Twenty-four-year-old 4th grade teacher from New Jersey describes her experience with premenstrual dysphoric disorder. The author of this essay has opted to remain anonymous.
It was Christmas. The first Christmas without my uncle, who had passed away six months before. It was the first Christmas after my breakup, which ended a month after my uncle’s death.
My family had taken us to Philly for a Christmas brunch at a hotel across from Rittenhouse Square. I was, at the time, a day away from getting my period. In other words, everything sucked.
We had sat down to eat, and when I looked at my plate, I could feel my throat tighten. The room got smaller. I immediately ran out of the hotel and sought fresh air, desperately trying not to throw up. I just sat outside, hiding from those walking into the hotel, crying and hyperventilating.
The best way I can describe a panic attack is as if you are about to evaporate. I lose sensation, or perhaps it’s being over-sensitized that I have no idea how much my body is feeling. There’s this feeling of, “am I about to die?”
When I was in 4th grade, I was diagnosed with Rolandic seizures. Before then, I had experienced several episodes that landed me in the hospital and caused severe anxiety. I missed out on a lot of childhood milestones due to the fear of having a seizure. But it was during my 4th grade year when I had a full-blown seizure and out-of-body experience that still haunts me to this day.
When I turned 18, my neurologist suggested that the medication I was taking was now acting as a placebo. After a month of very stressful testing, I was “discharged” from the epilepsy label.
As I entered college, I could no longer hide behind my blanket of having epilepsy. I was faced with sleeping in an apartment with strangers (my seizures often happened at night) and had to control the obsessive worrying that came along with what some doctors told me was PTSD from my childhood ailment.
Later in college, I decided to get on hormonal birth control. The device, that was placed in my arm for over a year, caused severe headaches and what felt like an overdose of anxiety. My gynecologist just told me it was outside factors causing stress, but I begged to differ. I requested the hormonal IUD to be removed, and once I did there was an immediate shift in my mood, thoughts, and behaviors.
I experienced a death in my family later that summer that sent me in a spiral which was then followed by a breakup. All these contributions led to some serious panic attacks, eating changes, and self-doubt. It felt like a dark cloud was hanging above me each month, especially when I was on my period, and knew that my other female friends were not experiencing the same type of suffering I was during my menstruation. Life can hit you pretty hard, so in those moments, I knew I had enough hits and wanted help.
I went through a very dark stage in my life that included many panic attacks and moments of OCD and anxiety. It wasn’t until I was blessed with a terrific psychiatrist that I was finally diagnosed with generalized anxiety and premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD) since these extreme dark phases were happening about 10 days prior and seven days during my menstrual cycle.
This all took place last year. I was always told your 20s were difficult, but it seemed like the traumas of my childhood and adolescence and hormonal imbalances were causing more harm than I realized.
My treatment began with weekly visits to my psychiatrist and 0.25 mg of Xanax a night (right before bed.) When I realized that I was still experiencing high anxiety and strange bouts of deja vu, I consulted with my psychiatrist, and she suggested that because of my past with epilepsy, the deja vu could be frontal lobe seizures.
She then placed me on an anti-seizure and anti-anxiety medication called Klonopin. I began taking 0.50 mg per night and then increased to 1 mg. I was very hesitant about taking the medication because I feared addiction problems that are often associated with anxiety-related drugs, but knowing that it would be preventing any type of seizures was so reassuring.
I’ve been on the medication for almost a year now and my family, friends, and boyfriend all agree that I am much better with it than without it. The anxiety is still there, but not like it was. I haven’t had a panic attack in over a year, which is remarkable.
I still suffer from PMDD. I could have chosen an antidepressant during my menstrual cycle, but opted out since those often induce seizures in those with epileptic history. Each month, I just have to remind myself that these thoughts, feelings, and fears will pass. They always do, and I am grateful to have the support of all those who understand and accept.
PMDD mostly impacts my romantic relationship, which isn’t uncommon. I’ve read up and discussed with my psychiatrist why I feel so insecure, suspicious, and upset during these specific days of the month. PMDD affects hormones, and hormones affect feelings.
Those who we love are getting the worst of these behaviors. It’s not easy dating someone with PMDD. I say this because my boyfriend keeps records of my craziness, and when I am out of “the funk,” he reminds me that this isn’t who I am really am…at least not forever.
I think both men and women of today just think PMDD is an exaggeration. Unless you’re experiencing it, you couldn’t possibly understand the strain it puts on the person and those in that person’s life.
When it comes to generalized anxiety, I’m a little tired of hearing older generations say, “we just dealt with things better.” I’m not looking for sympathy or pity. I just know what I feel and that I am actually healthier for recognizing when something is off rather than “just dealing.”
I keep tabs of my period by using the app called Clue. This helps me prepare for when I am going to experience PMDD at its worse and when I should avoid certain social functions. Since I teach, this can be daunting at times. My students are old enough for me to express why I am so withdrawn sometimes, and they are empathetic. I just do what I can to make it through the day.
PMDD feels like a sad nightmare while you are awake. Things I normally love…I can’t stand. My behavior is erratic and just pathetic. Since I deal with PMDD much more than panic attacks these days, I find drinking chamomile tea is very helpful. Talking about how I am feeling, even if it doesn’t make sense, helps. Being around someone who can make me laugh and provide comfort is essential.
If you’re struggling with this disorder, know that you are not alone. When you feel overwhelmed, lost, or out of sorts…take happy moments and bottle those feelings. They can be so therapeutic.
Edited for brevity and clarity by Sammi Caramela.
Want to help #BreaktheStigma against mental illness? Contact me to share your story!