Sometimes I look back and I’m amazed at some of the things I was able to accomplish through absolute exhaustion. I believe that, particularly as a student, it’s easy to assume constant fatigue is just a way of life. I know I sure was used to it by high school- getting up at 5:45am every day? I really don’t know how I did it.
But other times, particularly this past semester, I noticed I was alarmingly tired after getting up at 7am or even later. Even if I went to bed early and got up with 8 hours of sleep behind me, I would still find myself hit with a wave of exhaustion around an hour after waking up. It wouldn’t hit immediately in the morning- it would happen while I was waiting for the shuttle, sitting on the subway, or even at my internship itself. One time, I got so abruptly sleepy while riding the T, I missed my stop altogether. I would drag myself into the building and struggle to keep my eyes open until around noon or 1pm, when the sleepiness would finally start to subdue. It was annoying, but also concerning for me as it began to interfere with my life.
When I realized that most of these sleepy spells lined up with my menstrual cycle, everything began to click together. Oh yeah, I reminded myself. You have PMDD. This is your reality. In fact, “severe fatigue” is listed as one of the top symptoms for PMDD on hopkinsmedicine.org.
The thing is, my menstrual-related sleepiness had NEVER been as severe as it was this past spring semester. And now that I’m out of college, I almost never get hit with fatigue. So why did that happen?
Through doing a lot of thinking and researching, I’ve decided it probably had a lot to do with stress. Spring 2020 was an amazing semester, but it was also absolutely wild. For one thing, knowing this was my last semester of college and I had to do well to graduate was always pushing me in the back of my mind. And then, when the global health crisis emerged and my entire future went up in the air, well, I became exhausted. For me, numbing myself out rather than getting hysterical is just a normal coping mechanism. And so, I’m not surprised I spent a majority of January/February/March feeling absolutely fatigued. Especially when coupled with my hormonal disorder, which is notorious for causing sleepiness, it makes a lot of sense. I think I was truly just burnt out. Additionally, PMDD is associated with “non restorative sleep,” so even if I get my tight eight hours in, that doesn’t mean I’m getting good sleep.
There wasn’t really a cure for me during that time besides just trying to keep my mind busy, and through physically holding my eyelids open in the morning. I would also text my boyfriend during the early mornings, since he was an early riser as well and he could keep my mind occupied. Overall, however, it was a very bizarre experience. I tend to be a very energized, go-go-go kind of person, so not being able to feel alert or constructive for half the day really bothered me. However, like I said, my early-morning sleepiness has improved tremendously. For one, I’ve felt very in control of my life lately, and that definitely makes me feel motivated. Secondly, my physical PMDD symptoms have slightly subdued in the last couple of months. I’m pretty sure this is due to having better sleep hours, a healthier diet, and exercising more frequently, but it’s hard to know for sure. Nonetheless, I’m feeling great now! I do notice I do occasionally become fatigued while on my period, but it doesn’t drag on for hours and hours like it used to.
For anyone else who struggles with PMDD, I’d love to know your experiences. Has fatigue ever interfered with the quality of your life? Do you notice that stress tends to exacerbate your symptoms as well? Let me know in the comments below! Feel free to drop your tips for preventing sleepiness in the comments as well, so that we can share tips and advice with other folks who may need it.