What is a time of joy for many women was my darkest hour.
I've been fighting a war against my body for as long as I can remember. As a teenager, I was put on birth control because my mood swings were negatively impacting my quality of life. But even through my uncontrollable crying spells, heightened fits of rage, bouts of depression and binge-eating-induced-bloating I just thought I was a normal teenage girl with more cystic acne and social anxiety than the rest.
By the time I was in university I was self-medicating with cheap wine and contemplating swallowing all of my antidepressants. Not only did the various medications I tried not improve my mood swings, but they took away the only pleasure I derived from life – orgasms. I'd been to see numerous doctors, therapists and psychiatrists that diagnosed and treated me with anxiety and depression – but I knew there had to be more to it than that.
Even though I would become immersed in darkness for weeks at a time, when my period arrived it seemed the clouds would clear and I would feel somewhat myself again. For one week out of the month I would be incredibly motivated – yet still emotionally exhausted from the last few weeks – and try to do everything I hadn't been able to keep up with before – laundry, dishes, homework. It was like my menstrual cycle turned me from Jekyll to Hyde and all I could do was try to repair the damage that threatened to sabotage my career, my relationships and any future I had at being happy.
I hated the person I would become during these weeks – grumpy, irritated, argumentative and negative – when naturally I'm cheerful, sweet, non-combative and positive. Whatever I was dealing with was sucking the life out of me so much that just being present was enough work in itself. I would lose interest in things that I loved and hide away at home not wanting to speak to anyone, especially those I was closest to, convinced that they were just being nice by being in my life. My insecurities would magnify and I would analyze everything people said and did to me. I lost relationships, dropped out of school and went on welfare because I couldn't keep a job. I felt guilty, not wanting society to view me as lazy and weak, and the pressure I put on myself to feel better only made my condition worse.
When I was diagnosed with Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder, I thought my symptoms would finally be treated and I'd be able to fully participate in life. But not only did doctors not understand how to treat it, some didn't even know what it was. I looked constantly for answers, joining PMDD forums, visiting specialists and trying different supplements – but if anything the stress just magnified my symptoms.
I knew so many women around the world who had the same disorder as me, tried the same things as me and were still suffering just like me. After a female doctor told me that PMDD doesn't affect a person's ability to work, I knew I'd had enough of western medicine. Medical professionals all seemed to think they knew my body better than I did, but I was the only person who was actually feeling what was happening to it.
Finding a treatment for my PMDD wasn't a quick or easy process – and just like any permanent illness, feeling better is an ongoing battle. For the last year and a half I've worked on treating my body from the inside – starting out slow by replacing unhealthy options for healthier ones, experimenting with different foods and ultimately coming to the conclusion that a plant-based diet is my best option for reducing my symptoms.
But since eating this way isn't easy or cheap, it's taken a lot of trial and error based on how much money I have to allocate towards groceries (they say health is priceless, but say that to someone who has trouble working). Sometimes I have to bypass the healthier options for the more affordable ones, and this means having my symptoms come back. But when I am fortunate enough to eat the way I like – fresh, raw and organic – I cherish the days when I feel closer to the real me.
At first I felt like eating plant-based would be limiting, but the only thing restricting me in life were my bad lifestyle choices. Cutting out gluten meant losing my fatigue, bloating and grumpiness. Removing processed sugar meant no more anxiety attacks at night, and even less social anxiety. Eliminating dairy meant having a clear face for the first time since I hit puberty, and in turn more self esteem. I switched out alcohol for smoothies and chocolate bars for raw cacao treats and the only setbacks were that I had no more hangovers or sugar crashes. Even though I sometimes falter with my diet – and each time I do my symptoms return – when I stay on track I honestly feel like the person I only dreamed I could be.
Of course, I don't focus on diet alone to improve my symptoms. I've learned how to deal with my emotions through therapy, and I cope with stress by exercising, meditating daily and reducing it where I can. I'm still on birth control as it seems to be the only drug that works well for my PMDD, and I also watch what products I put in my body – opting for natural rather than mainstream.
But changing my diet has majorly given me the clarity and energy to apply these changes to my life. I fully believe that you are what you eat, and this is becoming more evident in the media and even among my circle of friends, from whom I draw support. While I'm certainly not telling people to throw out their medications or that plants will cure their diseases, I am saying that I've found a treatment that works for my PMDD.
But like every treatment, there are adjustments to be made. It's disheartening when it seems like I'm doing everything right and I still get irritable around loved ones, have anxiety attacks before bed, lose motivation for days at a time and cry in public over little things. However, it's important to remember during these drawbacks that I no longer have heightened fits of rage, week-long bouts of depression or even period-induced migraines. When before I would completely crumble and lose faith in myself from depression, these moments are becoming smaller and the recovery time quicker. I can see myself making progress, and it's enough to never go back to my previous diet.
The most important lesson this lifestyle has taught me is that if you feel bad, nourish your body. Now, instead of ordering a pizza and laying in bed when I'm feeling down, I'll drink a green juice and do something active. I've become conscious of what my body needs and treat my symptoms rather than making them worse. I look forward to making healthy, delicious meals, knowing that not only will they be comforting, but also make me feel good long term the way my old diet never did.