Today I am delighted to invite Paola Vallarino, founder of ITA-PMS, to share her story with us. ITA-PMS is the main Italian organisation dealing with premenstrual disorders such as PMS and PMDD. I mention ITA-PMS in my post Women’s Health: The Top 6 Experts that you need to follow as one of the main experts about women’s health.
Tell us a little about yourself: where are you from?
Good question. I almost don’t know the answer anymore! I am a good mixture of many different cultures and that helps a lot in life.
I’m from Italy but I have spent more than twenty years living abroad (UK & EIRE) and I’ve worked all over Europe and a bit in the US. I don’t like to get stuck, so I’m very often on the move. My dad is from the North of Italy, my mum is from the South; my children are half Italian and half Irish but we lived in the UK for many years, so I guess we are a bit British too. I’ve been back to Italy for about eight years now so we are Italians again!
What is your passion in life?
My days are a bit too scheduled for my taste these days, having a permanent job in the morning, two children to look after on my own and a belly to keep an eye on… I need and love to keep fit so I enjoy swimming and going to the gym. If I have some energy left at the end of my busy days, I love reading books, preferably three or four at the same time. I’m not a “one-book-at-the-time” person. Whenever I can, I enjoy travelling, visiting new places, art galleries and exhibitions.
One of my biggest passions for the last two years, but maybe even earlier, has been doing something useful for women, helping and supporting them in facing the horrible, fierce beast of PMS and PMDD. I have been through it myself (I must say I’m a PMDD Warrior and Guru) so I just want to share my experience and expertise with them but most of all I want to achieve something REAL for them, their daughters and their nieces: national guidelines for the treatment of PMS and PMDD and free treatments.
Can you share with us a little bit about your story as PMDD warrior?
My life with PMDD became extremely difficult after my second pregnancy (preceded by a miscarriage and followed by postnatal depression). At the time I had no idea PMS or PMDD existed; I only found out by chance when I associated some physical symptoms with the hormonal changes I was experiencing during my pregnancy. So I started tracking the symptoms for a few months and got in touch with the British association NAPS (National Association for Premenstrual Syndromes) and got help from them.
The psychological symptoms were so intense and difficult to manage that they profoundly influenced my family and social life. The worst thing that debilitated me the most was the cyclical depression and the anger outburst.
I was formally diagnosed at Chelsea & Westminster Hospital in London and I started a pharmacological treatment. But, as it often happens, in the case of PMDD, often the treatment becomes ineffective after a few years and so it happened. Having no resources left, in 2018, I decided to undergo the surgery of hysterectomy and ovariectomy.
Tell us about ITA-PMS: how was the idea born?
The idea has always been in the back of my mind. When I moved back to Italy, I struggled to find experts and I had troubles finding somebody knowledgeable about PMS/PMDD. I could not carry on the successful treatment I was under in the UK. I tried so many gynaecologists across three different regions.
I finally met one of the most knowledgeable PMS doctors in Italy (Prof. Facchinetti) who helped me with my treatments for a few years and agreed to carry out the hysterectomy/ ovariectomy final treatment for me.
All my years of suffering and struggling with PMDD and the end of it, could absolutely not be wasted. I was determined to do something with it and use it to help other women. I’m a stubborn Capricorn but I also have to thank my father who always supported me and encouraged me in carrying on with my project, especially when I was basically the only one dreaming about it.
What was the biggest challenge to starting it?
The challenge at the beginning was finding experts in the subject. My aim was not just creating a Support Group or an Information Point, that would have been easy! The aim was to get a respectable and top-class Scientific Committee on board. I needed Scientists and University Professors to support the long-term objective and my Vision: National Guidelines, visibility in the scientific community, PMS/PMDD formal training for future doctors.
We did succeed in reaching the objective! Our Scientific Committee is made of internationally known scientist/specialised doctors who are also University professors.
What is your mission? And your objectives?
My mission is to raise awareness on PMS/PMDD in Italy and support women.
The objectives are the guidelines, the establishment of a public (NHS) PMS Centre of Excellence in Italy, managed by Health Professionals where women from all over Italy could start getting professional advice and treatment. The idea would be creating centres in each region later on. Another objective is making sure PMS/PMDD training would be formally included in Medicine Schools of Specialisation at University so future doctors would be properly trained on this for the next decades.
Who’s your audience?
Women affected by PMS and PMDD, their families, their partners but also Health professionals who want more information, join the cause and collaborate with us.
Do you have business partners?
We have some “friends of ITA-PMS” such as IAPMD, NAPS UK and The Vicious Cycle UK and we do have received their formal endorsement (letters available on our website). We are collaborating with them and we update each other on progress and news.
We collaborate with ONDA (Osservatorio Nazionale Salute Donna) and we share our articles and news on their channels.
What kind of help/support do you offer?
Our website is packed with useful, but most of all, scientifically reliable information on PMS and PMDD. The information we publish is edited and approved by our Scientific Committee and women can really trust what they find there. One of the biggest problems in Italy has been a total absence of information until a few years ago and now misinformation and “self-made” treatment options advertised on groups and online literature which is not always correct and can be not only confusing but also dangerous for women to follow. During the last National Congress of Gynaecologists and Obstetricians in December 2020 (SIGO), this issue has been highlighted by the Experts as a problematic area. For this reason, we want to offer reliable information and support to women and their families and partners via our Facebook private Group, via e-mail and telephone (only ITA-PMS Members).
What is your biggest challenge today as ITA-PMS?
The challenge today is funding the organisation because in Italy there are strict regulations on sponsors and there are no funds for charity organisations from the state.
A second challenge is making women understand that PMS and PMDD are conditions that can be treated properly but at the same, they need to be patient in order to get results. They should rely on professional experts and not just follow self-medication (another problematic area highlighted during the National Congress) or non-expert advice.
My personal challenge is not giving up and being patient. Things in Italy move slowly; my experts are extremely busy doctors who work and manage big hospitals, do a lot of research work and teach at University! I feel very privileged thinking they also have some time for ITA-PMS, all my emails and requests! I can say I’m quite proud of what I have achieved in only two years of work with so little budget.
How can people support the organisation?
Supporting the work of the volunteers is so important. With a donation of 10 or 15 euros you can become a Member of ITA-PMS. Anybody can do it! Not just PMS sufferers! Supporting smaller organisations like this one is a gesture of trust and solidarity towards the huge efforts and the precious time we dedicate to help and support women and the future of their health.
Please join us https://itapms.org/associati
Another way is simply talking about PMS and PMDD and talking LOUD. We need to break the taboo of hormonal disorders and not be afraid of talking about it. Do share our link, our articles and you may just help somebody without even knowing.
If you want to find out more about ITA-PMS, if you think you suffer from PMS/PMDD or someone you love suffers from it, or if you just have any questions, you can connect with them through their Facebook page and Private Group, via their website or email firstname.lastname@example.org
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