One of the hardest things for me is separating my feelings from when my husband is being a dick (which he often can be) to when I am sensitive and overreacting. Which can be either, or both at the same time.
My husband and I have been through some difficult times together and have almost separated 3 times. Since I have been taking Sertraline for PMDD I have improved dramatically, but now my husband blames the last 10 years of marriage problems on my PMDD. Like a get out clause, like it has all been my fault and not that he has behaved incredibly badly over the years. This still irritates the shit out of me, even on good days! So there is that.
Men are very different to women in so many ways and putting yourself in someone else’s shoes is a strength of women, which I believe, in my humble experience, is not something that men excel at.
The only way that I have been able to describe it and come close to being understood is in two ways.
These two examples are:
- If you have ever had recreational/party drugs, the come down that you experience on what was termed ‘Suicide Tuesday’ in my day, is the perfect explanation for someone to understand what you are feeling. Your body hurts, your mind hurts, parts of your body are pounding, your head is pounding, noises hurt, you are extra sensitive, feel slightly sick, slightly disoriented, tired, emotional, a little confused, irritable, impatient, overwhelmed, and so on…
- If you are a parent that has been home alone all day with 1/2/3/4 kids, it’s raining and they are all misbehaving; you are caged in and so wound up that the littlest thing will just make you snap. Like “NO YOU CANNOT HAVE ANOTHER OREO” or “STOP TIPPING OUT THE LEGO, AGAIN, I JUST CLEARED IT ALL UP”. It’s that feeling, but constant. Constantly feeling that wired and angry. Add this to the feelings that are present in example 1, and that somewhat gets the message across.
Of course, men will never understand that on top of everything is also the physical side; the pain, the clots, the leaking, the visual horror of one’s insides on the outside; the breast pain, skin breakouts, the hormones that flood your being; the emotions, the 2kgs of water that puff out your belly, the cravings and the feelings of guilt telling you that you are a bad parent and you are letting everyone down. Feeling overwhelmed. And the rest that I haven’t captured but that you know.
I would like my husband to understand, to give me that leeway. To appreciate that I am doing my very best to just be, to function, to keep going. When all I want to do is tell everyone to fuck off and stay in bed.
But instead, I endure: “Oh have you got your period?” “Why are you being such a bitch?” “Can you try not to be a bitch for half your life?” Sending me anger management class information. Saying “Oh have you forgotten to take your tablet?” Dig dig dig.
This is real, this is what I get, and this is unacceptable. This is him being a dick and if I respond back at him it only proves his point. I am understandably angry and frustrated. But I don’t want to dwell on this, I have to accept, HAVE to accept, that this is his issue and not mine. I just throw back, “Well, at least I’ve got a reason, what’s yours?”
My husband is an amazing person and father who has weathered a storm of his own and his reasons for his emotional reactions are his. I love him so very much and appreciate what he has had to deal with along the way with my PMDD.
But how can I make him understand?
“Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,Reinhold Niebuhr
Courage to change the things I can,
And the wisdom to know the difference.”
So what can I change?
How I react to these situations and how I can use my power to support and educate people around me who are affected by PMDD.
But where to start?
The female body and women’s issues are still taboo in so many ways, in so many cultures. I even have a memory in the 80s of my mum hushedly asking for menstruation pads at the counter of a little shop and the man going out the back and bringing a brown paper bag to her. If the greatest gift is life and we make that life by having a menstrual cycle, then we should be revered as the greatest gift.
Education has to turn around and enable an understanding for both young men and women now, going forward. Supply information, management tools, and open communication. If this was a business then it would be a lot different.
Maybe we could include leaflets in tampon boxes to give to our partners or information on packaging. Maybe just some simple tools like, ‘Ask your lady a question – “What can I do to make you feel better?”’ But being that the answer could be “Fuck off and die” on a bad day, indicates that there needs to be more.
I truly believe that removing yourself from a stressful situation can be the answer. Getting away from your triggers, be they at work or home, as the people who irritate you are normally amplified on bad days.
But how can you walk away from your life? Your home? Your job?
You can’t. Which is why the simple and tiny tools are so important to use and understand and share.
Some of mine:
WORK – use headphones, put on your favorite music, do a different task, clear your diary, make sure you go for a walk at lunchtime. Bring your favorite food in, tell work you have a doctor’s appointment and leave early. Take a sickie if you need to. That’s what sick days are for. I know I would have 7 days a month in bed if I could, but don’t be hard on yourself. Cancel plans. Put yourself first. Identify the people that help you and those that do not, and do your best to arrange help with kids or tasks. Even if it’s a friend picking the kids up after school, that will give you the hours break that you need.
HOME – Tell your partner and kids that you do not feel very well. Kids understand this. Tell them you have a headache – maybe you do. Explain that you are going to be taking it easy and resting (in bed or on the sofa) to help you feel better quicker. Explain that it would be great if they could be a bit quieter or play nurse and get you whatever it is that you need. I have learned that the more you try to push the kids away the more they want to attach to you. So include them, tell them to come and lie with you if they would like (they might but it won’t be for long). It’s ok to have cereal for dinner a few nights a month. It’s ok to eat baked beans on toast. It’s ok for them to watch a few movies. Just let them know you love them and that you will feel better soon. Because you will.
Sometimes I want to walk out of the bathroom with a blood clot laden maxi pad and show my husband. “This. This is what I have to deal with that brings flashbacks of my miscarriage. This is another reason that I feel like shit.” But I don’t.
It’s not his fault, it’s not the kids’ fault, and it’s not my fault. It is a hormone imbalance. It’s chemical. It’s a fact. It is not fake. It is not made up. It is very very real and I have deep sympathy for women across the world that are not diagnosed and do not have help and support. So this goes back to what can I do?
I can share. I can educate, I can listen. I can talk. I can understand. If anyone wants a chat, if anyone wants any advice, if anyone needs to vent, I am here. I am here and I want to support you. It is not much but it’s making me feel better knowing that. And that matters.
My tips on how to feel better:
VENT – Get it out. Talk to a family member, best friend, counselor. Explain how you are feeling. No one is going to think less of you, in fact, they will think better of you.
EAT – Not too much, but nurture yourself, choose your things and listen to your body. I am now a vegan but I used to naturally gravitate towards red meat and eggs prior to my period.
SWIM – Go to the ocean or the pool. Even if that feels too much, just go to the pool and use the jacuzzi or sauna. Or, as my GP once said, tell your partner you are going swimming, but if you don’t it’s okay. If you like you can just sit in the cafe there with hot chocolate and a magazine.
REST – Take it easy for god’s sake. Don’t push yourself, don’t be hard on yourself. Think about how it would be if you had just had a baby. You would be giving yourself the right care. DO IT NOW.
STRETCH AND WALK – Yoga, pilates or just a nice few stretches into a flow that you yourself create. Anything like this boosts endorphins. Breathe in the fresh air.
LOVE – Get as much love as you can. From your pet, your kids, your family, your best friends. Tell them you feel low, get hugs, snuggle in a blanket, cocoon yourself.
Lastly, SLOW DOWN and remember that this is not forever. It is not. The world is full of so much joy as well as pain. Appreciate the little things that you see before you. See the tall sunflowers. Watch the old man help his wife across the road. See your child use their courage. Call your friend overseas. Tell your parents you love them. Look in the mirror and tell yourself that you love you and that you are so proud of all you have achieved because my god you have. You have achieved everything whilst living with this illness, whilst battling the internal demons.
For me, not understanding until I was 41, I would feel so fucked up. Crying, emotional, angry, the unjustness of life for others, the pain, the thoughts. I would look in my diary and think, “Oh, I must have PMT” but no. It wasn’t 5-7 days before my period, it was about 2 and a half weeks before my period, so I thought that I was bipolar or schizophrenic.
Also for me, after having my first daughter, I learned from tracking dates and periods that I, in fact, ovulate early, on day 9-10 (oh yes, my mum too). So I would have only just finished bleeding when ovulation happened and therefore my symptoms began to appear. I have a 28-day cycle so this meant that I was having hideous feelings for around 18 days a month.
Granted, things fluctuate, but this is a lot of time to feel shit without understanding it.
Like many other women, my symptoms got worse after each pregnancy. And it all finally came to a head when I mentioned to my GP that my PMT was insane, my husband and I needed counseling and I thought I needed help.
God bless New Zealand where I was living at the time. My doctor suggested, could it be PMDD. COULD IT?! I read and read and read and learned and tracked. I started taking 25mg Sertraline from the day I ovulated to the day I started bleeding. The change in my life was astounding. I could cope, the anger was less, the emotions were less, I wasn’t overwhelmed and I didn’t feel like a failure. I was feeling amazing. My husband and I became closer. I felt able to share. Able to trust, to love. Less prickly, more tolerant and happier in general.
I know that Sertraline may not suit everyone but I know that there are other treatment options and a combination of drugs and therapy that can GREATLY assist women.
If your GP doesn’t listen to you, go to another one. If you think you have this illness then start tracking your moods, symptoms, thoughts, etc. Take your research to another GP if you have to. Ask other women for recommendations for who has supported them. Most of all, be confident in your own assessment of your mind body and soul.
No one knows you better than you. Trust yourself and ask for help if you need it.
*Image Credit, Sina Shagrai