Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Guess Who's Coming to Dinner?

For several weeks now, I've been wanting to write another post about PMDD. Well, wanting isn’t really the word, but it’s been on my mind. The problem is, when you’re having an episode of PMDD, almost every thought you have is negative, so you don’t want to do it then, you'll just depress everyone with your negativity, and when you’re not having an episode of PMDD, PMDD is the last thing you want to think about. It’s like a bad dream you just want to forget.

But I had an episode yesterday, which reminded me of my intention to write about it. I’ve been lucky lately. This time last year, the episodes were coming regularly and lasting for what felt like forever. Weeks at a time. I spent the summer and fall changing my diet and seeing doctors and reading anything I could on the subject. I learned enough to make the episodes not last so long, and for a few months, they stopped altogether. What a blessing that was. But I also learned that each case is individual and what works for me might or might not work for someone else, so there’s no way I can sit here and tell you what you can do to ease your symptoms.

That’s the problem with PMDD. It affects every woman who has it differently, and even if you have two women with the exact same symptoms, the treatment for them won’t be the same. Mine, I found, was a fundamental nutritional issue. I had been trying to lose my pre-menopausal weight, and almost every diet plan out there says to cut down on carbs. Well, that won’t work for me. PMDD is caused by a drop in your serotonin level in the brain, and what do you need to keep that serotonin level up? Carbs!

So just about every diet out there is impossible for me. This used to frustrate me. Now I simply enjoy my carbs, knowing they are keeping me from experiencing a dip in my serotonin levels and therefore a day (or week) devoid of productivity. I do everything I can to make sure they’re whole-grain, healthy carbs, and that makes a huge difference in how I feel, but I can’t do without carbs altogether, and I can’t stick to the 15g of carbs per meal or whatever it is they recommend for losing weight.

The only way I’ll be able to lose weight is to exercise it off. So I’ve signed up for something at my Y called Walk 100 Miles in 100 Days. I don’t get there every day, but when I do, I walk two miles to keep on track. No weight loss yet, but I’ve walked 25 miles in three weeks, and my jeans are feeling a whole lot looser.

Anyway, yesterday I was in the throes of an episode of PMDD. It blew in like a bad storm around ten in the morning, and I struggled with it for the rest of the day. Wanting to weep for no reason, yawning and sighing constantly, craving carbs like crazy. I wasn’t hungry, I just wanted to EAT. The last thing I felt like doing was walking my two miles, but I made myself get out of the house and do it—and felt a whole lot better for it afterward. Prior to the walk, all I wanted to do was eat and sleep. Afterward, I felt more awake and alert, and was satisfied with just a salad. I did spend a great deal of time yesterday reading, but that was okay. Everyone deserves a break now and then.

Today I’m feeling much better, more optimistic and hopeful. Not that I wasn’t feeling optimistic and hopeful before. I’m naturally optimistic and hopeful. But yesterday, thanks to my PMDD, my natural optimism totally tanked. That’s what PMDD does to me. So you can imagine how, for years before I discovered what was happening—that my brain was experiencing a dip in my serotonin level due to my naturally fluctuating hormones—I simply thought I was going crazy. I mean, one day all is well in my world and I’m sailing along, as happy as can be, and the next—while nothing has changed in my situation or circumstances—suddenly everything is hopeless and pointless and I have no motivation or direction. It’s like some other being has come in and taken over my body. My body that just wants to eat and sleep all day. I call her The Alien.

So yesterday I didn’t give in. I knew what was happening and I wasn’t going to let her get the best of me. I would alter my activities, take it a little easier than usual, but continue to eat normally and get my exercise in, even though both were the last thing I felt like doing.

And today, because I didn’t give in to that Eeyore cloud of hopelessness and despair, I’m back on track again. Because once you give in, the hopelessness feeds upon itself, and the bad food choices you make (going for the sugar or caffeine) only mess with your body chemistry more, sending you on a roller coaster ride of insulin surges and emotions that leave you exhausted, mind, body, and soul.

Today, thanks to the moderation I practiced yesterday, life looks good again.

But it’s not easy to separate yourself from whatever unhealthy messages your serotonin-deprived brain is sending you. It takes a lot of energy and willpower. I’ve been saying willpower doesn’t work with PMDD, but to some extent it does. Sure, your body craves carbs—so give it some good ones. Sure, your body craves sleep—so take it easy and rest. But you don’t have to give in altogether and keep the cycle going. You can nip it in the bud by taking time out to take care of yourself, so that you’re better able to take care of all the other people and things in your life that need taking care of.

And now, I’m off to take care of those things. Got people coming over for dinner tonight and I need to get the house ready :). Fortunately, they are people who are well acquainted with my PMDD, so if by evening my energy is flagging, they will understand and we’ll have a great time anyway. They'll know it's not personal. All I have to do is open the door and say, “She’s back,” and they will know what/who I’m talking about. My PMDD. Aka The Alien.

I thank God for bringing such good friends into my life.

For those of you who have never heard of PMDD, the core symptoms are:

Markedly depressed mood, feelings of hopelessness, or self-deprecating thoughts
Marked anxiety, tension feelings of being “keyed up” or “on edge”
Marked affective lability, e.g., feeling suddenly sad or tearful, or increased sensitivity to rejection Persistent and marked anger or irritability or increased interpersonal conflicts

Other symptoms of PMDD

Decreased interest in usual activities, e.g., work, school, friends, hobbies
Difficulty concentrating
Marked fatigue
Marked change in appetite, overeating or cravings for specific foods
Hypersomnia or insomnia
Feeling overwhelmed or out of control
Physical symptoms, including headaches, breast tenderness and/or swelling, joint and/or muscle pain, a sensation of “bloating,” and weight gain


Morgan Mandel said...

Exercise really helps. The last week or so I was able to walk to the train again in the morning. I noticed my mood was a lot cheerier. For about 4 months, the sidewalks were so bad I had to rely on a ride each day coming and going to the train. I felt out of control, depressed and restless.

Morgan Mandel

StephB said...

What an imforative post. I hadn't heart of this, but I like the suggestion of excercise. I get a little frustrated myself if I can't get to gym. Thanks so much for sharing.