One wooden mannikin preventing another from jumping off a plankIs it normal to have suicidal thoughts during PMS? I asked this question on an online forum many years ago, sure that those on the other end would laugh at the absurdity of my question. Of course it’s normal, I thought. I’ve heard girls in the change room at school saying how their period makes them want to kill themselves, so why am I the only one that can’t deal with it? Little did I know that they were just talking about hating cramps. A flood of answers to my question appeared on the screen, ranging from “no that’s not normal” to “please call a suicide helpline right away.” I immediately started crying, realizing that the way I had felt almost every month for years was not normal.

That was the first time I had ever reached out to, or told, anyone about my periods, for lack of a better word, of severe depression. Since my early teens I was having suicidal thoughts and crying spells almost every month. It was about two or three years later that I asked the question online that changed the way I thought about myself.

I guessed what I was experiencing was PMDD, Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder, but it’s something I was never diagnosed with. PMDD is a severe form of PMS where depressive symptoms can be present for up to two weeks before your period. My suicidal thoughts only lasted for one or two days of the month, so even though I now knew suicidal thoughts weren’t normal, I still thought this sadness wasn’t so bad.

In the future, at age 17, I fell into a depression that lasted longer than two days. Longer than two weeks. Longer than two months. It took several months before I got any professional help, and even then there was a long process of figuring out how to get back to who I used to be. I tried eating healthy, exercising and reading a book on cognitive behavioural therapy, but nothing could get me out of the deep rut I was in. I finally went on medication and this is what got me back on my feet. There were times throughout the years when I fell back into despair that I would have to bump up, change or add medication. I talked to different therapists and psychiatrists throughout this time, though I preferred to handle things myself. FYI, handling things yourself is not a good idea.

After going through years of depression I finally noticed a pattern in my moods. I tended to get more depressed in the winter months than the summer. It really didn’t help that I spent a few of my university years living in a basement apartment. I began using a light for Seasonal Affective Disorder to mimic natural sunlight, though I can’t say if it really helped or not.

After my last suicidal scare, about a year ago, I was brought to the emergency room by my family and had another change in medication. This change is the one my mind seems to have been waiting for all this time. I have finally been happy for over a year. Of course I experience regular sadness and other emotions, but not depression. The only time I sank into a slight depression and was anxious was when I tried lowering my medication dosage. I immediately bumped it back up when I realized what was happening.

I’m not saying that medicine is the answer to depression. I’m saying that it can help you overcome depression if other methods alone aren’t working, or if you’re in such a dark place you need that first push. There are several things I have done throughout the years to help, along with the medication. It’s proven that eating healthy and exercising can help someone with mild depression just as much as medication. I don’t always practice the healthy lifestyle I preach, but at least I know I can use these methods to help when I need them. I also started doing cognitive behavioural therapy, which is changing negative thoughts to positive thoughts, and occasionally practice meditation and mindfulness—which I plan to increase in frequency. I still use the lamp that mimics sunlight in the winter, and I check in regularly with my psychiatrist.

There’s no one way to beat depression. I understand it’s easier said than done. Try your best to talk to somebody about it. No matter who it is, even a stranger on a helpline, it can be your first step to help. It won’t be an easy road, but it’s a possible one. One that, when you reach the end, you can look back and see that you’re a stronger person for it. That you are wiser from it. That it may suck you back in at times, but you now know how to get out and that you will get out. Go live life. Not just pass through it, but really live it. Your future self will thank you.

by Michelle Balge

Image: Anatomical model via Shutterstock