane or irrational - just making me feel seen and heard has been so incredible. I’m going to figure this one out.
If you are struggling and need help, never be ashamed to reach out. There is absolutely nothing wrong with not being ok. Nobody is ok all the time. Things can get dark. But if we talk about it, and bring the darkness into the light, we can start to fight the battle.
I don’t really know how to finish this post. I guess this is because there isn’t a finish yet. But I am determined to find it. Thanks to you all for reading and for your continuing support.
Peace and love,
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THANKS SO MUCH