You know the famous scene in the Exorcist? The one where Linda Blair’s head is spinning – there was a time when I thought my own head would spin right off! I was afraid of myself! As my menstrual cycle approached each month my family must have wanted to run far, far away. I know I did. And, yet I was trying to get my PMS symptoms under control. Trek after trek to my doctor she recommended birth control pills. The hormones would alleviate my PMS she told me. So every three months I went back with an unsuccessful report and she would suggest switching to another brand. At every visit she would also suggest anti-depressants. Surprised at the suggestion because I couldn’t link what was happening to me each month with needing an anti-depressant, I would leave with yet another round of birth control pills in hand. How long could this go on? I mean there are really only so many different types of birth control pills? Do they work that differently? Eventually my doctor told me we had tried everything, which left me with only one option – the dreaded anti-depressants.
I had one little problem with the idea – I wasn’t depressed! Myriad PMS symptoms, including mood swings, plagued me every month but it was clearly related to my menstrual cycle. So where did anti-depressants fit into the picture I wondered. It just didn’t make sense to me. Aren’t anti-depressants for people living with depression? But of course, what’s a girl with severe PMS to do? Sitting in the doctor’s office that day, it seemed like the only option. In fact, it was the only option my doctor offered.
My inner monologue went something like this: Was I just a girl in denial that I needed anti-depressants. Am I over-reacting? Apparently half the population is on them, how bad can it be? Could my intuition, gasp, be wrong – maybe these itty bitty pills actually do have the power to pull me from the depths of my cyclical hell. Ok, I will try them, I have to try something, I can’t live like this anymore and neither can my family. My doctor’s voice reverberated in my mind – this is the only option. My inner voice hollered “no!” but my desperation whispered “yes”. Ever so reluctantly I took the prescription, it was a low day for me.
As I handed the prescription to the pharmacist, embarrassment washed over me. The funny thing is I don’t judge anyone who takes anti-depressants, yet when it came to myself I suddenly felt inadequate at resorting to medication. I wonder if I had actually been depressed instead of pre-menstrual would I have had the same reaction? I think that I suddenly realized that I didn’t want people to judge me. I’ve always felt like a survivor and here I was at the pharmacist’s counter picking up a pill bottle of inner strength – if others saw me that way then it didn’t fit with the view I had of myself. I was buying into the nasty “stigma” that I don’t even believe in!
I can’t remember how many times I read the pamphlet that came with the prescription but I know I read every single word. My brain scanning for something, anything that would scream out at me that a pre-menstrual woman shouldn’t be taking anti-depressants. I couldn’t find it. Nowhere could I find a warning that said ‘If you have PMS you should NOT take this drug’.
And so as I opened the little pill bottle I could feel my throat clenching shut. So that’s why they make them so small, I surmised. If anti-depressants came as a big horse pill no one could get them down. Somehow that little pill managed to slip down my throat. I think I said a secret prayer to myself that I was making the right choice. Now all I had to do was wait and see what would happen. Could this magic pill designed for depression cure my messed up hormones?
The next morning I woke with a wretched headache. When it wouldn’t go away I took medication to try to get rid of the headache. I read that it takes time for your body to adjust to the new medication. So each day for 6 weeks I took the anti-depressants and the headache medicine. One day I realized even my sundresses were getting small and stepped on the scale to the realization that I had gained 15 lbs! Six weeks after I plugged my ears to my inner voice I was left with a headache that wouldn’t go away, had packed on 15 lbs and still had the dreaded PMS.
That’s when awareness struck – the headache had been from my inner voice screaming at me! I picked up the phone and called a naturopathic doctor who specialized in balancing hormones. I made a promise to myself to never to ignore my inner voice again.
This article was originally published as a guest blog post on DrGreene.com as The Deep Dark Descent to My Naturopath’s Office.