(Guest Post) PMDD and Addiction: Giving Hope to the Hopeless
I suffered my first panic attack at age 13 in my bedroom before going to sleep one night. My parents didn’t know what to do to calm me down and I had absolutely no idea what I was stressing over. There wasn’t some big life change coming about or anything stressful happening in my life at this point. These feelings came out of nowhere and I felt trapped. I was scared to talk to people about that night because anytime I voiced my feelings of sadness or fear, I was told that I was exaggerating or making a big deal out of nothing.
The panic attacks started getting worse and I found myself feeling really down. I felt misunderstood and sad for a few days a month; the rest of the days I was perfectly fine. One day I felt especially tense and scared. I could feel the tightness in my arms so I knew a panic attack was just around the corner. I sought escape from this feeling through a glass of my parents Evan Williams whiskey that I stole from their liquor cabinet. Almost instantly, the warm burn of the liquor washed away the anxiety I was feeling. I found my solution through a bottle before I even knew what my problem was.
I noticed myself feeling irritable and depressed only around the week before my periods would begin. It was dismissed by my friends and family as regular PMS - it would be something that I would just have to deal with. I struggled with getting out of bed on these days unless I drank to subdue my feelings. Drinking became an important part of my life for one week out of each month for a good year. The rest of the month, I was full of energy, excited for school, and had a good outlook on life. As soon as the depression and anxiety would hit, however, I took solace in a bottle. It was the only way I could effectively walk through my emotions without creating turmoil in my life.
My family began to notice the alcohol disappearing out of the liquor cabinet. When confronted, I was belittled to believe that I was being dramatic and that what I was feeling was a result of changing hormones during puberty. My problems were swept under the rug and as desperate as I was, I turned to other substances to be able to control my unpredictable emotions.
Seeing no way out of my situation of unmanageability and drug abuse, I decided to try and take my own life. I had overdosed accidentally many times in the past, but this time my goal was to take enough drugs to ensure that I would never wake up. When I did wake up, I wasn’t scared anymore. I wasn’t angry or sad, I was simply defeated. I reached out to a nearby hospital where I was directed to a detox facility followed by inpatient treatment for a substance use disorder.
I wasn’t formally diagnosed with PMDD until I was 23 years old in a drug rehab facility because I had become addicted to heroin and my life was completely out of control. The physicians there had tried diagnosing me as bipolar as well as clinical depression before coming to the conclusion that I was one of the many women who turned to drugs and alcohol to cope with the mood swings experienced before my menstrual cycle.
Fortunately, I was in a women’s treatment center which enabled me to feel more comfortable sharing about my struggles with others. I found comfort in such an environment because these women not only related to my emotions, but they related to the loneliness and societal pressures that I had faced for so long. For the first time, my emotions were met with compassion, love, understanding, and support.
In addition to a low-dose antidepressant, I began to incorporate healthy habits into my sober lifestyle in order to increase my physical and mental health. I found yoga and meditation to be particularly effective in treating symptoms of anxiety and depression. By challenging my body to hold different postures, it made me feel stronger and more confident. My body felt more relaxed and I was able to end the yoga session with a period of mindful meditation. During mindful meditation, I am instructed to focus on my breathing to center the energy in my body. It can be difficult to focus on emotions and thoughts while taking deep breaths, so this proved to be an effective way of coping with stress and anxiety.
Today, if I do feel a panic attack coming on, I am able to incorporate the tools I learned in yoga and meditation to calm myself and relieve my mind of racing thoughts. I am able to be in control of my emotions on days that I struggle, so that I don’t harm myself or others. In addition, I have an understanding support group of women in recovery who love me unconditionally.
In recovery from addiction I also found my life purpose - to help others. Whenever possible, I share my story to bring awareness to the struggles that women face in the hopes that somebody resonates with my story and begins to seek help. I found that so many women struggle with both PMDD and addiction, but they are afraid to talk about it. My goal in life is to do just that, I want to talk about it. I want my voice to be heard so that I may help the next woman who feels hopeless find a sense of hope in my story. I want them to know that I am here to listen and I am here to help. I want to be living proof that recovery is possible.
Cassidy Webb is an avid writer from South Florida. She advocates spreading awareness on the disease of addiction to break the stigmas that surround it. Her passion in life is to help others by sharing her experience, strength, and hope. You can reach her on Twitter.