For the past 15 years, Laura Teare-Jones, 30, has dealt with cyclical bouts of what she thought was depression.
When it strikes, socialising with friends becomes very difficult, watching a moving advert on TV can trigger meltdowns, and she often experiences cluster migraines that leave her bedridden.
Laura, of Deeside in Flintshire, north Wales has even been at events where she has been left in tears, unable to move from her seat.
For years, she went back and forth to the doctor and was repeatedly told it was likely just a low mood, which she tried to combat with exercise and healthy eating.
At her lowest, she feared that the mood swings – which would disappear as suddenly as they struck – were indicative of bipolar disorder, a mental health condition characterised by periods of manic highs and depressive lows.
But then, scrolling Instagram one day, wellness coach Laura saw a post about premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD) – a severe form of PMS that can cause extreme anger, anxiety and depression every month.
Consulting her doctor, she was officially diagnosed later that month, and is now speaking out to raise awareness and spare other women the same battle for answers.
‘I never connected the way I was feeling to my period,’ Laura explained.
‘Some women with PMDD describe it as a red mist of anger that descends on them – but for me, it was more a grey fog. I felt despairing rather than angry.
‘It wasn’t that I was lashing out at others – I was lashing in, becoming consumed by self-loathing.’
As a teenager, she noticed she would have mood swings, but did not connect them to her hormones, assuming instead that they were just part of her personality.
She said: ‘One of the main reasons I never connected them to my period was because, for me, the week I actually menstruated was almost a release and I would feel okay. It was the build-up beforehand that was difficult.’
Over the years, Laura was repeatedly hit by bouts of depression that would subside after a couple of weeks.
Speaking with doctors, she was advised to eat healthily and exercise in a bid to lift her mood – but working as a wellness coach and often going running, she was already doing so, to no avail.
‘Out of nowhere, I’d be suddenly hit by these feelings of utter despair,’ she said. ‘I would blame myself for not looking after my mental health properly.
‘Little things like a sad film or a moving advert on TV, that might make somebody else a bit emotional, would trigger an absolute meltdown in me.
‘It’s like putting a magnifying glass over any little stress you have in your day. It all felt very hopeless.
‘Then, every time I built up the courage to go to the doctor, I’d find I suddenly felt better again.’
What is PMDD?
PMDD causes emotional and physical symptoms like PMS, but women with PMDD find their symptoms draining.
According to WebMD, the symptoms of PMDD usually show up the week before you start your period and last until a few days after it begins. Most of the time they’re severe and exhausting, and they can keep you from daily activities.
Symptoms of PMDD include:
- Mood swings
- Depression or feelings of hopelessness
- Intense anger and conflict with other people
- Tension, anxiety, and irritability
- No interest in your usual activities
- Trouble concentrating
- Appetite changes
- Feeling out of control
- Sleep problems
- Cramps and bloating
- Breast tenderness
- Joint or muscle pain
- Hot flashes
Your doctor can diagnose you with PMDD if you have at least five of the symptoms listed above, they start 7-10 days before you get your period and they go away shortly after you start bleeding.
At the start of 2019, she became convinced she may have bipolar disorder.
Laura added: ‘But when I read up more about it and its symptoms, it didn’t quite fit. I never had manic phases – just depressive ones.
‘Although doctors had told me that I was depressed, that didn’t make sense either, as it seemed to come and go so often.’
Then, in May 2019, she spotted an Instagram page about the symptoms of PMDD that changed everything.
Heading to the doctors armed with a detailed record of her symptoms she explained that she believed she may have the condition.
She said: ‘Of course, I was relieved to finally have an answer and to feel less alone, but I also wished I’d made the connection to my hormones years ago.
‘PMDD would have been much easier to cope with if I had understood what was happening, but before I knew about it, I could never tell when my bad days were coming.’
Now, Laura continues to live with PMDD, but she has developed some coping mechanisms to make it more manageable such as doing shift work, napping more, and avoiding emotional scenes.
Although the condition affects everybody differently, in Laura’s case, her symptoms begin during the ovulation phase of her menstrual cycle, around two weeks before her period.
Her cluster migraines then tend to hit when she has her period.
According to the Massachusetts Center for Women’s Mental Health – part of Harvard Medical School – PMDD mood symptoms are not present in the absence of a menstrual cycle, therefore, the condition should not affect pregnancy.
While Laura is yet to decide whether she will have children, she is feeling more positive about the future since being diagnosed.
Keen to raise awareness, last month, Laura set up an Instagram page called @myhormones_myhealth where she documents her life with PMDD, and is also launching a mental health podcast of the same name.
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