I’ve discussed my struggle with Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder in the past and wanted to give an update now that I’m pregnant.
When I first found out about the baby, I knew I’d have to go off of my antidepressant for the baby’s health, but would it be healthy for my mental state? That worried me, and I know it worries other PMDD mamas, so I wanted to share my experience thus far.
Let’s first start with what PMDD is and what PMDD is not.
PMDD is not normal PMS and women who suffer from it are not drama queens exaggerating their symptoms (or, at least, not this girl).
The Mayo Clinic describes it as a severe, sometimes disabling extension of premenstrual syndrome. Both have physical and emotional symptoms, but PMDD causes extreme mood shifts that can disrupt your work and damage your relationships.
Only 3-8 percent of the population experiences this depressive disorder. The cause isn’t known, and while difficult PMS is hereditary, more research still has to be done to determine whether or not PMDD is passed to our daughters.
I’ve described my weekly mood cycle prior to pregnancy – the complete and total elation that begins the day I get my period, the contentment of the second week of my cycle, the extreme sadness and depression during the third week and the rage in the last week – and the mood swings are very saturated with emotions. When I’m in my happy mood, nothing can bring me down. When I’m depressed, I spend a lot of time crying. When I’m in my rage week, the best thing for you to do is shut up and leave me alone (seriously, I have found myself screaming at people, like my kids, over things that are pretty inconsequential at other times of the month).
As I’ve shared in the past, I didn’t realize I had PMDD for years. Once, during one of my depression weeks, I felt hopeless and like my existence did nothing but make my then-husband and children miserable; I wanted to run away, to leave them, to not live. Weeks later, I mentioned this to my GYN and I was put on a low dose of Zoloft in December 2010. I was a zombie for almost a month, but then, right after the new year, I regained some clarity. For the first time in years I felt like a rational person, on even keel, and productive as all get-out. It was great.
Years later, in 2012, I was researching weight gain while on the drug and birth control pills, to determine which one caused me to gain so much, and realized that Zoloft was also used to treat PMDD. I had no clue what it was, but I fell into the rabbit hole and realized I had every single symptom. After separating from my husband, I started therapy and my therapist and I agreed that this is what affects me.
It’s still a struggle, but knowing that the depression will only last a short while and that I can use the time productively (it’s a very creative period for me) helps. Being able to recognize my rage and rein it in helps.
So when I found out I was pregnant, I was scared. Zoloft is one of the SSRIs that obstetricians are still on the fence about having pregnant women quit, but they still recommend doing so to be on the safe side. Ultimately, it was my decision and I chose to go off of it.
Weaning off of the medication was difficult and the side effects – like the headaches, the nausea and the loopiness – sucked. I was worried about my mental state, quite frankly, because this was an unexpected pregnancy and not easy news for most people to swallow.
But? I feel great both physically and mentally.
Because PMDD is tied to your menstrual cycle, there are little or no effects during pregnancy.
I still cry at things, like the one episode of Property Brothers when the granddaughter hesitates before she demolishes the cabinets in her grandparents’ kitchen (and if you didn’t bawl over that, you have no soul) and the resolution of the movie “Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day,” but it’s nothing like I was pre-pregnancy.
I get sad, I cry, and then I get over it. (I do certainly have my bad days, even a bad week, but not as intense as usual.) I get mad, I rant about it, then I get over it.
Most often, I’m content and happy. Even when I’m repeatedly told I need to open the envelope and find out my baby’s sex so people can buy things for me (nope, I want the surprise this time).
I realized the difference in my pregnancy moods vs. my regular moods last week when I was blamed for controversy in two of the three cities I cover for work, I got bad news, I got terrifying news and I was stressed all within two or three days of each other.
I didn’t scream at anyone, and the thought never crossed my mind. That’s so very different than normal, that when I realized it, I wanted to just cry over my what has become my reality.
PMDD steals normality from me and I hate that. I love this newness, this not being intense in any mood, my kids not having to walk on eggshells because I’m irritable.
As my due date creeps closer – it’s only 16 weeks away now – I’m worried about what will come postpartum. Most PMDD moms say their symptoms return when their cycles return, and my cycles don’t usually go away for very long (not even with breastfeeding).
Truthfully, I’m terrified about it, but I’m choosing to enjoy living in the normal world for a little while. (I still have an active prescription and I’m no longer ashamed to seek help if I need it.)
If you’re a woman who believes you suffer from PMDD, or you’re sure you do, and you’d like a virtual support group, I have some Facebook resources. One of my saving graces in the last few months are groups like PMDD Moms, filled with hundreds of other moms who truly get it. Feel free to check it out or send me a message and I’ll send you an invitation.