We have it pretty good in the 21st century in the first world and a lot to be grateful for. Sure, there are gripes and issues, problems and circumstance, crime and war, and things that bug us day in and day out, but we have more at our fingertips than ever before to try and find solutions. I am one grateful person for all that we have, including being a parent and having my son and husband.
BUT….Sunday was Mother’s Day in the USA, and for some reason, even though I am the mother to a great, enthusiastic, caring, naughty, spirited, feisty, creative and funny six year old, I just couldn’t enthuse about Mother’s Day like many other folks on the social media networks. It was overwhelming to read all the posts and I felt a bit pissed off reading them because I wasn’t feeling the same way, so in the end I turned off the computer. I was feeling very negative about it all, and it was hard to get out of that frame of mind. Just call me the Scrooge of Mother’s Day. Bah, humbug.
I’ll always be honest about parenting – it’s really hard, it’s the most frustrating job out there and sometimes it really SUCKS. Sometimes, of course, it’s great and fun and brings great pleasure, but I don’t define myself by being a mother, so I don’t really feel the need to celebrate a day that, in all honesty, is going to be pretty much the same as any other, and is mainly there for Hallmark to reap the benefits from. My husband feels the same way about Father’s Day. There is pressure to do something ‘special’ and it’s not really our style to do that kind of thing. We are cynical Brits, after all!
One of the reasons that I probably felt this way more prominently is due to the fact that I have been diagnosed with Premenstrual dysphoric disorder, or PMDD, which is a severe form of premenstrual syndrome (PMS). The symptoms of PMDD are similar to those of PMS but are severe enough to interfere with work, social activities, and relationships. And Mother’s Day occurred when these symptoms were in full effect.
PMDD occurs in 2% to 10% of menstruating women and those women with a personal or family history of depression or postpartum depression (yep, I check that box) are at greater risk at developing PMDD.
Sadly, the exact cause of PMDD is not known. Most researchers, however, believe PMDD is brought about by the hormonal changes related to the menstrual cycle. Recent studies have shown a connection between PMDD and low levels of serotonin, a chemical in the brain that helps transmit nerve signals. Certain brain cells that use serotonin as a messenger are involved in controlling mood, attention, sleep, and pain. Therefore, chronic changes in serotonin levels can lead to PMDD symptoms.
So, what are the symptoms?
The symptoms of PMDD can include any of the following:
- Mood swings – check (ask my husband about this one!)
- Depressed mood or feelings of hopelessness – check (despite being incredibly grateful for my life, when I have PMDD there seems no way hope for anything)
- Marked anger, increased interpersonal conflicts – check (just ask my son’s school about this one!)
- Tension and anxiety – check (with just about everything I do)
- Irritability – check (oh, my poor husband!)
- Decreased interest in usual activities – check (I cancel a whole host of things because I felt I can’t attend and be on form, which is unlike me, since I am usually very sociable)
- Difficulty concentrating – check (my regular fitness classes were a minefield of mistakes and lapses in concentration)
- Fatigue – check (I hit the sack every night at about 830pm)
- Change in appetite – check (sadly, with this one it is an increase in appetite)
- Feeling out of control or overwhelmed – check (it’s like a feeling of madness that surges up inside you)
- Sleep problems – check (the most god-awful sleeping patterns)
- Physical problems, such as bloating – check (not even a probiotic can remove my bloat).
And that’s that. It’s pretty hideous for you and those around you, or those who are on the receiving end of any of these symptoms, but it’s just not something that is easy to control. It’s debilitating for you and all your usual activities and day to day life functions. My husband and I, in non PMDD moments, have likened my behavior to Linda Blair’s transformation in The Exorcist when she turns from charming young lady to having the devil inside! See, we can joke about it 🙂 (It’s just best not to joke about it when PMDD is around otherwise you’ll hear/feel the consequences of those actions!)
And then, bang, the symptoms stop and life is good again, back to normal and I guess you just wait for the next round. And you want to slap yourself in the face for behaving like that. But you honestly just can’t control it. For someone who has a lust for life, is gregarious and a rule-breaking opportunist, being confined and restricted by these kinds of feelings is hard to reconcile.
So, yesterday Mother’s Day bore the brunt of my symptoms – I was not engaging with it, refused to share the joy and felt like it was just a load of conformist crap.
Impact on health and fitness
The other thing that I have noticed is that PMDD has a huge impact on my health and fitness. I eat more, I want to drink more and I struggle with my fitness routine, even though I know working out will be one of the best things for me because many studies show that people who exercise regularly benefit with a positive boost in mood and lower rates of depression.
Improved self-esteem is a key psychological benefit of regular physical activity because when you exercise, your body releases chemicals called endorphins and these endorphins interact with the receptors in your brain that reduce your perception of pain.
Endorphins also trigger a positive feeling in the body, similar to that of morphine. For example, the feeling that follows a run or workout is often described as “euphoric.” That feeling, known as a “runner’s high,” can be accompanied by a positive and energizing outlook on life.
So, as I struggle through another bout of PMDD next month, I must try to keep positive and keep the health and fitness routine alive, because as every person with depression knows, it’s an easy downward spiral, but a very tough one to climb back up.
Claire Bolden McGill is a British expat who lived in Maryland for three years and moved back to the UK in August 2015. Claire wrote about her life as a British expat on the East Coast and now works in travel and hospitality PR in the UK. She still finds time to blog about her repatriation and the reverse culture shock that ensued – and she still hasn’t finished that novel, but she’s working on it. You can contact Claire via twitter on @clairebmcgill or via her blog From America to England.