Introspection Leads to Discovery

I’ve mentioned here and in other places that I’ve been under no small amount of stress recently. Things have slowly been resolving themselves – to some extent.

Life is always challenging, isn’t it?

When I first returned in January with my dad, I was reeling. And the changes over the next few months, along with the realization that my eldest and I suddenly, after 18 months of peaceful living and years of peacemaking, appeared to be back at square one (or worse), was devastating.

She wrote a post, which you can read here. To say that our accounts differ, does not even begin to describe it. At one point, I sat down and went over each point or claim that she made and wrote down a response. On the advice of friends and family, I did not send it. My eldest has her version of history and I have mine. Nothing will be gained by arguing or pointing out obvious fallacies. It won’t repair the relationship and it won’t mend the bridges we had already built together.

But along the way, I did something that I always try to do. Before dismissing something outright, I take the time to step back and evaluate and question.

How did they arrive at this conclusion?

Is there any merit in the claims?

Can I do something different now? Alter my behavior, learn from this experience?

It isn’t always easy. When we sense we are being attacked, our first instinct is typical – fight back, or run the other direction.

But one claim, that of declaring I was mentally ill, was especially egregious. It was a ploy her dad used when fighting me in court (sorry Walt, the judge didn’t buy your b.s. and you really did look like an idiot, by the way). It was an armchair diagnosis doled out by a woman who was my father’s girlfriend, a physician’s assistant, and who had been fired for stealing prescription medicine from the clinic she worked at soon after.

She had called me a sociopath and it had haunted me for nearly two decades. Until I was talking with a therapist about twelve years ago and told him about it. The guy, straight-laced and rather boring, started to laugh. He told me that, just the fact that I was bothered by the idea of being a sociopath meant that I wasn’t one.

“A sociopath doesn’t care what people think. Not one bit.”

Okay. So, NOT a sociopath.

So back to the post my daughter wrote. In it, she decided I was suffering from either bi-polar disorder or manic-depressive disorder, which is, by the way, the SAME disorder. Bipolar is also known as manic-depressive. Later she added in NPD, Narcissistic Personality Disorder.

Now that made me think.

After all, isn’t writing non-fiction, i.e. blogging, especially about life in general (how your life is going, what you made for breakfast, how you built a fence), isn’t that the epitomy of narcissism? And if so, my god, I HAD to be a narcissist. I have one, two, three, now FOUR blogs! And I post all the time on my interactions with my dad on Facebook.

So does that make me a narcissist? I’m talking about MY life, MY plans, and MY accomplishments.

I looked up both bipolar and NPD and read down the list of symptoms.

The hallmarks of Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) are grandiosity, a lack of empathy for other people, and a need for admiration. People with this condition are frequently described as arrogant, self-centered, manipulative, and demanding. They may also concentrate on grandiose fantasies (e.g. their own success, beauty, brilliance) and may be convinced that they deserve special treatment.

  • Exaggerates own importance
  • Is preoccupied with fantasies of success, power, beauty, intelligence or ideal romance
  • Believes he or she is special and can only be understood by other special people or institutions
  • Requires constant attention and admiration from others
  • Has unreasonable expectations of favorable treatment
  • Takes advantage of others to reach his or her own goals
  • Disregards the feelings of others, lacks empathy
  • Is often envious of others or believes other people are envious of him or her
  • Shows arrogant behaviors and attitudes

I walked down the list and did my best to evaluate myself, which isn’t easy, let me tell you.

  • Exaggerates own importance – NOPE. That would include taking the credit for other people’s work, which I do not do. If Dave works his butt off, I point it out right alongside my own. I am not a special little snowflake. When I was teaching classes I would remind folks that they could do just what I did, it isn’t special, it isn’t hard.
  • Is preoccupied with fantasies of success, power, beauty, intelligence or ideal romance – While I might be rather obsessed with laying the groundwork for our retirement right now so that we never have to depend on our children for help, that’s about it. Success is measured by the individual, I don’t need power (nope, not running for office anytime soon), I am NOT beautiful, I’m smart, but I’m not that smart (I know some smart ones), and romance? I’ll settle for someone who loves me and accepts me, round butt, graying hair and grumpy attitude.
  • Believes he or she is special and can only be understood by other special people or institutions – The opposite belief, that of NOT being special, is what turned me away from writing for years. Hadn’t everything worth saying already been said? I decided that, whether or not it was original, I would share it. I’m glad I took that chance.
  • Requires constant attention and admiration from others – Praise continues to make me uncomfortable. I have no small amount of self-hatred, bred by decades of family and ex-husbands reminding me of how lowly and shitty I was to find attention and admiration anything more than disconcerting at best.
  • Has unreasonable expectations of favorable treatment – Nope. And anyone who has been around me knows that. Sure, I’d love favorable treatment, but do I expect it? No.
  • Takes advantage of others to reach his or her own goals – Um. NO. There is only one instance I can think of, that of borrowing a truck from a neighbor. I felt bad that, when the tire needed to be fixed, we didn’t get to it in time. And I feel we borrowed it too long and possibly damaged our relationship with them, something I didn’t want to have happen. In the case of our contractor who up and left a job undone, I did the opposite. I fed her, DAILY. I didn’t do this to engender a sense of her owing me, I did it because I liked and valued her work and her friendship.
  • Disregards the feelings of others, lacks empathy – I do not lack empathy, but I often don’t notice when others are off. At least, not right away. It is something that, in retrospect, bothers me. It is important to share “air time” with others. Sometimes I get so busy telling stories and entertaining others, that I forget they have their own stories and that they too need to share them.
  • Is often envious of others, or believes other people are envious of me – No. NO to the triple no. I’ve worked hard for what I have and I’m proud of it. To be envious of someone who makes more money or has a bigger house is a waste of time. Better to put my nose to the grindstone and get what works for me, for what makes me happy. And if others are envious, they shouldn’t be. Walk a mile in my shoes, live the life I have led, and you wouldn’t be, not for a second.
  • Shows arrogant behaviors and attitudes – I have been fighting this behavior my entire life. Honestly, when I show arrogance and realize it, I feel ashamed. There are people in the world who have a hot mess of a life, who struggle every day. To behave as if they are less, or that I am better, is wrong. I see it in my dad and my mom and I’m determined to root it out. That’s not okay.

So that was all very long-winded. And at the end of it, I was still not quite comfortable. I felt I had eliminated both bipolar (you would have to have depression along with the manic and I just don’t have that) and NPD, but what the hell was it, because she had a point, something was wrong. Or something had been wrong, and I had evidenced behaviors that were not okay. Not with me, and not with my loved ones.

As I looked back over the years I thought about how, about twelve years ago, had begun tracking my periods. Eventually, I narrowed it down and realized that on Day 21 and Day 22 of my cycle things came to a head. And not in a small way.

I swear I googled “pms on steroids” and when I found PMDD, and read the symptoms, I felt like I had hit a not so fun jackpot.

Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder

The symptoms of PMDD usually show up the week before you start your period and last until a few days after it begins. Most of the time they are severe and debilitating, and they can keep you from daily activities.

Symptoms of PMDD include:

  • Mood swings – YES
  • Depression or feelings of hopelessness – Sometimes
  • Intense anger and conflict with other people – YES
  • Tension, anxiety, and irritability – YES
  • Decreased interest in usual activities – My husband and younger daughter said YES emphatically to this
  • Difficulty concentrating – YES
  • Fatigue – Possibly?
  • Change in appetite – YES
  • Feeling out of control – YES
  • Sleep problems – Sometimes?
  • Cramps and bloating – NO
  • Breast tenderness – YES
  • Headaches – YES
  • Joint or muscle pain – Not that I remember
  • Hot flashes – Not then!

WebMD goes on to say:

Your doctor can diagnose you with PMDD if:

  • You have at least five of the symptoms listed above.
  • They start 7 to 10 days before you get your period.
  • They go away shortly after you start bleeding.

Well, hell, that’s a huge big YES.

Here is the irony, folks. I am now in menopause. The end of my reproductive cycle, and the beginning of menopause began last year. Now that it has been over a year since I’ve had a menstrual cycle, I’m officially considered to be post-menopausal. So none of the symptoms, except for the hot flashes, remain.

I wish I would have known about PMDD twenty years ago. How much could my life have been different if I had only known? There are treatments, medication that mitigates the effects of PMDD.

So consider this a public service announcement. When I told my youngest about it she jumped up and ran over to read over the symptoms with me saying, “I need to know these in case I get it when I get my period!”

Introspection leads to self-discovery, albeit after the fact. Thanks to low serotonin levels, never diagnosed, I was not the mother, wife, or person I wanted to be. Looking back, I realize there is nothing I can do about it now, after the fact. And honestly, we will never know “for sure” since this is an armchair diagnosis, but DAMN. I grieve for what could have been, if I had only known.