I had one of the scariest mental health days of my life a few days ago.
The specific events leading up to that moment will soon be nothing but just vague memories, yet the intense emotions from the climatic moment on that day still linger. Belligerent anger. Cavernous despair. Profound agony.
We have all experienced these emotions to some extent; it’s common to find your mental health in need of repair after working internal overtime, but it is less common to feel these emotions with the intensity I had, to the point of scaring those who love me. And yet, I can name a handful of times in my life that I have gone through these exact feelings.
While my environmental factors and external stimulus that leads me to the point of where I was a few days ago may change, one thing almost always seems to stay the same: this only happens when I’m in the week before my menstrual cycle.
Most people, regardless if they menstruate, are familiar with premenstrual syndrome (PMS). PMS refers to a series of internal and external reactions that occur in the week before a menstruation cycle. Physical reactions include acne, cramps and increased hunger among others, while some emotional reactions include mood swings, irritability and sadness among others.
Whether you see PMS as a symptom of a taboo bodily function that is best left out of public conversation, it is a common experience among people with uteruses. You are likely aware of the stereotypes of PMS’s tumultuous emotions that are made light of by menstruating people or seen as a source of animosity between wives and their husbands.
Ever since I was a teenager, I didn’t find it odd when I noticed my severe mood swings rise and fall with my time of the month. After all, most people with uteruses my age were also subject to the effects of PMS. It wasn’t until I was older that I noticed that my PMS was different.
PMS could cause anger, but it usually doesn’t cause blistering hot episodes of rage like it did for me. PMS could cause irritability, but it usually doesn’t cause breathtaking panic attacks like it did for me. PMS could cause sadness, but it usually doesn’t cause inconsolable grief and even suicidal ideation like it did for me.
It wasn’t until a few months ago when I saw an infographic shared on someone’s Instagram story that I discovered premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD).
According to Johns Hopkins Medicine, PMDD is a much more severe and chronic form of PMS. Similar to PMS, PMDD begins the week before menstruation and ends roughly when menstruation begins and affects your mood and behaviors. Unlike PMS, however, PMDD affects mood so deeply it disrupts normal life.
When I discovered PMDD, it was like a light went off over my head. I had discovered that my symptoms were caused by something beyond just “the monthlies.” I was living with a serious mood disorder, and I wasn’t the only one.
While nowhere close to the 75% of menstruating people that are affected by PMS, there is still an estimated 3% to 8% of menstruating people that are affected by PMDD. Considering the moods and behaviors brought on by PMDD are so severe that they disrupt everyday functions, I still consider this to be a sizable population that lives with this disorder beside me.
Though I now know of what is affecting me, I am still learning to cope with the severe mood swings it brings. Though I manage to keep the effects of PMDD under control most months, there are moments like a few days ago where my composure dissolves and I completely break to the point of needing psychiatric help. I am not the only one.
According to the BBC, 15% of people with PMDD have attempted suicide. The International Association For Premenstrual Disorders (IAPD) reports that some people with PMDD have reported damaging and impulsive behaviors, such as leaving a job or relationship.
It is at those moments where PMDD has affected my mood and behavior to the point of acting in a way that I wouldn’t in the other three weeks of the month that I need the most grace. I can’t speak for others affected by PMDD, but I do know that I need help when PMDD forces my normally rational thoughts to become erratic and dangerous.
I was lucky enough to have people in my life that recognized these erratic and dangerous thoughts and got me the help I needed. My only ask is that we continue to be there for all of the others with PMDD in moments like that.
If you or someone you know is struggling, please reach out to:
- Albion College Campus Safety: (517) 629-1234
- Albion College Counseling Services: (517) 629-0236 or firstname.lastname@example.org
- Summit Pointe Albion: (517) 629-5531
- Summit Pointe 24-Hour Crisis Line: (800) 632-5449
- Crisis Text Line: Text HOME to 74174
For more information about and resources regarding premenstrual dysphoric disorder:
- The International Association for Premenstrual Disorders (IAPD): iapd.org
- A Comprehensive Guide to PMDD: www.healthline.com/health/pmdd#overview
- Me v PMDD app: mevpmdd.com
- PMDD Safehouse: www.facebook.com/groups/pmddsafehouse/
Correction: Some of the sentences from the original publication of this article were altered for clarity.