An Open Letter to My Aunts: Identity

CW: This article mentions suicide, suicidal ideation, diagnosis and treatment of mental illnesses, pharmaceutical drug names, eating disorders, weight gain, and traumatic experiences surrounding menstruation.


Despite content warnings, this article ends in a positive/empowering way.


This article is trans-friendly and discusses menstruation in a way that does not assume sex.

An open letter to my aunts

& the rest of you judgmental b*tches;


When MTV’s Teen Wolf came out I was already at the height of my supernatural phase. In my black knee-high docs, I wanted more than anything to be special. And by special I mean the protagonist of a YA novel or film series.

Art by Maddy Sutka

I had all the foundation laid… purple hair, a single parent with a demanding job, a window of questionable security by my bed, and a love of generic classic books that I carried around to look intellectual™ (I’m talking about you, Romeo & Juliet).


At 24, my love of the paranormal stands, but I would give anything not to see myself in the monsters I once romanticized.

__


The fresh grief of my cousin’s suicide drove me to therapy to sort out my own shit.


My cousin's intentional overdose was whispered about ---- why didn’t he get help? (he did), why didn’t he take drugs? (because our family didn’t believe in doctors), why was he so unhappy? (who knows).


Standing at the casket, I saw a mirror. I could hear what would be whispered about me next.


Because in all honesty, I was one bad day away from throwing myself in front of the R train. Two years later, admitting that and seeing those feelings written down hurts.


Not so long ago there was a very broken piece of myself that I didn’t know what to do with. I went day-to-day just hoping I could bear the weight of it without falling over.


When my cousin died I found myself angry. Furious, actually. I had a really hard time experiencing grief in the way my family experienced it.


This tragedy would always be sad, but for me, it would be so deeply and selfishly personal.


I signed up for therapy. It took about a month to find a therapist, and I was turned down from three clinics that I waited in line for, paid for, and rested my hopes on. In this situation, I felt anything but lucky. But I was. I had just gotten a job and lived at home. I could see a private therapist and spend 50% of my income on therapy.


Therapy shined a light on the monsters in the closet. It got a lot worse before it got better. I was grieving my family’s loss and the loss of my identity simultaneously. Because who was I, if I wasn’t depressed?


Even as depression waned, I still had days where I couldn’t get up in the morning. I couldn’t shower. I didn’t want to exist.


So when therapy couldn’t quite reach the well of depression and anxiety I had inside me, I tried an online psychiatrist. Between my therapist and my psychiatrist, I had so many acronyms thrown at me I could recreate the alphabet.


GAD ---- Generalized Anxiety Disorder

MDD ---- Major Depressive Disorder

OCD ---- Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder

PTSD ---- Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

ARFID ---- Avoidant/Restrictive Food Intake Disorder


And the kicker...


PMDD - Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder


The depression and eating disorder was obvious. The anxiety and stress disorder made sense. The obsessions and the compulsions I struggled with now had a neat little name.


It was the PMDD that knocked the wind out of me. Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder is an anecdotally common condition that is often misdiagnosed as bipolar disorder or just overlooked entirely.


According to Google, PMDD “is a severe form of premenstrual syndrome that includes physical and behavioral symptoms that usually resolve with the onset of menstruation. PMDD causes extreme mood shifts that can disrupt work and damage relationships.”


Statistically, I should have never been diagnosed with PMDD. But my psychiatrist, a 68-year-old man, happened to have a now-grown-child who had been living with it for 10+ years. I confirmed it with my general practitioner who said, “Huh, wouldn’t have thought of that but let me look it up,” and after a few clicks through google said, “Yeah, PMDD makes sense.”


As anyone with PMDD knows, it's a beast that comes in many different forms. My PMDD is highly psychological, making me detached from reality and my consciousness. The things I’ve done and the people I’ve hurt while experiencing PMDD are wounds that will never heal and I have a hard time forgiving myself for them.


The rumor that people on their periods are crazy bitches? Not true. But for people with PMDD, it is full-scale insanity. Having PMDD is like being a werewolf. Once a month you are not yourself and PMDD demands chaos to be satiated. It feels satirical, but it is life-ruining.


Before beginning treatment, my PMDD was especially heinous. I lost time, unable to remember why I had been upset or furious or angry. I would “come to” feeling utterly devastated and exhausted. The days following would be gathering pieces of information about what I had been like. I could write pages upon pages about things I’ve done because of PMDD, but currently, the wounds are too fresh.


PMDD makes me feel like a monster. I’ve sobbed until I’ve vomited, I screamed at friends and family, I’ve lost friends and family members, I’ve deleted/destroyed art I created, and I’ve made drastic life decisions. While I’m in the PMDD days I feel hazy ---- like I’m watching myself make decisions from far away.


When PMDD nearly ruined my job and my relationship in one fell swoop, I decided I needed to fix it. But there is no cure or fix. Instead, there are subreddits of other sufferers.

Art by Maddy Sutka

Typically PMDD is addressed with antidepressants and birth control. I was on both, but the psychosis kept knocking me down. With every month that passed, I felt my ability to romanticize the supernatural creatures I once loved dwindle. I was losing my mind, and my will to live with this condition was slipping out of my grasp.


I found a bold psychiatrist. She prescribed Seroquel based on a study done on 20 people with PMDD in 2015. Seroquel is an antipsychotic typically reserved for the treatment of schizophrenia. Her advice to me was, “Don’t look it up, everything online is horror stories.”


I looked it up before I even hung up the phone with her. It was horror story after horror story, but nothing scared me more than not trying something.


One month into treatment the changes were dramatic. It felt like waking up for the first time in 20 years. I was finally able to stay lucid throughout the month and only deal with typical range anxiety surrounding my period. I felt depression lift because without severe PMDD my antidepressant could actually do its job.


It wasn’t perfect (and still isn’t), but eight pills really changed my life. Yet a big part of me wanted to flush my drugs.


Nine months into treatment, I still look at my pills every day and consider not taking them. Sure the pills are working, but I can hear my family’s voices inside my head like an echo chamber.


All I heard growing up when it came to emotional trauma was, “Everyone feels that way.” I was told that sometimes you just have to pick yourself up and keep going (except the sometimes was a thinly veiled “every time”).


So instead of ever addressing an issue, I packed it up, disconnected from the trauma, and found something to keep me busy.


My aunts still talk about how my generation (millennial/gen z cusps) just wanted to be on pills for everything. How all of us want to be special and label our problems.


Taking these pills was the antithesis of what I was taught. I was stopping and unraveling and giving myself time to say, “This thing that’s happening to me is f**cked up.”


The pills still feel too big going down my throat. And I still find myself fantasizing about getting off them.


But more and more I find myself fantasizing that my family will one day say “Hey, you’ve been doing really well lately, we are happy for you.”


I didn’t seek out being on an antipsychotic. It's hard to rock the prescription with pride. But I am proud. I managed to get diagnosed and find a way to live my life, happily. Every time I talk to fellow PMDD survivors/sufferers, I am reminded that I beat all odds.


As a queer person with depression and PMDD, my statistical likelihood of committing suicide was over 40%.


But I am beating all odds. And all that stands in the way is a semantic ---- my family’s judgment.


I have accepted that I feel like a monster without the drugs and a freak in my family's eyes with the drugs. The damned if you do, damned if you don’t dilemma.


But as a connoisseur of YA Fantasy, I know the crux of every good monster story is that the “monster,” despite being decent, hates themselves because of an unchangeable condition that compromises their soul.


So in the coming months, I will learn from the mistakes of my fellow werewolves and be less Edwardian (Cullen) about the whole thing. Let’s see what trusting my own judgment does for the situation.


Sincerely,

A Grown-Up Wolf


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