A lonely battle

A lonely battle - DDN feature on premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD)

Premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD) is an endocrine disorder that causes an extremely severe form of premenstrual syndrome (PMS). It can lead to a range of significant emotional and physical symptoms every month, during the week or two before a person’s period (known as the luteal phase). PMDD is also categorised by a sudden alleviation of negative symptoms at the onset of bleeding.

For women living with PMDD, symptoms including mood swings, total loss of self (dissociation), rage, anxiety, tearfulness and fatigue can have a serious and detrimental impact on their lives. Experiencing PMDD can make it difficult to work, socialise or maintain stable healthy relationships.

In some cases, PMDD can also lead to suicidal thoughts – a staggering 34 per cent of women with PMDD have attempted suicide, according to the International Association for Premenstrual Disorders (IAPMD).

One in 20 women who menstruate have PMDD, yet most people have never heard of it. However, I’ve lived with the symptoms of PMDD for over 20 years – this is my story of PMDD and addiction:

PMDD featureAll my life I suffered really badly from debilitating anxiety, flaring up during the weeks leading up to my period. It was horrendous, and crippling to the point where I didn’t feel that I could function. I couldn’t do day-to-day tasks, I was entirely overcome with anxiety. I went from not being able to function, leave the house, or get out of bed just before my period, to literally feeling that I could run a marathon as soon as my period started. It was like something had washed over me and I suddenly felt amazing.

To cope with the periods of anxiety, I began drinking. This would make me feel more relaxed and the alcohol would dull some of the anxiety. Sadly this was the beginning of what would become a very problematic relationship with alcohol. Between these periods of
anxiety – that I would later come to understand as PMDD – I would stop drinking for two or three weeks then all of a sudden that anxiety would come back and I’d start drinking again. At the time I didn’t know what was happening – I didn’t associate the two.

What started as daily drinking only in the evening, escalated to binges. Realising my drinking might be a problem, I tried to stop but after three days I found that I couldn’t. My binges escalated, lasting initially one day, then two, three, four and so on. By the end of my drinking, I was drinking for eight or nine days at a time and then stopping for a few days.

I was frequently admitted to hospital and was eventually told that if I carried on drinking for another year I probably wouldn’t survive. I was going to fellowship meetings, but I was a serial relapser. I couldn’t get it – everybody else seemed to be doing well but every two or three weeks I kept relapsing.

DDN feature on PMDDWhen I did finally get into recovery, I wasn’t diagnosed with PMDD until a year later. Those first months of not picking up a drink for the anxiety were horrendous.

I saw a consultant and explained my symptoms – he stated that what I reported was too extreme to be PMS and he diagnosed me with PMDD. Finally I knew what was going on.

During those first few months into my recovery, I rode it out for a while but it became too much and I was put on a low dose of anti-anxiety medication which pretty much changed my life. I didn’t want to take medication but it really helped with the PMDD.

It’s important for women in active addiction to understand that the hormone cycle can have a big impact on their mood, their ability to resist cravings, cope with triggers and reach out to others. It’s not the case for everyone, but it was for me.

Sadly, I only came to understand what was going on in my body by the time I was abstinent from alcohol. Nobody had put a link to my addiction and my symptoms until I was in recovery. Looking back, my drinking episodes and relapses were all just before or during my period.

Things are changing up a bit now as I’m also perimenopausal, so that’s a whole new world… And today I celebrate seven years of recovery from alcohol.

Lisa YamboLisa Yambo is a criminal justice recovery worker at The Forward Trust

More information on premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD) from Mind here

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