Sarah, 23. Pre-menstrual Dysphoric Disorder

Name: Sarah

Age: 23

Occupation: student

Mood today?
Well – and I mean really well! Happy, chirpy, upbeat, positive and loving life.

Wine, coffee or green smoothie?
Green smoothie!

What’s the best thing anyone has ever said to you?
“You are the strongest person I know”

If you weren’t a student, what would you be?
Hmm, maybe a mental health campaigner, author and public speaker.

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What’s in your Headcase? 
PMDD – Pre-menstrual Dysphoric Disorder

When did you first notice things might not be quite….’right’.
When I was 14.

What were the symptoms?
I started feeling really anxious, low and depressed and then I started experiencing psychosis – seeing things that were not there and hearing things. As well as this I became manic, and started being reckless and out of control. I was not well at all.

How did you feel? 
I felt very scared and confused. I had no idea what was happening to me. I didn’t feel in control and thought it would never end.

Do you know why it started?
I think it started because I had just reached puberty.

Did you know what it was, or what to do?
I had no idea what it was, and to be honest I didn’t really think about what it could be; all I wanted was for it to go away. I didn’t really know what to do. I just had to take it easy and take things step by step. I tried to focus on the living in the moment.

How long did you wait before telling anyone? 
My parents figured something was up straight away, so they knew about it. I took me a good few months before I told some of my friends what was going on, though.

Who did you talk to? 
I spoke to people from the CAMHS team and to my parents, but not my friends as I was afraid of what they might say.

What help did you get?
I saw CAMHS for about month, and then, as a result of getting very unwell and out of control, I had to be taken to hospital and ended up in an adolescent unit.

What happened then? 
I was an inpatient in the adolescent unit for about a year. I missed a lot of school and was schooled whilst at the unit. I found it very difficult, and I missed my friends and family. I was diagnosed by the psychiatrist in the unit with Bipolar Disorder, but my parents noticed that there was a correlation with me getting ill and my menstrual cycle. From then on I have tried numerous hormone treatments and psychiatric drugs.  

How are you now?
I am really well now. I still suffer now and then with my condition, but I am a lot better than I was. I have come a long way.

What was the moment you remember things changed for the better? 
This is a really hard question to answer. I don’t think I have had a 'moment', but whenever I have a good spell of being well (say 5-6 months of being well) I am convinced that my condition has gone for good and things have definitely changed for the better.

Who helped you the most? 
My parents have helped me the most. They have been by my side, every step of the way. My mum has done a lot of research into the condition and has helped so much. They have stopped me from harming myself and have stopped me from being sectioned. I don’t know where I would be without them!

What is the best piece of advice you were given? 
“You are not defined by your illness.” And “Just keep going.”

What worked best for you? 
I haven’t found the magic combination yet! But the best things that have worked for me so far are: hormone treatment and an anti-psychotic drug, living at home, talking to friends and family and having counselling.

What you would say to anyone who is suffering similar things, or to yourself in that state? 
Track your symptoms against your cycle! It may seem very hard at the time, but it really CAN get better.

What’s the biggest change in mental health you would like to see?
More mental health awareness, and better mental health education in schools.

If you could say anything to your mental health issue, what would it be?
Shut up and let me go! (Song title from band The Ting Tings – which I listened to a lot whilst I was in the adolescent unit).

Liz Fraser