– BY CLARE KNOX –
Rewind two years and you might have found me in a heap on my bedroom floor, crying, engulfed by a black cloud of depression and sadness. Or losing my temper in a fit of uncontrollable rage, lashing out at the people I love. Or sleeping in the middle of the day, completely overcome by fatigue. Maybe you’d have seen me crying behind the steering wheel on my drive to work, or parked up at the side of the road trying to pull myself together.
‘To me, this was ‘normal’. Because it happened every month’
Yes, there would have been a 25% chance of seeing me in one of these states. But, to me this was ‘normal’. Because it happened every month. I’d become used to it. I’d learned to prepare myself for the onslaught of symptoms which swamped me in the ten days leading up to my period. I lived every month as half a month, riding the extreme ebb and flow of my menstrual cycle. From the most euphoric highs in the days following my period, to the rock-bottom lows of the days leading up to it. It was exhausting and terrifying in equal measure.
After a particularly bad episode, I became so frightened by what was happening that I finally sought medical help. Looking back, I don’t know why it took me so long. In fact, I’ve racked my brains trying to figure this out. But I’ve heard the same story from many other women. Unfortunately, there is a perception that extreme physical and emotional pain is ‘normal’ when it comes to periods. Therefore, most women ‘shut up and put up with it’, no matter how tough a time they are having.
‘Most women shut up and put up with it’
Fast forward two years and thankfully my symptoms are under control (for now) after seeking medical advice. See, what I’ve learned, is that I suffer from a condition called PMDD (Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder) – a mood disorder which is thought to be caused by an adverse reaction to cyclical hormone fluctuations.
PMDD is relatively common and affects around 1 in 20 women. However, this number is probably higher, as many women are undiagnosed or misdiagnosed as having bipolar disorder. Research suggests that PMDD may be experienced well into perimenopause. It’s also important to realise that PMDD has been linked to reproductive life events, including pregnancy and child birth (source: Freeman, Sammel, Rinaudo & Sheng, 2004).
PMDD: the symptoms
All in all, PMDD is a complex and highly individual condition. No two cases are the same and there is a broad spectrum of symptoms, including:
- Feelings of sadness or despair or even thoughts of suicide
- Feelings of tension or anxiety
- Panic attacks, mood swings or frequent crying
- Lasting irritability or anger that affects other people
- Lack of interest in daily activities and relationships
- Trouble thinking or focusing
- Tiredness or low energy levels
- Food cravings or binge eating
- Trouble sleeping
- Feeling out of control
- Physical symptoms such as bloating, breast tenderness, headaches, and joint or muscle pain
It has been estimated that women with PMDD will experience almost 3000 days of severe symptoms during their reproductive years (source: Rapkin & Winer, 2009). However, with a range of available treatment options, these symptoms don’t have to be accepted as a normal way of life. With the right information, guidance and support, PMDD can be managed through an appropriate treatment plan.
If you think you may have PMDD, head over to IAPMD.org which is full of helpful information. Next, you might want to start tracking and monitoring your symptoms. There are apps available to help with this, or you can simply keep a written diary. If you notice severe changes in your energy, mood and behaviour in the luteal phase of your menstrual cycle (the weeks after ovulation) it is probably advisable to seek medical advice, sooner rather than later.
About the author
Clare Knox (pictured above and on the left) is a business psychologist with a passion for women’s health. She recently conducted research on women’s experiences of PMDD in the workplace, which is due for publication later this year. She is also the founder of SEE HER THRIVE, a business consultancy raising awareness of reproductive health in the workplace through corporate training and education. Clare’s vision: ‘It’s time we stopped dismissing reproductive conditions as ‘women’s issues’ and treated them as serious workplace health concerns.’
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