***TRIGGER WARNING: Content about depression and suicidal thoughts, treated with humor and love***
Last week, as I was walking down St. Laurent in a “What even is Life” pandemic haze, it happened. I thought to myself, “Wouldn’t it be nice to just like, end my life and get away from all this misery?!” I know, alarm bells are going off for some of you, but for others—I KNOW you know what I’m talking about. This was simply a passing thought, just my ego experimenting with how it might feel to imagine that possibility, nothing more. I went right back to the endless debate of whether or not I should get a slice of pizza on my way home.
I never used to have thoughts like this, though many of my loved ones have on the regular. Of course I worry about them, but I know the difference between PICK UP THE PHONE AND CALL 911—and just nod with understanding as they tell me about it, and maybe even laugh with them. It can be really cathartic to joke about this stuff. It’s such a taboo subject, that we feel like we can’t talk about it AT ALL, for fear of being immediately escorted to a psych ward and forced to eat microwaved Salisbury steak. But I think to an extent, it might be a pretty normal human instinct, to at least CONSIDER death as a solution to a pretty horrible situation. At the extreme, for my loved ones who struggle with serious depression and suicide ideation, my feeling is that it is much more helpful to be able to talk about it and not be judged, than to have to hide “the darkness.” That just makes things worse.
I don’t think I just speak for myself when I say I’m just fucking DONE with this pandemic. Especially living in a box in Montreal, where we’ve been in high red alert since October, and we have an 8PM CURFEW. On some level I get it, but jeese, it was 9:30pm a few weeks ago, and at least then we can go for a walk before bed so we have some chance of falling asleep at night. So I know that some of these sudden dark thoughts are very apropos, and temporary.
I realized something really, really huge last week—it just took an idiot decision on my part to figure it out. I booked a (red zone) cottage getaway with my lovely, sweet boyfriend, during the week before my period. I knoww. We’ve been dating for 6 months, and by now, I have at least learned to go back to my own apartment and lock the door when I start to feel cramps.
But here we are, stuck together in the middle of nowhere, in a small cabin with no closed rooms, during what I’ve started calling “hell week.” Things he did 3 days ago that made me swoon, now make me want to snarl and smash things. He’ll come embrace me and ask for a kiss, and all I can think is how much I wish he’d just leave me alone. So I stay in a little corner I’ve designated as my own, and secretly jump out of my skin every time he moves his chair, clears his throat, or chews a banana. He picks up on my #mood and gets all mopey, so now on top of it all, I feel extreme GUILT for being such a royal garbage person. We watch an episode of Nadiya Bakes on Netflix, and I start sobbing because I’m convinced SHE is his dream girl, aka happy all the damn time. Seeds of negative thoughts grow into FORESTS of anxiety, feelings of hopelessness, and BOOM—depression. Though, I don’t fully allow myself to feel the depression until I get home. This is the mode I was in when I had the “dark thought” I spoke of earlier.
Which version of me is real?!? Am I just hiding my true personality for 3 weeks a month and then when I’m most “in tune” with my body, I tear off the smiley optimistic patient easy-going mask?!? I once read somewhere that the week before our periods just heightens what we are already feeling—we are simply more sensitive. So, maybe all these horrible thoughts are ALWAYS in my brain, just dormant?!? Ugh I’m the worst!!!
So now it’s like, holy crap. How are my boyfriend and I ever going to last if we have to plan getaways around my damn PMS? How are we ever going to live together?!? Will I need to build my own 1-person PMS hut behind the main house and outfit it like a bunker, but it’s purpose is the safety and survival of people on the OUTSIDE?!? The second I feel the first shooting pain in my left leg, I start screaming frantically at the person checking me out at Costco: “MOVE IT!! THE CHANGE…IT’S HAPPENING!! I NEED TO GET HOME NOW!!!”
Anyway, as I always do when I’m feeling less than desirable things, I started perusing online for validation. Where are you, other people that feel like me? Where my period werewolves at?? And while re-reading this article about periods being WAY WORSE during the pandemic, I stumbled on a condition I’d never heard of before. Premenstrual Disphoria Disorder (PMDD). It’s like PMS but on crack. Symptoms are anxiety, extreme irritability, crying at the drop of a hat, hopelessness, detachment from loved ones, isolation, fatigue, depression, headaches, cramps, decreased libido, heightened sensitivity, muscle spasms, difficulty coordinating, forgetfulness, inability to concentrate, and many many others. I experience ALMOST ALL of them. For 1 week a month, women who are diagnosed with PMDD feel like they are not in control. Then, everything goes back to normal within the first few days of their period, like some kind of bloody miracle. Women with PMDD, understandably, are often misdiagnosed with bipolar disorder. Some more fun statistics*: something like 67% of women who are admitted to psychiatric facilities do so during the week before their period. Up to 70% of women suffer from PMS, and 5-8% suffer from PMDD.
*I read these somewhere, and may have jostled the numbers a bit, but I remember my jaw dropping.
Can we please stop down-playing and teasing women about it being “that time of the month?” This is serious shit! It really, really sucks that so many of us go through this every month, and have to feel like we’ve lost our minds. We feel like we have to protect those around us from ourselves, making constant excuses for our “behavior,” when what we really need is support, and MORE DAMN RESEARCH. I will say though, it’s a huge relief to know that I don’t go crazy once a month, I’m just super sensitive to plummeting levels of serotonin.
So what now? Well at least with a possible diagnosis, I can seek treatment. Will I see a doctor about this? Maybe, but I’m like 95% sure I have at least a mild case of PMDD, and we all know what a doctor will say. “Here is a prescription for SSRIs (anti-depressants): they’re potentially dangerous, and they have like a million other shitty side effects, but with any luck, after many trials and tribulations you might feel somewhat sane in a few months. (You won’t want to strangle your boyfriend, but you also won’t want to have sex with him)” Yeah no thanks.
What I did stumble on in my internet travels, is that micro doses of psilocybin do something very similar in your brain to SSRIs in terms of increasing serotonin, but WITHOUT THE SIDE EFFECTS. Only caveat is that they’re not legal, yet…but tons of research is in process right now that will likely change that in the near future. In the meantime, there are ways around it.
Other things that can help increase serotonin, decrease anxiety/depression and get you through hell week are physical exercise (unfortunately all I seem able to do these days is go for zombie walks, which don’t really do it); meditation (I love Tara Brach); cutting out sugar and alcohol; getting lots of healthy carbs; daily vitamin B6 and Magnesium Bisglycinate; Omega-3 and Calcium (both taken from ovulation up until symptoms end during menses); and vitamin D. Herbal supplements that some people with PMDD swear by are St. John’s Wort, chasteberry, and primrose oil.
Another piece of armor: therapy. Specifically, of the Cognitive Behavioral genre. Please remember, I’m not a doctor or a scientist; I’m just scanning google and finding things that suit my bias. (I read that in a meme somewhere) Do your own research and talk to a medical professional!
If you’re relating hard to anything I’ve written here, and want to follow in my baby steps thus far, check out the Tim Feriss podcast, specifically any of his episodes on psychedelics and their healing properties. I listened to an episode with Michael Pollan, focusing on his new book “How to Change Your Mind: What the New Science of Psychedelics Teaches us about Consciousness, Dying, Addiction, Depression, and Transcendence.” I also got really excited when I found two women who have written books about their experiences treating PMDD with micro doses of psychedelics: A Really Good Day: How Microdosing Made a Mega Difference in My Mood, My Marriage, and My Life by Ayelet Waldman; and The Woman in the Basement: How to Live Your Best Life 75% of the Time by Tina A. Williams.
I hope this offers some of you solace, like it did me. Talk about this stuff with your friends and loved ones!! Listen to them without judgment! We all just want to be allowed to feel what we are feeling. The more we talk about it, the more we’ll realize just how many people are going through the same things.