My PMDD Is So Much More Than 'Bad PMS'

It's not my identity, but PMDD is part of me. In many ways, it's been a blessing, it's made me more self-aware, and I have a better understanding of who I am.
Monique Kennedy

It all started when I began tracking my period.

I had always been really bad at tracking it but, in the midst of a toxic and stressful relationship, I began to notice all the anger and stress I felt would peak around the same time: two weeks before my period. During those days, my feelings were unpredictable and my reactions to the things happening around me often felt disproportional.

There were times I would be angry, but in my mind I would say: “Monique, you shouldn’t be that angry about this, this doesn’t usually annoy you”. Other days, it would reach the point where I couldn’t get out of bed because I felt heavy with sadness. I felt at any moment I would burst into tears.

I called it ‘spiralling’, where I would have even just one negative thought and suddenly my mood spiralled out of control. And if I allowed it to spiral, I would just be crippled with depression. I would just have these bouts, these seeds of thoughts coming into my mind that just didn’t feel like me.

One night, while lying in bed next to my then-boyfriend unable to sleep, a thought popped into my head ‘is he cheating on me?’. I woke him up around 2am, furiously, and asked whether he was… naturally he was caught caught off guard and groggily asked “what are you talking about?”

During high school and college, I didn’t experience PMS – I wasn’t the type of person who’d get mood swings, I didn’t even really get pain during my period. So realising there was a clear change in my body during the two weeks before my period, made me start to think that this may be ‘a thing’.

“Realising there was a clear change in my body during the two weeks before my period, made me start to think that this may be ‘a thing’”

I started researching and found out about premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD). The next time I met with my therapist, who I had been seeing since my father left my family that summer, I told her about what I was experiencing. She confirmed that based on what I had described, I likely had PMDD and she was going to refer me to a psychiatrist.

But I didn’t want to go on medication. So I said no.

From my research on PMDD, I read that I could manage it by changing my diet and introducing exercise to my routine. So I did… for about three or so months. I was doing everything: going to run clubs every week, running 5ks, doing boot camps, hitting the gym regularly, eating all the right foods, and going to talk therapy. But I still felt stuck. I felt like I was trying so hard to feel ‘normal’, but I couldn’t get over the hump.

The moment it hit me that this was more serious than I thought was during one of my workouts. I was having a pretty good day, until a wave of depression hit out of nowhere. It was so bad, I cut my workout short and went home to curl up in bed. “This is not normal,” I told myself, “People don’t just get depressed spontaneously, you know, when there’s no trigger. ” Now, I was able to see it for what it was.

That’s when I decided I needed to get started on medication. I emailed my therapist and told her I couldn’t do this any more. I felt as if I was doing all this just to feel ‘okay’, and I still wasn’t okay. I was referred to a psychiatrist, and was put on antidepressants, medication to reduce my anxiety and tackle the extremely vivid nightmares I was having when my PMDD was at its worst. It took awhile to adjust to the medication. For a long time my body felt like it was moving through mud, I just did not want to do anything. It took me about two years to get to a point where I felt like myself. Now I’m better than I’ve ever been. I still struggle – some days I’ll be so depressed I can’t get out of bed, or be crippled with anxiety even though I’m doing all the right stuff. But my treatment has allowed me to have more good days.

When it comes to living my life with PMDD outwardly, it’s hard, especially when it comes to work. Before my diagnosis I was often caught off guard by my reactions. I remember once starting to cry at my desk because someone made a snide comment, something I’d usually just brush off. I went to art school so I knew how to deal with criticism, but there I was bawling at my desk. My boss pulled me aside concerned, “Monique, you can’t be crying for every little thing like this,” I felt helpless and a little bit guilty as I responded “I know, I know, I don’t know what’s happening”. It was hard because when you work in advertising (official title creative strategist, unofficial title ‘digital queen’), you have to have thick skin. It’s an industry where you have to be open to criticism, and where you have to constantly work with difficult personalities.

Monique Kennedy

My personal life is a whole other story. After my diagnosis, I became much more self-aware, and learned how to counter what I was feeling. My friends and family are supportive but I don’t think they completely understand what I’m going through – when I recognise I’m feeling vulnerable, I step away, or take a break. I have to be intentional about how I respond when I’m angry or upset about something someone has said. If I don’t necessarily know where the feelings are coming from, I might choose not to respond in that moment. Sometimes I’ll take the extra step and say, ” I’m really annoyed right now, it’s not really about you, but I can’t engage right now.”

I’ve forced myself to be more careful, more rigid, about who I surrounded myself with. This led me to the decision to end my long term relationship last summer. The emotional stress from the relationship was a major trigger for me, and I needed stability. Now that I’m single I’ve had to revaluate how I want to navigate dating. I’m an open person so my PMDD is likely going to come up fairly early on. The last thing I want is to be in the middle of an episode, spiralling, and then be like ‘oh, by the way, I have this thing’. I am a strong believer in giving the people around you the tools to support you, for the times when you can’t support yourself.

I’ve learned that though I have PMDD, it’s really important to not to disregard my feelings. Sometimes I have to take a step back and determine if I’m actually upset about something, or if it’s my PMDD exacerbating things. I am afraid that once people become aware of my mood disorder that they will use it as an excuse to invalidate my feelings. So, when I am legitimately hurt, I have become much more confident about communicating that, because now I’m aware of the difference.

What helped me determine that I had PMDD, was self-awareness. I was able to identify all the parts of me that didn’t quite feel right. I think if it doesn’t feel right to you, then it’s worth investigating. Tracking my symptoms, and seeing patterns gave me an objective look on what was happening. I could look at it and say, ’okay, here’s the data, these things are happening, at this time. I’m lucky to be aligned with healthcare professionals who recognise PMDD, as many don’t even in developed countries.

“PMDD has taught me that there is so much that happens around a woman’s period that you just don’t think about until you go and do your own research”

My experience with PMDD has taught me that there is so much that happens around a woman’s period that you just don’t think about until you go and do your own research. For example, something as simple as a workout routine has to be tailored to where you are in your cycle. This is different for every woman of course but your energy levels do fluctuate depending on where you are in your cycle. My cycle also affects my level of focus, so I have learned to structure the type of work that I do, based on where I am in my cycle. We’re all like these intricate machines but so much of our advice based on the idea we’re in a constant state. I would love to see a more holistic approach to woman’s reproductive health that encompasses all aspects: food, diet, exercise, the mental space you’re in, and so on. I believe that as a woman, if you want to succeed and thrive, it’s important to have an intimate relationship with your body.

PMDD is part of me but it’s not my identity. In many ways, it has been a blessing because it has allowed me to be more self-aware. I have a better understanding of who I am and I’m more conscious about how I respond to the people around me. I have to be careful not to just lash out because I’m not not in a great mood, that takes a tremendous amount of effort.

One of the books I’ve read on PMDD expressed that “PMDD is an explanation, not an excuse”. I can’t use it as a scapegoat and say “oh, well, I responded that way because of my PMDD” – no, that’s not acceptable. I have to hold myself accountable and sometimes that involves a great deal of apologising.

I’m grateful for the online PMDD support group. The women in the group have helped me see the importance of removing the taboo surrounding talking about our periods and women’s reproductive health. It’s a natural part of what happens to all of us women, none of us should have to suffer in silence or disregard it by treating it like it doesn’t exist.

As told to Charlie Lindlar

Monique Kennedy is founder of MOKEN Design & Consulting and the creator of Thrive House, a community for entrepreneurs in the creative industries. She lives in Kingston, Jamaica

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