My Hormones and I Have Never Agreed on Anything

Blogger and mental-health advocate Katherine Stone battles it out with her own body.

By Katherine Stone
 katherine stone image
Photograph: Karen Walrond

I've waged a lifelong battle: me versus estrogen, progesterone, serotonin and their other unpronounceable friends.  I may win for a little while, but they’re guaranteed to come raging back and kick my butt monthly. 

Given that I got my period when I was 13, I have been fighting this war for 27 years now. That’s as long as the combined years America fought in the French and Indian War, the American Revolution, the War of 1812, the Civil War and the Barbary Wars (which I’ve never heard of but apparently we were involved in somehow).  I’m getting tired of this unending vicious cycle with my cycle. 

It started back in eighth grade when I got my period for the first time.  Before I have my period, I am one moody, sobby, stabby girl.  Yes, I get the bloating and food cravings and whatnot, but that stuff doesn’t bother me--what does is the inability to control my emotions.  If I’m irritable and itching for a fight, you can be sure I’ll figure out a way to pick one.  If I’m on the sad end of the spectrum, sets in and I feel like a useless human being, regardless of my accomplishments. I have my period as I write this, in fact, so I’m currently convinced no one likes me and I’m an utter failure.

You’d think after all these years my body would get accustomed to the hormonal changes and adjust to them, but that’s not the case.  While I’m much better able to deal with it now, every time it happens it knocks me back anew.  

So I motored along unhappily with premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD), as my period problems are officially called, and then I had a baby at the age of 32.  It would have been nice if someone had told me PMDD is a risk factor for perinatal mood and anxiety disorders like postpartum depression.  After my first child was born I had a nightmarish case of postpartum obsessive-compulsive disorder that took me a year to recover from, and another year after that to get over the post-traumatic stress. Take all the irritability and anxiety and depression of PMDD and kick it up about 10 notches, multiply that by a quadrillion, and you might have an idea of what it felt like.  I’m grateful I was able to get through it, with professional help, but I’d be lying if I said it didn’t change me profoundly.   

And now?  Now I’m 41 and having a ball with perimenopause.  This is the time when your period goes all wonky, or, in more medical terms, becomes irregular.  I can’t believe it is even possible for my moods to be more “swingy” than before.  The average age of onset is 51, by the way, and I started at 39.  Why am I not surprised? 

A recent study found that the likelihood of major depression increases during perimenopause, and that women with histories of premenstrual syndrome or postpartum depression are at particular risk.  This means my emotional changes are likely to be wild for the next several years. 

Wish my husband luck.

I’m not sure why I’m one of those unlucky women who are supersensitive to every single hormonal change that comes down the pike.  It would have made my life a hell of a lot easier had I not been.  Those of you who don’t have such difficulties must look at look at me (and women like me) and think, “What is your problem? Toughen up!“   I would if I could, believe me.

In their enlightening book Women’s Moods: What Every Woman Must Know About Hormones, the Brain and Emotional Health, Dr. Deborah Sichel and Jeanne Watson Driscoll explain that some women’s brains “have the resiliency to withstand the impact of hormonal changes.  This may in part be caused by differences in genetic makeup.  Perhaps these women’s brains come equipped with chemical ‘circuit breakers’ that allow them to reregulate serotonin when estrogen and progesterone levels fluctuate.” I am not such a woman. I wonder if I could go to Sephora and buy some new genetic makeup to replace the lousy stuff I’ve got?

First Published August 19, 2011

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Comments

Sonja Holzman08.24.2011

Aside from the obsessive-compulsive disorder after your pregnancy, I have experienced ALL of the things you have. I did battle post-partum depression. Thankfully I have a wonderful husband who made me go to a doctor and get some help. Thanks you so much for being brave enough to share your story. A question, however - do your doctors take you seriously? I mean, aside from the one who is prescribing your meds? I often feel as if doctors I go to roll their eyes a little when I mention the drugs I take. If they had to live with me, they wouldn't. Being hormonally challenged is a pain but you are right that we are lucky to be able to address it and watch for it in our daughters. I am certain that my mother suffered from many of these issues but never sought treatment. Thanks again.

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