Mum's common symptoms were classic red flags of a condition many don't know

Erica Derbyshire
-Credit: (Image: Ultimate Performance/Erica Derbyshire)

After giving birth to her third child, mum Erica Derbyshire began experiencing severe physical and mental symptoms that indicated something was seriously wrong with her health. She was constantly fatigued, anxious, and developed an unhealthy craving for junk food which led to a three-stone weight gain after a lifetime of fitness and health.

She would often fall asleep in her car after dropping off her children at school, only waking up just in time to pick them up at the end of the day. Erica sought medical help, explaining her symptoms to her GP, but was taken aback when she was diagnosed with gluten intolerance. Despite adhering to the advice given to manage this condition, her symptoms only worsened.

Erica persisted in her search for answers, undergoing numerous tests over several months. Various medical professionals suggested everything from post-natal depression to perimenopause as potential causes.

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Her GP eventually admitted they had no further suggestions on what could be causing her symptoms and recommended seeking help from a private specialist, reports the Manchester Evening News.

Erica paid for several private consultations which finally revealed the true cause of her symptoms - a disorder she had never heard of before.

She was diagnosed with PMDD Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder - a condition that many women, including Erica, are unaware of. Her symptoms were all classic indicators of the disorder, but none of the NHS GPs she had consulted had ever diagnosed anyone with it before and hadn't considered it as a possibility.

Erica, 42, from Prestbury, has opened up about her personal struggle in hopes of supporting others and sharing the journey that led to reclaiming her life after a daunting diagnosis. The turning point in Erica's treatment came with a hysterectomy, which almost immediately alleviated some of the most severe symptoms she had been enduring as a mother of three.

Speaking about her ordeal, Erica, mother to Faith, 16, Charlie, 12, and four year old Freddie, recounted: "Four years ago I had my third child, the earlier two births were absolutely fine. But I became quite poorly after I had Freddie and I really didn't understand why."

She continued, detailing her struggle: "I was very tired, beyond tired and fatigued, I was gaining weight because of this. I craved carbs which I'd never done before. I was suffering from headaches and irritability, those were the main symptoms. I went to my GP and they told me I was gluten intolerant."

Despite following medical advice, Erica's condition did not improve: "I was put on a gluten free diet for about six weeks before I went back as it was not working. I was getting very heavy periods, they were becoming unbearable as well as being fatigued."

The situation became so dire that even daily routines were a challenge: "I used to drive to school, drop the kids off, and then be too tired to drive home. I'd fall asleep in the car and then pick them up, in between all that I'd maybe just grab a sandwich to keep me awake."

Describing the impact on her quality of life, she added: "I felt frustrated, my memory was foggy, I was sweating, my vision was blurry. I was getting sinusitis every month around my period. I went back to the GP who suggested antibiotics and HRT."

Erica's struggle with sinusitis led to an operation; she later found out that this could be one of the key symptoms of PMDD.

She explained: "My consultant explained that with PMDD your body doesn't produce the right amount of oestrogen and so produces its own lubrication, and therefore sinusitis is a classic symptom of it. Now, I can't smell anything - after having an operation I don't think I even needed to have - due to lack of knowledge around the condition."

In Erica's view, more people need to be aware of the symptoms of PMDD, including medical professionals. She said: "When I went back to my GP I was told I was the first and last person they've ever known to have this.

"And I thought, is that just because women aren't speaking out about it? Are people struggling to speak out that their PMS is that bad, because nobody even realises this condition is a thing? There must be so many women who battle on not realising they have got this condition. From a young age we are conditioned to think that extreme PMS is "normal" and we should learn to "cope" with it.

"I must have spent £30k to get where I am now, because I saw so many private consultants. It was only by chance I saw the consultant who knew about PMDD. there's a lot of misunderstanding around the illness, I don't feel people know enough about it.

"It's completely debilitating - it's pre-menstrual symptoms but with a vengeance. For me personally it was a typical four week cycle so the first week after your period you feel very fatigued, tired and emotional, second week start to feel irritable and tired, third week of your period you get the anger, the rage, craving carbs and sugars and then on the fourth week it's just too much to handle, you sink into a hole of depression from those symptoms and then you start again on the first week."

Erica dropped form a size 14 to a size 8 -Credit:Ultimate Performance/Erica Derbyshire

Erica had never experienced such issues before Freddie's birth, and medical experts believe the delivery may have been the trigger. Following tests on her ovaries, Erica was diagnosed with the condition.

Post-diagnosis, Erica's surgeon recommended a full hysterectomy, to which she responded: "I feel like women are so scared of the idea of a hysterectomy, but for me I wish I'd done it years ago."

She recounted the astonishing turnaround post-surgery, saying: "After having it done I could not believe the change - four days later I was decorating the house, I felt so motivated for the future. It was overwhelming, it changed my outlook completely."

Reflecting on the impact of her condition, she said: "Over those four years I'd left my career, lost friends, lost self-confidence and gained three stone - I just basically needed to rebuild my life."

Erica, a once active lifestyle enthusiast, shared her journey from being a dress size 8 to reaching up to size 14 due to the battles with her PMDD condition. After undergoing an operation in July 2023, she made a decision to reclaim her fitness life and visited Ultimate Performance Fitness centre located at Alderley Edge in November.

Speaking of her experience she said, "Someone had suggested UP in the past but I'd dismissed it at first because it was expensive for me as I'd recently left work," She also admitted about her emotional state stating, "I was so unhappy having the weight on because I've never been big before, but I felt liberated with my new life."

Having met several personal trainers before who suggested drastic diets which were neither healthy nor consistent, she found none focusing on technique or progression with training.

"So at that point I thought I'm going to visit UP and have a chat. I went to UP and within the first hour of meeting with my personal trainer Adam Newton I knew it was the right thing to do. Adam is extremely professional and the most knowledgeable PT I've met, all of the PTs at UP are experts with the training focused around technique."

Proclaiming the commitment and the knowledge provided by her personal trainer she added, "They are committed to your results and they provide an education which if adopted, will change your life forever. Adam for me is more of a life coach than just a PT."

"I still have to balance my medication, I have HRT after the hysterectomy, and there are times when I still struggle, or feel too tired to train. Adam is good at reading this situation and is there to coach me through when I find it challenging but equally, gives me space and backs the pressure off when I need him to."

Erica is now training to be a PT herself -Credit:Ultimate Performance/Erica Derbyshire

She embarked on a transformative fitness journey with Ultimate Performance in November, committing to their 3-month body transformation programme. Erica hit the gym three times a week and increased her daily activity, targeting over 10,000 steps.

The programme also provided her with tailored dietary and fitness education to ensure a sustainable and healthy transformation.

The results have been nothing short of remarkable; she's slimmed down from a size 14 to a size 8, shedding 10.5kg and gaining 4kg of muscle mass, with her body fat percentage impressively dropping to 15%. Her partner, Dan, aged 44, found inspiration in her success and decided to embark on his own fitness journey as well.

Although Erica's initial programme was set to conclude in April, her enthusiasm for the process has led her to continue training with the professionals. Moreover, she's now pursuing a career as a personal trainer.

She expressed her new-found passion, saying: "I've spent my whole life in senior HR roles. But I'm now retraining to be a PT because I want to be able to give to other people what it's given to me."

"I want to share my experiences and educate people who might also be struggling or want a better quality of life."

Erica's weight loss journey.

Height: 5' 5".

Starting weight: November 2023 - 74kg, dress size 14/16.

Final weight: April 2024 - 63kg, dress size 8/10.

Typical diet before:.

Breakfast: Cereal or toast.

Lunch: Ham sandwich, crisps and chocolate, snacks.

Dinner: Home-made meal but a large portion with plenty of bread and carbs.

Typical diet after:

Breakfast: Yoghurt, blueberries and chia seeds.

Mid-morning: Two eggs and half an avocado.

Lunch: Chicken and vegetables.

Dinner: Fish and vegetables.

Snacks: Protein yoghurt, apple and orange.