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Guest Post - From Despair to Discovery: Navigating the Rollercoaster of PMDD and Personal Growth by Izzy Burton

Guest Post - From Despair to Discovery: Navigating the Rollercoaster of PMDD and Personal Growth by Izzy Burton

I’m sixteen and I’m lying on my stomach on my bedroom floor staring at the carpet fibres, so consumed by this painful sadness that I want to be anywhere but here, anyone but sixteen year old me. I’m holding my breath as I hyper focus on the fraying, fluffy strands of carpet, the voice in my head making sure I don’t tell anyone about how sad I feel because my life is so (technically) good and my sadness makes no sense… they’ll think I’m crazy … they’ll lock me up somewhere because my brain isn’t working as it should. I wonder if life will always be this excruciating for no reason at all. 

I’m in my early twenties and the world has gotten better at talking about mental health. Anxiety and depression are terms that people aren’t so scared to mention anymore, but it’s still a long and arduous journey ahead before I learn about PMDD. Whilst I’m no longer calling myself crazy, I’ve now graduated to calling myself pathetic because most of the time I am absolutely fine, but every so often I’m so desperately sad that I want to delete myself from the planet altogether. This sporadic depression makes me feel as if I don’t fit in any category, that I’m not depressed or depressed enough, I just find living hard. Another boyfriend has called me a “rollercoaster” and can’t seem to handle this woman that wasn’t advertised when he first met her - after all we all enjoy a rollercoaster until we have to spend our life on one. I’m scared about being a burden to anyone I love, so one very awful afternoon I call Samaritans just so I don’t unload any of my pain onto someone I know. I don’t feel so embarrassed telling a stranger who has no idea who I am. For a moment I feel a bit better. But I can’t shake this feeling that almost like clockwork, once I month I destroy my life from the inside out, I am the epicentre of this implosion, my brain being controlled by tiny maniacs who are telling me to do all sorts of erratic things whilst my true self is tied up and gagged, watching it all unfold in front of her like some awful awful nightmare. When my true self finally returns, she’s too scared, or maybe too embarrassed, to revisit or give a thought to what happened before … it’s like it happened to someone else, or in some other universe, it doesn’t feel plausible that I acted like that at all.

I’m in my late twenties and finally after years of research and taking this research to my doctor I find out I have PMDD. To say it was a revelation is no exaggeration. There was finally sense to my two sided world. Half a month (slightly more if I was lucky) of typical, happy, enthusiastic, go-go-go Izzy, and half a month of heavily depressed, highly anxious, manic, argument-picking, insular Izzy. The real life Jekyll and Hyde. And whilst this revelation meant I could start to give myself grace when I found life hard, and I could track and understand when the sudden outbursts of tears or anger were a bad reaction to hormones coursing through my body and not through any fault of my own, I still didn’t really have any answer to how to help myself. 

Before I go on, I want to answer the question “What is PMDD?” for those of you who haven’t come across it before. Premenstrual dysphoric disorder is a very severe form of PMS and is an increased sensitivity to normal hormone changes that occur during the monthly menstrual cycle. Symptoms include mood swings, feeling tearful, lack of energy, less interest in normal activities, feeling hopeless, suicidal feelings, feeling angry or irritable, feeling anxious, tense or on edge, feeling overwhelmed or out of control, and difficulty concentrating. 

So with this new found knowledge of PMDD I was prescribed SSRIs to try combat the sadness, and while the sadness retreated, anger flared up in its place and I became an emotionally-numb, raging monster who wanted to destroy everything and anything that crossed her path … I also became an online shopping addict which the doctor told me was a very common side effect teamed with the anger. So the SSRIs were abandoned after just 2 months because I favoured sadness over rage. 

Whilst the SSRI option was dashed, the tracking of my symptoms (without SSRIs) had allowed me to see how my cycle affected how exhausted I felt, what days I was angry and which I was sad, when I just sat there and did nothing (but stare at carpet fibres like I had when I was 16) because it was like I had short-circuited and couldn’t move, when some very rare months if I was on another level of happiness (perhaps when I met someone new and fell in love) I could bypass the PMDD altogether. I noticed that a smaller, condensed version of how I felt a week before my period happened on the day or two around ovulation, a fun little mid-month reminder that my hormones ruled me.

By pure luck in 2021, aged 28, I moved to a new area of Hove where my new GP surgery had the wonderful Dr Sam Hall on staff. Dr Sam Hall was somewhat of an expert on hormones, woman’s health and neurodivergence. It was Dr Hall who finally suggested something interesting, that I trial taking Progesterone from ovulation until my period to see if it had any effect. There is some belief that too high levels of estrogen versus low levels of progesterone are a cause of PMDD, but sometimes taking progesterone to level out the hormones can actually make things worse - so it doesn’t always work for people. For a while I wasn’t sure the progesterone was doing anything at all, and then I missed a month by accident and I had the worse PMDD episode I’d experienced in the longest time. I’m still taking it now, and whilst it isn’t a cure, I do believe it’s helping, even just a little. There is still so much to learn about what can help balance out the worlds of those with PMDD, but what’s wonderful is having a doctor who understands and is interested in finding ways to try treat and help women/AFAB who are suffering at the hands of PMDD. Talking therapy has also been a great help over the years in getting me to a better place with my PMDD, and let’s face it, life in general. 

It’s believed that 5-8% of women/AFAB have PMDD. Patients wait an average of 12 years to receive an accurate diagnosis of PMDD, and see an average of 6 different medical providers before receiving a diagnosis. There are also large studies underway to better understand the links between PMDD and ADHD/Autism. 

As time goes on I feel like I better understand myself and how to handle how much my personality and feelings change during the luteal phase of my menstrual cycle. As a creative person I have found that creating short comics has been a way for me to talk about, and better understand, my own feelings. There is something about getting how I feel down in a concise way that I can share easily with the world that feels like I’m alleviating some of the weight on my shoulders. And seeing something that was once painful in this poetic form feels like a kind of medicine for a while. Describing my personal experience in the comics has led me to recognise that my personal experience is not a singular one, that so many other women/AFAB experience PMDD exactly as I do. Shared below is a comic I made about how PMDD feels. Already this comic has helped propel many people to get a diagnosis and better understand themselves, and even in some cases, introduce PMDD to them entirely, so I hope it might find another person or two here. 

I still find myself, aged 30, lying on my stomach on a carpet frequently, but I’m berating myself much less. I feel a deep sadness for my younger self who didn’t trust herself at all. I have found a very supportive partner (one that notes that I am a rollercoaster and loves me for it) and friends, which makes a world of difference. And whilst there aren’t many benefits, if any, to PMDD, I have found that because I’ve felt emotions on another level of intensity for my whole life I have flourished in my work as a concept artist, director, illustrator and writer. My everyday job is to relay a feeling to an audience through often just one image alone and feelings are my superpower. I am deciding to rebrand being a rollercoaster as simply being an extremely passionate person, and that passion I feed into every piece of art I make, my life being one of them.

Find Out More About Izzy Burton

Explore Izzy's world at Dive into her journey, artistic endeavours, and personal insights, showcasing her unique voice and creative vision and follow Izzy on Instagram @izzyburtonart for her latest projects. 

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