My Battle with PMDD
Discussing the elephant in the room
Around this time last year, I was feeling quite different regarding my academic career and my life in general than I am now.
Midterms were in full swing and the stress to succeed was hanging over my head. I needed to do very well this semester to get myself out of the rut I had created for myself freshman year.
I noticed in the last months that the weeks surrounding my period were far more difficult than usual. Not only did I have the usual cramps and bloating, but I was feeling anxious and depressed, like my world was essentially crashing down on me.
At first, I thought it was just my insecurities getting the best of me – as it does with nearly everyone on occasion – and maybe just the stress of classes, since this wasn’t something I had experienced in the past. I pushed through, despite knowing that something was wrong on a mental and emotional level, and the coming months only got worse.
Come the end of November, about a week before I was supposed to get my period, I was feeling really down. I tried finding support amongst my friends, but there was only so much they could do. It became a sort of elephant in the room since I had said all I could and no one really knew what to make of it.
That weekend, I was attacked by my own mind, I couldn’t stop crying and panicking, I didn’t want anyone to see me like that, so I locked myself in my room all day.
My roommates were the only people who saw that I was truly not OK and encouraged me to call my parents. I spoke to my mother in a state of panic, begging her to help me find out what was wrong.
I told her everything that had been happening to me. She was devastated to see me in such a state. Unfortunately, she was a full 420 miles away and could only do so much. We came to a decision that it was time to see a doctor.
I made an appointment the following Monday with UB Student Health Service’s on-site gynecologist, who confirmed what my hours of online research had proposed to be my diagnosis.
That day, I was diagnosed with Premenstrual Dysmorphic Disorder (PMDD) and it was a big moment of realization for me.
Harvard’s medical program defines PMDD as “similar symptoms to those of PMS but are severe enough to interfere with work, social activities, and relationships.”
Only about 5 percent of women have cases that severely affect their emotional and social health and another 18 to 35 percent have more minor cases.
It is generally caused by an estrogen and/or progesterone imbalance, which affects the parts of the brain that influence mood and thinking.
All of the misery I had gone through in the past couple of months was not just me, it was a real disorder and it was something I couldn’t have helped even if I tried my hardest.
The battle wasn’t anywhere near over though, now that I knew what was wrong I needed to find the best way to treat myself.
Often dietary changes or exercise can help treat the symptoms, so I tried my best to keep to a low sugar diet and go to the gym at least four times a week. These lifestyle changes didn’t do anything drastic, but they did help alleviate some of my symptoms.
The doctor at health services recommended putting me on antidepressants for the period of time in which these symptoms occurred, but I didn’t think this was the best plan of attack for me.
Antidepressants usually take about three to four weeks to actually start making a difference in someone’s mental state and often have an array of side effects to deal with.
Both my mother and I agreed that I should wait until Thanksgiving break to start any treatment plans, so that we could get a second opinion from my mother’s gynecologist.
Together, we all concluded that starting on a low-estrogen birth control pill was my best option. It wasn’t going to just cure me overnight, but the pill would regulate my hormone levels throughout the month and hopefully help with the imbalance that was causing me to feel the way I had.
I started with the pill in the beginning of December and it made a world of a difference. My symptoms were much more manageable when they were present, which was all I could have asked for.
Living with this disorder is something I am going to have to do until I hit menopause, but I couldn’t be happier with the support system of my doctor, family and friends who have been helping me get through this.
Lindsay Gilder is an arts staff writer and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org