My name is Catherine, and I’m 53 years old. I had anorexia that started in my early teens (it never leaves you). As a result, my periods were delayed. When they finally arrived, I was 19 and in my first year at University. I had been hoping and praying my periods would start as I didn’t feel like a woman.
I had a tough time at university and often found myself moody, overwhelmed, filled with feelings of self-doubt, and prolonged bouts of crying – all quite normal according to the Student Counsellor. My periods were light and marked by stomach cramps. Looking back, I realise it wasn’t just the anorexic feelings that played with my mind. The highs and lows, the mood swings, the aggressiveness, the sudden bouts of crying – these weren’t just related to anorexia, they were also directly related to my periods.
By the time I reached my mid-twenties and married (the wrong man by a long way), my mood swings and aggressiveness were getting worse – I’m normally a people-pleaser, eager and willing to help others – but not all the time. I turned to my mother for suggestions, but from her point of view, PMS was something women just had to live with. My father used to mark the diary every month with ‘the curse’ so we would all know Ma was going to have a short fuse for a while… So, PMS was a natural part of being a woman – some of us had it worse than others and some didn’t get it at all.
I knew there was a correlation between my periods and the times when I felt miserable, introspective, irritable and eager to pick a fight. I would often joke that if I ever got run over or fired from my job, it would be in the lead up to my period. I remember reading about a woman who had killed her husband during PMS. From the feelings I’d experienced with my soon-to-be ex-husband, I could identify with her situation! I often felt out of control and unable to think clearly, and I made rash decisions (divorcing my husband wasn’t one of them!)
Ten years later I met the love of my life and we married. We decided not to have children. In my more introspective moments I believed this was probably for the best – that I wouldn’t pass on a pre-disposition to PMS. Whether that was true or not didn’t really matter, it was what I believed. The anorexia, the PMS…I didn’t want any child to be saddled with the emotional, physical and behavioural issues.
My husband is an understanding man. He would notice the early signs of PMS often before I was aware of them – he says there’s something in the eyes, the body language. I worked hard at keeping the symptoms at bay, but failed more often than not. In one of our talks after an outburst, he voiced something I’d been fearing: the PMS-Catherine was not an attractive person to be around. I turned into a defensive, aggressive, judgemental, anti-me for half of the month, and he didn’t deserve to be on the receiving end of any of this.
He convinced me that I should go and see my doctor as there may be some kind of hormonal imbalance, something that could be treated. In preparation, I kept a diary of my thoughts, feelings, what I ate, drank, the exercise I took over a 3 month period.
My GP listened. He looked at my timeline and confirmed, ‘You have PMS.’ He laid out some treatment options, and I started a course of Evening Primrose Oil – it worked wonders for breast tenderness, but that was all. He prescribed hormone suppositories – these I didn’t like. I made some dietary changes and continued to exercise (I was training for the London Marathon at the time). Not much changed. The last thing I wanted to do was to take drugs, but it was the only option left. He prescribed an SSRI. Taking these came at a time when I’d just found a new job after being out of work for a year (post-internet bubble bursting). I was nervous about the job, I was desperate to make a good impression… the new medication worked well. I felt more in control, less tearful, my head was clearer, I was less aggressive and anxious. The mood swings were better.
Two years later, we moved overseas for work. We live on a small island and getting the same medication wasn’t possible. I found a doctor I trusted and asked his advice on the best hormone replacement drug. I began to take it but I didn’t like the way it made me feel – dull and empty. I came off it after a year.
For the last 13 years I’ve exercised 5 days a week. I’m as fit and healthy as I can be. My only downfall is coffee, which I can’t live without, but only one strong cup in the morning. Other than that, my diet is good, I sleep until I wake, and I don’t drink. I’ve worked over many years to find the best balance to help my PMS symptoms.
But then it all gets ruined when I start to feel as if everyone is judging me, and it makes me feel self-conscious, which often leads to screwing up in some way because I’m on edge.
Now, the pre-menopause has begun and I find myself excited and relieved that my periods will be over at some point – I’m on the way. But, how long will it take? Months, years? The problem is that the symptoms of PMS have grown worse. I now have crashing fatigue, sensitivity to noise and trouble thinking clearly, I’m clumsy and easily confused.
My husband and I communicate well in the good part of the month, but during PMS I feel self-conscious about the words coming out of my mouth, and I find myself questioning the way I communicate with him, with friends, family and with clients. I’ll read and re-read emails I’ve sent, second-guessing myself constantly. My frustration and aggressiveness has turned inward – I’ve started to hurt myself as punishment. I finally admitted this to my husband after a particularly distressing meltdown. ‘Things can’t go on like this, honey.’ He was right. My PMS had resulted in personal injury.
I began to do some research. Did I have a personality disorder? Was this anorexia related? Should I have a hysterectomy? I found NAPS and a number of other websites offering support and advice. Reading stories of fellow sufferers has been a godsend – I am definitely not alone.
I saw my doctor last week and we’re working on a treatment plan. I feel more positive about my chances of making some real progress this time. And, on a lighter note, there is one benefit to my PMS…the compulsion to clean the house.