Living with PMDD

During premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD) awareness month, Riverside Housing Services Processing Officer Katarina Fleming-Scott talks about her eight-year battle with the debilitating monthly condition.  

I have a condition called premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD) which is like a severe form of premenstrual syndrome (PMS). It is a condition that is becoming better known, but even now in the UK, it is difficult to get a diagnoses.

Looking back I think this was always present, but due to another medical condition I had months, and even years at times, with no cycle to cause it. After fertility treatment around eight years ago something changed, and from then it seemed the symptoms got worse with every month.

It started with the usual aches and pains, then I began to get sore joints and migraines, followed by irritability and a low mood. The mood affecting symptoms just seemed to grow and grow. I would feel like I wanted to run away from wherever I was, be that home, work, the shops – the other end of the country wouldn’t have been far enough.

In the last three years these symptoms just kept escalating. I started to get panicky in the shops or supermarket and would have to leave and I began to make excuses to leave work or not go in at all. I didn’t feel like I could admit why I couldn’t go in , so would say I had some illness or another, but I managed to just about get away with it without getting into disciplinary action or getting sacked.

Every month I would spend two weeks spiralling into a pit of despair and then the next two weeks picking up the pieces before it all just repeated itself again. Some months I would manage better than others and get through it pretty much unscathed, but sometimes it would completely debilitate me, not going to work, cancelling plans with family and friends and not leaving the house.

Around a year and a half ago I started working at Riverside. I was just about managing to keep things together but still the symptoms kept progressing and I would find myself in bed at night looking up ways to kill myself. I knew this was wrong and after a few months of these feelings and behaviours I again found myself not wanting to leave the house, go to work, or be a part of life in any way.

I had already joined our disability staff group Enable and took part in some of the events they held. I knew Riverside supported colleagues suffering with their mental health and felt the confidence to tell the truth, so the next time I called into work, for the first time, I told the truth.

I didn’t know what my manager would say and even though I knew how I felt, I still felt like I was letting them down. But I was met with sympathy and support and straight after getting off the phone I called my doctors who saw me that same day, signed me off for a few weeks and gave me a prescription for anti-depressants.

Finally I felt like I had done the impossible and would be cured.

Unfortunately it wasn’t quite so easy. Over the next few months, rather than get better, I got worse. I was in and out of work trying so hard to keep things normal but it felt like I was just constantly failing. I was suffering from regular panic attacks and my suicidal thoughts were becoming plans.

One of the hardest things I have ever done is telling my husband that I didn’t want to live anymore. I have read that having suicidal thoughts is like having a cold and constantly trying to supress a sneeze. In August last year, I couldn’t suppress it anymore and I tried to take my own life.

Even now I have such confusion about that day. I remember thinking ‘what’s the worst that can happen?’. Your worst was not mine, I can tell you that for sure. Luckily something in me realised what I was doing and what I would be leaving behind and I went to A&E while I could still make it there.

I have since read some real horror stories of people waiting around for hours to be seen in a crisis with no support but I was seen quickly and treated with warmth and genuine concern, although I didn’t really recognise this at the time. I remember nearly every nurse and doctor telling me they would treat my physical health first, make sure I am well, before I would see anyone from the mental health team.

I was admitted to hospital for treatment and then I had to tell my husband what had happened. I will never forget the terrified look on his face when he came to the hospital and the shame I felt in myself for the pain I had caused.

Nowhere have I ever read that if you try to kill yourself you will be a very busy person afterwards! I think I had a different appointment with a different nurse or therapist nearly every day in the first few weeks.

It was a struggle as within a few days of the overdose my cycle started and I was feeling pretty much OK again. It was hard for the mental health professionals to comprehend how this functioning person was in that place just the week before. This led to me being temporarily discharged from most of the services quite quickly, with the door open to contact them when I needed them.

Like most people I am very reluctant to ask for help and over the next few months the problems really did just continue, but now with the added shame of my actions and an overwhelming feeling that I had somehow indulged myself in letting myself do this.

But now I had a support network in place – I had people I could contact when I needed to.

Riverside had set me up with a Mental Health Champion who I met with regularly and could reach out to when I needed to. My managers were supportive and made me feel like I was able to do whatever I need to whenever I needed to help me feel well, and I was learning to be more open with my family and friends.

In December last year I was again in a place of real crisis, but this time I was able to utilise everything available to me and came out the other side. After a few changes of medication I finally seem to have found something that works for me, and after a recent operation requiring me to have a few weeks off work I have recently come back feeling refreshed, hopeful, and rather like the person I used to be.

I would urge anyone who is having any kind of mental health issue to speak out to anyone you can. It is scary and daunting but not doing so is worse and not a single person I have encountered has reacted negatively, rather the opposite. Life is precious and it only takes a moment – a sneeze – to lose it. I am so grateful to every person I know that has supported me and loved me to help get me to this point, without whom I am not sure if I would be here still.