Your Invisible Illness Is Valid
Sam Escobar

The Answer to “What the Hell is Happening to Me?”

The desire to flee my beautiful son and loving husband came on slowly and innocuously about the time my son was five; there was no particular trigger. The fantasies were harmless enough; images of myself sitting in a cozy, white space on a comfy couch sipping tea and staring out of a large picture window, the warmth and golden glow from the afternoon sun reflecting the tranquility I felt. I was all alone in these images. There was no husband, no son demanding my attention or taking my energy. It started like this, with this constant image of myself accompanying me everywhere I went, playing continually until I hardly noticed it.

Then it became more insistent. This image wanted birth and the more it demanded actuation the more my guilt grew. It grew and grew until, a few years later, I found myself on the floor of my son’s playroom, journal sheets and pens in front of me, weeping for fear that I no longer had control over whether this image would come to fruition, feeling like I just might leave and knowing the destruction and pain that would cause.

Accompanying this compulsion was doubt that I ever should have married, resentment that I hadn’t done more with my life than become a mom, and a narcissistic desire for greatness. I began to blame my husband for my giving up on interests or never pursuing talents. My husband. The one who had supported every whim I’d had during our marriage from pottery to flamenco dance to roller derby. I became angry with everyone around me for my unhappiness and lack of success.

The unhappiness and restlessness continued to grow, the images and desire to leave my family growing with it. The pain and fear was excruciating. I couldn’t sleep and began taking shots of rum at night to help, which it did, in the beginning, but slowly I needed more and I feared I was becoming an alcoholic, some weeks going through an entire 750 ml bottle. Sometimes I didn’t sleep at all.

Imagining that you could just hurl yourself off the ledge of a building and plummet to your death is never a good sign, especially when you keep imagining it, feeling yourself draw in that direction. When the imagining just skirts on planning, it becomes terrifying and when it morphs into a desire for death on a daily basis, you know you’re in trouble. Finding myself desperate to leave my husband and child, all the while being completely beside myself with grief over this desire was confusing, at best; destructive, at worst. Once that became a desire to die, a thought that my son would be better off without me, I knew I was not myself and I needed help.

I found myself in he middle of a dream-come-true; an amazing opportunity to spend 18 months traveling around the world with the two people I adore most in this world absorbing history I’d never been taught, learning about cultures I’d never heard of, seeing landscapes I’d only ever seen in books, meeting inspirational people; and all I could think about for two weeks out of every month was hurling myself off buildings or sinking into the bath water and not emerging.

Every two weeks, that was the clue.

According to WebMD, “symptoms of Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder (PMDD), include mood swings, feelings of hopelessness, intense anger and conflict with other people, tension, anxiety, irritability, decreased interest in usual activities, difficulty concentrating, fatigue, change in appetite, feeling out of control, sleep problems, cramps and bloating, breast tenderness, headaches, joint or muscle pain, hot flashes”.

To be diagnosed with PMDD you have to have at least five of these symptoms. I had ten. Further, the cyclical nature of my symptoms was the biggest clue. I would feel this way up to two weeks before my period would start, then when it did, I would feel happy, energized, and normal. The weeping would stop and I would even smile.

When I read about PMDD and confirmed it over and over the more I researched it online, I was convinced this was my problem. When I got the diagnosis form a doctor in Durban, South Africa, I felt like my life, as well as my husband and son’s, had just been saved.

Since I’ve begun taking birth control, this being the number one treatment for PMDD, Yaz in particular, I have felt reborn. I still feel sadness, anger, and restlessness, but I feel them in a NORMAL, manageable way that every person feels. What I don’t feel is hopelessness, the inevitability of destroying my family, or the desire to die. All of that has been replaced by a deep gratitude for a patient and supportive husband, for modern medicine that has solutions to these problems, and for life, in general, again. It has also been replaced by hope and a desire to help other people to suffer less, whatever their individual type of suffering may be.

This parasite had taken over my mind while leaving me conscious to understand the destruction it desired. I looked normal. I functioned, most of the time, but inside was a war being waged I was close to losing, fatally. This is its evil brilliance; mind control without actual control. All my actions appeared to be my own.

It’s taken six years for me to find a reason for my misery and, make no mistake, I am grateful a solution has been found. Still, I look back over some of the tumultuous times of my life since puberty and I wonder if this wasn’t a problem all along. Had I been suffering from this for twenty-five years? I think so.

Now I wonder how many other women are out there, suffering every month. How many women are languishing in the thought that something is wrong with them because they feel so out of control, so not themselves half of their life? How many women think they are crazy, or hyper-emotional, or unstable, or depressed because of this? How many women have ruined their lives over this? How many women suffer in silence the misery of this internal torture no one else knows they bare?