PMS? Prozac?

#mentalhealthminute #susanstrasser #susanstrasserblog #amwriting

Ever jump on a social media hashtag “bandwagon?” I rarely do, but when I opened Facebook last Friday, right at the top of my feed: #MentalHealthMinute for May being Mental Health Awareness month. I was inspired to write these blogs for you this week. Enjoy.


As I settled into the 12 step meetings, got a sponsor, worked steps, and began to experience the awesomeness of unconditional love that exists in the fellowships, I began to feel my feelings more. And every month was a tough emotional roller coaster! I was only 21, 22 years old, and just getting started in my young adult life.

Today, when I review the symptoms descriptions for bipolar disorder on the Mayo Clinic and NAMI websites, it says that most people like myself begin experiencing symptoms in their teens or twenties. I always knew that I was really depressed sometimes, but I didn’t know why. I lamented to my first 12 step sponsor about my severe mood swings, and she wisely suggested that maybe I could note my menstruation cycles on a calendar since it seemed like I was experiencing some form of Pre-Menstrual Syndrome, or PMS. But something didn’t seem quite right; my moodiness was intense.

So I did. I marked on my kitchen calendar the day my periods started. With birth control, boy, I could count the 28 days of my cycle out to a tee! And I began to see a pattern within a month or so.

Mid-cycle— 14 days or 2 weeks in— smack dab between the natural (or was it unnatural?) emotional “highs” I was experiencing, I began to know that the “lows” were coming. Simply put, I didn’t feel like like myself. The final week before I got my “period” was the worst. I was super irritable or super happy, given the moment. It was hard on me and family and friends. I was exhausted mostly. I used to tell my girlfriends that I would trade physical discomfort like bad menstrual cramps for this emotional turmoil any day!

Then, I was reading an old Oprah magazine and saw an ad for something called Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder, or PMDD. It intrigued me. It wasn’t PMS, it was PMDD. Hm. I told my sponsor about it and she suggested that I bring it up to my gynecologist. Along with the hormones in my birth control, my healthy eating, and exercise regimen, it seemed like I should be more emotionally level than I was. Plus I had begun to see a therapist regularly.

I told my gynecologist about it, and she concluded that I did indeed have the disorder called PMDD. With this, condition, a woman can experience severe mood irritability the week or two before their period.

She prescribed me a mild dose— 5 or 10 mg. of a medicine called Sarafem. I didn’t know exactly what it was, but I took it for the next 15 years or so.

In 2010, when I was in the hospital with after having given birth to my first child, they told me that I had to stop taking my Prozac immediately to nurse my baby. Prozac? Sarafem was Prozac? And why had my OB/Gyn not informed the hospital that I was on this medicine?

Something had been mentioned during my pregnancy, but I don’t think that anyone clearly stated that I was one of the most popular antidepressants in America.

I had had a friend take it, but he had had a mental breakdown. Was I having breakdowns or the equivalent of mini breakdowns every month?

My OB/Gyn had prescribed me an antidepressant for PMDD. It makes sense, but the stigma of taking medicine for mental health… I really didn’t identify as having mental illness; I felt my mental states were driven by hormonal changes. Where did the two collide, connect, or intersect?

When I was pregnant with my second child, my new OB/Gyn told me that I had to have my Prozac prescription transferred to a primary care doctor. So I complied. At least I knew the medicine I took now. I liked and respected my new OB/Gyn practice.

And when I told my regular doctor that after all these years, I still struggled with depression and mood swings, but was still hesitant to take too strong a medicine, we agreed to increase the Prozac to 20mg. She said that the dose I was taking similar to a child’s and most adults took much more than that.

So I lived with a daily 20 mg dose for several years…


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