Thriving Beyond PMDD: A Compassionate Guide for Women

by | Sep 29, 2023 | PMDD | 0 comments

My Lived Experience and How I Can Help You

My journey with PMDD began seven years ago when I had my first son. It took me two years, and six medical professionals to receive a formal diagnosis. Over time, each menstrual cycle seemed to intensify, leaving me bewildered. As a counsellor, it was perplexing how I could be in control of my emotions one day, functioning at my best, only to be engulfed in anxiety and depression the next, struggling to think clearly or even get out of bed.

Being deeply attuned to my emotional self and dedicated to self-care, I devoted two years to regulating my PMDD. Now, I’m pleased to share that I’ve transitioned from enduring two weeks of torment to experiencing mild symptoms for just 2-4 days, which no longer disrupt my daily routine or lifestyle. It’s a transformation I once believed was impossible.

I’ve crafted this handbook to spare you the countless hours I spent scouring the internet for information. It serves as a thoughtfully curated repository of what has personally aided me, including research-backed strategies and pointers on where to seek support. Navigating this disorder demands robust self-advocacy and self-care, and I’m proud of you for prioritising your well-being.

What is PMDD?

The prevailing understanding points to neurotransmitter sensitivity as the primary cause. Essentially, it’s an atypical response to the natural fluctuations of hormones during peak ovulation and luteal phases. This means that conventional hormone tests won’t reveal any irregularities in hormonal levels. (So GP’s testing your hormones will tell everything is normal, when you feel anything but!) Instead, our systems are reacting to them. Some women liken this to a sensitivity or intolerance towards their own hormones.

PMDD manifests in a range of symptoms, often including irritability, rage, fatigue, mood swings, food cravings, intrusive thoughts, depression, and anxiety. Additionally, some warriors of this condition report experiencing incontinence, insomnia, difficulty regulating body temperature, heightened sensitivity to fabrics and clothing, and even a temporary aversion to their partners. Most women experience an increase in histamine and sneeze more often and find their food intolerances are more sensitive at this time.  It’s akin to spending two weeks diligently constructing a sandcastle with healthy thoughts, exercise, productive work, self-care, and nurturing relationships with loved ones. Then, inevitably, the PMDD wave crashes down, reducing your sandcastle to rubble. Yet, somehow, you summon the strength to rebuild, month after month.

How Serious Is This?

The statistics are stark: women with PMDD face a suicide rate seven times higher than the average. Without effective management, it’s all too common to find oneself trapped in a cycle of self-sabotage during challenging days. This might mean making decisions like leaving a fulfilling relationship due to intrusive thoughts or resigning from a job overwhelmed by PMDD-related stress.

Reframing PMDD: A Path to Balance

Here’s my therapeutic perspective; PMDD serves as a poignant truth-teller. It has the power to magnify genuine issues, rendering them inescapable for a brief period, all in a bid to impel us towards a more balanced existence. Think of it as a vampire, recoiling from sunlight, finding it challenging to flourish in an environment of sunshine, exercise, nourishing meals, mindful thoughts, and steadfast emotional boundaries. In doing so, it compels us to construct a life that cherishes our well-being.

This unique condition acts as a mirror, illuminating areas in our lives that require our attention and care. It forces us to confront realities that may have otherwise gone unnoticed. By prompting us to recognise these focal points, PMDD guides us towards a more mindful and nurturing approach to our overall health and happiness.

In essence, PMDD becomes not only a challenge but also a catalyst for positive transformation, urging us to live in a way that authentically nurtures our inner selves.

Understanding Your Cycle

To embark on the journey of managing PMDD, start by familiarising yourself with your menstrual cycle. This foundational step provides crucial insights into when your challenging days are likely to occur. Tracking your cycle empowers you to anticipate and prepare for these moments.

You have various tools at your disposal for this purpose. Consider utilising specialised apps like Flo, which offer comprehensive cycle tracking features. Alternatively, a straightforward Google calendar can serve as an effective visual aid. For those inclined towards technology, devices like the Oura ring can be invaluable. The Oura is part of my protocol and find it amazing to have data to help me balance my cycle. By monitoring your body temperature, it not only predicts ovulation but also pinpoints the anticipated onset of your period. This is especially helpful for anyone with a Mirena or who has undergone a cervical ablation and no longer has a bleed in their cycle. (Get $40 discount here) This proactive approach not only aids in recognising patterns but also grants you a sense of agency over your own body and emotions. It lays the foundation for more targeted strategies in the subsequent steps of your PMDD management journey.

The Golden Strategy

In my experience, the healthiest and easiest way to manage dark days is to follow this little strategy.

  1. Identify that it’s a day influenced by PMDD, and therefore your thoughts are not necessarily your own. When an uncomfortable thought comes into your mind ask the question, is this a PMDD thought or a me thought?
  2. Anything that is consuming you may need to be considered  (like I hate my job, or my partner isn’t right for me) however now is not the time. Give yourself permission to let these thoughts go, write them down in a safe place, and you can decide to think about them in a couple of days. Be really tough on this boundary, and when the thought pops back, let it wash away.

“Do not trust the way see yourself when your mind is turbulent and remember that even pain is temporary. Honor your boundaries, treat yourself gently,  let go of perfection, and feel your emotions without letting them control you. You have enough experience to face the storm and evolve from it”. Yung Pueblo.

Understanding the Strategy: Cognitive Behavioural Techniques

Think of this strategy as your mental health toolkit, inspired by Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), which is like a trusted friend in the world of mental well-being. Imagine it as a way to have a conversation with your own mind.

So, here’s how it works: When those not-so-great thoughts start popping up (thanks, PMDD), we’re going to give them a friendly nod, but then we’ll kindly ask them to take a little break. We’re like the bouncers at the thought-party, making sure only the positive and balanced ones get in.

And just like a good DJ knows when to change the tune, we’re going to switch out those negative thought patterns for ones that are more realistic and kinder to yourself. It’s all about creating a bit of space from those tricky thoughts, and giving yourself the gift of a breather.

Remember, it’s perfectly okay to put up some boundaries with these thoughts. You’re in charge here! If a thought isn’t serving you well, you can tell it to wait its turn. You’re the boss, after all.

This strategy is like having your own personalized mental gym, specially designed to handle the challenges that come with PMDD. It’s a way to take care of yourself and make sure you’re in control, even during the tougher moments. You’ve got this!

The Medical Model

When it comes to dealing with PMDD, the approach is like putting together a personalized toolkit. First up is the Diagnosis and Assessment step, where your healthcare provider takes a close look at your symptoms, medical history, and menstrual cycle to confirm if it’s PMDD. Then, you’ll get a crash course in PMDD, which is super important. This includes understanding how your hormones and brain chemicals are involved and how it can affect your mental health.

Now, let’s talk about lifestyle changes. It’s like giving your body the best support it needs. Things like regular exercise, eating well, getting enough sleep, and finding ways to manage stress can make a big difference in managing PMDD. And speaking of managing thoughts and feelings, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is a great tool, and seeing a counsellor specialising in PMDD (like Me!) can be helpful. It helps you spot and change any unhelpful patterns in your thinking, especially those tricky mood swings.

Now, onto medications. There are different options, like SSRIs, which can help improve mood. Sometimes, a super low dose during those tougher days might be suggested. And for some, hormonal treatments like birth control or patches can help level out those hormonal ups and downs. There’s even something called GnRH Agonists that can give you a little break from those hormonal swings.

If you’re into supplements, things like calcium, magnesium, and vitamin B6 might be recommended to help ease symptoms. Alternative therapies like acupuncture, yoga, or certain dietary tweaks can also be helpful. But remember, these are best used alongside other treatments, not instead of them.

Staying in touch with your healthcare team is key. They’ll keep an eye on how things are going and adjust the plan as needed. In more complex situations, like when depression is part of the picture, a team of experts, including mental health pros and specialists, might come together to make sure you’re getting the best care.

Remember, what works for you might be different from someone else, so your plan is as unique as you are!

The Benefit of Sharing Experiences: Connecting Through Shared Journeys

Gaining insights from people who have firsthand experience with PMDD can be profoundly enlightening. This practice not only provides practical tips but also serves as a powerful strategy for normalising the experience of living with a chronic illness. By hearing the stories and perspectives of others facing similar challenges, it affirms that you’re not alone in this journey.

The power of shared experiences lies in their ability to bridge the gap between isolation and connection. It can be easy to feel isolated when navigating the complexities of PMDD, but hearing from others who have traversed similar paths can offer comfort and solidarity. It reminds you that your struggles are valid and shared by a community of individuals who understand and empathise.

Furthermore, it provides an opportunity to learn from various coping strategies and approaches that others have found effective. This collective wisdom can be a valuable resource in developing your own toolkit for managing PMDD.

In essence, this strategy transforms isolation into community, fostering a sense of belonging and normalcy in the midst of a chronic illness. It reinforces that you are part of a larger network of individuals who have faced similar challenges, ultimately offering strength and resilience in the face of PMDD.

Here are my favorite places of connection

The PMDD Podcast

Facebook Group – PMDD Support Group Australia – Patients Only

Reddit – reddit.com/r/PMDD

This Reddit community provides a platform for individuals affected by PMDD to share experiences, seek advice, and offer support to one another.

Preparing For Hell Week

Here are some ideas on ways to prep like the warrior you are for your lutes phase to ensure you treat yourself with kindness and compassion.

Prep meals, or order a meal delivery service for that time

If the budget allows, book a cleaner and outsource any day-to-day things that are required of you. (Like maybe someone can drop the kids at school)

Sleep! Allow yourself to sleep longer, and make time for naps.

Keep a minimal calendar. Now that you’re tracking your cycle you’re able to avoid social events or things that require your energy during this time.

Create a Supportive Environment. Surround yourself with positive and calming elements. Arrange your space to be soothing, incorporate calming scents, and engage in activities that bring you joy.

Limit Triggers: Identify potential triggers for PMDD symptoms and take steps to minimise exposure. This could include avoiding stressful situations or environments. Like calling a technical support line, or avoiding a difficult family event.

Set Realistic Expectations: Acknowledge that it’s okay to adjust your expectations and responsibilities during this time. Give yourself permission to prioritise self-care.

Change your workout – It’s OK to shift to gentler movement at this time like yoga and walking. It’s important to notice what works for your body, there are many women who benefit from high-intensity exercise at this time as well.

Nutrition To Support You.

Nutrition can play a significant role in managing PMDD. Here are some nutrition tips that may help:

Balanced Diet: Focus on a balanced diet that includes a variety of whole foods like fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins, and healthy fats. This provides essential nutrients and supports overall well-being.

Limit Caffeine and Sugar: Excessive consumption of caffeine and sugary foods can exacerbate mood swings and energy levels. Try to reduce intake or opt for healthier alternatives.

Increase Omega-3 Fatty Acids: Omega-3 fatty acids, found in fatty fish like salmon, flaxseeds, and walnuts, have been associated with improved mood and can be beneficial for individuals with PMDD.

Magnesium-Rich Foods: Magnesium may help alleviate symptoms of PMDD. Incorporate foods like leafy greens, nuts, seeds, and whole grains into your diet.

Complex Carbohydrates: Complex carbohydrates like whole grains, legumes, and starchy vegetables can help stabilize blood sugar levels and improve mood.

Limit Alcohol: Excessive alcohol consumption can disrupt hormone levels and worsen mood symptoms. Moderation is key.

Hydration: Staying well-hydrated is important for overall health and can also help alleviate symptoms of bloating and fluid retention associated with PMDD.

Limit Processed Foods: Processed foods often contain additives and preservatives that can disrupt hormonal balance. Opt for whole, minimally processed foods whenever possible.

Vitamin D and Calcium: Adequate intake of vitamin D and calcium is important for bone health and may also have a positive impact on PMDD symptoms. Sources include dairy, fortified plant-based milks, and fatty fish.

Limit Sodium: High sodium intake can contribute to bloating and fluid retention. Opt for lower sodium options and season your food with herbs and spices instead.

Herbal Teas: Certain herbal teas like chamomile, ginger, and peppermint may help alleviate symptoms like bloating and irritability.

Listen to Your Body: Pay attention to how specific foods make you feel. Some individuals may have sensitivities or allergies that can exacerbate PMDD symptoms.

Remember, individual responses to nutrition can vary, so it’s important to find what works best for you. Consulting with a registered dietitian or healthcare provider can provide personalised advice and help create a nutrition plan tailored to your specific needs.

Recommendation: Liv Nutritious

I’ve worked with Liv for 12 months to manage my PMDD symptoms through nutrition, her knowledge in this area is wonderfully supportive and educated. She’s available online or in her Northern Beaches practice.

Parenting with PMDD: Nurturing Growth and Empathy

Over the years, I’ve cultivated a repertoire of effective strategies for parenting with PMDD. These approaches have not only served me well but have also imparted invaluable skills and boundaries to my two children, tools they’ll carry with them throughout their lives. Today, I have the privilege of witnessing my children respecting and understanding the importance of personal space. It’s a source of immense pride to hear them articulate their own needs for space, demonstrating a level of emotional intelligence that goes beyond their years. This lesson, that the need for space is a natural part of our emotional landscape, fosters resilience, empathy, and a robust sense of self-worth.

Create a Supportive Environment: Foster an atmosphere of support and positivity within your family. Engage in activities that uplift and relax, setting a tone of understanding and care.

Be Honest with Your Children: Depending on their age, have an open conversation with your children about PMDD. Let them know that there are times when you might not feel your best, but emphasize that it’s a temporary phase and that you’re always there for them. This honesty fosters trust and strengthens your bond.

Delegate Responsibilities: Empower your children by assigning them age-appropriate tasks and responsibilities. This not only instills a sense of duty but also lightens your load, creating a collaborative and nurturing family dynamic.

By practicing these strategies, you not only navigate the challenges of parenting with PMDD but also impart valuable life lessons to your children. They learn empathy, self-care, and the importance of understanding and respecting others’ boundaries. Through this journey, you’re not just parenting; you’re nurturing a future generation of empathetic, resilient individuals.

Helpful Media and Research

The Project’s story  on PMDD – Here – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kYO-zSAvf0c (This is what I texted to my family and  friends to explain my condition)

International Association for Premenstrual Disorders (IAPMD)

  The IAPMD offers a wealth of information, resources, and support for individuals affected by PMDD and related disorders.

Jean Hailes for Women’s Health – PMDD Overview:

  – Jean Hailes is a leading women’s health organisation in Australia. Their website provides information on PMDD, including symptoms, diagnosis, and treatment options.

– The Royal Women’s Hospital – Premenstrual Syndrome (PMS) and PMDD

  – The Royal Women’s Hospital in Melbourne provides detailed information on both PMS and PMDD, including management and treatment options.

– PANDA – Perinatal Anxiety & Depression Australia

  – While PANDA primarily focuses on perinatal mental health, they offer valuable resources and support for women experiencing PMDD or related mental health concerns.

– beyondblue – PMDD Information:

  – beyondblue is an Australian mental health organisation. Their website provides information on PMDD and offers resources for support.

-SANE Australia – PMDD Fact Sheet:

  – SANE Australia offers a fact sheet on PMDD, including information on symptoms, causes, and available support.

ABC All In The Mind Podcast – The Extreme Motions of PMDD. 

Instagram Accounts To Follow

@yourwellnessfocus -This is my Instagram where I share plenty of support for PMDD warriors.

@the.pmdd.collective- Education and information

@hermoodmentor- Great account with humour, education and information.

@iapmdglobal – The International Association for Premenstrual Disorders (IAPMD) shares information and resources about PMDD.

@viciouscyclepmdd – This account offers support and resources for individuals dealing with PMDD.

@pmddholistichealth – This account shares resources, tips, and information about managing PMDD.

@the_pmddpodcast – Account to support brilliant Australian podcast

@heidihogarth_naturopath – Australian naturopath who specialises in PMDD.

Remember to always verify and ensure that the information provided aligns with your own research and medical advice. These accounts can be a great source of support and information, but it’s important to consult with healthcare professionals for personalized advice and treatment.

I’m so glad this guide has been helpful for you in navigating the complexities of PMDD. If you’d like to connect with a counselor who not only understands PMDD professionally but also has personal experience, please don’t hesitate to reach out here. Remember, taking care of yourself is paramount. Despite what PMDD may tell you, always remember that you are truly wonderful and incredibly important. Take gentle care. Remember to always consult with a healthcare professional or qualified mental health expert for personalised advice and treatment options tailored to your specific situation.

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