My PMDD is Under Control

For the uninitiated and new readers amongst you, PMDD is an extreme version of PMS/PMT. It can cause cyclical feelings of anxiety, depression, anger and even suicidal thoughts, as well as the physical symptoms typically associated with the menstrual cycle.

It’s been over a year since I last talked about my PMDD. When I lost wrote, I confessed that I felt like I’d become consumed by this disorder – the one thing I’d hoped to avoid above all else. However, after a rocky year or so of trials and tribulations, I finally feel like I have my PMDD under control (for the most part). Since that blog post, I have tried:

Tracking and Not Tracking Cycles

I became worried that my compulsive tracking — counting ahead based on a typical cycle and shading in the calendar when I expected to be sad or angry — was putting me on edge. I worried that I was expecting to be angry, or sad, or paranoid on X day and thus causing a self-fulfilling prophecy. I stopped tracking altogether but then ended up waking up with anxiety, or full of rage, and being unable to figure out why which just made me feel crazy (until I remembered).

I seem to have found a happy medium whereby I track my cycle start time each month and extreme symptoms in an app, but don’t cross-reference or look ahead to see where I expect to be in my cycle. This gives me a point of reference but no doom-mongering.

Consistent, Varied Exercise

I’m usually active in one way or another but I have found that I have my best months when I am both consistent in my workouts and do more than one activity, e.g. lifting and running in the same month. Months where I’ve run the furthest I find my cycle the most bearable, but then I have always found my mental health directly correlates to the amount of cardio based exercise I do.

During February and early April when I was not able to do as much as I would like (half term and Easter holidays respectively) it didn’t take long for the activity gap to hit me.

Vitamin Supplementation

I read a guest post by Beckie Takacs via the Gia Allemand Foundation (PMDD charity) in October 2017 about the supposed benefits of potassium supplementation in the treatment of PMDD. The piece struck a cord, and given my history of hyperemesis during pregnancies and probably execessive alcohol use, it wasn’t that unlikely that I had a low-level potassium deficiency. However, I got in touch with the author of the post and although mostly common sense stuff, the detailed protocol she sent me made reference to the “potential health hazards of wireless devices and smart meters” which immediately put me off; I’ve no interest in tinfoil hat science.

Nevertheless, my sister started a lower dose potassium supplement schedule and mentioned some relief of some of her pre-menstrual symptoms, so I started taking 300mg (half Takacs’ recommended dose) on an every-other-day basis, as well as magnesium, which also reportedly improves PMS. (Magnesium is also recommended for runners and those taking part in regular exercise.) My temper and anxiety/paranoia symptoms have improved since starting supplementation.

Sobriety

Last, but definitely not least: I gave up alcohol again.

After my brother’s suicide last year put me in a downwards spiral with my drinking, despite my best efforts to “be chill about it“, it wasn’t long before the casual on-off drinking became multiple triple vodka shots on a Friday night “just because”. I hit rock bottom again in mid-December and crushed by the weight of my own mental health I knew I had two choices: give in to the paranoia and anxiety and voices that told me I was shit and stupid and useless and fat and unloveable and just throw myself off a building, OR stop being a whiny dick and make the sensible decision to stop drinking.

Obviously choice A was no choice at all, so giving up it was. Just like the first time I stopped, this had an almost immediate affect on my anxiety-related symptoms.

And so here I am. I am not miraculously cured of all ills, & I can’t be sure that this isn’t all some massive coincidence, but each subsequent step against this debilitating disorder has given me back a piece of myself and some semblance of control. That’s better than nothing.

Lead photo by Hoàng Duy Lê

Just be chill about it

Gaz asked me one Saturday a few weeks back — as I ordered a vodka cocktail — whether or not I’d given up on the ‘not drinking’ thing. A fair question, given the ‘ordering a cocktail’ thing.

Sobriety was going really, really well. I had managed to get through several months without a drink, battling some immense cravings (which peak around ovulation, bizarrely) along the way. I ‘slipped’ on a couple of social occasions but was able to get back into it with ease. And then my brother died, and not only did I smash through a few bottles of red wine in a short space of time but it brought on a crisis. What am I fucking doing? Why can’t I just be “normal” and enjoy a drink with friends without getting utterly wasted? Why can’t I have a healthy relationship with this addictive drug (ha ha ha)? Am I going to end up like my brother?

It wasn’t pretty, and the more I thought about it the worse it got, and the worse the cravings got, and the more I felt useless and like a failure… a vicious circle of self-loathing ensued which, for someone used to self-medicating their problems with a glass or 5 of wine, potentially only had one way of ending. (Because only I could be so stressed about drinking that I need a drink to de-stress which causes me to stress about my drinking… & so on.)

So, I tried to be rational. I tried to think about what my “goals” were if I wasn’t going to be 100% sober:

  • Enjoy a drink on a special occasion, e.g. birthdays, celebrations etc, without it being “weird”.
  • Be able to order one drink and no more. Or, order a soft drink around people who were drinking without feeling left out.
  • Not put on the weight that I lost by giving up.
  • Not drink for the sake of drinking.
  • Most importantly, to not get into a cycle of drinking to ease problems, which worsens my anxiety and depression symptoms caused by PMDD, which causes me to drink more.

With these goals in mind, I have been able to concoct a vague plan, and ultimately relax about it. Relaxing calms the stressy voices which immediately reduces cravings. This, combined with the pressure of knowing what I have to lose if I regress (my sanity, my relative happiness with my body), and seeing the impact of sobriety on my mental health, means I have been able to better make ‘mindful’ decisions about where and when to drink. To just ‘be chill’ about it.

So far so I’ve successfully navigated a couple of birthdays, a weekend with friends, several games nights and other social occasions:

I have chosen to drink, and to not drink, in equal measure. I have interspersed water with wine. I have picked low alcohol ciders over double vodkas. (And I’ve got pretty drunk and felt like shit the next day, which served as an excellent reminder of what not to do.)

I am feeling OK with where I’m at right now. It might not last; I might lose my shit and drink far too much, or… I might go sober again. I don’t know. But it’ll do for now.

Death, Depression and Drink

Content warning: suicide, mental health, addiction

On Wednesday I sat down and mentally compiled a tribute to my brother, whilst assembling an IKEA table. There’s something strangely therapeutic about putting flat-pack furniture together (at least when I’m doing it by myself).

My brother, Robert ‘Bobby’ Addison, took his own life some time around the 21st-22nd July. Securely fixed a piece of wood between the rafters in his loft directly above the access hatch, attached the rope, and… well, you get the idea. Obviously something he’d planned out; who just happens to have a piece of wood exactly the right width to slot between the rafters just sat around the house? He was found on the 25th by a neighbour.

Although we were once close, my relationship with my brother was complicated. He had extensive mental health issues, in part exacerbated by the suicide of our eldest brother Ian back in 2000, the fallout of which (long story short) broke down his relationships, his connections with his children, family and friends.

I hadn’t seen him in 7 years, since Isabel was tiny; bumped into him in a local shopping centre. I kept meaning to write, to find him, but put it off: I wasn’t sure I could cope with the risk of introducing someone explosive into my children’s lives, and I felt I needed to ensure the safety of his children too.

Part of me feels like I shouldn’t be talking about this – we’ve not even had the funeral yet. But how do we break down barriers about mental health if we don’t talk about it? Particularly when someone with issues is left with no support network. Yes, actions have consequences, but where do we draw the line if it means potentially saving someone’s life?

Anyway. Bobby had threatened suicide multiple times since 2000. Part of me was sure he’d never go through with it. I liked to believe that he would not want to put us through “it” all over again. But if you feel ostracised, if you feel nobody cares, would that have even crossed his mind? Either way, having to deal with a suicidal brother for 17 years… it numbs you. I grieved for him again and again, every time I thought it was the end. Watching him jump in front of a moving train. Seeing him surrounded by drugs and drink. Every text telling me he’d had enough, that he couldn’t cope, that he didn’t want to be here without Ian. I cried and I grieved and then he didn’t die, he missed the train, he survived the drug cocktails.

And now he’s gone, and I expected to grieve once more, and mostly all I feel is a complicated mess of shock, regret, and relief that he is finally free from his pain.

Unfortunately, being relieved doesn’t make this shit any easier. I have been drinking. Not “bottle of vodka on a school night” drinking, but drinking nonetheless. I use it to escape my head, my own mental health, but it’s cowardly and it doesn’t work. I have also slacked off at the gym and avoided people and responsibilities.

I like to think that I have the self-awareness to nip the unhealthy behaviours in the bud before they get to a “point of no return”. (And by self-awareness, I mean my habit of constantly over-analysing the minutiae of my life and then wondering why I have so much going on in my head that I can’t escape from.)

I like to think that having the privilege of a support network, of an unwavering rock of a husband, of friends who are there for me 24 hours a day, and a counsellor who willingly listens to my swear-filled rants punctuated with sobs and sniffles… that all of this means I will go on. That I will grieve, that time will heal the wounds of regret, that I will forgive myself for not being there.

Until then? One day at a time.

Orange & Lemonade Pt 2: 5 weeks

It’s now been about 5 weeks since I decided to stop drinking for good.

I am sleeping better. Aside from a couple of weeks of intense drinking-frenzy dreams where I got completely smashed off my face (in the dream, that is) I have slept solidly every night since I stopped drinking. My sleep cycles have gone back to normal and I don’t feel tired all the time.

The puffy dark circles under my eyes are mostly gone. Partly because I’m sleeping better, and partly because I’m not in a state of perma-dehydration.

My weight is slowly dropping. I was able to wear a pair of size 12 jeans again this week, which I’ve not been able to do in 12+ months, since I lost a huge chunk of weight initially. I’d convinced myself that my drinking was not to blame for weight gain because I moderated input and calculated calories but this was completely ignoring the science behind alcohol consumption (in simple terms, when you eat & drink, food is stored as fat so your liver can prioritise dealing with the poison you’re voluntarily taking into your system). Ignorance is not bliss, after all.

And most importantly: I’ve not had a single anxiety related episode despite going through the tail end of one cycle and another complete cycle. What this basically means is that I was worsening my own PMDD by constantly drinking (despite often doing it to self-medicate the symptoms themselves!)

It’s not a huge surprise, alcohol is a known depressant, but what is surprising is just how much difference it makes being completely sober. The scale of change in my symptoms is massive. I can’t attribute this entirely to drinking/not drinking — my circumstances are more stable, and I’ve implemented strategies to better cope with workloads and stress — but is a massive help.

I am still INCREDIBLE HULK ANGRY in lead up to menstruation, but angry on its own is a hell of a lot easier to deal with than angry AND anxious/paranoid.

In the space of 5 weeks I could have easily consumed 1-2 bottles of wine a week, and the equivalent of a bottle of vodka on a ‘going out weekend’ – of which there has been a couple. So in 5 weeks I’ve “missed out” on approximately 10 bottles of wine and 2 bottles of vodka.

Except I’m not missing it at all.

Orange & Lemonade

Yesterday lunch time I went out with Gaz’s team from work for an unexpected light lunch. It’s the kind of situation where I’d usually indulge in a “cheeky” glass of wine or a cocktail (or two) because a) unexpected social interaction mid-PMDD-monster-times and b) who doesn’t love to break up the day with alcohol?

Except I ordered orange juice & lemonade. It was lovely: a little tart; cool and refreshing.

If you follow me on instagram, you’ll know that I decided to stop drinking last week. No more attempting moderation, no more weeknight wine, and definitely no more binging on 12 or more double shots of vodka on a Friday night. No booze, none, nada. It’s been a long time coming.

After a couple of years of trying to bring my intake under control and ultimately failing — because “I needed a drink”, “just one more”, “I’m under a lot of stress” — I realised that the only way for me to control it was to not drink at all. Not only that, but to never drink again.

Alcohol is quite literally a poison that I have voluntarily taken into my system time and time again, to the detriment of both my physical and mental health, and yet I hold on to it like a crutch… a lifeboat for the days I feel like I’m drowning. For what purpose or benefit? None that I can think of.

When trying to moderate, there’s always that choice: do I have one? Can I risk two? Is today a drinking day or not a drinking day? If I have one glass today does that mean one less at the weekend? What is a moderate amount of alcohol anyway? If it takes me a bottle of wine to get drunk where some people might need a glass, does that justify drinking a whole bottle? What about two?

And that generally leads to eating a little less at lunch to ‘save up’ calories for the drink later, skipping a meal altogether because you know it’s going to be a heavy night, and before you know where you are you’ve consumed more calories as liquid than food. Add that to waking in the morning having forgotten chunks of an evening, general brain fog that is a perma-hangover, disrupted sleep, weird twitches and persistent dehydration… it’s not exactly a boatload of fun I’m opting out of.

If I were the sort of person who could have a glass of wine and then stop, this wouldn’t even be an issue. But I’m not and never have been. I am not an “in moderation” person when it comes to anything in life. Give me all or nothing!

I still dominate the dance floor when I’m out (I can’t dance but that doesn’t stop me). The conversation, jokes and “banter” still flow easily. I still act like a prat, make loud/rude jokes and generally behave inappropriately: because I have never needed alcohol to do that.

The questions — because when you go from notorious pisshead to completely sober there will always be questions — are easily answered honestly: I am concerned with my drinking and have decided to stop. No, I am not pregnant. No, I don’t need you to stop drinking in front of me. Yes, I can be designated driver.

And so back to lunch… around the table, some order diet cokes, some order white wine, and now it’s my turn to choose. Except I don’t drink now, so there is no choice, no anxiety over what I should do. No rationalising what I should consume, when or how. No justifying excess consumption. I just don’t drink.

Orange & lemonade, please.

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