I’m 26, and this is the first time I have ever experienced feelings of despair that I was born a woman.
As someone who is so happy and proud to be a woman, it has shaken me to my core.
I think I’ve had a pretty smooth sailing journey as a female until this point. I’ve always been self-assured and secure in my gender, and always felt comfortable and self-assured in my womanhood.
Until recently. Over the last 12 months, I’ve really been really struggling behind the scenes. I’ve been having a fierce internal battle with myself and my body.
Having a history of mental illness, I’ve tried many many medications. I’ve been diagnosed and re-diagnosed with quite a few disorders, including bipolar, depression, anxiety disorder and borderline personality disorder.
But nothing really felt fitting to my symptoms, and medications didn’t really make much difference.
Over the last few months, my physical and mental health has really suffered and was starting to go increasingly downhill (for at least 10 to 15 days of every month). I have literally been living a half-life.
It’s been a frustrating battle to try and get to the bottom of what’s been going on. I described my symptoms and no one could really give me a straight answer. I began feeling hopeless and like it was all in my head.
But I refused to give up, refused to to be brushed off, or told that it was just the normal pressures of life I was experiencing.
Finally, when I saw a third doctor two weeks ago for yet another opinion, I was finally diagnosed with PMDD (Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder). It's been a frustrating battle to try and get to the bottom of what’s been going on.
PMDD is an extreme and chronic form of PMS.
A woman experiencing a regular form of PMS will usually suffer the following symptoms in the lead up to her menstrual cycle:
- Mild-medium mood swings
- Generalised discomfort and discontent
- Sporadic irritability and emotional outbursts
These symptoms usually start around 3 to 7 days from the start of their period. And don’t get me wrong, even standard PMS sucks.
For me though, my life is significantly impacted by PMS.
Along with the above list, I experience many, if not all, of the following symptoms in the lead up to getting my period:
- Anxiety and depressive episodes
- Severe mood swings
- Chronic irritability
- Feelings of being overwhelmed by life
- Increased sensitivity and fear of rejection and abandonment
- Thoughts of self-hatred and shame
- Frequent and intense panic attacks, and at times, suicidal thoughts
And the kicker? These symptoms start 10 to 15 days out from my cycle which means, yes, this is my quality of life for nearly three quarters of every cycle/month. (I am currently on day 16 of my PMDD cycle, a particularly bad episode.)
PMDD is not an overly widely recognised disorder. And some doctors, as I’ve discovered, are all too ready to label your symptoms as a mental illness and not look deeper to see how and when they arise, and how they fit in your cycle.
One doctor told me that there was nothing out of the ordinary happening, that I just needed to see a psychologist. Despite the fact I was telling her that my anxiety was eight out of ten, and affecting my ability to complete basic tasks. Plus it was all happening in the lead up to my period, during and after which I felt like a completely normal, happy and stable person.
So why I am sharing all this extremely personal information? I guess it's partly out of feeling like a fraud. I get so many messages from friends and followers of my blog, telling me how awesome they think I am and how great I’m doing.
When really, 10 to 15 days out of the month behind closed doors I’m badly functioning. My partner often becomes my carer in the days when I’m most affected, and I’m not exaggerating when I say that my menstrual cycle has nearly ruined my life.
The other reason I wanted to share this very personal story, is to be a living breathing example and voice to say it's okay to not be okay.
Now that I have finally been properly diagnosed, over the next few months I will be starting some first-line hormone treatments and therapy to see if we can see some improvement, although I’m told it will probably be two to three cycles before we see improvements. And from there we can look at the next steps.
Being chronically sick turned Sylvia Freedman into a warrior for other women. Post continues below.
I hope you take away from this not to take no for an answer. If you honestly believe in your gut that something is wrong, speak up, reach out.
And if you’re turned away, go find someone else. Keep trying until you’re heard. No one should have to live a life like I have been living.
For assistance and support, contact lifeline on 13 11 14.