Dealing with PMS at 35
3 Weeks of PMS Every Month
Okay, so it probably wasn't technically all PMS, what I was experiencing each month. It was probably hormonal fluctuations related to ovulation and then menstruation that gave me this perpetual feeling of being out of control. But for simplicity's sake, I'll refer to it as PMS.
Although I did experience cramping, backaches, and headaches, none of those symptoms were debilitating. The biggest issue I had was major crankiness for 3 weeks every month. It made it nearly impossible to deal with my two little kids ... I just felt like I couldn't cope with all the usual crying and demands. On top of that, I would explode at my husband for reasons I can't even remember now. The point is, the situation was not manageable and I had to do something about it because only feeling normal for 25% of the time (aka when I had my period) was not sustainable.
The Medication Route
First, I tried taking Sarafem, which is Prozac marketed for PMS sufferers. The difference was, I took it for only two weeks out of the month, starting in the middle of my cycle, rather than taking it continuously. I had a horrible reaction to this medication and never really adjusted to it, since every two weeks I was either starting back on it or getting off of it.
It made me feel very disoriented and I couldn't think clearly. I continued to have these issues as well as memory problems for some time even after I stopped taking Sarafem, although I was only on it for 2-3 months. It did not help at all with stabilizing my emotions, rather, it added more moodiness to the mix. This experience has made me extremely wary when it comes to taking new medications.
Why I Didn't Try the Pill
My OB/GYN also suggested trying a birth control pill. Even though I got the prescription and filled it, I ultimately decided against taking it. One of the reasons was all the negative and wide-ranging experiences people shared online. It seemed to help some, but be ineffective or worsen symptoms for others, as well as adding new problems.
I had been on the pill in the past and definitely experienced some of the mood fluctuations people were talking about. I didn't want to deal with several more months of adjusting to a medication, only to find it didn't work, getting off of it, and repeating the cycle all over again with a different brand. And all the time, not knowing what effects the various formulations were having on my body.
Making Lifestyle Changes
After doing more research online, it seemed that many doctors recommend some combination of exercise; cutting back on sugar, alcohol, caffeine, and refined carbohydrates; reducing stress; and getting more sleep. I did all of this, including switching to decaf coffee and quitting drinking (you can read more about my experience cutting out alcohol here). All of these changes helped somewhat, but I was still dealing with PMS symptoms for two weeks each month.
So I kept searching for an answer, and a couple of websites touted the benefits of eliminating dairy from your diet. The idea being that all the hormones in milk exacerbate your own hormonal fluctuations. I remember reading that even if you drink organic milk, it probably comes from cows that are kept in a pregnant state nearly all the time, and it has much more elevated levels of hormones than milk from non-pregnant cows.
Regardless, cutting out dairy from my diet had as big an impact as everything else I had already tried, put together. I have managed to get my cranky feelings down to 2-3 days around ovulation, and 2-3 days before my period. It's still not pleasant for either me or my family, but it's a heck of a lot more tolerable and I can definitely live with it.
I didn't find an easy way out of the PMS hole I was in ... it took overhauling major aspects of my lifestyle and eating. All of the changes were ones I wanted to make anyway though, and the PMS symptoms I was experiencing served as a big motivator. Although it is controversial, I found that eliminating dairy from my diet had the biggest positive impact on my PMS symptoms. Since I am still dealing with PMS every month, I continue to look for ways to make it better and would love to hear what has worked for you.