Sharing some of our reader's personal journeys Disclaimer: This article is in no way an incentive for anyone to try any legal or illegal substances. It has been written for educational and harm reduction purposes only. If you have any health conditions or are taking medication, DO NOT take these substances without first doing your own research, and talking with your doctor or healthcare professional.
In 2015 I had recently graduated college from the Pennsylvania State University with a Bachelor of Science in Kinesiology. From early childhood through to my early twenties I was either at dance lessons, playing a different sport each season, and later on teaching group fitness classes, personal training, and running half marathons for “fun”. You get the picture.
For a girl who had taken pride in her innate ability to connect so deeply with her physical body and teach others how to do so for a living, the upcoming several years were a massively frustrating and humbling journey.
It began while I was a young professional working as an Exercise Specialist at the Rockefeller Center in the heart of New York City, a girl’s literal dream! There I was sitting in the Starbucks on 45th and 6th reading the renowned spiritual enlightenment book, “The Power of Now”, getting ready to teach my HIIT class across from Bryant Park on a beautifully sunny day when suddenly, my hands are sweating; they’re drenched.
I am lightheaded; heart pounding. I put my two fingers to my neck to feel my pulse. “Whoa. That’s for sure not my resting heart rate,” I thought. I could rattle off my heart rate training numbers with more ease than my personal cell phone number. I immediately stood up and frantically elbowed my way out of the tight little coffee shop and onto the streets for fresh air. What. The. Hell.
Fast forward 6 months - I’ve had a panic attack each month like clockwork with one sending me to the ER. “I’m surely dying from a heart attack,” I, the super fit 24-year-old, says as her personal trainer boyfriend at the time nearly gets a speeding ticket driving her to the hospital at 5am. My blood work is perfect, my pregnancy test is negative, but my ‘resting’ heart rate was 156 while laying in the hospital bed. Am I sure I’m not in the middle of a HIIT workout right now?
And so it went. Each bypassing month I’ve come to terms with, “Welp, it’s only a matter of time before the next one.” And also, why are my periods getting SO much worse as I get older?! They are painful. I’m exhausted. The health and fitness coach can’t even control her own wellness, her emotions, relationships, her binge eating. What a fake, how embarrassing! But it’s only for 10 days a month before each period, and I can just keep it a secret. So, it’s okay, right?
Meanwhile, doing everything I can to be even more health-conscious than ever, reading and researching until one in the morning, channeling my fear of the unknown into the power of presence through meditation. Yet, here it comes again like a massive tidal wave, 7 days before my very regular menstruation. Okay, I think I am onto something here. Could it be… PMDD?
Premenstrual dysphoric disorder is supposedly quite rare. You first would think it’s an exacerbated version of PMS. The typical moodiness, fatigue, cramps, cystic acne and the whole gamut of symptoms. PMDD, however, is a mental health disorder and listed in the DSM IV as a "depressive disorder not otherwise specified." The symptoms of PMDD are remarkably similar to those of Major Depressive Disorder (MDD). Wow. Relieving to know I’m not as crazy as I’ve felt? Maybe a little.
It’s taken me time and many doctors telling me my symptoms weren’t valid. One D.O. I saw said, “Here is some Xanax and a referral to a psychologist I know.” One OBGYN informed me that PMDD wasn’t real. Another OBGYN actually diagnosed me with PMDD, yay! And then gave me an SSRI to cycle each month. “Just take this for ten days leading up to your period. It will combat your symptoms."
The common denominator is that none of them cared to address the source of the issue with me. Can this not be treated and cured? Do I have to wait until menopause for this to clear? Or maybe just get knocked up? Don’t get me wrong, I’m not expecting it to be easy. I am here to do the work, people! And no offense, but I am sure all of you doctors are not used to patients walking in the door and specifically not wanting a quick fix in a cute little orange container with a white top. I am aware that I am an anomaly, and I didn’t exactly go straight to a holistic practitioner. But c’mon! However, I do need to thank you all for those adorable little pill containers because they sure do make a great place to store my psilocybin capsules!
I found it. I found the hard way. The real way. (The illegal way?) The way to go in. I’ve always dabbled in psychedelics. They intrigue me. Take me to a music festival, and let me feel the experience of music and people on a deep soul level. I live for it. It sets me free. Along the way, I heard of psychedelic therapy and microdosing.
I know the power of these drugs recreationally firsthand. The way they allow me to connect inward, with other people, and with places. I am starting to realize… what if there was a little more intention behind the use, a better integration of psychedelic mushrooms into my functioning adult life? I had a feeling that after reading memoir after blog post by other women with similar struggles that maybe this could in fact be my “hard work” that I was seeking to find.
This journey has been magnificent with ups and downs. So, I began with my own protocol of microdosing by cycling on the days leading up to my menstruation, just like the OBGYN had prescribed the SSRI to me years back. Now it’s always hard to measure mood and how exactly things are evolving and changing, but what I can say is that the time I have taken to journal and write out my experiences on the days when I have utilized doses of psilocybin (below my perceptual threshold) verses.
On the days that I do not, I am feeling alleviated of panic and depressive thoughts, an increase pain management, and to be honest, an incredibly overwhelming feeling of simply embracing my womanhood. It is such a gift to have the ability to look at your monthly cycle through a lens of gratitude, and work with it, rather than against it. Change your mind, and your reality will change.
To this day, I use psilocybin as a tool to help manage my cycle and my life in addition to other holistic protocols that I combine with it. Some of these include: using nutrition/supplementation to provide additional nutrient support to reflect what my body lacks chemically during various parts of my cycle, scheduling my workout routine to best support my recovery during my high hormone phase, or take advantage of beast mode during my low hormone phase, and deepening my spiritual practices through breathwork, meditation, journaling and dance to remind myself what it means to be a damn woman.
They always say your passion lies within the road you travel, and my path within the health and fitness industry has only deepened from navigating my way towards peace with PMDD. I am so grateful for my challenging journey and hope that this resonates with any woman who is feeling stuck in her female body.
Microdosing is not a cure-all, but if you are willing to do the work, you will have the power and ability to change your reality and face struggles that you previously battled to confront in a way that leaves you feeling empowered.
About the Author: As an athlete and dancer, it was natural that Karissa Bollinger followed a career path that allowed her to help others feel good moving their bodies. She graduated from the Pennsylvania State University with a Bachelor of Science in Kinesiology.
She's worked professionally in the health and wellness industry for nearly a decade as a holistic wellness coach, exercise specialist, and fitness director. Karissa's mission is to create a solution for people to connect spiritually, improve mentally and physically, and achieve more than they ever dreamed possible. She believes in a comprehensive approach to wellness; seeking to teach people how to address their physical body, diet, habits, and spiritual practice.