This is one of the most soul-baring posts that I have written. I have been wanting to write it for a few months now but keep putting off. It’s deeply personal and I don’t want to unduly concern people. Yes, some things that happen to my state of mind are alarming. But I do have it under control and talk openly about it, it’s no longer a dirty little secret. I want to talk about mental health & periods and PMDD
It took me a long time to work out that my mental health was directly related to my cycle. So I feel it’s important to share, as others might be going through similar, with no idea it’s happening to them. Just like I was for years.
Mental health and periods
I’ve made no secret that I was diagnosed with depression at 18. And that I have struggled with it on and off for years. That it would come over me, develop and stay with me for months at a time and that I would battle it off, only for it to return. I tried counselling, medication, diet, exercise, meditation, you name it I tried it. And whilst they all helped for various periods of time, I would find my depression would always return.
Moving to Malaysia and spending a lot of time soul-searching. It helped me to attack the route causes to my depression and providing me with coping methods for when it appeared. But it wasn’t until I read a book and started tracking my cycle, that a major revelation occurred. I realised I get a deep depression for 2/3 days a month and if I can pull myself out of it, that is all it is and if I can’t it turns into something more.
PMDD – What Is It?
I started to notice that 3 days before my period was due to start I would develop the fog. I call it this as I feel like my head is clouded and I can not see things at all clearly. Instead of being my usual level-headed self, I become all or nothing. I get thoughts that it would be easier to not be here and I hate myself with a passion, it’s sometimes unbearable. My self-loathing rules my life and the negative self-talk is at max.
I feel like contact with other people is the hardest thing in the world and that showering is my biggest achievement of the day. Bloating, spots and dull skin, the usual symptoms of PMS make me feel like all is lost. I get panicked, feel out of control and lack any lust for life. I am exhausted and my appetite is off the scale. I deny myself the basic things I need as a form of punishment, yoga, the vitamins that help ease the symptoms, my 5 a day etc. Until this week I haven’t practised yoga for months, something I love.
After pinpointing that this is a pattern I did some further reading and realised I have all the symptoms for PMDD or Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder. The major factor in the disorder is that the depressive tendencies occur every month, between ovulation and menstruation, just like mine do.
How Do I Manage The Fog
I obviously thought about the pros and cons of getting a proper diagnosis of PMDD and realised I would only be getting just that, a diagnosis. Talking therapies would only work for the days I had the fog and I don’t want to take medication as the other 20 odd days a month I am more than fine, I’d even say great. So I decided against a medical diagnosis and instead read about how to have an impact on my hormones and in turn my mood and my fog.
Alisa Vitti’s book Womencode was a massive help. Aimed at improving your fertility, it has the fundamentals of what helps your cycle to run smoothly. The concept is that by understanding how your cycle works, ie which hormones are at which dominance (they change at various points in the month, who knew!) you can ease their effect on your body and mood.
She explains that blood sugar levels play a major part and keeping them stable can have an impact on how your whole body works. She also explains how we need different foods, different exercise and can even do tasks differently, depending at which point of the month it is. When I read this and thought about how I am during the course of a cycle and it just made sense.
How have I used this research?
- I take magnesium, vitamin D3, B vitamins as supplements.
- My blood sugar is kept stable, though food and drink.
- I do different exercise depending on my energy levels.
- I sleep when I need to, not forcing myself through things. An early night is excellent for my state of mind the following day.
- I try to get up and do things, but don’t force myself if I really can’t.
- I write in a journal if my thoughts get really negative to work through them.
- I’ve trained myself to cut the negative self talk off through distraction.
I also light candles, have baths, paint my nails, when I can. I do all the things that are indulgent and unnecessary as a way to care for myself. Self-care is an expression of love and that helps. Self-care has had a lot of bad press, but to me, it is looking after myself. That is a very important thing when dealing with an instinct to neglect yourself.
Discovering that I can predict my fog days, means I can plan for them. I can ensure I am up to date with work so if I need an off day I can do it guilt-free. It means I can plan and even schedule in self-care, to minimise the impact. It means me and my loved ones know that the fog will lift and not hang around for weeks. Understanding why and when the fog appears has changed my life. It has even made the fog less powerful, more manageable even.