Not Just “That Time of the Month”: Living with PMDD

10 days left until period. Once my lovely period tracker app reads those few words, I can already feel the panic. Every single time, spot on, I PMS for 10 days straight. But, it’s not just normal PMS (not that any PMS is particularly normal) – I suffer from Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder, or PMDD, a disorder that I was recently diagnosed with, despite knowing for years that it was happening to me. PMDD often goes untreated or unnoticed – people, even doctors, tend to write it off as “just PMSing.” This all, as too many things do, connects back to the narrative we tell ourselves about women and PMS – women’s experiences aren’t valued the same way that the experiences of men are. When I would try to explain my severe emotional PMS symptoms to doctors, I was not validated, and I felt crazy.

I was diagnosed with Seasonal Affective Disorder a while ago, on top of multiple anxiety disorders. Not until recently has a clinician reassessed this and validated my experiences with depression and PMS. And unfortunately, many women have this similar experience.

Yes, I get cramps and I get emotional and I crave a lot of chocolate and fatty foods. But it’s more than that, and it lasts for 10 straight days. I have severe mood swings. I get sad, really sad, and I question everything in my life in those ten days. I have panic attacks. I’m irritable. I can barely make a decision about anything – which is incredibly frustrating, as if lasts for such a long time. I get night sweats. I’m so tired, I feel depressed, and I feel hopeless. I know that it will end; I know that once my period starts I will feel so much better.  But knowing that it gets better doesn’t stop the symptoms from happening.

The cycle is exhausting. It’s incredibly predictable and I tell myself that I know how to handle it – but sometimes, when I think about how 10 days out of my 30 day cycle are spent feeling depressed and anxious because of my period, I get really hopeless. I’ve tried birth control and that only made it worse, anti-depressants have helped treat my anxiety disorders but haven’t helped much concerning my PMDD. And the worst part is that I find myself invalidating my own experiences and belittling myself – I hear that voice in the back of my mind telling me that I’m just a crazy woman who’s PMSing. It’s been socialized into my brain to invalidate women’s experiences with their periods, even though I am a woman. That’s the most frustrating part.

Read more about PMDD here and ways to treat it (thanks Web MD!) and don’t be afraid to seek help from a therapist if you feel like you have PMDD.

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“I Hate Being a Girl”

The number of times I’ve instinctively muttered those words from my mouth is devastating. It started when I was younger because I wasn’t as strong as the boys, and I was taught by all the kids at school that strength is power, and so the tiny little girl I was felt powerless. Then, when I was finally old enough to learn about the birds and the bees, I hated being a girl because my fellow fourth graders spoke of periods like they were some sort of disease and pregnancy like it was painful and horrid rather than beautiful. When the girls started wearing make-up and doing their hair and going on diets, I said I hated being a girl because I didn’t feel like I was as pretty as them, yet I kept trying to look like the models in the magazines because that’s what “girls are supposed to do.” And even as I got older I hated being a girl because of the pressure and emphasis society puts on sex, yet the scandal society brands a girl with for getting pregnant before marriage, like it’s somehow entirely her fault. I’ve said “I hate being a girl” because I hate having to worry about being skinny, about being pretty, and about being what the “boys like.”
This shatters me. Girls and women are powerful, strong, and beautiful. It is in no way fair at all that men are still seen as superior to women. We are fundamentally the same. Today, I am a college student living in a vibrant area of the city. Despite hating early mornings, I get up early to go to the gym because the only other time I can go is after class, and it gets dark by then. I realized the other day that I instinctively change my daily routine to avoid walking outside in the dark. And do you know why that is? Because I am a girl. And society has told us to stay inside when it’s dark and carry pepper-spray at all times, instead of telling our precious little boys not to rape.
Instead of hating being a girl like I’ve spent so many years of my life doing, this makes me hate society. I love being a girl and I hate how society has labeled girls. It’s time for that to change, and it’s time to change our girl’s “I hate being a girl” into “I hate society, and I’m going to change it.”