In her own words: living with premenstrual syndrome (PMS)
Regina is a 33-year-old stay-at home mom. She home-schools her three children, takes care of animals (2 dogs, 4 guinea pigs, 5 chickens), and has been married for 13 years.
What was your first sign that something was wrong? What symptoms did you experience?
I first knew that I wasn't feeling myself about four years ago, after the birth of our third child. I had a hard time making decisions and always felt a little disoriented and confused. I would also occasionally wake up with anxiety attacks, and felt emotional and bloated most of the month.
While we were trying to get pregnant with the kids, I always kept a daily chart of my cycles and moods. I continued this chart, and began to notice a discernible monthly pattern to my moods. Two or three days after the ending of my cycle, I would feel progressively worse until the onset of my next cycle. It seemed I only had a few good days a month when I would feel in control and normal. Over the past four years, the symptoms grew worse, and so did my fears.
Since I didn’t understand what was happening, I was afraid to tell my friends and family, which only worsened my anxiety. I was also afraid to discuss these symptoms with my OB/GYN, because I was afraid he would prescribe an anti-depressant, and I didn't want to go on medication.
What was the diagnosis experience like?
I saw my OB/GYN doctor first—I brought it up during my yearly routine exam. I was pleased that he was very sympathetic and a good listener, and quick to check my thyroid first for imbalances. But after the tests came back normal, my fears were realized when his next course of action was to prescribe Sarafem (another form of Prozac) for my symptoms. I took it for two weeks, but wasn't happy taking it. I felt there had to be other options I could try before resorting to medication.
What was your initial and then longer-term reaction to the diagnosi s?
At first, I was not sure the diagnosis was correct, since we had not discussed other aspects of my medical history. However, after doing my own research, I eventually agreed that the diagnosis of PMS seemed accurate. I felt great relief in finding some kind of name for this emotional and physical roller coaster, and realizing I had choices.
How do you manage your condition?
At this time I take good care of myself and carefully monitor how I'm feeling and what affects me at different times. I read about PMS and some of the herbs that help. I educate myself about new treatments and foods that help diminish some of the symptoms. While not all of my symptoms are alleviated, I feel they are more managed and under control. Things that used to send me spinning, now cause me to just sit down and work them out. I feel happier, and my desire to enjoy past hobbies has returned. I don't feel I will ever necessarily be free from my PMS until after menopause, but I don't have to let it control me and take away who I really want to be.
Have you made any lifestyle or dietary changes in response to your condition?
I walk every morning for at least 30 minutes in the fresh air and bright sunshine. I have cut out almost all caffeine and many, but not all, sugars. I want to manage my eating habits but not be a slave to them. (Every gal has to have a piece of cheesecake once in a while.) I am good about grabbing a handful of crispy spinach instead of crunchy chips and try to munch on a carrot over a candy bar. I've learned to love my herbal teas, which I choose for their relaxing and soothing ingredients. I take a good multi-vitamin every day, and have incorporated some new foods and ingredients for overall health, such as milled flax seed.
I also try to find time to relax and do things that I enjoy doing. You'd be surprised how therapeutic a milk and herbal bath with a glowing candle can be. Perhaps someday I may need to look at the prospects of medication, but this would be a last resort.
Did you seek any type of emotional support?
I did seek emotional support cautiously and carefully. I didn’t like to admit that I was struggling with PMS because it was such a common social joke, and I didn't want anyone to think I couldn't handle myself emotionally. I was afraid of rejection and misunderstanding. I would ask general questions about PMS in a group of women, but wouldn’t say that I needed the information for myself.
I also didn't really bring it up with my husband, even though we have a great relationship. Somehow, I didn't feel he would understand or even be able to help, simply because he isn't a woman. He is such a logical person that I felt sure he would think there was some logical explanation and solution to my problem. PMS simply doesn't work that way and is much more tricky and a master of disguise. I felt he would worry about me and would feel so helpless because he wouldn't know how to relate.
Did/does your condition have any impact on your family?
It was always important to me that PMS didn't get in the way with my relationship with my kids and husband. Of course, I was naive to think that they didn't notice. But I have taken steps to be honest with them, and overall, I don’t think it affects them a whole lot.
I chose to be open with them after the diagnosis because I wanted their support. I wanted the kids to understand why mommy wasn't going to throw every junk food they grabbed into the grocery cart anymore. I also wanted to let them know that I was going to demand some alone time once in a while. I let them all know that I loved them and we could have great times together, but that sometimes, I was going to treat myself to quiet time. They have been great.
I think PMS has brought us closer. I talk more freely about how I'm feeling at a particular time and ask them to be more understanding with me. They feel more open about letting me know when I'm being harsh or just not acting myself. But it has its down sides too. My husband has had to be very understanding many times when I simply cannot seem to get the desire to be intimate. PMS can make you feel very selfish and self-centered at times.
What advice would you give to anyone living with your condition?
PMS is an uncomfortable ride that you are on, but it does not define who you really are. Things to keep in mind are:
- Take care of yourself through nutrition and exercise! Paying attention to food and exercising regularly may help lower your medication dosage, or eliminate the need for medication altogether.
- Do your own research and homework. Don't just rely on your doctor to suggest a plan of treatment without educating yourself on the choices he/she is offering you. Be sure you feel that all options have been explored, and work to find a solution that is as comfortable or drug-free as possible.
- Sometimes medications may be necessary, but you have some work to do on your end, too. You cannot rely on just popping a pill in your mouth every day.
- It's OK to feel emotional, to be angry, to be anxious. But, you don't have to drown in those feelings. You can share, you can talk, you can seek help, and you can gather information.
- Find others who are going through what you are. Sometimes, just knowing that PMS affects so many other women and that you aren't going crazy is a big relief. Just sharing your feelings with someone relieves a lot of pressure. When you discover that another woman with PMS is experiencing some of your same symptoms, it gives you a feeling of camaraderie—that you are both in this fight together. Get out there and help someone else that is just as scared and confused as you were (and sometimes still are), and see how good it makes you feel.