health

"It was relentless. I hated myself." For months, Isabelle Silbery has been suffering in silence.

The final straw came two cycles ago. 

Everyone and everything had been annoying me for a few weeks. Lockdown isn’t easy for any of us, but my patience had gone out the window. 

I was barking at my partner, Alex, for leaving the tea towel on top of the bench and blasting my mum for texting me pointless messages. I was basically sweating ALL of the small stuff. 

I hated myself, and this was just not me. I knew my period was due and I put it down to PMT, which every woman gets to some degree... right?

Watch: If a man lived like a woman for a day. Post continues below.


Video via Mamamia

No matter how much meditation I did, nothing seemed to help. 

Negative thoughts were constantly creeping into my head while I was trying to sleep. 

They were mostly about me not being good enough for my partner and that he was obviously going to leave me, that I was a shit mum and there was no point writing a book (which I was negotiating with a publisher - my dream come true!) because no one was going to read it. 

I had no motivation for anything. Even the agreement with the publisher and deadline for submission didn't spark excitement in me. 

Who even was I?

It was relentless. I hated myself, I hated my partner, I hated everything. 

Image: Supplied.

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I’d gone from irritated to uncontrollable anger in a matter of hours. I picked a fight with Alex that escalated and I turned into a screaming, raging lunatic. I saw red; there was just no stopping me. 

I stormed upstairs and flopped on the bed. Anger turned into sadness. I was a blubbering mess; so much so that I couldn’t catch my breath. I didn't want to be here anymore. I just wanted it to stop. 

Alex came up and found me in the fetal position. He rubbed my back and helped me to breathe, saying "Babe, this isn’t ok, we’ve got to do something about this."

The next day I started bleeding, and like a switch, I was back to my normal self. It was like I had two completely different personalities: one in the lead-up to my period and one as soon as it landed.

Alex wasn’t the only victim of my problematic behaviours. My mum stormed out of our place after filming Gogglebox and said, "You’re being an absolute bitch, I cannot be around you like this!"

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Little did I know mum and Alex started confiding in one another, as they were genuinely concerned about my mental health. One minute I would be happy, relaxed Isabelle and the next, a total tyrant. 

Fortunately for me, mum heard an interview with a clinical psychologist on the radio talking about a newly recognised disorder called PMDD (Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder). 

I’d never heard of it, but the next thing I knew, I found a printed out explanation left on my pillow. Hmmm, subtle.

When I picked up the paper and read the symptoms, I actually couldn’t believe it. 

Suddenly, everything made sense. I ticked every box: sadness, irritability, anxiety, rages, paranoia, sensitivity, fatigue, negative thoughts. OMG, this was ME - but literally only between ovulation and getting my period. 

I felt instantly empowered, and it was reassuring that I wasn’t actually completely mad. 

Was this a possible explanation for my feelings and behaviour? I wanted answers... why, and how, and what could I do about it?

On this episode of The Quicky, we unpack PMDD - the period condition that's ruining lives. Post continues below. 


I always take a very thorough approach when it comes to my health, and I won't stop until I investigate everything in detail. 

I went straight to my GP and got a referral for an appointment to see a specialist at the Jean Hailes Clinic, a women’s health facility in Melbourne. 

Meanwhile, I did some tests to try and get an idea of where my body was at.

My blood results came back low in iron, B12 and zinc, and I started to wonder if maybe my gut was out of whack. 

I’ve had a history of cancer polyps in the past, so staying on top of my gut health is high on my priority list. I pooed into a cup and sent it off for a full microbiome mapping test which was all guided by my dietician. 

Turned out I had an unwelcome friend, a parasite, who had been hanging in there for god knows how long and eating all my good stuff like iron, B12 and zinc. 

Nothing that strong antibiotics couldn’t fix, but could this be contributing to how my body processed my hormones?

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The day I had my appointment with Dr Lee Mey Wong at the Jean Hailes Clinic was the day my life changed forever. 

I explained to her that there are days I just want to lie in bed and cry, and that I feel annoyed and irritated by my partner simply breathing near me. There are times where I ignore my friends’ messages and calls and don’t reply back to emails.

I feel overwhelmed and like I just have no motivation. I feel anxious and insecure in my relationship and start acting like a paranoid, crazy woman. Not just thinking things but acting on them. The urge just takes over me with no rational thinking.

We established the timeline of my symptoms - even my enormous and sore boobs that make me feel like a Playboy centrefold. 

I discovered that PMDD rears its ugly head during the ‘luteal phase’ which, if you’re like me and have no idea what that means, is the time between ovulation and bleeding. 

"There’s no doubt in my mind that you have PMDD," Dr Wong said. She was so calm, so caring and full of such fascinating knowledge. I took a big, deep breath. 

"But why?" I asked. "What does this mean?" Here I was, 36 years old, I’d been having my period for years now and birthed one child. How the hell did it take this long to figure it out?

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She explained that the research shows women who suffer from PMDD have what’s called a 'vulnerable brain', which means my brain has suffered some sort of trauma in its formative years. 

This has resulted in my brain being acutely sensitive to the byproduct of progesterone, which my body makes during every cycle. 

This sensitivity is a huge contributor to my moodiness, my crazy behaviours and depressive and anxious thoughts.

I couldn’t help the tears welling up. I wasn’t even getting my period, but this was a huge moment for me. I felt so bloody relieved that someone actually understood and wasn’t judging me. 

When she explained that some hormonal contraceptives like the pill and the Mirena help, it made total sense because my symptoms had only escalated since being off everything.

Why aren’t we educated around our cycles more as young girls? We are just told that you’ll get your period and to use a pad or tampon. That’s just not enough. 

Our bodies prepare to have a baby and go through significant changes every single month. I’m only just understanding what all the different hormones are and when they are released, let alone the link between our reproductive system and our mental health. 

What about our partners and kids who have to support us with minimal information?

The doctor said that having a parasite wouldn’t be helping and that maintaining good general health, including gut health, is important with such a chronic condition - but reiterated that there is nothing wrong with my hormones. 

"It’s a problem with the brain," she went on.

Dr Wong spoke softly but to the point. Just what I needed. 

I was annoyed about my ‘vulnerable brain’ but also relieved to have some answers. I realised then and there that I had lost relationships over this in the past. 

My parents had always said I needed to work on ‘controlling my emotions,’ and this whole time I didn’t know what was going on in my body.

Too many of us are made to feel crazy when we know something is really wrong, and we need to stop being dismissed - because as it turns out, we're usually right! Information is power and we need to feel empowered over our bodies.

Here are four things I am doing to help manage my PMDD:

Antidepressants.

At first, I felt real shame around taking antidepressants. 

There’s so much stigma around it. But when the doctor explained the effects on PMDD symptoms, I changed my mind. Within a very short time of taking them, I noticed a major stabilisation in my mood, so hell yes to this.

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Specific Trauma Therapy.

Dysphoria means the opposite to euphoria. It can be more serious than depression, with acute bouts of severe symptoms during each cycle. 

So I’m seeing clinical psychologist Sharryn Muir who is the only Australian psychologist specialising in PMDD. 

I’m not about taking a magic pill to bandaid my symptoms. Having intense trauma therapy is what Dr Wong recommended. 

Lifestyle and supplements.

It’s not rocket science, but I’m actively making sure I drink loads more water, get 8-10 hours sleep every night and eat a lot more fruit and veggies than what I have been.

I’m also now tracking my cycle so I can anticipate the change in hormones and can let my family know. 

I’m taking digestive enzymes and probiotics for my gut health, and magnesium to help support my moods. 

I’m also taking a calcium supplement and a B complex vitamin which are recommended to help support symptoms. But as every woman is different, always consult your health practitioner before taking anything.

Using an app.

I’ve downloaded my psychologist's app, PMDD Treatment - Sharryn Muir, and it's actually been amazing - teaching me practical skills around identifying problematic PMDD behaviours, and recognising what makes me more sensitive during this time, such as alcohol consumption and lack of sleep.

It even has a tool to write a letter to your partner to explain it, and ask for support.

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I’m really passionate about spreading the word about this condition. 

The stats show that 8-10 per cent of women suffer from it. Of course, it may not explain everything for every woman, but it’s such an unexplored area, with so little education available, and I want other women to look into this. 

If you aren't feeling yourself and this is affecting their life, your family and your relationships, there are professionals out there who can really help.

There is no need to suffer in silence. It’s about time we prioritise women’s health, and stop demonising hormones and periods. The time is now.

If you think you may be experiencing depression or another mental health problem, please contact your general practitioner. If you're based in Australia, 24-hour support is available through Lifeline on 13 11 14 or beyondblue on 1300 22 4636.

This post is one person's experience and should not be used in place of health advice.

Gogglebox starts this Wednesday September 8 on Lifestyle, and Thursday September 9 on Channel 10.

Feature Image: Supplied.

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