This week’s post is about periods, PMS, anxiety, insomnia and neurodivergence. Woo hoo!
I’m writing from the end of my once-a-month fall apart. For a few days every month I exist in a cycle of very little sleep, anxiety, exhaustion, and extreme scattered-ness.
I’m not sure what comes first. Do the looping anxious thoughts and feelings of impending doom prevent me from sleeping? Or do the hours lying awake at night followed by extreme exhaustion lead to anxiousness and struggles to cope with daily living?
What I do know is that it’s premenstrual and likely triggered by hormonal changes. I also know that those hormonal shifts seem to wreak havoc with my sensory sensitivities, my anxieties about communicating with other humans, and my use of executive functioning skills. My confidence in myself erodes somewhere between those struggles and my exhausted, anxious, frazzled brain.
Throwing myself in to research becomes joyless, and instead resembles a super-stuck hyperfocus on a topic that is unhelpful and related to something I’m anxious about. Eugh.
The only silver lining to all of this awful is that it passes. I have a good sleep and the next day my brain and heart have stopped racing and everything feels like it’s going to be OK. Phew.
It wasn’t until neurodivergent people told me about their PMS and PMDD that I realised there was a pattern to my anxiety and insomnia and that this pattern has a profound impact once a month on my functioning as a neurodivergent person. As someone not especially in tune with my body and how it cycles, I had no awareness of this connection and literally felt like I became a different, more anxious, more scattered, more tired, more recluse version of myself at unpredictable times.
I think these changes are more profound for neurodivergent folk as we approach menopause. My anxiety and insomnia certainly seem to have ratcheted up a notch or two in recent years. It is also possible that as neurodivergent people, our capacity to ‘pass’ as neurotypical and cope with cognitive, emotional and sensory demands decreases as we age.
While I am yet to figure out strategies for taking care of myself, I am learning from observing and talking with wiser autistic and ADHD people in my life. Their self care strategies include taking time away from others, totally avoiding stressful social or sensory experiences, asking for more help, leaving housework and complicated meal prep aside, taking or adjusting medication, and building in more reading, rest or nature time. If I manage to make some changes that are positive for myself, I’ll write more about it.
For now I want to share my experience in case other neurodivergent folk (or parents of neurodivergent young people) might be noticing similar patterns with their cycles and their daily functioning, sleep, or moods. I feel your pain and I’m sending my love from deep within my own current haze as well as wishes for gentler days for us all.
Love Briannon ❤
PS: This post isn’t just about women and girls so I’ve avoided using gendered language. Monthly shifts in estrogen and progesterone, PMS and other symptoms effect nonbinary people and some men too.
PPS: If you have premenstrual symptoms that impact your mood and functioning, and don’t know about premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD), it’s worth looking it up. I have a very unscientific theory based on a small sample of people in my life and what I understand about our brains, that neurodivergent folk are more likely to experience PMDD.
This striking image of a woman deep in water with clouds and a black balloon overhead is free to use without attribution from Pixabay. It is by Jackie Ramirez of Parent Rap.