I set out to write a funny post about a [literal] goddess going to the salon to get her hair braided because I’m tired of the intensity in my writing (and life) lately, but instead here I am breaking the social media contract and “over-sharing,” rather than posting selfies and cute holiday updates.
The therapist I’ve been seeing for about two months keeps reminding me that people will never be able to read my mind, and that if I need support or someone to vent to, I need to say so directly. I’ve realized that I’ve become resentful of having to “speak up” to be heard because I’ve spent so much energy picking up on people’s silent cries for help to the point where I expect others to do the same for me. I’m now realizing that this expectation is unreasonable, as unreasonable as the burdens that I carry for other people. At the same time, I’ve been struggling to explain to the therapist the most painful part of my reality, that most of the time even when I “speak up” the people who are supposed to care are only mindful of my situation so long as it doesn’t interfere with their need for me to listen or comfort, or advise, or make jokes, or whatever is necessary in the moment.
It’s uncomfortable sharing this not just for how carefully I’ve kept these things hidden, but because even as I write, I’m berating myself for being self-indulgent or entertaining an over-blown sense of importance, and for extending this to the point of paying for professional advice that my budget can barely accommodate. What I haven’t shared until now, is that this same therapist has confirmed that I have Pre-Menstrual Dysphoric Disorder, a condition that probably affects a lot more people than is documented because it’s easier to dismiss our internal suffering as hysteria and irrationality rather than addressing it with the seriousness it requires.
I started noticing what I now know are symptoms of this disorder in late 2013-2014 at a time when several other things were going on that could act as scapegoats for the terrifying depression that visited me every month anywhere from 7 to 10 (and sometimes even as many as 14) days before my period. I probably would’ve enjoyed my semester studying in Dakar much more, had I not been secretly miserable for most of the time I was there. The summer following my study abroad program I returned home to Accra, interning at a publishing house in the day time and staying up all night, almost every night, obsessing over how little anyone would care if I was no longer living, even going so far as to imagine how I could end myself. I would then leave the house in the morning with a smile fixed on like nothing was the matter. The most obvious cause for all this seemed to be a relationship that I ended in the fall of 2014. I felt isolated and misunderstood, but was trying to hold on to someone who was showing signs that he wanted to be let go. Of course, it was easier at the time to point at phone calls trickling into non-existence and the general decline of a relationship as the source of my sadness, than to face the possibility that what I was experiencing was more than me making excuses for being a terrible girlfriend who asked for too much and hid behind “I’m just really emotional but it’s something that I’ll have to work on.”
Despite how closely my symptoms followed my cycle, it has taken me this long to actually seek help partly because I was, and still am, fearful of being the selfish person I believed myself to be in that relationship, someone who expected unlimited leeway for my erratic emotions without any consequences or consideration for others. I know this isn’t true, but it’s hard to unlearn an idea that feeds on pre-existing anxieties, particularly when it came from someone whose opinion meant more to me than most. In the spirit of fairness, I have to point out that it must have been draining and confusing for the person I was with to deal with someone who needed more care than he was unequipped to provide, especially when I had no clear idea of what was going on and what I needed. It is possible that I am stretching the benefit of the doubt further than it should probably go, because there were things that may or may not have occurred that had little to do with my behavior. A writer and professor I admire greatly recently told me that I’m free to share anything I choose in non-fiction writing as long as I own up to the part I played in the events I’m describing, and that’s what I’m trying to do.
Even now, a lot of the old self-doubt is needling its way back into my mind and making it difficult for me to finish this piece, as though this account of my condition is an even more elaborate excuse for bad behavior that I’m trying to apply retroactively to make myself look better. There is also the fact that having time and access to resources to be able to take care of myself is a luxury that so many other people don’t enjoy, and it would be much better for me to keep it moving instead of wallowing in the depths of my diagnosis. Writing this and sharing it publicly is part of my attempt to disarm the effects of PMDD as much as is possible before I head down the much-dreaded route of medication, and to hopefully let others know that “keeping it moving” isn’t admirable or wise, nor does asking for support invalidate how incredible you are for surviving. I’m also trying to defy the fear that I’m standing on a podium addressing an empty auditorium because all the people I expect to show up had somewhere much more important to be. After all, there are far more frightening things happening in the world, need I re-cap the past year?
Here I am, anyway.
If I’m restless and irritable at home but have no desire to go anywhere, it’s because spending time with people means pretending I wasn’t crying uncontrollably on the way there. If I’m unusually slow to answer messages or calls, it could be that I’m busy, but it’s also likely that I’m trapped inside myself too frightened to give an honest response to “Hey, how are you?” If I miss multiple dates, appointments or deadlines in a row, there’s a great possibility that I’m in bed ashamed for not being able to drag myself into the world to carry on the farce that until recently has been comfortable and safer than telling the truth. This is where my usual apology usually comes in, but I’ve done enough shouldering blame for something that is completely out of my control. I’m grateful for the people who I don’t have to lie to about how or where I’ve been, and for this blog that gives me full permission to speak my truth out loud even if it will go unnoticed.
What I’ve been reading:
- MGH Center for Women’s Mental Health- PMS & PMDD
- Defeating the Stone Man: PMDD, menstruation, and healing by Dr. Adrienne Keene
- Last year, The Guardian published an essay by Chimamanda Adichie in which she described her experiences with PMDD and depression. It was later removed from the site because according to Adichie, the site published the piece without her final consent and approval. It was the first thing I read about PMDD and I cried mostly with relief because it echoed what I have been going through in so many different ways.
Image: Lloyd K. Sarpong the great, once again capturing me and the third housemate/my sister killjoy on a day I felt (and looked, to be honest) the best I have in a long while.
I really admire your honesty and bravery Zoe. I don’t know much about PMDD but it looks like you’re fighting back the best you can. I’m glad that you’ve found writing to be a healthy outlet for you. And you are amazing at it! Don’t stop.
Thank you so much for your kind words and for reading!
Thank you for writing this
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