PMDD, Not Just DD for a Day

Prior to 2008, I was really struggling to get my depression stabilized.  I kept having major dips in my mood followed by an elevated mood.  Initially my psychiatrist brought up the possibility that I might have bipolar disorder.  That would seem the likely conclusion given my cycling mood changes.  For some reason, that just didn’t seem right for me.  Deep inside I felt the changes in mood needed to be more extreme for that diagnosis.  Regardless of what I thought, I was prescribed a mood stabilizer.

In an effort to prove her wrong, I decided to really track my mood for a few months.  Sure enough, I began to see a pattern that led me further away from a bipolar diagnosis.  Each month my mood would dip deeply just prior to my menstrual cycle followed by the elevated or “regular” mood once my cycle started.  This happened month after month.  Now that I had established a solid pattern I started doing some research.  That’s when I learned about PMDD, Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder.

PMDD It's not Just PMS Orange Image_n.jpg

Some would say that I just had typical PMS, Premenstrual Syndrome.  But PMDD is much more than that.  Symptoms are similar, but with a much greater intensity followed by almost immediate relief once menstruation begins.  Because PMDD is about a hormonal imbalance or inability to adapt to hormonal changes, PMDD leads those who still have their ovaries to extreme depths of depression; even to the point of attempting suicide or other self-harm behaviors.  A key marker of PMDD vs a mental illness is that the symptoms subside with the start of menstruation.  If a person doesn’t feel better within a day or so of menstruating, it’s more likely to be a mental illness than PMDD.

Over time I was able to get off of the mood stabilizer.  My PMDD symptoms had alleviated for the time being.  My depression was bad enough at that time that I’m grateful the PMDD took a break.  But some good things come to an end.

That’s when I wrote my post “DD for a Day” over two years ago.  With over seven years between major symptoms, it didn’t immediately register that the PMDD might be making a comeback. It would be at least a year before I connected the dots again.  By this time, I would be back with my original psychiatrist.  This time I was ready to really fight a bipolar diagnosis and needless psychiatric medication.  Thankfully she had updated her knowledge and supported my going to a gynecologist for treatment.

The first gynecologist I consulted essentially told me it was just PMS and I would have to learn to deal with it.  I was beyond devastated!  My symptoms had come back stronger than before and she’s telling me to “deal with it.”  I was already crying talking about my symptoms and this only made me cry harder.  She ended the appointment with no suggestions on how to “deal with it” on my own.

On to gynecologist number two.  NIGHT AND DAY!!  What a difference Dr. G is!!  I absolutely LOVE her and her approach!  She was not only knowledgeable, but extremely personable and compassionate.  She immediately ordered several blood tests, not just for hormone levels, but also my Vitamin D levels since no other doctor had checked that despite my regular struggle with depression.  It turned out I had almost no Vitamin D in my system.  Getting that regulated has made a huge difference in keeping my deepest depression at bay for the most part.

Dr. G started me on a different birth control and prescribed it to be taken continuously so that I did not have a period each month.  The goal of doing this is to level out the hormones and keep them from fluctuating each month.  Sounds logical and works great for some people.  The first birth control had me crying each day.  We quickly dropped that and switched to my current one.

This latest birth control has worked well for the most part.  But, as the year has gone on, we have learned that I am extremely sensitive to either missing a dose or even just taking the dose a few hours late.  Dr. G became convinced that it was time for a hysterectomy thanks to this sensitivity and the fact that I was recently very suicidal and hospitalized for a week.

While this should provide a great deal of relief, it is not without its own complications.  I will immediately go into surgical menopause and will have to start taking estrogen.  I’m praying it doesn’t take long to find the right amount that is going to keep my mood balanced without the extreme changes.

To read more about PMDD, visit WebMD: What Is PMDD?

(https://www.webmd.com/women/pms/premenstrual-dysphoric-disorder#1)

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It’s Been a While…

It appears it’s been well over two years since my last original post. Since then, there have been a lot of good times along with some not-so-good times.  Thankfully it was all those good times that originally took me away.

I learned in these recent years that it is a good “work”/life balance that keeps me emotionally stable and functioning well.  Working too much or too little and I would find myself getting more depressed.  But once I hit that “sweet” spot of about 25 hours, it gave me the right amount of time to volunteer and spend time with family and friends.  I had reached a point of wellness with my depression.

During that time, I spent my volunteer time essentially doing intensive casework with two gentlemen with disabilities.  Some days it seemed more like work than just something I enjoyed doing; that’s when going to work became my “down” time.  For over a year, I “worked” with my two guys and “relaxed” at work.  This was the most fulfilling my life had felt.

Slowly, though, I volunteered my way out of helping my guys.  The first guy finally got set up with an official case worker that worked well with him.  The second guy, after I did all the hard things for him, decided he wanted to do things on his own.  It’s with mixed feelings that I admit that he hasn’t completely messed things up yet.  Regardless of the reasons, I knew once my time with my guys lessened, I had to pick up something else or the depression was likely to come back with a vengeance.

I reached out to two difference agencies offering my time and skills.  I had a meeting with one of them and we made a plan for what I would do.  For whatever reason, that person just really didn’t want to be as aggressive as I did, and that fell through.  The second agency just didn’t get back with me. Honestly, I think I intimidate some of the people at that second agency based on some past interactions.  Either way, it was their loss…and ultimately mine since I was really counting on these opportunities and took it personal when they fell through.

sink draining

Imagine a sink draining.  At first it seems to drain very slowly; but as there is less and less water, it seems to drain extremely fast.  That’s kind of what happened earlier this year.  I was on a slow spiral down into a deeper depression and all of a sudden I found myself not leaving the house except for therapy and the grocery store.

Besides not volunteering, I started missing more work due to PMDD, Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder.  Then I got diagnosed with Inflammatory Bowel Disease.  So, less work + more stress = increased level of depression.  By the end of July I found myself inpatient in a psychiatric unit for a week.  When I didn’t see any improvement two months later, I checked myself into an Intensive Outpatient Program (three hours of group therapy, three days a week).

So that’s where I am now.  Once IOP is complete (12 sessions), I do have some volunteer activities lined up to keep me busy for a bit.  Before I know it, it will be Dec 18 and I’ll be having my hysterectomy to help with PMDD.  I’ll share more on that next time.

DD for a Day

Last Wednesday I was DD for a Day…and I don’t mean Designated Driver.  I was Deeply Depressed.  It really caught me off guard.  For the past couple of years I’ve been doing really well in relation to my depression.  Sure, I’ve had days where I felt “blah” from time to time.  I’ve even had a few days in a row of feeling “blah.”

This was different…VERY DIFFERENT.

It was my day off and I had looked forward to doing some cleaning and organizing.  Nothing unusual happened the day before.  But the first time I opened my eyes that morning I knew I wasn’t going to be productive.  I felt a weight so HEAVY.  Heavy on me like it had been in the past.  You know that heavy that makes it nearly impossible to even roll over in bed.

I ignored several phone calls that day.  I never felt hungry.  Other than taking my pills and using the restroom I stayed in bed.

I COULD NOT GET OUT OF BED.

Late afternoon, I did manage to get dressed.  I had agreed to take Tommy to the grocery store.  The only reason I didn’t cancel is because he had already called twice and I knew it would only take about 30 minutes.

That was it.  That was all I did that day.  I think I ate something for dinner…I don’t really remember.  I tried to watch TV, but it was only noise and moving images.  Nothing was forming a story for me to follow.  Nothing could get through that heavy weight over me.

I tried to rest/sleep on the couch that evening.  I was restless.  I couldn’t focus worth a crap.  I finally decided to just go to the bed.  If I didn’t automatically put on my pjs when I got home, I would have gone to bed in my clothes.  I didn’t turn the TV or lights off.  I didn’t even take my evening pills.  I just couldn’t do…I couldn’t do anything.

Then I woke up Thursday morning.  That weight that kept me in bed almost all of Wednesday had been lifted.  I was no longer deeply depressed.  I was now back to just a “blah” day.  It felt like night and day.  I still stayed in bed until time to get ready for work, but that was by choice, not because of that super heavy weight.

After work I did an errand for a friend and a load of laundry.  I started planning for Saturday, my next day off.  Saturday came and I did the cleaning and organizing I had planned for Wednesday.  It was as if being DD for a Day had a never happened.

Looking back now, it seems surreal.  I had been in a deep, intense fog for a day.  One day in that fog.  Then it was gone.  How does that happen?  Why was I fortunate to have it lift so quickly?  Why did it even come in the first place?

I may never know.  I do know how much I totally appreciate the days that the fog is not around.

14 Years in 10 Minutes

For the past few months I’ve participated in a Peer Union Counseling class. It was an opportunity to learn even more about the various human service programs available in the community. Before our ‘graduation,’ the coordinator asked for a male and female volunteer to speak about our experience in the class at the graduation. When no female stepped forward, I decided I would step up. I had no idea how introspective my speech would leave me that evening.

I am far from being a planner, so in the 15 minutes before I left for the banquet, I jotted down a few notes. You might think that knowing that various local political figures were going to be present, I might have put more thought into it…but I didn’t. Besides, my best work has often come from last minute pressure! I stuck the slips of note paper in my pocket and didn’t think about it again until time for my speech.

I used the notes as a reference, but pretty much spoke what came to mind. I was open, honest and genuine in what I had to share. Afterwards, I received a number of comments of support and praise. Other than that, I didn’t really think about it much…until I made it home.

Sitting on my couch considering the evening as a whole, I suddenly became very pensive. It dawned on me that I had essentially summed up the past 14 years of my life in just 10 minutes or less. If you’ve been following my blog, even though I am only just getting to the time I moved in Indiana, you might guess that a LOT has happened in that time. The following is not verbatim, since I only went by notes, but it does convey the same message.

I started working at Purdue University the summer of 2001. I was across the hall from Roberta Schoeneman in the College of Science advising computer science majors. I would leave Purdue in September 2008 because of my mental health. By September 2009, 12 months later, I would have intimate knowledge of: in-patient mental health care, outpatient community health services, Division of Family Services for SNAP/food stamps, the homeless shelter, the Mental Health America day shelter, Lafayette Transitional Housing, Lafayette Housing Authority and the Social Security Administration. In the months to follow, I would also work with Area IV, the YWCA Cancer Program, and Riggs Community Health Center.

I had gone from someone with a Master’s degree working at a Big 10 university to being homeless having to use food stamps. I still remember the first time I used my SNAP card, I only purchased a drink and maybe a bag of chips. I didn’t even make it to the car before I started crying. I just couldn’t accept that I had fallen that far.

Life has dramatically improved since then. You could say it is like night and day. Now, instead of receiving services from the various agencies, I am helping others navigate the process to receive services themselves. A year ago I began attending the HPIN meetings, Homeless Prevention and Intervention Network. That is where I learned of this class.

Even though I was pretty familiar with many of the resources shared in this class, I learned of so many others available in the community. It seemed like each week I would take what I had learned and share with a friend here in town, or even with an aunt in Texas. Having the right terminology, I was able to locate a couple of similar programs for her to help with renovations to her home to help my uncle with disabilities.

I plan to continue helping others, primarily those that are experiencing homelessness, with all the information I learned. I also plan to apply for Leadership Lafayette. Don’t be surprised if I go asking for financial assistance [looking directly at the CEO of United Way of Greater Lafayette]. I WILL be on the board of one of the various agencies represented before all is said and done!

Sitting here writing, I’m still in awe that I am ABLE to sit here and write this blog. For so many years I sincerely believed that I would end up dead by my own doing. Now that thought seems so foreign to me…even though I only let go of that option five short years ago.

I don’t recall a time in my life where I was more determined than I am now to help make changes that will benefit others. It is a slow, long process, but I am in it for the long haul. I want to see the holes filled so that ALL people experiencing homeless have a fighting chance to get back on their feet and not just those with the ability to navigate the many systems on their own.

To the person that told me I had an “advocate’s heart,” watch out! I have you on my radar!

Strutting my stuff before my speech.

Strutting my stuff before my speech.

Human Library Project

human_library_logoI had never heard of the Human Library Project, but when I was invited to be a Human Book and share my experience with being homeless, I jumped at the opportunity. Little did I know that I would end up losing my voice during the afternoon because I was one of the more popular Books to be checked out by Readers.

In short, the Human Library is an event which is aimed at addressing biases and discrimination that people might feel towards different groups. “A Human Book is a person that has chosen to be a public representative of a certain group.”  Examples of Human Books included: Feminist, Black Women are Scary, Muslim, Oreo, Christian Pastor and many others.

My title was “Homeless.” My chapters, which were based on very common stereotypes, included:

  • Just make better decisions!
  • Just a crazy alcoholic or druggie!!
  • Don’t you have family you can stay with?
  • Abuser of the “system”!
  • You must WANT to be homeless!

The organizers gave us the option to meet with small groups or one-on-one with Readers depending on our comfort level. I am so pleased that I said I was open to either option. It gave me the opportunity to talk to so many more Readers. In each of the five 30-minute sessions, I had between two and four Readers. As I stated above, at one point, I had been talking so much that I began to lose my voice!

I also had the distinction of being the first Human Book to be checked out. I should have known right then that I wasn’t going to have much down time, if any.

Human Library

To help begin each session, we were encouraged to ask the Readers why they chose our particular topic. Fortunately, I never got the “my professor told us to come” response like others did. All of my Readers seemed genuinely interested in challenging their own beliefs about the Homeless.

I purposely did not include gender in my chapter titles. I did, however, shatter that stereotype from the very beginning. I very quickly asked each Reader if they had expected to see a male when escorted to my table. For all except maybe two, the answer was a predictable “yes.” It was interesting to see the shock on their own faces as they realized they held that stereotype. From the very first time I asked that question and got their responses, I KNEW this was going to be a great afternoon of raising awareness.

There was one point in the afternoon when I had a chance to speak longer with two ladies. One was possibly about 50 years old and already involved with helping the Homeless through her church. The other was only about 19 or 20. She was so taken by what I shared that she was anxious to learn how she can help others.

I spent about 20 minutes telling my story making sure to cover all of the Chapters I had listed. Here is a VERY condensed version of my story:

I became homeless due to my depression and lack of full understanding by family. It was not a lack of poor decisions or lack of compliance with my treatment. I am one of the most compliant mental health clients you will find. I have ALWAYS taken my medication as instruction and only once did I cancel a therapy session at the last minute just because I didn’t want to go. In a sense, I accelerated the process to homelessness by seeking help for my mental health. I knew that afternoon that I checked myself into the psychiatric unit that I was simultaneously evicting myself from my sister’s home.

As for drug or alcohol use, I definitely do not have a problem there. I have no more than three or four alcoholic drinks a year and I have never smoked even a cigarette. I can barely stand to even hold an unopened pack of cigarettes!

I had immediate family that offered to let me stay with them, but it was under the condition that I either be working or looking for work. They just did not understand that I was not mentally capable of doing either at the time. I had reached the point of having panic attacks when it did come time to work.

When I did stay with other relatives during this time, I tried to work a part-time job. In the one month that I held the job, there was not one week where I made it to work all four days. Ultimately, I lost that job when I entered the hospital for the third time in a year.

So many people believe that people WANT to be on government entitlements. I was so overwhelmed by having to use my SNAP card early on. The first time I used my SNAP card I only purchased two items: a bag of chips and a drink. I remember kind of hiding the card as I slid it in the machine. I grabbed the bag as quickly as I could and made a bee-line for my car. I was so ashamed to be using ‘food stamps’ that I didn’t even make it to my car before I started crying. I had officially reached a low I never imagined.

As I followed my daily routine between the shelter, library, therapy and Transitional Housing each day, I began to understand why it is so hard for some to move back into permanent housing or even to not want to take advantage of certain services. Unfortunately, in many places, it takes a great deal of patience to navigate the various services and their requirements.

It became clear to me early on that I had become homeless for a reason. It was a time for me to focus on me and my mental health without other stressors. Sounds, strange, I know. I had no fixed home or income, yet that was part of the blessing. I knew where I was going to sleep, I knew where I was going to shower and I knew where I was going to have my meals. My basic needs were being met…without me having to stress about money, work, or even interacting with others unless absolutely necessary. I finally had the time I needed to spend in more intense therapy.

For others, it is not a blessing. Once they have a bad experience with an agency, they are highly unlikely to return. Most often, this happens with homeless shelters. A good shelter has basic rules for everyone. It’s really quite minimal in the grand scheme of things in order to be able to sleep with air conditioning or heat depending on the season. However, for some, it is just too much for a number of reasons. These people generally end up being ‘campers.’ And, once you’ve been a camper for a while, the freeness of it makes is more difficult to adjust to stable, long-term housing. For those, the best we can do is to make sure their other needs are being met.

Ultimately, I got housed because of information from my therapist and NOT because of help from either of my case managers. I did start working again and have now been in the same apartment and job for over 4.5 years.

That is my story in a nutshell. I could have given at least a two-hour talk if given the opportunity. It was such a pleasure and privilege to be able to share with so many in one afternoon.

Once the Readers were dismissed, we convened in a meeting room to decompress and give our immediate feedback to the organizers and each other. EVERY Book thoroughly enjoyed the experience and had wished we had had an opportunity to be a Reader of some Books ourselves. In the end, all the Books agreed to have their information shared with each other so that we could become Readers at our leisure.

I commend the Krannert Women in Management group for doing wonderful job in organizing such a complex program. I certainly hope to return as a Book!