Woman Whose Mood Swings Were So Severe She Thought She Had Bipolar Discovers She Has PMDD
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For 15 years, Laura Teare-Jones had mood swings so severe she was convinced she had bipolar disorder.
Laura, now 30, said there would be phases where an "inescapable grey fog" would descend on her, making socialising with friends difficult, and even watching an advert on TV could trigger "an absolute meltdown".
On top of this, she also regularly suffered cluster migraines that left her bedridden.
Describing how her condition overwhelmed her just before attending a family wedding last year, Laura, of Deeside in Flintshire, north Wales, said: "I couldn't stop crying. I knew we had to go soon, but I felt almost stuck to my chair, and I kept sobbing all my make up off."
For years, Laura went back and forth to the doctor and was repeatedly told it was likely just a low mood, which she tried to combat with exercise and healthy eating.
But Laura was convinced that the symptoms were bipolar disorder when she was at her lowest ebb - which is a disorder characterised by manic highs and depressive lows.
Desperate for answers, Laura began to track her symptoms, noting down when she began to feel despairing, plus any triggers she could think of.
But it was only when Laura was scrolling through Instagram one day in May last year that she realised the root of her mood swings.
She read a post about PMDD, and the extreme anger, anxiety and depression it caused every month, in the week or two before a period, and the symptoms really seemed to fit.
Consulting her doctor, she was officially diagnosed later that month, and is now speaking out to raise awareness and spare other women the same 15-year battle for answers that she faced.
She said: "Bipolar disorder was the only thing I could think of that would explain the extreme mood swings.
"But when I read up more about it and its symptoms, it didn't quite fit. I never had manic phases - just depressive ones.
"Although doctors had told me that I was depressed, that didn't make sense either, as it seemed to come and go so often."
Laura, who is married to steel worker Gareth, 33, said: "I never connected the way I was feeling to my period.
"At school, you learn about the physicality of what happens to your body, but the emotional and mental side isn't touched on. It's almost a taboo.
"Some women with PMDD describe it as a red mist of anger that descends on them - but for me, it was more a grey fog. I felt despairing rather than angry.
"It wasn't that I was lashing out at others - I was lashing in, becoming consumed by self-loathing."
Laura finds it difficult to pinpoint exactly when the PMDD symptoms started, but has noticed symptoms such as mood swings since she was a teenager.
"I thought maybe I was just a dramatic person," she explained. "I'd feel guilty for having them, and felt like a drain on other people.
"One of the main reasons I never connected them to my period was because, for me, the week I actually menstruated was almost a release and I would feel okay. It was the build-up beforehand that was difficult."
Over the years, Laura had frequent bouts of depression, too, but they would always subside after a couple of weeks.
"Out of nowhere, I'd be suddenly hit by these feelings of utter despair," she said. "I would blame myself for not looking after my mental health properly.
"Little things like a sad film or moving advert on TV, that might make somebody else a bit emotional, would trigger an absolute meltdown in me.
"It's like putting a magnifying glass over any little stress you have in your day. It all felt very hopeless.
"Then, every time I built up the courage to go to the doctor, I'd find I suddenly felt better again."
Thankfully, Laura's husband Gareth has been a great source of support throughout.
But, even with him by her side, she still struggled to cope with the extreme mood swings that were ruling her life.
Laura counts herself lucky that she was given the PMDD diagnosis from her doctor when she was, acknowledging that some women "have had to fight a lot harder for a diagnosis".
"Of course, I was relieved to finally have an answer and to feel less alone, but I also wished I'd made the connection to my hormones years ago," she said.
"PMDD would have been much easier to cope with if I had understood what was happening, but before I knew about it, I could never tell when my bad days were coming."
It's important to note that everyone reacts differently to the condition, but typically Laura's symptoms begin during the ovulation phase of her menstrual cycle, around two weeks before her period, fluctuating over the next 14 days.
Then, her cluster migraines tend to hit when she has her period.
Now, Laura continues to live with PMDD, but she has developed some coping mechanisms to make it more manageable.
"Because PMDD has no real cure, I have no choice but to sit and wait for it to pass," she said.
"But I do have an umbrella of sorts to shield me. I will avoid watching anything upsetting, and try not to plan any social events on days where I know I'll feel really low.
"With my job, I can work split shifts so it's not uncommon for me to come home and have a sleep for a few hours, which helps me get through.
"I try not to blame myself for the way I feel. I read a lot, and also keep a journal, where I note down things I'm grateful for. On the bad days, it helps to look back and remember the good."
According to the Massachusetts Center for Women's Mental Health - part of Harvard Medical School - PMDD mood symptoms are not present in the absence of a menstrual cycle, therefore, the condition should not affect pregnancy.
While Laura is yet to decide whether she will have children, she is feeling more positive about the future since being diagnosed.
But she still finds herself overwhelmed by the condition from time to time.
She recalled: "One stand-out moment where things got really bad was last summer, when Gareth and I were heading to a wedding in Anglesey, an island off the northwest coast of Wales.
"The journey there had been really stressful - the traffic was awful. There were lots of little reasons to be agitated, but I thought I was taking it all in my stride.
"When we got to the hotel, though, PMDD hit me full force and I couldn't stop crying.
"I have no idea what triggered it. I made it to the wedding, but for the rest of the day, I felt really on edge and detached, almost as if I wasn't really there."
Keen to raise awareness, last month, Laura set up an Instagram page called @myhormones_myhealth where she documents her life with PMDD.
She also recently launched a mental health podcast of the same name.
"There are a lot of misconceptions out there about PMDD. It's often confused with PMS but the two aren't comparable," she concludes.
"It's also not just all in your head, like some people might think. The physical effects can be just as debilitating.
"With my Instagram, it feels strange to put myself out there, but also cathartic to be heard. I get lots of messages from other women, and it's an important thing to talk about.
"I want to raise not just awareness, but hope. PMDD doesn't have to be a life sentence, and it doesn't have to consume you. You can hold on to the good days to get you through the bad."
How incredible of Laura to share her story. We're sure it will help so many women.
To read the experiences of three more women with PMDD as told to Tyla, click here.