Welcome...thanks for stopping by. Hopefully, this epic rambling may stimulate conversation, provide a glimpse into the lives of couples & families with PMDD and create an awareness of the challenges, trials & tribulations of men coping with partners with PMDD.
Should you have any questions, comments, ideas, or simply a need to vent, my email is email@example.com & on twitter, +Chef Jay (@popculture007). I also started a Facebook group to share thoughts, ideas:
Let's get the basics out of the way - you probably already know about the symptoms and the ensuing tornado of emotions but, for thoroughness' sake:
What is PMDD? According to the Mayo Clinic:
"Premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD) is a severe, sometimes disabling extension of premenstrual syndrome (PMS). Although regular PMS and PMDD both have physical and emotional symptoms, PMDD causes extreme mood shifts that can disrupt your work and damage your relationships.
- Sadness or hopelessness
- Anxiety or tension
- Extreme moodiness
- Marked irritability or anger
Why am I writing this epic dissertation on PMDD? Simple. I need to. There aren't many resources out there for guys. There isn't a strong support system - the number of comments I've seen by guys saying "run away" or "get the F out of the relationship" or "she's crazy" are overwhelming, insulting and, at the very least, a disappointing commentary on the state of men.
Living with a wife with PMDD (who's had it most of her life) and growing up with a sister who, looking back, had something along the same lines, I can say the following: It's worse than what's described. Does it need to be said that PMDD is NOT PMS? Duh.
"...symptoms begin 7 to 10 days" - not always. It can hit at a moment's notice. The anxieties can skyrocket in a heartbeat. The moodiness can take over without warning...a sound, a question, proximity to other humans...anything. One moment, she's sitting at the dining room table, the next, she's heading to the basement to burrow into pillows and blankets, watching Downton Abbey (or whichever show makes her feel better).
If your partner, wife, girlfriend, significant other is anything like my wife (who, according to her doctor, is a textbook case for PMDD), hopefully my words might help, enlighten or support you in your relationship. It's not easy. I feel for you. Really. It's hard as hell. You can do this.
Let me say this first (and I'll say it a couple more times before this is through):
YOU ARE NOT ALONE.
Family is key. Hers, Yours...they need to understand what you're going through, why she couldn't make it to Thanksgiving supper or church or your nephew's recital. She probably doesn't want to be around people. Including you. Your life must continue.
But here's the tough part: she will take it out on you. Why? Because she loves you. If she's letting loose her irritations, her tirades, her anger, her frustrations upon you, it means she trusts you. She's let you behind the curtain. But what sucks is that you will be yelled at, loathed, be the focal point of her ire. And, most likely, she won't want to talk about it. She won't want to dwell on it. Once its passed, she's done with it, not wanting to recall the dark place she endured. Why? Because it's over...and, most likely, she won't want to consider how her words or actions (which she may or may not remember expressing) affect you or those around her. It makes matters worse. Or, at least, that's what I've learned. Often, picking fights is an outlet for the tension in her mind and body. My wife says it's because she loves me. It's hard as hell, but don't give into the temptation to engage in an argument when she's PMDD-y. Walk away. Seriously. She will, likely, say things to get you going, get under your skin or piss you off. Walk away. She's only doing it to drag you down. It'll make things so much worse because, likely, she won't recall engaging you in a volatile discussion and you will. And, if you're like me, you'll hold it against her. Remember, dysphoria is 'a state of unease or generalized dissatisfaction with life' - compounded with her anxiety, depression, restlessness, agitation and irritation...it's like a tornado within her body and her words are letting some of the destructive forces out, wrecking you in the process. The tornado knows not what it destroys. Walk away.
Here's the best way my wife described it: She's in a deep, dark hole. There's only one way out and, to get there, she has to go through the darkness. She said, 'when I come out, into the light, it helps if you're there waiting for me...it makes things easier.' - that, for her, for our family, I can do.
We have 2 kids. They're realising (at the ages of 4 & 6) that "mommy doesn't feel very good" rather often. Until medication entered our house, her PMDD symptoms were, on average, 16 out of 30 days. Things are getting better...the boys are well versed in the "don't wake mommy" talk...or "mommy's very tired today" chat...my 4 y/o will come into our bedroom to sleep with me when mommy stays downstairs. As he puts it "I'll sleep with you, daddy, so you don't get sad".
One thing that's not often identified when discussing symptoms of PMDD is suicidal fantasies. I learned, quickly, that the fantasies are VERY different from tendencies. I was told, "hide the pain pills away from me because that's the way I'd probably do it...less mess for you to clean up". WTF? Nobody prepares you for that mindset. (Note: I've since learned that this is called "suicide ideation".
So...What do I do? How do I cope? What keeps me grounded? Why do I stay in a relationship that, clearly, is emotionally volatile?
First off, the boys. Dude & Lil Dude. I'm there for them. I take them away, keep them occupied, keep them entertained, keep them busy...but I also get their meals, make their lunches, do their laundry, bathe them and put them to bed...and I wake them up, make them breakfast, get them ready for school...it's not an equal division of labour, I know...but it's what needs to be done.
Why do I do all that? Why do I also do the groceries and the laundry and make suppers? Simple. I don't know if it's going to be one of THOSE days. I made a promise to myself that I'd do what I could to start the day off positively and easily for her. I anticipate the worst (it's gotten to the point where I have a 50/50 chance of being right). I try and do everything I can so her anxiety is lessened. I can't get rid of it...but I can lower it. She calls me a martyr. So be it. I'd rather do that than be one of the guys who, at the first sign of adversity, turns tail and runs.
How do I survive? If I'm doing all of this, what am I doing for me? Well, it's taken a long time but, I've accepted the fact that it's not about me. It's not even about her. It's about the boys. If she's in a state, I trust her to handle it. I deal with the dudes.
WHAT ABOUT ME?
Don't get me wrong. I do things for me. I'm not talking about drinking or smoking or drugs (though my alcohol intake does increase on those PMDD days). For me, it's cooking. Something that has a beginning, middle, end. Something that involves the boys (so they don't bug mommy on the couch or in bed). Something that satisfies us. Something that's controllable by me. Something that's as challenging as I want to make it. Something that allows me to express myself to others. I can immerse myself in the process, pushing the stresses of the day to the side (at least temporarily).
Recently, I've been writing. I write how I'm feeling when she ups and leaves the dinner table or lashes out at me or tries to pick a fight just because she wants to argue. I keep track of the number of days she sleeps downstairs, while I deal with the boys through the night. I write lists (bucket, shopping, chores). I write quotes or words of wisdom and inspiration (to remind myself that I'm not alone...though it often feels like I am.)
My big one, though, is music. No, I don't write it or sing it or perform it. I listen to it. I have my 'mood music' to centre me. And, like her needs during her PMDD spells, what I need varies each time. It could be punk or rap or chillout or metal or classic rock or country...but when it's on, I'm in the zone, in the moment and in the mood. When I'm cooking, there's ALWAYS music on. Again, it shifts with my moods.
I'll say it: PMDD can be a selfish disorder if your partner blames every given frustration or moodiness or anxieties on it. And, trust me, it can go there. She will do what she needs to do for her when she needs to do it. Regardless of your intentions, there's very little you can do. She's been dealing with it, coping with it, handling it well before you entered the picture. She's dealt with it on her own and will continue to do so...ON HER OWN. Get over it. Seriously.
WHAT CAN YOU DO?
For the love of humanity, when she says to leave her alone, LEAVE HER ALONE.
When you're trying to decide what to make for supper, avoid at all costs, asking question after question after question. Stick to one simple question with a yes or no answer. Most likely, she won't eat any food anyway so it doesn't matter what you make!
Please ask her, once, "is there anything you need" or "can I get you anything" or "is there anything I can do?" - but do NOT ask every few minutes.
Be prepared. It's the scout's motto. It's important here, too. Have her comfort foods on hand: perhaps it's a particular chocolate bar (Lindt dark chocolate with hot peppers for my wife) or salty snacks (chips? nachos?) - don't be surprised if they disappear during her moments of deep darkness. Even if you wanted some, you can buy more. Again, this can lead down the road of selfishness but get over it.
This is a disorder requiring frequent, unexpected sacrifice. You're going to need to give up stuff - she may need your attention...ooooooooorrrrrrrr....she may tell you to 'get the f--- out' meaning you need to find somewhere else to be (pub? friend's place? ANYWHERE but home). The nice thing is that, if she's coming out of her state, she'll text you to come home. When you do go home, say very little. Maybe a 'how are you feeling?' but don't you dare overwhelm her with story after story about what you saw, did, or heard. It's not - and never will be - about you during these times.
One more thing. YOU. CAN'T. FIX. HER. Don't try. Don't tell her to 'go for a walk' or ask to go out for dinner or sex. Don't even consider telling her to 'get over it' or 'snap out of it' or tell her that it's nothing. It's everything. It's all consuming and all encompassing. It is a deep, dark hole that she's allowed herself to explore and it's scary as fu--. She doesn't want you down there with her. This is her own hell. You cannot and will not be her tour guide. Trust me. I've had my nuts in a sling one too many times thinking I could be the fixer...like I could be the solution to her problems. It sucks to not be able to solve a problem for her. I love my wife, but not having the tools to fix her hurts like hell. She's stronger than words can express...and it'll make you stronger the moment you accept the fact that you are not her knight in shining armour, rescuing her from a pit of despair.
So what are the solutions? There aren't any. Every month may be a different hell. Every time it rears it's ugly head, it may be a different stimulus that exacerbates her anxiety. You can usually predict when the darkness may arise but be prepared for spontaneous combustion.
There are medications (my wife's on Cipralex). Does it help? Yes. Is it a cure? No. Her PMDD still comes...but not as frequently. We're down to ~8-10 days a month now. It lowers sex drive. Decreases appetite (with sporadic bouts of gorging). Ironically, it CAN increase anxiety (!) which, I thought, it was supposed to minimize...but, whatever.
There's therapy. I'm sure there is. We just haven't explored it. Yet.
There's exercise or yoga...something that centres the mind and body. But, dear man, don't suggest she work out while she's in the middle of an episode. You're likely to have a rolled up exercise mat shoved deep inside you through a very tiny orifice.
Why don't I go out more? Because I never know when the PMDD will kick in or when the depression or anxiety will hit. I never know, going to get groceries, if I'll come home to find her on the floor. I fear leaving her with the boys on 'bad' days because I never know what to expect when I come home - will they be trying to wake her up? will she be locked in her bedroom, sobbing? will she be unleashing her fury on the boys as they wildly chase each other through the house? It's the fear of the unknown.
Don't be surprised if you slip into your own funk after a particular bout of PMDD. It's draining. It's exhausting. You'll be physically, mentally and emotionally wiped. You'll be worrying about her, questioning yourself, wishing you could do more (once you've accepted you can't), wondering if she's ok...it's a whirlwind that is uncontrollable. It keeps you on edge. She may have said something particularly hurtful or mean (just to get you going). That sucks big time. Then, when the dark clouds pass, when she's all kinds of relieved and 'nice again', you may be relieved...but you'll be mentally overwhelmed. You'll want to talk to her...and, perhaps, she'll want to share her thoughts (what you did right, what you did wrong) and that, in itself, further drains you. You don't want to hear all the things you did wrong (or didn't do at all) do you?
It sounds mean or cruel or insensitive but, guys, suck it up. Man up and accept that your wife or partner or lover has PMDD. The more you learn about her & how she handles it the better off your relationship will be. It is an ongoing process, kind of like the Hobbits on their quest for the ring. It's an adventure but one fraught with chaos, insanity, danger and doubt.
What can you do? What can you say? It's easier said than done.
When she's not in a PMDD state, (and, please, don't inundate her with all of these questions at one time!)
- Ask her what you can have on hand for her (salty? sweet? sex & the city boxset?)
- Ask what you can do to help (tell her to be specific in what she wants from you - rub her lower back, check in without saying a word, hand her a cup of tea and walk out, etc)
- Ask her what, specifically, she needs from you (a conversation afterwards? a walk? etc)
- If you think medication is needed, tread carefully - choosing a safe time to mention intervention is paramount.
- If asking her to seek treatment is tricky, wait til you mention 'therapy'...that's another whole kettle of fish.
There's more, I'm sure...but if you have any questions, comments, ideas, suggestions, tips or stories to share, please do so...though it may feel like you're alone, know you're not...the fact you're exploring how you can help your partner demonstrates your strength and resolve. Well done.
A few sites that helped me realize I wasn't alone: