Because of the suggestions from my therapist, I truly had no idea that these mental breakdowns were signaling to me that something could be off with my hormones. This also isn’t a plug, but I highly suggest downloading the app Flo as a period tracker! That is how my therapist and I pinpointed when these fluctuations occurred! I’d always been an avid fan of the app because I don’t have the time of day to remember things like cycle timing, but I digress. She purposely asked tons of period-related questions. “Are you on your period?” I would say no. “Was your mom ever irritable the week before?” I would say yes, an absolute monster (that’s a joke, Mom). “Is there a family history of hormonal issues?” I, again, said yes.
I want to stress that my therapist noticing this took well over a month. Her asking these questions made me watch my Flo tracker like a hawk. Surely enough, she was spot on in the fact that these struggles and symptoms would occur the week before.
In my sessions, my therapist was taking this issue more seriously than I was. She would express concern for these patterns, and I finally responded, “Isn’t that what most people go through during their periods?” She responded (and I’ll never forget), “It doesn’t have to be.”
That’s when she and I decided that it would be in my best interest to schedule an appointment at my local clinic.
After scheduling an appointment at the Women’s Health Center, my own mother was even a little confused as to why I needed help with these issues. I remember her saying, “Yeah, but aren’t those feelings common for every girl? I always felt irritable the week before my period.” (BTW, keep that statement in the back of your mind.)
I was falling into the trap of invalidating the struggles I was facing, which is a primary reason many won’t seek help for premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD) symptoms. After going to the University of Iowa’s Women’s Health Center, my mind went on a whirlwind of confusion. I was horrified to be diagnosed with something that I hadn’t even heard of before. I didn’t know what to expect at my OB-GYN appointment, but a PMDD diagnosis definitely wasn’t it. I literally went in and explained that there was a specific time period in my cycle where I felt very vulnerable and unstable. My doctor then went over a list of symptoms that I very much identified with and then diagnosed me. After a long discussion about feminism and societal stigma, ’cause she’s such a cooooollll doctor, she explained this disorder to me as a mental health issue and a serotonin deficiency. A week before menstruation, serotonin drops — and people with PMDD are very sensitive to the loss of serotonin.
I left feeling a lot of different emotions, as per Olivia usual. I felt validated, disappointed in myself for not seeking help sooner, angry at the education system for not informing me about this, but most of all curious to know more about PMDD.