I think my symptoms of severe PMS began when I was around 17 but I can’t really be sure. I had no idea at the time that severe PMS was “a thing” and honestly, I had no clue that hormones could control my emotions in such a way. I was naive and had no idea that the menstrual cycle was exactly that, a cycle which caused the emotional rollercoaster I was on in the week leading up to my period. I thought that the menstrual cycle mainly just caused cycles of pain or cramps, hormonal acne and feeling hungrier than usual. I remember thinking how ‘lucky’ I was that I experienced none of those symptoms. I had no idea at 17 how much our emotions were controlled by the way many of our hormones peak and trough throughout the average 28-day cycle.
From the age of 17 until around the age of 27 (I am now almost 30), I had no idea that the emotions of deep sadness, helplessness, loneliness and lack of self-worth were associated with my menstrual cycle. Thinking back, when those bad days came, it always felt like there was ‘something wrong’ or that I had a ‘hole in my soul’, or I felt numb unable to really describe what it was that was making me so sad. For example, when I was extremely low and in floods of tears in despair, when asked what was wrong I would say “I just can’t put my finger on what’s wrong” (because I couldn’t) and my partner would no doubt feel helpless or as if it was their fault. Naturally, I did what a lot of 20-year-old women would have done, I blamed it on others. As a result, my romantic relationships suffered and broke down in some cases largely as a result of my severe PMS (or my lack of understanding of it and how to manage it). When I would feel extremely down, it would come on like a light switch, and I was convinced it was everyone else and not me. Then after 3 to 4 days, the switch would be flicked off and I would feel like myself, like my body had been taken over by a different person during those 3-4 days.
For a while I also thought I may have depression because sometimes I would have suicide idealisation on the very bad days, but I couldn’t make sense of that either, because for the rest of the month I felt great and really happy. At times I questioned whether I was bi-polar because ultimately, one day I went to bed feeling great and very positive and the next day I would wake up feeling extremely sad and negative. For a long time I thought that the emotions I went through, and put others through, were because I was a miserable or negative person. I don’t think one of my friends, colleagues or family members would ever describe me as miserable or negative, but that is who I told myself I was based on how I felt only 3 to 4 days of the month.
I started tracking my periods in September 2019 using the Flo app. I logged the start of my cycle (the first day of my period) and any symptoms of low mood, anxieties, sadness etc. throughout the month. I realised in March 2020 (at the start of the covid-19 outbreak) that the little symbols in the Flo app calendar representing my symptoms of low mood appeared exactly one week before my period began like clockwork, and they never happened in the 2 weeks after my period began. I was shocked, but mostly relieved. “How, after 10 years (roughly 120 menstrual cycles) have I just realised this” I thought?
Of course (in lockdown), the first thing I did was search in my browser for “extreme sadness, depression, hopelessness, PMS, anxiety, before my period” and there I found the NAPS website with support and resources which helped me understand in 10 minutes what I had been going through for the last 10 years! I also educated myself on the menstrual cycle, the different phases and how they can make some of us feel and how best to manage them through a number of books too.
Back in 2020, shortly after I found out that I suffer with severe PMS symptoms, I started running. The first run I had done in a very long time was the viral 5 km challenge in April 2020. I couldn’t run 1 km without stopping for fear of collapsing, I was so unfit but I stuck with it (just about) and started training strength and conditioning circuits with my partner in our make shift home gym too. I didn’t always get it right, and sometimes in the week leading up to my period I just didn’t feel like exercising or eating well and like clockwork, I would feel terrible. It was a constant learning curve.
Exercise has had a huge positive impact on managing my severe PMS symptoms. I know that this isn’t the case for everyone who suffers with severe PMS, however. By tracking my periods using the Flo app, I know when my low mood may be coming and I know that I should ensure I get outside for a walk in the mornings to get some sun light and to reduce my screen time. I chose to completely abstain from alcohol which has helped greatly, alongside exercise (specifically running and strength training) whilst reducing sugar intake in the week prior to my period which isn’t always easy given the cravings typically associated with that part of the menstrual cycle! One of the most important things I do is to stay in tune with my menstrual cycle, so I can plan ahead, but most of all so that I can recognise that when I am low that these feelings will pass and that they do not define who I am.
In 2023 I am running 30 marathons for 30 different charities. As of July (2023) I have completed 16 marathons.
One of those was for NAPS on Menstrual Hygiene Day 2023. The total amount fundraised at the end of 2023 will be split equally between all of the 30 charities. I hope the money that I raise for NAPS helps to contribute to the fantastic work they do, even if one woman with severe PMS becomes more aware of what she is going through the use of their resources (like I did), that would be incredible.
(Top) Hiking in the hills in Skye: Another way I manage my symptoms of severe PMS is through spending more time outdoors.
(Below) Completing a 100 km race: At the finish line for the 100 km London to Brighton event on the 27th of May 2023, during which I completed 2 of my 30 marathons. Once of them was for NAPS on Menstrual Hygiene Day 2023.