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Sunday, October 14, 2012

Blessing or Curse?

Depends on how you look at it.

I began having symptoms of PMDD around age 14 when I started my period. They were just hormonal fluctuations and teen angst at first. Crying jags, anger spells, normal stuff. Or so I thought.

The bouts of depression and thoughts of self harm began around age 15, along with the cutting and self piercing. I didn't talk to anyone about the feelings I was having. Whenever I managed to get a boy to be in a relationship with me I would try to talk to him, always to be shot down as 'crazy' and usually broken up with. At a time when a normal teen is trying to build a self image and grow their self esteem to be a successful adult I was hating myself inside and didn't know why.

So I buried myself in books. In worlds that were crazier than mine. And I drank. Self medicating is extremely common in women suffering from this chronic illness that most don't even know exists. The pain and torment of the unwanted thoughts drives many to drinking, drugs and worse. I drank daily for most of high school just to try and stop the chatter of the disease in my head and the pain it caused in my body. Many years later I would realize that my mother had been doing the same thing my entire life and suffered without help until her death at 43. PMDD was not recognized or named until 1994, a year after she passed. There is still a lot to learn about it and basically all treatment is still experimental. Misdiagnosis is the norm. In the 70s, 80s and 90s when my mother and I unknowingly suffered silently in the same house there was no help.

At age 18, I went on birth control pills. I was in a long term monogamous relationship and about to graduate high school, it seemed like the responsible thing to do. Until it nearly killed me.

The trigger that was switched in my body and brain when I started taking that tiny little pill was like flipping the lever on a high voltage tower. The anger spells became full on rage. Rage with horrible thoughts and feelings that I would NEVER normally have had. I became unable to control the rage and turned to injuring myself and destroying objects in an attempt to not harm others, as my thoughts urged me to do. I lost all sense of self, I had no idea who I was or what I wanted anymore. I tried attaching my lost self to my boyfriend at the time and he ran away as should probably be expected. (Although even in the midst of total PMDD breakdown I am still pretty fucking awesome.)

That was when I first contemplated suicide. Alone in a college dorm 50 miles from home, obviously crazy and destined to die alone, on some subconscious level I decided to go the 'self-destruct myself to death' route and started partying even harder than in high school. I branched out and tried a few different substances and controlled plants. Dangerous dating behavior and reckless decisions brought me to the brink of death many times in that short period of time. But each time, sometimes miraculously, I was pulled back.

Want an example? Sure, why not.

While swimming and partying at a river and having over indulged in a few things, including jaegermeister,  I was knocked briefly unconscious in a diving accident by a very large bartender with a very hard skull. Being as drunk as I was they assessed that I was still breathing and able to talk and left me at the camp to my own devices. I have no memory of anything after being pulled onto the dock after that collision until sometime in the middle of the night. I came to pulling myself onto the bank of the river and walking barefoot in the dark, soaking wet, down a dirt road until I found our cars. No one had gone looking for me in the several hours I was gone. No one else was missing. I was at least a half mile up river and still have no idea how I got there and how I didn't drown.

Now if that didn't kill me, then I was going to keep trying. Oh how I tried! Then my mom got cancer again and the world shattered. My PMDD could no longer be covered up or controlled or anything else by the alcohol and drugs. Depression set in like never before. Three months later she was dead. She let out her last breath right into my ear as I kissed her cheek goodbye.

Three weeks after that I was in a hospital in Indiana with a broken back from a motorcycle accident. But that's a story for a different day. Even that did not stop my self destructive behavior. I stopped wearing my back brace three weeks after the accident because it interfered with my pool game. Now in addition to all the fun drugs and new kinds of drinks I had at my disposal I was fully loaded with vicodin. Aaah, vicodin. It took the edge off the emotional pain just a bit. And it mixed very interestingly with other things. Honestly I am lucky that my internal organs are all fully functional after that three month binge. It ended on my 21st birthday. I was passed out drunk by 10pm and woke up sick and sick of myself. I packed up everything of value, sold everything I didn't need and left town.

I left the prescriptions behind, including the birth control! I stopped taking all substances except for the medicinal marijuana, another PMDD subject for another day. My mini van packed lightly with my few belongings and camping gear pointed west and I followed. It was freeing to start over fresh with a new life. A week alone crossing the country to Arizona was a healing and cleansing time and it was the real beginning of my path to self awareness and self acceptance. On the drive I decided who I wanted to be, or at least who I didn't want to be anymore. I thought about what made me happy.

Then I got to the desert and stopped thinking. It's pureness and raw energy brought me into the moment, the now. I spent a few days in the desert and decided to find a house out there. The sparsity and vitalness of the life in the desert is overwhelmingly inspirational. I began finding things to be happy about again because I was free in the moment. The sunrise over the Superstition Mountains from my dining room window took my breath away, every time. As my body started to recover from the pharmaceutical hormones I began to find a little peace in my mind, the PMDD chatter settled down a little. Unfortunately the trigger had been switched and the damage was done. The battle to keep myself level and at peace began from that moment on. The fight to stay out of the pit, and worse to climb back out once in, is exhausting.

However it is responsible in part for who I am. I happen to really like who I am. My journey with this illness has made me more empathetic, sympathetic and compassionate than I could have been otherwise. It has brought me great understanding of invisible illnesses and how people suffer so much more sometimes because no one can see the pain. I have learned how to communicate with people who suffer from mental illness because so much of PMDD overlaps with the same conditions. I wouldn't take any of that away just to ease my own suffering, it is too valuable. Guess the answer is blessing.


  1. I love that you are enlightening us about all this, Michelle...I had no idea, and therefore find it quite an interesting read. I've always thought you were an amazing person, but now even more so, knowing the shit you've been through (and survived) Thanks again for writing. Looking forward to the next one. :)

  2. Thank you for this post. I struggled with unnamed PMDD as many of us have..reading others experiences is therapeutic. I think the last paragraph in particular rang true. I have a much better developed sense of compassion and suffering and that is a gift.

  3. I love the sound of your road trip Michelle, wish there wasn't a humungous ocean between us! :-) Anita

  4. Thank you everyone! Your support means the world to me in this new endeavor.

  5. Very moved to hear that a fellow sufferer can also see that there are positives to this terrible condition. I agree with your thoughts on empathy and compassion and, while I hate loathe and dread the worst days I accept my condition and enjoy the amaxing variety of strengths that I regularly experience during different parts of my cycle and then I am forced to take a step away from the world, suffer rest recuperate and start again.