Periods, depression and me

Feeling down around the time of your period isn’t uncommon. Premenstrual syndrome is one of the most well-known symptoms. Unfortunately, it’s not taken very seriously. It often makes women the butt of people’s jokes. Women who are sad or mad are constantly accused of experiencing PMS and that is an excuse for them to be dismissed. The truth is women’s feelings are valid no matter the circumstances and PMS is far from a joke for a lot of people.

I’m one of those people because if you are already experiencing depression, the extra strain of menstruation can send you spiralling down.

I was diagnosed with depression at the age of 16. My journey up until now (the age of 22) has not been linear. There were times where I thought my depression would be the end of me and there were times where I thought I had got rid of it only for it to reappear later on. I am currently on antidepressants and coping fairly well. My doctor has even given me the choice of reducing my dosage to come off them. This is something that I have done successfully before but it is quite intimidating to do it in the middle of a pandemic.

Throughout this six year journey, one thing has been consistent. PMS always brings back symptoms of depression. No matter how I am coping otherwise, I will struggle during that time. My motivation will be low. My thoughts will be critical and even dangerous. I can’t be productive and I struggle to socialise with friends. The heavy weight of sadness brings me down.

It is scary to have such a drop in wellbeing because I have been extremely depressed and know how bad things can get for me. Even though I can align it with my period, I always have a fear that there won’t be relief when my period ends and my mental health will keep declining. Even if it does only last a week or so, that’s a lot of time feeling unsafe in my own mind.

I picked up on this pattern of my depression being worsened by my period fairly quickly. At the time I was seeing a psychotherapist with the Children and Young Adult Mental Health Services. I told her about my experience. She wasn’t surprised and said there was a link between depression and worsened PMS. They call it Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder (PMDD) but she said there wasn’t a lot of research around it. Seeing as I was already on the highest dose of my antidepressants there wasn’t really anything to be done.

It wasn’t until later that I could come up with a way to deal with my period triggered depression in some way. I started taking the contraceptive pill because it is thought to make hormone changes less severe. But I also use it to skip periods. The instructions told me to take 21 tablets then break for a week during which I’d have my period. My doctor told me it was fine for me to skip breaks. At least for the medication I’m on, I can’t skip my period forever. I have to break about every three months but that massively reduces the disruption I experience.

Please talk to your GP before going ahead with a similar method. I am not a medical professional and there are risks associated with taking the contraceptive pill in the first place. Unless more research is done about PMDD, this is the best option for me.

Dealing with periods is difficult for most people. When it triggers mental health problems, it can be incredibly disruptive. For now I have found a way to reduce that but more research needs to be done into PMDD and the other ways periods disrupt our lives. Women’s pain is often dismissed. We are seen as sensitive or overdramatic. Instead of claiming the problem is all in our heads, let’s find even better solutions. Women’s struggles and pain need to be validated and dealt with.

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