"Lots of women complain about getting their period. But for me, they weren't just an inconvenience. They robbed me of 25 years and almost claimed my life.
I was a happy, carefree child. But when I hit puberty, I started feeling sad and couldn't understand why.
Then my periods started. They were extremely heavy and every month I'd cling to the toilet bowl, vomiting and passing out from pain. Instead of getting used to it as I got older, my mood swings intensified. I felt paranoid and persecuted.
At 16, I left home. My mum didn't know what to make of her "troubled teen" and, barely able to understand how I was feeling myself, I couldn't confide in her, so I moved out.
Alone in a bedsit, the rage and despair thickened inside me. I'd sob for hours, unable to stem the inexplicable grief that consumed me. I'd turn up to my job in a nursing home puffy-eyed and exhausted.
At 18, I saw a psychiatrist who prescribed antidepressants but they made me sleepy. I turned to booze and sex to escape, but the despair was never far away.
One evening, aged 21, locked in another crippling sobbing attack, I knocked back a handful of antidepressants with a glass of wine and closed my eyes. I was devastated to wake up in hospital three days later, after my landlord found me.
I was sectioned and spent two weeks in a secure psychiatric unit. Over the next few years, I was diagnosed with everything from bipolar disorder to schizophrenia. Yet I knew I wasn't mentally ill. In between bouts of rage and despair, there'd be days of sunshine, rays of the old Suzi.
At 23, I stumbled across an ad for travel reps. I applied, and to my amazement, landed a job in Menorca. It seemed like a fresh start and at first, I felt better. But my döppelganger soon resurfaced. Whenever I was alone, the crying would start again.
At 25, I had a relationship with my manager, Tim*. Two years later, I fell pregnant with a son, Lewy. Instead of feeling joyful, I was overwhelmed and angry. I'd erupt over things like a spilt drink. Tim got fed up of my mood swings, so we split and I returned to the UK.
Later, we tried to patch things up but after I fell pregnant again a couple of years later, we finished for good.
I gave birth to my second son, Sonny. Yet, instead of feeling low like before, I became manic, as if I was on drugs. I'd talk really loudly, attracting stares and comments.
Then, when Sonny was six weeks old, something inside me flicked. I woke up feeling horrendous. My limbs ached, the glands in my armpits swelled like golf balls and I could barely stand. I was diagnosed with mastitis – inflammation of the mammary glands in the breasts. But by the evening, I knew it was far more serious.
Breastfeeding made me retch. To my horror, my baby changed into a giant insect in my arms. In my hallucinations, wild animals and cartoon characters took over my flat. I dreamed I was chopping up my baby, and other times I forgot I'd had a baby at all. It sounds like something from a film, but to me it was terrifyingly real.
Somehow, I got myself to a psychiatric unit and was diagnosed with postpartum psychosis – a psychiatric disorder that can occur following childbirth. It's thought to be triggered by the crash in hormones.
I was given drugs to stop the visions. But I was still desperately unhappy and it was only when I started recording my symptoms on a calendar that a correlation emerged. My moods followed exactly the same pattern every month. First, headaches and irritability, then uncontrollable sobbing, rage, panic attacks and paranoia. By the second day of my period I'd feel "normal" again, only for the "mad woman" to barge back in a few days later. I couldn't believe I hadn't realised before.
I was referred to a menstrual disorders' specialist at the Chelsea & Westminster Hospital in London. He diagnosed PMDD (premenstrual dysphoric disorder) – an extreme form of PMS. I couldn't believe it'd taken 25 years for someone to realise my condition was hormonal, not psychiatric.
By now, I was in a relationship with Dennis, who was incredibly supportive. We married in 2008 and I had our son Harry in 2010. To prevent the postpartum psychosis returning, I took hormones and antidepressants throughout my pregnancy.
But despite being in a stable relationship, with three gorgeous sons, every month I was plagued by suicidal thoughts, despair and anxiety.
I tried various hormone treatments but the results were short-lived. My symptoms were so severe, my doctor suggested a hysterectomy and removal of my ovaries and cervix.
I agreed wholeheartedly and had the surgery in December 2012. Amazingly, my symptoms stopped. It'd cured me instantly.
It's as if I'd been two people for 25 years and one of them had been laid to rest. Finally, I'm the woman I'm supposed to be.
I've faced the grief of being robbed of so much of my and my children's lives but I've finally found the happiness I deserve.
PMDD is a female tragedy and I'm determined to educate people about it. No other woman should suffer as I did."
By Becky Dickinson
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