I am on day 2 of my period. Historically, this is the day I’d be a crampy, bloated, bitchy, exhausted mess. But today, I’m pretty okay.
I have PMDD and about three months ago, I was not doing well. I had been on hormonal birth control for about 7 or 8 months and, while it REALLY helped my symptoms initially, most of the benefits ended up being temporary.
In case you aren’t familiar with PMDD, here’s a quick layman’s description:
Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder (PMDD) is a disorder that has similar symptoms as regular PMS. The difference is that the symptoms for someone who has PMDD can be so intense and extreme that they interfere with their life. Most of the symptoms occur after ovulation and, they generally go away within the first couple of days of getting your actual period.
One of the things I drank at, actually the primary thing I drank at, were my moods. My anxiety, depression, frustration and, boredom to name a few. When I quit drinking, I thought that some of these moods would lessen or at least even out over time. Many other people I knew who were also sober, talked about how quitting drinking, along with meditation and exercise really helped their moods. To an extent, those things did help me too, but I was still overcome with crushing anxiety and depression on a very regular basis.
That first year of sobriety was all about me learning how to have feelings again. How to identify them and sit with them and let them happen without wanting to run from them. I sat through a lot of bad feelings and it took until the beginning of my second year of sobriety to realize that they had a pattern. I began tracking my menstrual cycle and was able to tell by the ebb and flow of my depression and anxiety when my period was going to come. I was able to tell how close I was to bleeding by how insurmountable my daily tasks felt, by how hard it was for me to get out of bed in the morning, by how my heart raced with worry and stress for no particular reason and, by how I felt like my insides were built entirely out of rage.
My emotional symptoms weren’t the only things going on – my boobs hurt so badly for at least a week before my period that I don’t know if wearing a bra or not wearing a bra was more painful. The start of my period would bring the relief of many of my emotional symptoms but, it would usher in a whole host of physical symptoms such as cramps so bad that they woke me from a sound sleep, a pain so intense that I sometimes threw up. I also had back pain, intense fatigue, and, weak legs. PLUS I was lucky and got to have my vagina bleed for seven full days.
These were not new experiences for me. I had been having the same symptoms, in varying degrees of intensity, since I was in my late teens. I simply didn’t know or realize that they were linked to my menstrual cycle. Through quitting drinking, really experiencing all of my feelings and, tracking my cycle I was able to connect the dots.
I also figured out that the gastrointestinal issues I was experiencing flared up in sync with my menstrual cycle. But, we’re here to talk about periods, not poop. Only one fun topic at a time, people!
My life was what seemed like a constant cycle of symptoms, to the point that a running joke with many of my friends was that I was always either on my period or about to get my period.
AND I THOUGHT THIS WAS ALL NORMAL!
Folks, as a society we don’t talk about menstruation, PMS or, the whole host of physical and emotional effects that our cycles can bring. We don’t know what’s normal and what’s not. I always thought that other humans who menstruated were just better at handling it than I was. That they were all having the same or similar experience as me and they figured out the right way to get through it.
The thing is, I was wrong.
The vast majority of people who have a menstrual cycle don’t have debilitating anxiety, thoughts of “maybe I’ll die today” or, cramps so bad that they puke as part of their monthly cycle. And, if these or any combination of 5 or more the above symptoms (I have all of them) are part of your own personal monthly hell, you may want to look more into PMDD.
Last July, after about 5 or 6 months of tracking my symptoms, I had a particularly bad cycle. My two closest friends in Portland separately told me something they had both said to me before: “This is no way to live.” For some reason, I finally heard them this time. I went to my primary care doctor and we agreed that I would try out hormonal birth control to help my symptoms. Within a few days, my life was changed. My PMDD symptoms were almost completely gone and, for the first time, I felt what it must be like to be a “normal” person!
Sadly, the effects of my birth control were fleeting. By the end of 2017 I was beginning to feel the depression and anxiety creep back into my life. I thought it was because my job was ending and I was stressed so, I focused on dealing with that in hopes that it would help me. But, by mid-February, I was in a dark fucking place. Walking felt like wading through waist deep water. Doing anything other than sleeping or watching TV was a monumental effort. I was exhausted. I was depressed, I was anxious, I was angry. I recognized that the tools I was using to help my PMDD had stopped working and were possibly enhancing my symptoms.
The freedom I felt in those first few months on birth control gave me a taste of what my life could be. There is no way I was going back to how things were before. I decided to do some research on my own.
The first thing I did was read the book The Antianxiety Food Solution by Trudy Scott. Since a lot of my PMDD issues stemmed from an anxiety/depression combo, I figured I would start by trying to lessen my anxiety through my diet. At the same time, I started researching CBD oil for PMDD and what the benefits were. What I found was that CBD is known to have a positive impact on a lot of the symptoms I have though, there is no direct research related to PMDD. Finally, I started really thinking about a time when my symptoms were less severe and what my life looked like then. The times I were able to recall all fell during times when I was more fit and active.
From this research, I put together my plan of action. This included a pretty significant changes to my diet, adding CBD oil into my life and, being more active on a regular basis. I started them all at the same time for a specific reason, I knew (or hoped) that all of these things would work in concert with each other in order to improve my life and doing it all at once helped me to focus on this being a change in my lifestyle instead of a quick fix or simply the treatment for a condition. Since my menstrual cycle is going to be part of my life until menopause, I needed to adjust how I live my life so I can be most content.
I’m not going to outline all of the specific diet changes I made, what supplements I take or, what my CBD dosage is because, well, I’m not a nutritionist, doctor or, mental health professional. I have no way of knowing if the specific things I did would help anyone else. I fully acknowledge that all humans require different things from different nutritional and medical sources so we should all speak with a medical professional, mental health professional, nutritionist or, take it into our own hands at our own risk as we see fit.
I’m not writing about this so you’ll do what I did. I’m writing about it so you know other people feel this way, there are options and, you CAN feel better.
It has now been two cycles since I started with my new regimen and, maybe that’s too soon to tell if this is will be a lasting change but, I can say that my life is so much better than it was a few months ago. I still get emotional symptoms prior to my period and cramps but, they’re all manageable now. None of these things take over my life in the way that they used to. I no longer feel apathetic about whether I live or die. I no longer feel like I’m wading through water when I walk. I no longer have seven full days of bleeding from my vagina. I no longer feel like I’m unraveling from the inside out every single month.
Humans who menstruate: we need to talk about this stuff. We need to have conversations about our periods, what kind of symptoms we have and, what kind of symptoms we don’t have. The medical community still isn’t doing a great job of researching and getting information to us so we have to leverage the resources we do have: each other.
We can share what has worked for us and what hasn’t. We can share new research or ideas we’ve found online. We can talk about how depression + gas + anxiety + specific food cravings + cramps + fatigue + hopelessness can be related to our cycles. We can rally around each other to help each other out.
We can also remember that not only femmes get their periods. Masculine of center women, non-binary and, trans people all get their periods too. Because the association is often made between menstruation and traditionally feminine women, masculine women and people who don’t identify as women often get left out of the conversation. And, as a result, they (we) get left out of consideration when designing products for people who get their periods.
So, let’s talk. Let’s be open. Let’s be inclusive. The more we know, the less stigma there is. And, the less stigma there is, the more empowered we can be.
I have a feeling this won’t be the only time I write about periods.