Happy pill that saved my sanity

Could lifestyle drugs like Prozac help cure PMT? One woman tells of the treatment that has given her new hope
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Indy Lifestyle Online

Kate Evans, 32, works in the arts and lives in south London. She has been married for six years and has a daughter aged three-and-a-half.

Kate Evans, 32, works in the arts and lives in south London. She has been married for six years and has a daughter aged three-and-a-half.

My PMS was already pretty bad when I was in my teens. I started my periods at around 13 and the PMS kicked in around 15. My mum says I was horrendous, phenomenally aggressive and very irritable. It got worse in my 20s, and I started taking Vitamin B6 and evening primrose oil, which didn't have any effect. When I was 28 I got pregnant with my daughter. The pregnancy was blissful. I noticed a big difference and so did my husband. But when my periods started again after my daughter was born, the PMS really kicked in again. A pattern emerged - I'd have my period for a week, then I'd have around a week of being OK and normal, then I'd have a week to 10 days of symptoms, so there were two weeks of every month where I'd be hopeless.

It wasn't so much physical symptoms but extreme irritability. I would start off being a bit moody and cranky, and it would escalate - I'd become really, really aggressive and then there'd be an explosion. I'd snap my husband's head off for no reason. Once there was a programme I wanted to watch and he was making lots of noise in the kitchen. I ended up throwing the TV remote control at his head and it smashed to smithereens on the floor. I felt so physically aggressive that I wanted to lash out. You know those cases where women have killed people when they've had PMS - I know how that could happen. I would hit my husband and throw things, and I'd turn my feelings in on myself - I remember one day I wanted to have a bath and I couldn't get it together, and I ended up lying in the bath banging my head on the sides. I felt as though I was going mad. I felt worthless, useless and helpless. But when my period started, it was as though someone had waved a magic wand - all the symptoms would disappear.

I first went to my GP a few years ago. One of the things that prompted me was that I'd shout at my daughter, and I'd come close to smacking her, and that really frightened me. The first GP I saw basically said I had to put up with it. She put me on the contraceptive pill, then gave me an oral hormone treatment, and that didn't do much. We went on holiday to France with friends and I was horrendous. I went back to the doctor and she suggested acupuncture, which calmed me down a bit, but I couldn't afford to have it regularly enough - you can have only so many treatments on the NHS.

I felt very alone, because none of my girlfriends had PMS so badly and I had no one to talk to about it. My husband was wonderful, incredibly supportive, but it took him a long time to accept the fact that I was ill. I couldn't cope with anything unexpected or unplanned. I'd spend whole days lying under the duvet. Once, we were having friends to dinner and when I tried to start cooking, I just couldn't do it - I walked out of the house and spent hours driving round and crying. When I got home there was no one there, my husband had gone round to their house. We ended up at Relate because there was such a strain on our relationship.

I felt suicidal in the last few months before I got proper treatment. I stormed out of my in-laws at Christmas and I was wandering round the country lanes in a terrible state - it was getting ridiculous. Then I found a self-help book which had the number of the National Association for Premenstrual Syndrome in it. I was desperate, and when I phoned them for the first time in January I was crying uncontrollably. I was on the phone for two hours, and the nurse was fantastic. She took my symptoms and my family history - my mum was really bad too, and she had to have a hysterectomy. The nurse recommended changing my diet, but she also said to go back to my GP. She said that there were treatments available and that I should ask for them and not be fobbed off. This time I saw a different doctor, who gave me progesterone suppositories. I started those in spring and, combined with the acupuncture, there was some improvement.

I was still pretty bad, though, so I phoned the NAPS helpline for a second time, right in the middle of an attack when I was feeling desperate again. This time the nurse told me that doctors were starting to use the SSRI group of drugs, things like Prozac, to treat PMS. I said that I didn't want to take antidepressants, because it would make me feel like a failure. But the nurse said that I really had to think about getting well. My doctor talked me through exactly what to expect, and prescribed me Seroxat, which is a similar type of drug to Prozac. He also told me to keep up the progesterone suppositories. The initial prescription for Seroxat was for three months, and I've been taking it for a month now. The crunch time was the week before last. I was on holiday with my husband, at what was usually the worst time of my cycle. We had a few little flare-ups and that was it. He said that for him, seeing how I was with Seroxat was great. I was able to keep in control, pull back from the extremes of getting angry. Coping with my daughter was dreadful when I was premenstrual before, but now we're both managing better. I haven't had a second child because of all this, but now I know I've got proper treatment available that might change.

I'm certainly going to take Seroxat for the next two months at least. I keep wondering what will happen if I stop taking it and it all comes back. Given the choice between going through what I went through before and keeping on taking Seroxat I would choose the treatment. The only side effect I've noticed is loss of sex drive, but the PMS didn't exactly help in that direction either. I couldn't live with the extremes I had to put up with before; my life was completely out of proportion. Now I don't feel like a nutter any more - I have an illness and it can be treated. I just hope to God I never have to feel like I felt with PMS ever again.

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