Heidi is totally on board with me writing all of this about PMDD by the way. We both think it is important for other couples to hear “both sides of the story” and so here on Musings of a Mom you will be getting posts from me, the partner without PMDD, and Heidi, the partner with PMDD. We know how easy it is to feel like you are both going crazy and how important it is to realize you actually are not crazy and that you are not the only people in the world feeling this way. We also realize how important it is to be able to verbalize what you are feeling but realize that for some, words do not come easily. Heidi and I talk A LOT so we are getting pretty good at it. We are hoping that you might be able to find a post to share with your partner that expresses just what you want to say. We are hoping that you might find some posts to which you can relate; that help you realize you are not alone.
Heidi and I had been talking on the phone a lot today and all was well until during one of our evening conversations. I was on hold on the other line so I started singing to pass the time. When Heidi returned she only heard about three notes when I could just tell by her silence that I should stop singing immediately. We are getting so good at communicating that we can even sense the different types of silences on the phone. No more notes left my mouth and I had enough sense not to crack a joke about my singing ability. Now was definitely not the time. Silence followed and what is important to note here is that I cannot stand silence in a conversation. I often feel the need to fill the silence. However, another thing I have learned is that when Heidi is in the final days before her period, I must resist my urge to fill the silence. Silence is okay and very welcome. Luckily for me Heidi broke the silence. I cannot remember her exact words but I digested the key word – irritating.
I have to interject here before people think Heidi was being rude. Before I understood PMDD I totally used to be offended and think she was being rude when she would say that something I was doing was irritating – especially if it was something that I do on a consistent basis that she never found irritating before. Now I know better. She is not saying that I am irritating or even that the thing that I am doing is in any way irritating all on its own. What she is saying is that she is irritable and the thing that I am doing is irritating her because of her irritability. Before we were both finally able to understand that we had many, many blow ups and hurt feelings. In general, the key for a partner to surviving PMDD is to try not to take things personally. This is much easier said than done, however, and for extremely sensitive people like me, it is a constant struggle.
Now back to the story. For years I would have taken what she said to me personally which would have resulted in angry words and tears. Thanks to the strength of our love, our commitment to one another and A LOT of talking, I did not even flinch this time. I knew what it meant. For Heidi it means her fighting her own body for the next few days. She does not want to feel irritated by anything but she can’t help it. It also means the irritation is going to grow inside of her. She will soon be irritated by most anything but especially loud noises, repeating sounds, shrieking and laughter, sarcasm, being teased and having to repeat herself when she is talking. Eventually she becomes irritated with being irritated. And then comes the lack of empathy. She has even said to me that sometimes she can see the pain her irritability and shortness is causing in me and others she loves and her mouth says one set of words (often words she regrets) but her heart is screaming the ones she really wants to say but she can’t. And she hates that. She often says she hates not being able to trust her own feelings. I see her struggle with this every month and it is heartbreaking. I try not to take the things she says personally but it is hard because physically it is Heidi doing and saying these things. I see her and I hear her. But it isn’t really her. It is her PMDD. So despite my success this time at not taking things personally, I still became the trigger. It was fairly inevitable in this conversation. Her tone had changed. I could tell that the lack of enthusiasm and empathy stage was setting in.
It wasn’t my singing that was the trigger. We continued to talk and together we avoided many other would-be triggers by identifying them together and deciding the best way to handle them together. I muted when there would be loud noises, for instance. I have three children and if there was going to be typical kid chaos going on in the background, we would not talk on the phone during those times (this normally does not irritate her either – she also has three kids of her own). What ended up being the trigger tonight was something that would not normally bother her in the least if she was not experiencing PMDD, as is most often the case. I asked Heidi to please not do something with words and a tone that normally would not bother her but tonight they did. There was silence, which I did not try to break, and then Heidi decided to end the conversation. It was going to end shortly after that anyway as she was going to be cooking and getting her youngest ready for bed but it was ended early because of the trigger.
Normally when we can’t be on the phone we text each other often. Given that I was the trigger tonight though, I tried to give her space and therefore decided to wait until she texted me. Turns out that is not really what she wanted. And you know what? As the partner, for some reason I feel this self-appointed responsibility to try to guess what she might need so I won’t “bother” her. But that is not smart. Most of the time Heidi would rather I outright ask what she needs from me in this moment. And most of the time she can tell me. I just have to remember not to take it personally if I am not what she needs. It is not about me right now and as long as I can remember that, things tend to go more smoothly. So partners of women with PMDD, if you are not sure what they need from you just ask. If they cannot tell you or simply don’t know, try your best. She just needs to know you are there for her and that you love her. You don’t need to “fix” things all on your own. You are a team. You need to work together.
The good thing about these final days of her cycle is that soon Heidi will be herself again. And despite how relieved I am when she comes back, no one is happier to be back than Heidi. She will be able to trust herself and her feelings again.