When Bipolar Disorder Meets PMS

cryingfromflickrYesterday, I cried on the platform of Metro North a few minutes before the train arrived to pick up me and my boyfriend and bring us to meet my parents and sisters for dinner. There wasn’t anything terribly wrong, except I’d bought my sisters presents and he had forgotten to bring the shopping bag with him.

“I’m so sorry,” he said. “I’m such a dummy.”

“It’s fine,” I told him.

But then I looked away, and I just started to well up with sadness. I’m not normally one to get mad about something as insignificant as a shopping bag left at the apartment, but all of a sudden, there on the platform yesterday, his forgetting of the gift was in my mind indicative of a larger problem in our relationship. I was irrationally angry at him. And even though I knew the anger was irrational, I felt it as deeply as any anger I’ve ever felt. I also felt a clawing sadness inside my chest because everything felt wrong. I didn’t want to go to dinner. I hated my job. My co-workers, for the most part, were completely incompetent. Let’s face it: my whole life was a disaster.

One thing I did know, and I knew this yesterday–in the back of my mind– when I wrote a post about moods and bipolar disorder (though I wasn’t really admitting it), was that I was about to get my period.

Back when I was too young to understand what a period really was, I remember my mother standing in front of the sink washing dishes in a state of sadness, telling me that she was going to feel fine “the minute she got her period.” I think I was around ten years old at the time, and I sort of knew what a period was, but not really. It had something to do with going to the bathroom and blood. But I couldn’t fathom what it had to do with making her feel better. Years later, after my late-bloomer body decided to finally deliver my period to me months after I earned my driver’s license, I still didn’t understand what she meant.

It wasn’t until I was out of college that I began to suffer from PMS and experience the strange feeling of overwhelming relief, as if the heavens had opened up and delivered me into this hallowed hall of happiness, where my pulse quickened with creative energy and the cobwebs in my mind cleared away, that I understood what she meant. Life sucked, and then I got my period and it was better again. My other bipolar mood swings felt unpredictable, but this was one I could count on.

By the time I was in my early 20s, I was managing as best I could with medication. With the help of a patient boyfriend, I got enough sleep to not let my flights into hypomania get so out of hand that I lost my job or did something really stupid. But we had very loud, overblown fights in the first year of that relationship. At one point, as I flew into a rage about something insignificant, he said, “Have you noticed we almost break up every month, right before you get your period?”

What he said hit me right in the gut because I’d never considered breaking up. But he was clearly suffering as much as I was.

With the help of a good gynecologist, I went on a birth control pill that worked for a number of years to calm down my previously stormy PMS. And with the help of my psychiatrist, extra Wellbutrin in the morning the week before my period helped boost my mood and keep the PMS at bay. That worked for a while. But since then I’ve switched birth control.

About a year ago, I tried the NuvaRing. It worked like a charm for a while, and then it didn’t. I found myself sobbing for no reason, wanting to pick fights with everyone, right before it was time to take the ring out at the end of my cycle.

The funny thing about living with bipolar disorder and PMS is that, like cousins raised in separate countries, the two disorders, syndromes–whatever you want to call them– are related, yet so different. When I’m in a depression, I slow down and feel a kind of existential pain that makes it hard to understand how anyone even makes it from one day to the next because life is so dark and meaningless. When I have PMS, it’s like depression, spiked with mania. I’m angry and sad. And it’s a different kind of sadness, a sadness that’s so close to the surface, it bubbles up at a moment’s notice.

The smallest incident–a shopping bag left at home–leads to sobbing.

And so last month I switched from NuvaRing to a birth control pill called Loestrin. This is only my first month on the new pill. The specialist doctor I saw who prescribed this told me the end of the month might be rough like this, and that if it proved to be this way for a couple months, we could start a routine where I just skip the placebos all together so I don’t have any hormone dip at all.

For now, here I am, this morning, able to write this with a feeling of relief. Because as it turns out–and I know this is too much information, but I think it’s relevant– I got my period this morning.

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21 thoughts on “When Bipolar Disorder Meets PMS

  1. Excellently written! I have bipolar disorder. Experiencing PMS while having this other issue makes like hell during that time. I can never seem to tell whether I’m coming or going.. Thanks for composing this

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  2. Pingback: Welcome to The Dazed Starling! (Or: Why I’m renaming this blog) – Your Bipolar Girl

  3. Thanks for writing this. I have been a mess for the past 2 weeks and have a relatively new diagnosis plus a lot on my plate with 2 special needs kids. My husband also said the very same thing during an argument 2 days ago- that we always end up at each others throats every month before my period. Reading this has made me realize that I’m not alone (which, of course, is always good) and there are some things I can address to make it better. I know this is an old blog, but I hope you’re doing well.

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  4. I am also looking for an answer. I was diagnosed as Bipolar in a couple months ago after months of having the symptoms and not doing well. But I also noticed that the symptoms are coinciding with PMS. I had a horrible week…hypersensitive – I get angry and overreact, which leads to more upset feelings and nearly ruin friendships/relationships in my life – I do things I wouldn’t normally do. And then the past couple days I was extremely depressed and not wanting to live. Today I got my period and feel better, but now I have to deal with the aftermath of arguing with people :(

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  5. I’m glad I found this. I had just typed into Google, for the hell and curiosity of it, “bipolar disorder and PMS”, and I’m glad to find I’m not alone. I’ve been living with manic depression for years and years (diagnosis in early teens). PMS never fails to shoot me like fireworks into an extreme manic state. Y’know how other women say, “Welp, yep PMS…makes ya a lil kooky” and giggle? This isn’t simply “a lil kooky”, I find that once my period starts, again, unlike a lot of women, who are saying, “damn it!”, I’m saying, “Oh thank God.”

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  6. Just want to add another thank you for this blog and to those who have commented red and shared some of their experiences also. Since my diagnosis of BP over 2 years ago I can’t say I have done much reading or hunting for those who fa e similar challenges but finding such is really does reassure me. The PMS is recent for me as I have now got the copper coil fitted for contraception and am therefore not receiving any hormones other than the ones God gave me and it appears they leave me with that same anger sadness you describes although it sometimes is more one than the other. I do have a bit of built up sleep deprivation but I think my need for sleep this weekend has come from the PMS and how it is making me hyper sensitive and irritable, it’s tiring in itself. Anyhow I was glad to stumble across this blog and site and will have a little browse around now that I have found you!

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  7. Did you ever find something that works for you? I’m struggling so much. I feel like doctors don’t listen and just prescribe things too quickly.

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    • Hi Alyssa, Sorry for my delay and sorry to hear that you are struggling. I went to an OB-GYN that specialized in handling mental health issues and she prescribed a new birth control pill. Once I was on that, I was much better. Are you feeling any better? <3 YBG

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  8. Thank you for this post. I’m really struggling with this exact thing! I have bipolar 1, and I’m finally getting properly medicated. (I was doing well for awhile, then I had a manic episode, then a depressive episode, got my medication sorted and a new therapist/psychiatrist, on the road to being stabilized now).
    But, like you I have much worse times around my period. My PMS can last up to a week sometimes, continues into my period for awhile. When I’m stabilized it’s not so terribly bad. But when I’m struggling with the bipolar at all, the PMS is so horrible. I take so many medications now that I hate the idea of taking any new birth control, plus when I used to take BC it made things worse (that was pre-medication tho).
    Anyway, I’m struggling with this today, I was glad to find your post/your blog. I’m glad there are conversations about this stuff out there.
    I’m still in that stage where I’m angry I have this illness, but I’m also moving into acceptance and just want to do the best I can to take care of it/myself.
    xo to all.

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    • Thank you so much for the thoughtful comment! I hope you are feeling well this weekend, and I’m thrilled that the post helped you in some way. I, too, am often angry that i have the illness, but I’ve realized that we are not alone and we can take care of ourselves … thanks again for writing.

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  9. Oh man, I don’t even know if you still read this, but I’ve been sitting in the dark in my closet crying for almost two hours and on a whim decided to Google on my phone and you popped up. Thanks for writing this, I think I really needed to read it. I’m not taking or doing anything about either thing currently, but getting back on the wagon might do some good at this point.

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  10. Thank you for this. It helped me consider I have options. I have not charted the bp swings but boy have I charted the pms!!! Like clockwork! Thank you for helping me think.

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  11. I have probably done this for years but not realized it until the last 1 or 2 or it is changing because I am aging – I’m now 41. One thing really stood out that you said and it was your comment about it being a mix of depression and anger – like agitated depression – and that is exactly what it is for me and has, historically, always been the most dangerous mental space for me to be in. And like so many of us, I have been in some pretty rough places but this tops them because of how impulsive I become and how rapid the onset is. It is an emotional free-fall in a matter of hours and minutes. I felt the mood shift two days ago but the little voice hadn’t spoke up yet. I was on the verge of tears at work this evening. Just overwhelmed, disgusted, ready to walk out. Driving home I am nearing despondency, thinking, “What is the point of this life?” It is that bad when the two collide some months! But then the voice piped up and said you know what this is, this WILL pass in another day or two. And intellectually I know it will, but the meantime can feel like a lifetime. Thank you so much for your post and your candor! I feel better knowing I am not alone.

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    • Thanks so much for your feedback. I also feel better knowing I’m not alone … it can be so hard to have those feelings and feel like everyone else is just churning along, without a care in the world. xo

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  12. I know exactly what you mean about the effect of P.M.S. has on my BP. I start sleeping a day our so before it hits. I want to sleep like 12 hours a day. Then when I am awake I am disengaged. Here lately ask I want to do on my days off is sleep. I took a the hour nap yesterday. I slept all night then ate breakfast, fielded back up in chair and slept another two hours. Since the huge demand of sleep started I have gained a lot of weight which makes me want to stay stationery too.how do I stop this cycle without Red bull all day? I can’t seem to get caught up at work because I can’t make it put of bed any earlier. Ugh!

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  13. PMS is the bane of my existence. Like you say on your “Pills” page, contraceptive pills are not a choice for me, they are a way of life. I cannot function without them, despite mood stabilising medication. The hormonal changes during my period just flip me out and destabilize me. PMS becomes Bipolar and they cannot be untangled. It’s horrible. And oddly, even though I don’t like that you suffer, it comforts me to know that I am not the only one!

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  14. I just clicked the “Like” button on your post and now I feel sort of lame. I make fun of people (behind their backs, of course) on Facebook for “Liking” things randomly and too often. I have a friend who posted the death of her Aunt Frieda on Facebook and 3 people “Liked” it. I know that this is not the same thing, but I still feel funny.

    PMS is very different for me in my 30s than it was in my 20s. In my 20s, I just described myself as “tired,” which MADE me a little grumpy and emotional. In reality, I was a complete psycho. When I was dating my husband, he once said, “If you are only crazy for a couple of days a month, I can deal with that.” 4 years later, I was diagnosed with Bipolar I, which explained everything, and paved a road of eternal crazy days ahead.

    There is a guy at work that I have to work with. He is very dumb, very sloppy, has no attention to detail at all, and makes so many mistakes it makes ME look bad to our clients. They call me and say, “I tried calling him and his voicemail is full (because he never checks it or clears it),” and to ask me to correct mistakes that were made on their paperwork that he just spent a week gathering information for. He either forges signatures or doesn’t get them at all. He doesn’t pass on vital communications to me so that I can do my job, which makes me look as if I dropped the ball…a ball in which I never had.

    I have made many, many complaints to my boss and his boss. I have written scathing e-mails and cc’d everyone on them (I was asked to stop that). We have had several meetings looking each other in the eye while I verbalized my frustrations. I have blown up irrationally on him 3 or 4 times within the last year. Bad. He asked asked me afterwards each time if I could PLEASE come to him first without stirring up a hurricane of trouble for him (his words). I say yes, but I don’t mean it. He said to me that he never sees it coming and can never predict when things will make me mad or when they won’t (he has no idea how correct he his). I have grown to hate his guts in a personal and professional way, so now I am not sure how to shut that off. I have been spending my last few therapy sessions discussing this. Grrrrrr.

    My long-winded point is: Every single time that I have stirred up a hurricane of trouble for him, I was PMSing. And I cannot tell anyone at work that. I will look completely unprofessional and not in control of my emotions. I do not want to be that girl. But I totally am.

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