Bake Off’s John Whaite Has Urged The Public To Research PMDD After His Sister Went Missing In Portugal, So What Is PMDD?

Victoria Cunningham was missing for 24 hours after dumping her passport in the airport. Her brother reported her behaviour stemmed from PMDD and depression.

woman in distress

by Emma Schofield |
Updated on

John Whaite, former contestant on The Great British Bake Off, has reported that his sister Victoria Cunningham has been found after being missing in Faro, Portugal for 24 hours yesterday. She had reportedly gone missing after arriving at the airport for her flight home, leaving her passport and cash there. According to Whaite, her behaviour stemmed from 'diagnoses of depression and PMDD'.

After being recognised by a stranger who took her into her house, Victoria was said to be 'alive, sober but very very distressed' with Whaite stating she was 'found just in time'. 'If you wish to continue to help, please research in depth PMDD,' he stated, 'Spread the word and hopefully more lives will be saved.'

While Cunningham's behaviour was put down to both depression and PMDD, the incident has caused widespread interest into the condition - which stands for pre-menstrual dysphoric disorder. Affecting only 5% of the menstruating population, it is a rare condition with severe psychological effects such as depression, rage and low self-esteem.

Here, Emma Schofield shares how the condition impacted her life...

Losing everything on a night out, forgetting to put your alarm on and then having delay after delay on your way to work and getting a period are all within the same realm of annoyance.

However, periods aren’t over in a day, or sorted out with a few phone calls. And bleeding like a speared pig for a couple of days isn't the worst of it, it’s all the stuff prior to it that's a problem: hunger, anger, sadness, tiredness, swollen boobs, aching, clumsiness, IBS. But too many accept these issues as simple inconveniences.

Because if you, like me (and all the women in my family), get all of those symptoms, just more extremely, you might be suffering from PMDD. Affecting approximately 5% of the menstruating population, symptoms often start in your twenties. And this isn’t just PMS, this is PMS plus. Instead of feeling a bit low or weepy ahead of your period, PMDD has severe and distressing psychological effects: low self-esteem, depression, Hulk-like rage and suicidal ideation. And that's on top of the other more 'regular' symptoms. The most ridiculous thing about it? PMDD, like PMS subsides almost the minute you start riding that crimson wave of pent-up fury.

My boyfriend had no idea what he was getting himself in for. What he (and I) wasn’t aware of was that I was also suffering from depression. Combined with moving away from London back to my parents’ home, it combusted into a series of manic PMDD episodes (every single month for a year).

Until you find yourself violently smashing up an under-ripe avocado with a blunt knife, hurling it (avocado, not knife) at your boyfriend across the kitchen before locking yourself in his room whilst you sob because you hate yourself, then, my friend, you know nothing. The poor boy was beyond bewildered. Every month, I would cry, break up with him, get hysterical, tell him I didn’t want to exist any more and inform him he’s the worst person in the world. He’s actually the kindest person I think I’ve ever met and it’s a miracle that he even stayed with me through one cycle, let alone 12.

I don’t think my parents knew all this was going on, either, particularly the suicidal thoughts, as I tended to stay in my room. Sorry Mum :( PMS is all too often depicted as minor nuisance that can be fixed with a tub of ice cream. But ice cream would never fix my hormone-induced perma-hunger – bring me all the Cs: carbs, cheese and chocolate.

'In order to have PMDD you have to have the dysphoric aspect – feeling miserable, hopeless. It has all the symptoms of depression, and is strongly linked to other hormonal disorders such as post-natal depression and peri-menopausal depression. 'It seems there is the same group of women who are susceptible to these,' says Professor Kathryn Abel, who works in Psychological Medicine and Reproductive Psychiatry at the University of Manchester.

Hannah, 26, was diagnosed with PMDD in her teens after unleashing a monthly hell on her parents, causing her mum to drag her to the doctors: 'I was aggressive, overly aggressive, and hot-headed, as well as insecure and self-conscious. All that stopped when I started taking the mini pill and I’m much happier now. I basically just can’t have periods; they ruin my life!'

Some women even opt for drastic action to overcome their hormones. Leigh told The Debrief: 'I had a hysterectomy as a result of PMDD; the best decision I ever made. Not an easy one, but no regrets.' She also stated that the worst part of it was the dark thoughts, 'irrational, paranoid and frightening at times'.

While the exact cause of PMDD is not actually known, women with a personal or family history of depression are considered to be at higher risk of developing it. Some reports suggest that a lack of serotonin (the feel-good hormone) is the issue, others claim it is a hyper-sensitivity to fluctuating hormones. Regardless, the link between female mental health and female reproductive health is still so unexplored, especially when the pill is offered as a cure-all to so many female ails.

Professor Abel says that working out can help in a combined approach to tackling the symptoms of PMDD: 'The effect of exercise is underestimated in improving your mood', and that, put very simply, knowledge of your body can help you to understand what's going on within it: 'It's important to take control of your PMDD by keeping a diary and knowing your cycle. Almost like a cognitive self-management and something you can carry everywhere with you to help overcome the extreme hormonal changes.'

At an online PMDD forum, women share the cures to their symptoms; meditation, CBT, antidepressants, no sugar, no caffeine, no carbs, yoga and the contraceptive pill... The list is endless, but the cure is personal. Since taking action on my underlying depression, my PMDD is manageable. I ingest what I refer to as 'anti-bitch pills'– a combination of 5htp (a Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitor, which helps your body to reproduce serotonin), evening primrose oil, starflower oil and vitamin B6. It’s the only way I maintain any semblance of normal relationships and the ability to function day-to-day when PMDD kicks in. I foolishly forgot to take this concoction a couple of months ago and ended up bashing my fists against the dashboard of my dad's car because he'd suggested it might be a better idea to find my own way home instead of commanding him to pick me up from the train station while he was at work. Suffice to say, the next month I resumed taking my pills.

Don’t let anyone belittle your PMS/PMDD or make you feel like your menstrual cycle is the sole cause of your despair; you could have underylying issues like inappropriate contraception methods or undiagnosed anxiety. But if you identify with the constant, unpredictable and relationship-ruining monthly roller-coaster that leaves you sad and angry and in turmoil every time of the month, throw those avocados at your boyfriend with manic abandon, chart your symptoms and their severity, and then book an appointment with your doctor. It could very well be worth it.

Follow Emma on Twitter @eschooey

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