PMDD – Premenstrual dysphoric disorder – teenage years
For many years, since puberty if I’m honest, the ‘time of the month’ has never been easy for me.
If you created a list of every PMS symptom that a woman gets related to our hormonal cycle, then I could check all them – oh, except for headaches, that’s the only symptom I DON’T get.
As a teenager, hot water bottles were my constant companion on a monthly basis. I used Aspirin and Ibuprofen, neither of which gave me much relief.
About an hour later and the intense cramps and nausea were back, leaving me 3 hours to ride them out until the next pill.
PMDD – mid-twenties plus a high stress job
Then during my mid-twenties cyclical depression set in. Each month when my period was due my mood would head south. Some months were better than others and during those months I could joke about it. You know – that joke about
“Q:Why does it take a woman with PMS 4 hours to cook a chicken? A: <shouting> BECAUSE IT DOES!”
Other months I would be so depressed and exhausted at the end of my long work day that I remember walking into the house with my winter coat and boots on and getting straight into bed – coat, boots and all.
It probably didn’t help just then that I had started a high stress job as a computer help desk assistant with a 2.5 hour commute each way into Central London.
My training had consisted of a few written notes, a rushed demonstration from a fairly quiet spoken ‘computer manager’ on how to shut down and power up a rack of modems and 3 mainframe computers. Okay then.
With a large client base of very shouty and sweary broadcast media clients both in the office and remotely based who were new to ‘all this computer stuff’ I guess my energy was ripe for the draining!
I remember one lady being so frustrated she walked into the office, screamed at me and then walked out again. At least I was surrounded by positive people in that office who could all laugh with me – that did help.
To be fair, that particular lady thought better of herself and the next day came in with a box of chocolates. If anyone reading this has to work with computer support people, please remember to give them a smile and a kind word – they are always doing their best to help you and don’t want your stuff going wrong either!
Then one day…I just couldn’t go to work
Probably the combination of all of the above led to a day where my body refused to go in to work.
Prior to this, when it got really busy a few weeks before I had found myself hiding in the bathroom at work and shaking and sweating. I had thought at the time maybe I had a bug – but in retrospect I realized I was having panic attacks.
The stress of the job and the constant drain on my body from my imbalanced hormonal cycles – and I suspect lack of sleep with the commute – led me to wake up one morning with the knowledge that I wasn’t going in that day, at least. I felt really, really low and my body just felt heavy.
I phoned in with some excuse and went to my local doctor. It was a father/son practice and the father was on his last day of work the day I went to see him. I’ll always remember his kindness born of years and experience as I wept and wailed in front of him, not knowing how else to express my fear and anxiety.
He said “I have had 5 other people in here today with similar issues to yourself. We live a very high stress lifestyle Sarah – it’s not your fault“. He suggested that I try anti-depressants and he would connect me with a psychotherapist who could work through the behavioral issues.
My first cycle of treatment – anti-depressants and psychotherapy
Within 4 or 5 hours of taking them (extremely low dose seratonin reuptake inhibitor) I was camped out on my sofa at home feeling happy for no reason. I took a prescribed two week break from work for a ‘virus’ – which my doctor signed me off for – he said my reasons were none of my bosses business – and I started seeing the psychotherapist. He seemed like a really nice guy too talking to someone other than family members or friends really seemed to help.
After two weeks I went back to work, continued with the anti-depressants for a few months and continued with the psychotherapist.
Things seemed to settle down. I was functional at work, didn’t get so stressed out when the people got stressed out and got better at my job.
I still had the bad physical symptoms with my cycle even though I had taken the contraceptive pill since I was 19. It made no difference there, strangely – other than adding weight gain to my list of woes.
Change some aspect of my life – that will fix the PMDD
I decided that one of the problems must be my job. It was too stressful, the commute was too long and I just couldn’t hack it. During this time though I had started training people to use a new software system and really enjoyed the training work.
My then husband and I had moved out of London to East Sussex around the time I changed to this new job – I thought a local job might be better (I couldn’t take a break, we had a big mortgage to pay, another stressor). I would have more sleep, have a shorter commute and stress would be less.
I found a job as a computer training assistant with a local Water Utilities company and applied. It seemed great…a half hour drive, nice location near Brighton, East Sussex and good pay and prospects. I’d have to take a pay cut, but I would have to pay for travel to London either, so financially it all worked out…until the next round of PMDD took me down again…
Do you suffer from PMDD or think you may have the symptoms?
Here’s a link from the US National Library of Medicine with more information