For years, Genevieve experienced awful mood swings. Every few weeks, her crankiness would dial up significantly and she’d have a week or so where she felt out of control.
Those angry periods intensified after the birth of her third child last year. She’d snap at her young children and fly into a rage at her partner over the most minor issue.
Genevieve, 29, was blown away by the intensity of her mood swings. When they struck, fury would surge through her body. There was a lot of rage, depression … and just extreme anger and hopelessness. That anger was both exhausting and saddening.
I cried all the time, she says. Genevieve didn’t realise that these floods of emotions, which only happened every few weeks, occurred in the lead-up to her periods.
It wasn’t until she saw a Facebook post about premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD) – a condition that causes extreme mood changes in the premenstrual phase – that she put two and two together.
Soon after, Genevieve saw a GP, who diagnosed her with PMDD and started her on antidepressants. Unfortunately, the medication made her so drowsy she felt she had no choice but to stop taking them.
Frustrated, Genevieve began looking into more natural approaches. She read about dietary changes that could help, and began eliminating gluten, dairy, refined sugar and caffeine. She also started exercising five days a week and saw a naturopath, who put her on herbs and supplements.
This combination of factors, Genevieve says, was literally life-changing. For the first time in years, she was no longer suffocated by rage or sadness in the lead up to her period. I still get a little bit grumpy, she says. [But] I don’t get angry as much.
Her relationship with her partner also turned a corner. I don’t feel any rage or hate towards him now, she says. We were in a really bad place before, and now we’re engaged and about to be married. It’s a lovely ending.
Associate Professor Alex Polyakov, an obstetrician and gynaecologist at the University of Melbourne, says many people are unaware that such mood changes may be part of a disorder, and so they suffer in silence. He says that while many have heard of premenstrual syndrome (PMS), they’re less likely to know about the much more severe condition PMDD.
This probably relates to how much more common PMS is: Polyakov says PMS affects between 3 and 8 per cent of people who menstruate, while PMDD affects only one in 50.
So how do you know if you have this condition?
Polyakov says the most common symptom is mood swings in the lead-up to your period. Other frequent symptoms include irritability, anxiety, tension, sadness, depressed mood, sensitivity to rejection and diminished interest in activities, he says.
Physical symptoms may include abdominal bloating, fatigue, food cravings, headaches and dizziness.
The most common treatment is antidepressants, says Polyakov. Being on the contraceptive pill and skipping periods can also help.
As Genevieve discovered, lifestyle changes involving diet and exercise can also make a difference. I’ve literally gone from a sad, upset, depressed person before my period to someone who doesn’t even bat an eyelid when my period’s coming, she says.
Support is available from on 1300 22 4636.
To read more from Sunday Life magazine, .
Make the most of your health, relationships, fitness and nutrition with our Live Well newsletter. every Monday.