This isn’t a blog post that I write easily nor without considerable thought, but it is one that I want to write and feel that I have to write because I’ve just come out of a year of hell and I’m damned if I’ve been through all that for other women not to benefit from my story. I’m writing this because maybe there is one woman out there who is going through what I did and feels alone and feels like there is no hope and maybe she will read this and know that you can get better and you are never alone.
In May of this year I was officially diagnosed with pre-menstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD).
In the UK it is sometimes known as severe PMS. What this means is that for 8 days out of every month I would be irrational, furious, upset, depressed, scared and confused. Every 13 days – just before ovulation and just before my period – I would have a PMDD episode in which I would metaphorically hit out at those around me and I would certainly inflict mental torture upon myself. Whilst I might not have the most healthy of internal voices, I suspect that at least 90% of what I was experiencing in terms of negative self talk was caused by PMDD. I reached the extremes of desperation time after time and I pushed my support group to the absolute limits. It affected my home life, my friends, my work, my family. There is not one area of my life that hasn’t suffered because of this horrible illness.
I have had this condition since I started my periods at 13, but I got diagnosed at 37. That is 24 years of suffering and pain. Various misdiagnoses and varying hormonal contraceptives meant that no one picked up on the problem and I got through life always living with this underlying sense of not being quite right but not knowing why. When my husband and I have looked back I’ve probably been having symptoms of PMDD again for the past 4 years, though to a lesser extent that I have had in the past year.
In July 2014 I started training with The Trainer. We will never know why, maybe it is the fact that there were lots of triggers in the gym for me to hate myself and spark episodes, but I started behaving really badly. I fired him on several occasions, I walked out of PT sessions, I called him after sessions to say how much I hated myself. I shed a lot of tears. I didn’t see any pattern at first, and just thought I had a lot of personal development to do and get some self-esteem. Eventually, in January of the year, something started to click into place. I looked back over conversations and dates and noticed that these episodes were happening roughly once every 14 days. I shared my suspicions with The Trainer who was understanding and supportive. We discussed nutritional approaches to alleviating the problem. I battled with the NHS who wanted to control it with anti-depressants (I’m not depressed, I have PMDD!) or the Pill. Nothing worked and the episodes continued. It was at least easier now since I could express to my trusted and closest friends and family what was happening. It didn’t make it easier for me, every episode was absolute hell, but at least I knew it wasn’t me, this was an illness talking, not me. In May I finally managed to get referred to a Consultant Gynaecologist who took one look at my diary of symptoms and immediately diagnosed PMDD. The treatment is an injection called Zoladex (Goserelin) that I have monthly and it switches off the ovaries. No more cycle, no more PMDD. After 6 months of this treatment I will have an operation to remove my ovaries which will cure the problem permanently. The downside to the treatment is that switching off your ovaries puts you into a chemical menopause, so I need to take HRT to combat hot flushes and other menopausal symptoms. I already have a beautiful son and our family is complete, so a slightly early menopause is a small part to pay for getting me back.
I’m two months into the Zoladex treatment now and life is fantastic. I have my concentration back, I have perspective once more, I feel like me. I don’t feel extremes of ups or downs, I just feel normal and generally happy with life. I can honestly say, though, that there have been times in the past six months especially when I didn’t think I would ever see this day. Times are so black in an episode that you can’t see out. I relied on my supporters (you all know who you are) to tell me that there was an end in sight, and I just had faith that they were right. Even in the good times I was dreading the next episode so I was never free of the blight of the illness.
I want to talk about PMDD because why not? It’s still taboo to talk about menstruation and sexual reproductive functions and mental health, but that is so dangerous. The taboo means that there might be women out there who are suffering in silence because they don’t feel able to talk about what they are going through. That first conversation with The Trainer – who I will remind you is male – it was embarrassing for both of us. One minute we’re talking about push-up technique and the next my ovaries, but it was essential to my getting through this experience. When considering how to broach the subject with him I realised that he has children so almost certainly understood the processes involved and has probably seen the business end of a birth or two. I had no choice anyway, I was drowning on my own. Please, just find someone to talk to. It is a lifesaver.
And as well as talking about the blackness and the horror of PMDD, I need to share the way things are in the New World. The Trainer, when we didn’t know what we were dealing with, spent so many hours talking to me about self-esteem and liking myself and accepting failure and being kind to myself. I nodded, but it didn’t really click. I guess because my brain was being fried with hormones. But then, once I took the hormones out of the equation with Zoladex, I can honestly say that I have reflected and grasped the true scale of what I’ve achieved. I like myself. I’ve got faults for sure, but I’m alright. I am enough. I can try something difficult and risk failure. It doesn’t change me or who I am. I get up and try again and one day I will succeed. People like me, even with my faults and weirdnesses and flappy arms. And I’m so proud of what I’ve achieved in the gym in the past year. I’ve got this body under control and ready to complete a triathlon on Saturday. I’ve got my head under control so that I know how amazing and significant that is. And I did it all whilst fighting with an illness that I didn’t even realise I had for the first 6 months! But don’t get me wrong, I’m nothing special. Anyone can do what I’ve done with the right support, a bit of faith and a strong desire to succeed.
And – in a bizarre way, I’m grateful for my PMDD story. When I hired The Trainer it was an impulsive decision that I uncharacteristically didn’t agonise over. It was so unlike anything I would ever do that I question if I would have made it at all if I hadn’t have been slightly unhinged by hormones. So because of PMDD I got in the gym and changed the direction my life was going in. Because of PMDD I have the utmost caring and respect and love for two of my closest supporters. Because of PMDD I can now see that all that stuff I believed about myself – useless, worthless, stupid – wasn’t true, it was just PMDD and a bit of history.
So I’m on the road to recovery, and that’s great, but there are so many people who might not be. I want to help those people, women and friends and families. If my talking about PMDD helps then so be it. It doesn’t define me and I am unlikely to talk about it often (because I have more happy things to talk about now, like triathlons), but yeah, if I need to talk about hormones and periods and depressive symptoms and ovaries and estrogen so that one woman doesn’t have to suffer like I did, then I will.
There are support groups out there, but they are difficult to find and in my experience, GPs are limited in their experience of how to deal with this condition. But it is possible to get through and get the help you need. Please don’t suffer alone. You don’t need to.
So that’s me, out there for all to see. And that’s OK because I quite like me, PMDD and all xxx