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I figured out the connection between womanly hormones and mood a long time before my bipolar diagnosis. About 4 days before my period, everything makes me cry. Good or bad, funny or sad, everything makes me feel on the verge of tears, and they’ll spill over a few times – but no crying for no reason (there’s always something that triggers the tears) and no crying jags. It’s really not all that bad, at least for me; one day a month during which I feel everything very intensely is pretty tolerable. It’s a million times easier to handle than my bipolar mood swings, and I can definitely tell the difference.

I track my cycles so it’s actually pretty darn predictable. But it still surprises me every time. I have yet to start marking my calendar with a note to expect a little mood disturbance, and maybe I should. The best way I’ve found to handle these particular moods is to just take it easy for the day. That’s much easier to do than handling bipolar mood swings, because I have no idea how long they will last or how severe they will become.

PMS is (generally) tolerable, temporary, and caused by changes to estrogen and progesterone levels. Estrogen is one of the strongest mind-altering drugs out there. Estrogen affects mood-related neurotransmitter production and uptake, endorphin production, and acetylcholine, the neurotransmitter related to memory. Progesterone can cause anxiety, irritability, and depression when out of balance with estrogen. And some bodies are just more sensitive to the same hormones than others.

Bipolar disorder isn’t nearly as well understood, but involves all the same symptoms and neurochemicals as the whole estrogen and progesterone thing. And then some. Of course, we don’t really have much scientific knowledge about how female hormones play into the mix for bipolar brains. There is no equivalent of hormone replacement for bipolar disorder.

What I can report is that when I’m depressed, PMS makes it worse. When I’m hypomanic, PMS shifts my mood toward irritability, which is usually the downward spiral out of a hypomanic episode anyway. Today’s an irritable day, but since I know PMS is playing into it, I have genuine hope for a better day tomorrow. I really can’t afford much more lost time.

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