Last fall, I was diagnosed with
Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder (PMDD). PMDD is a mood disorder that’s linked to my menstrual cycle. The best way I’ve found to describe it is that I’m “allergic” to progesterone, which is the sex hormone that’s produced in the second half of the menstrual cycle. I’m not actually allergic — it doesn’t make me break out in hives or go into anaphylactic shock — but I do experience a series of symptoms that are pretty similar to an allergy. On the physical side, my body swells up and aches. On the mental side, I get thrown into a deep trough of despair, anxiety, fatigue, and paranoia. For two weeks, I feel like I’ve lost control of my mind and my body. Then, when my progesterone levels dip and my estrogen levels go back up after I start bleeding, it all fades away and I go back to feeling like a fully functional human being again.
That all changed in September of last year, when I was given a prescription for the selective serotonin re-uptake inhibitor (SSRI) fluoxetine, which is also sold under the brand name Prozac. For some people,
PMDD is related to serotonin levels — and, it turns out, I’m one of those people. As soon as I started taking fluoxetine, I felt immediately better. And in the months since, things have only gotten better for me. Every single effect has been positive, minus one: I had a slightly harder time coming to orgasm at the beginning of taking fluoxetine — but even that evened out after a couple months.
not everyone responds this well to SSRIs. Psychologist Dr. Erika Martinez tells Bustle that “each person’s biochemistry is unique,” and therefore everyone will have a slightly different reaction to SSRIs.
“Additionally, some generic medications (antidepressants included) are made up of slightly different chemicals than the brand-name medications, which can account for some people responding differently to antidepressants,” Martinez says. “Finally, each person has different thresholds for effects, with some people being very sensitive and responsive to medications while others don't report much difference.”
And, of course, SSRIs are often prescribed to people whose
illnesses or pain , but instead in some other physical or psychological issue. For those people, an SSRI may have little to no effect at all. But for me, with my family history of depression, bipolar disorder, and suicide? It’s been enormously helpful. Here are the top 10 changes I’ve seen since I started taking an antidepressant. aren’t rooted in a serotonin deficiency 1 I’m Less Obsessed With Cleaning
When I was in the throes of my PMDD, my apartment was
immaculate. While I know that a lot of people who have mood disorders have trouble keeping their homes and bodies clean, for me, the illness manifested in the opposite way. I cleaned and cleaned and cleaned and told myself it was just because I was “house proud” because I finally had an apartment that was all mine and that I loved.
And that’s true — I am house proud. But now you might find a pile of makeup on the counter near my mirror or, on some days, the floor hasn’t been swept in a while. And that’s totally okay! In fact, it’s better than okay. When I was cleaning all the time, it was because it was something I felt I could control. My body felt like it was going to burst; my mind was racked with anxiety and paranoia; sometimes I couldn’t get off the couch. But at least my kitchen was spotless.
2 My Body Doesn’t Hurt
You know what I
don’t miss? How my boobs would swell up two sizes every month. The way I felt like I wanted to crawl out of my skin. The bloating that seemed like it went from ankles to my neck.
No doctor has been able to explain the "how" to me, but studies have found that SSRIs can help not only with the mental symptoms of PMDD but also
help with the physical symptoms. Let me tell you: Not being in extreme physical discomfort for two weeks a month is amazing. 3 I’m More Outgoing
Ask anyone who’s known me for a long time to describe my personality and “loud” and “blunt” and “outgoing” will probably be at the top of the list. But over the past few years, as my illness progressed, I started retreating more and more into myself. I was convinced that everyone hated me. I overthought every interaction, to the point of just staying at home rather than having to deal with new social interactions. I was simultaneously cripplingly lonely and unable to be around people.
With the meds, all of that is gone. I’m back to talking to strangers on the bus. Acquaintances from my coworking space are becoming friends. I even organized a brunch the other day! I know that doesn’t sound like a lot, but organizing a craft-focused brunch would have crippled me a year ago.
What if the supplies didn’t come on time? What if no one showed up? What if we didn’t have enough food? And on and on and on.
But instead of focusing on making everything “perfect,” I did minimal planning — and guess what? Everyone had a great time, even with a couple hiccups. Including me — because for once I wasn’t freaking out.
4 I’m Reading More
I’ve loved to read since I was a little girl, but I didn’t read much last year. I just couldn’t handle the deep emotional involvement that comes with reading. I also couldn’t focus for very long, so diving into a novel wasn’t going to happen. But now I’m back! I’m reading almost as much as I used to and it’s not unusual to find me under a throw blanket on my couch with a good book.
5 I’m Not Watching “The Office”
It took me a while to admit this to anyone, but I watched all of
The Office last year. Seven times. I would watch it all the way through and as soon as that reunion episode ended, I’d go back to the beginning and start again. Much like it was with reading, I just couldn’t imagine starting something new, especially when so many shows these days are challenging. So I returned to The Office over and over again. Not anymore! Have I given up marathoning TV? Nope — I’ve been at that since the Law & Order on cable days. But I haven’t watched The Office in months and I’m weirdly proud of that. 6 I’ve Stopped Smoking Weed
Before I got medicated, I had a prescription for medical marijuana for anxiety. And, as a California resident, I was absolutely making use of that prescription! But once I started taking fluoxetine, I didn’t really want to smoke weed anymore. Not only that, when
did try to smoke, I found that it didn’t do much beyond give me a headache. So I stopped. And I haven’t missed it — or the munchies — at all. 7 I’m Drinking Less
During what PMDD patients colloquially call “hell week” — usually but not always meaning the week before our periods — I would drink. Like the medical marijuana, it was one of the few ways that I could get out of my head and body, both of which were in torment. But now that I’m not having those symptoms, I’m also not drinking to correct them. And beyond that, I sometimes have the thought that I’d like to have a drink and am able to push past it, which I wasn’t able to do before. Watching my relationship with alcohol change may be one of my favorite things about being on an SSRI.
8 My Food Cravings Have Chilled
When I was really sick and in the second half of my cycle, if I thought about a food I
had to have it. I thought it was just regular PMS cravings — everyone has those, right? — but now that I’m medicated, I’m realizing that they were very extra. Now when I have a craving, it’s nice if it’s fulfilled but it’s not an all-consuming thought and feeling the way it used to be. 9 I’m Able To Let Things Go
Similarly, I’ve found that (maybe for the first time in my life) I’m able to let things
go and not take everything personally. Whether it’s the bad mood my partner is in or the little mistake I made or some family drama, I don’t obsess over it. If there’s nothing I can do, then there’s nothing I can do — so I let it go. 10 I’m Not Paranoid
For most of last year, I was extremely paranoid, especially about my romantic partner.
I would read into everyday events so much and tell myself stories about them — stories that took what was happening and spin it into a narrative that was way further from reality. I was convinced that my partner was leading a secret life away from me and, during my luteal phase, I searched near-constantly for evidence. I didn’t find any — because there was none to find.
These days, those thoughts have just… left. Or if they do start to occur, I’m able to remind my brain that they’re not rational and not real and move on. This freedom from a previously all-consuming paranoia has not only made
me feel better, but has dramatically improved my relationship with my partner. And I couldn’t be more grateful for that. 11
As I said in the beginning of this article, results will differ from person to person. Not everyone will have such a positive reaction to SSRIs as I did. But going on fluoxetine has completely changed my life and I say (literally say, out loud) “Thanks, Prozac!” at least three times per week. So if you’re dealing with PMDD and think it might help? Talk to your doctor. You never know until you try.
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