[Trigger warning for depressive thoughts, mentions of suicide and self-injury.]
My mother has schizoaffective disorder (so you can see why this blog interests me). Growing up with someone with that illness means that the various things surrounding mental health – the meds, the doctor visits, the needing to take what’s going on inside of your brain seriously – are the norm to me. I’m actually much better at pegging mental health issues when they crop up than I am dealing with physical health issues. (See also: any friend of mine who can vouch for how hard it is to get me to the doctor unless I’m bleeding out of my ears.)
Point being that when my brain decided to go all wonky I daresay I noticed it sooner than many would have. I also knew what to do about it: write everything down.
The thing you want to do is find a pattern. When do you have a good day? When do you have a bad one? What happened? What were your symptoms? How did you feel? On a scale of 1-10, 10 being the worst, where are you?
I was averaging a 7. Sometimes higher, sometimes lower, but around a 7. I was crying often. I had anxiety attacks. I felt easily overwhelmed. My mental picture of this time is me, driving in my car at night, and crying. Not going anywhere in particular, just driving to drive. But at a certain point in the drive I’d start crying for no reason.
I’m sure there was a slow build-up of all this but eventually it reached a tipping point where I realized how much of my life it was affecting. I cried more often than not. I was anxious more often than not. Thoughts of self-injury came back to me after years of not doing it. There were also thoughts of suicide, but at this stage they remained abstract.
I look back on what I wrote down during that time and see how often my entry for the day uses words like “crying” and “overwhelmed.” There are also frequent mentions of how much I hate feeling like that, and how it felt like it won’t ever stop. There are mentions of things I don’t remember doing (digging my nails into my stomach?) and things that are perfect examples of just how easily things could overwhelm me (replacing the ink in my printer was a “huge accomplishment”).
I was gathering all of this information up to take to my doctor to get help. As I recall, I also needed health insurance to kick in so that I could do this. I remember hiding away and having a breakdown at work when the insurance company tried to say I couldn’t be added for another whole year. But the insurance did kick in and I was able to go and ask for help.
I was also able to realize a pattern.
I’d figured depression, maybe even a touch of bipolar. But when I wrote things down I realized there was another aspect I hadn’t noticed: on the day my period started, I felt Better. Not just improved, BETTER. Like a switch had been flipped. I would feel bad and bad and worse and worse and it’d get to the point where I couldn’t stand it and then – nothing. Better. Totally fine.
My cycle was random in those days so I’d have no idea when this day would come. In fact sometimes I would wake up feeling 100% fine, then head into the bathroom and realize why I felt fine.
Ergo the diagnosis of PMDD. Which I pretty much told my doctor when I was finally able made the appointment.
Some people believe in the PMDD diagnosis, others don’t. One of my psych docs told me that what can happen is that you’re inclined towards mental illness anyway (which is true: see my mom) and a stress on the system is what makes the illness active, so to speak.
If you look at a rundown of PMDD symptoms I’m fairly textbook (it also covers some physical aspects that I’d been dealing with as well). But the upside in my case is that the meds I take can apply for a lot of mental illnesses. I take birth control just to regulate my cycle, which in and of itself is a HUGE help. The antidepressant I take could be prescribed for a few things. So in my case it doesn’t really matter so much what you call what I have, because what I’m taking and doing is helping to treat it.
There was some trial and error to get to this med combo, however. That’ll be for another post.