An open and exposed account of my journey through PMDD to vital health.
“If you listen to your body when it whispers, you will never have to hear it scream.” – Unknown.
There was a time, thankfully many moons ago, when all I could hear was my body screaming at me. Screaming for 12 days out of every 25 (the impediment of having a short cycle). 50% of my life my head was filled with the screams of PMS and frankly my house sounded similar! This was ongoingly so bad that it would officially be classed as PMDD (Pre-menstrual Dysphoric Disorder). This is a condition of extreme PMS thought to affect 3-9% of the female population.
There was a PMDD rage monster inside of me that would rise up each month. A monster that fed on the culmination of choices I had made throughout the month. Choices that, without the proper education, I was ignorant to the likely consequence of. It would steal my driving seat and steer the family into a car crash each month, and was subdued only by the arrival of my monthly bleed.
And as the PMDD rage monster was lulled back into dormancy, then came the tide of guilt. Extreme guilt and self-loathing and crushing disappointment that I had ended up so out of control, again. The small window of reprieve, used for making amends (as much as that is possible when the behaviour is almost guaranteed to repeat itself) and attempting to rebuild my relationships never felt long enough for any meaningful recovery. Then the building fear and apprehension would tarnish whatever time was left before that rage monster was inevitably roused for another turn. This was a cycle that had me literally put 50% of life on hold.
Here is a passage of free writing from one of my episodes of PMDD. I include this here as an illustration of the intensity of the emotion I would feel at this time of the month:
My head is a swollen mess, centred on ill feeling and holding onto being right in being wronged.
What suffers is my time. My moments escape like sour bubbles into a stale and rancid fermented drink, good for nothing except pouring down the drain.
I suffer, the family suffers. And there’s me: clammed up like an oyster shell, holding onto the pain and not uttering any pearls of insight to anyone. They didn’t ask, enough. They’re not interested. I’ve started so many times before and been shut down with nonchalant disregard, I’ve lost faith in people, in love.
I suffer these dark times alone, darkness growing, staining, seeping through the very fabric of family life. Dividing, tearing, uncertainty, disrespect. Painting an incidental splodge of mess, indecipherable in intent, the children raising up out of this cesspit of bog-water. Guilt which flushes through my very soul, flooding our home with toxic waste, an oozing melange of the by-products of bad health.
These were dark times that rolled on and on. My husband was my rock of support with the patience of a saint. He clearly explained to me that this was a medical issue and that I needed to seek medical help. I knew he was right. So I turned to the doctor. Well, a number of different doctors actually given the lack of continuity in health care provision in the UK nowadays. But the number of doctors was irrelevant, the treatment options were the same. Other than prescribing vitamin b6 which was a slight help, the recommendation was a scatter gun approach to experimenting with birth control and anti-depressants. That. Was. It. I had already tried a whole host of birth control options over the best part of a decade. All of these had sooner or later exacerbated my problem.
I felt deflated. Actually worse than that, I felt betrayed. It was very clear in my mind that I was suffering with a hormonal imbalance. I literally could not fathom the rational for adding more hormones into the mix and painting it as a meaningful solution. In my mind if I left the root cause untreated I would most likely be condemning myself to another decade of even more serious health problems. I felt like these options provided nothing more than a dead end for me. But now I found myself fighting against a mounting tide of pressure. Pressure from the medical professionals, my husband, and to some extent my own immense sense of guilt to begin this non-viable ‘treatment’ plan.
Formulating an alternative plan
I knew if I was going to avoid this counter-intuitive ‘treatment’ absurdity I would need to invest in an alternative therapy. I had a very limited budget which would buy me one shot; either I would start to see results or I would have to bow to the doctors’ recommendation. Should I see a naturopath, a herbalist, an acupuncturist, a nutritionist? There was no clear guidance on this and the decision weighed heavily on me.
After many hours of internet research I stumbled across an article which suggested that whatever condition you are prone to suffering with, food intolerances would exacerbate it. This rang an instant bell within me. I was already totally gluten intolerant since my second pregnancy. This presented not only through digestive distress but also through the unmistakable reaction of intense depression which would last for 24-48 hours. Although I considered my diet to be healthy enough at the time, it was undeniably repetitive. I entertained the idea of other potential undiagnosed food intolerances, and pieced together the picture of leaky gut syndrome. This made me focus in on diet as the direction most likely to make a significant difference to my symptoms.
The plan in action
I decided to undertake an elimination diet, and in consultation with a local nutritionist I jumped headlong into it. With no time to waste and armed with the basic theory and guidelines I figured I’d wing it. Already free of gluten, the idea was to cut out the additional food groups of: dairy, eggs, sugar, caffeine, soy, corn, oats, the legumes family (beans / peas / peanuts) nightshades (a strange group of vegetables and spices that includes tomatoes, peppers, potatoes and aubergines) and red meat.
The actual food groups you choose to eliminate can be tailored to your specific needs and hunches. It is recommended you remove all of the major inflammatory food groups and the general idea is the more the better. If you only remove one or two of a number of problematic food groups, any improvement will be minimal and the motivation to continue will be reduced. The guidance is to eliminate the selected foods for 4 weeks and then gradually reintroduce foods one by one and observe for any reaction to them.
The elimination diet
The 4 weeks was tough. I was definitely motivated, and 100% committed mentally so that part wasn’t too much of a challenge for me. What was a struggle was literally thinking of enough things that I could eat. I had the same 2 or 3 dinners on repeat which was boring, but thinking of things I could snack on in between was the hardest part. My blood sugar levels were yo-yoing as a result. I also went through an intense, and unexpected, period of detoxification which lasted for over 2 weeks.
Planning, shopping, cooking and preparing food literally became my full time job! Other than this begrudging time-commitment, and once the detox was over, I found the difference in my energy levels and overall sense of wellbeing was remarkable.
As I began reintroducing the foods I’d eliminated, every food I tried I had a negative reaction to. Every. Single. Food. Except for legumes… excitingly I could now add hummus to my mid morning carrot sticks. Joys! I found that my digestion improved dramatically and my PMDD reduced by 50% or more. I could now easily classify it as ‘normal’ PMS, in as much as it can be ‘normal’ to suffer every month with unwanted symptoms. The results were enough to spur me on to stick with the diet. I also continued dedicating my time to learning more and more about further potential treatment options.
What happened next?
The diet was officially over, but I still had to exclude a whole load of foods. I embraced this altogether new way of eating, becoming an expert in foods and their nuanced effects on my body. Thanks to the many fantastic health blogs on paleo, AIP and other niche diets I extended my repertoire of recipes. Managing this restricted diet became much easier over time. I actually gave up being attached to the idea of it ever being any different. The disappointment at not being able to easily eat out or join in with a takeaway remained, but I learnt to accept this was the new way of things.
Gradually as the months ticked by, and more and more space for healing opened up inside of me, I pieced together more and more of the integral puzzle pieces of holistic hormone health, bolstering my healing journey and continually improving my condition. 9 months later I found myself to be 100% PMS symptom free and radiating total wellness. Not only that but I have grown to love my cycle. I see it now as a huge asset and a benefit that women are blessed with. I want to help other women to become aware of this gift also, it is our birth right.
Unexpectedly, I gradually found that my gut was healed so much that I was able to include moderate amounts of the foods that I had previously found to be mild irritants. This included small occasional cheeky gluten-y treats which I had not been able to have at any point over the last half a decade! I literally can’t express what joy this new found dietary flexibility and over all fantastic wellness has created within me.
The take away
I am so thankful that I didn’t give in to the pressure to trap myself into a cycle of suppressing my symptoms with synthetic hormones. I followed my instinct and kept faith that a natural solution was possible despite the lack of support or hope granted by the medical professionals. Not only have I created a symptom free menstrual cycle for myself, I have actually come to cherish the gift that is the menstrual cycle.
I feel a deep sense of both contempt and unease at this current medical paradigm in women’s health. Comparatively so little has been invested into research in this area and I cannot help but think if men had been plagued with cyclical health issues like this then a sustainable solution would have been found. I am passionate about helping other women heal their menstrual cycles. With PMSfreedom.com I intend to bring together useful information for women on diet, lifestyle and therapies and illuminate potential routes to hormone health. I hope you are inspired to join me on this journey.