Creating Myself Endlessly

“To exist is to change, to change is to mature, to mature is to go on creating oneself endlessly.” ~ Henri Bergson

PUBLIC NOTICE

Dear Readers,

This post is going to talk about menopause. Well, more specifically about perimenopause, the period leading up to the point at which a woman’s menstrual cycle ceases permanently. Now, just hang on and read this notice before you decide to move on to another post about funny cats.

Women going through or having gone through perimenopause: Read on. I know you’ll relate.

Women yet to go through perimenopause (yes, you will): Read on or at least bookmark this post. One day you will want to know that you’re not the only one feeling the way you do.

Men: Please read. Please understand what this is like for the women in your life (there must be at least one, even if it’s the barista in your coffee shop). Be as awe-inspired and sensitive as Dylan Moran.

Hahaha, I was kidding. But I do love his acknowledgement that a woman’s body is just a bit more complicated than a man’s.

 

I’ve been trying to write this post for months. I add a bit, change a bit and then leave it in drafts. Do people really want to know about this stuff? Other than those of us currently going through it, that is.

Today, I was watching the Amazon Prime series Fleabag. (I know, I have ethical problems with being signed up to Amazon but I wasn’t prepared to wait for the dvd release of Good Omens (based on one of my favourite books by my favourite author (Terry Pratchett) and another author I love (Neil Gaiman) ) and then I got predictably sucked in by the cheap annual price. It was worth it for Fleabag alone.) And (I had to start a new sentence because the parenthesis discussion got a bit unwieldy) there was a fabulous speech by Kristin Scott Thomas’ character in an episode I watched today that I just had to include in this post. So, I’m sending the whole post out into the blogosphere with some tweaks here and there. Finally.

Here’s the speech from KST:

(To be honest, it’s worth watching the whole KST scene. You can find that here.)

And here’s the rest of the work-in-progress-now-hesitantly-posted post:

Here We Go

About a decade or more ago, I went to see Menopause – The Musical. I laughed because it was funny and I understood most of the references from my general understanding of menopause but I couldn’t empathise. It was a bit too early for all that.

Here I am now, however, at a far more advanced age and not only facing but experiencing The Change. It may be time to revisit the musical.

The thing is, what I most remember of the show is the jokes about the physical symptoms of perimenopause such as hot flushes. While I get the occasional warm moment during the night, I’ve not experienced them to any great extent.

What perimenopause did do to me is turn me into a lunatic. Well, you know, more of a lunatic than usual.

It took me a while to realise that I was going just a bit more crazy than usual at certain points of the month.

Psycho Me was taking hold of the wheel and in the back seat was a chorus of disapproving voices who liked to point out all my deficiencies and how much better the world would be without me.

Now, I’ve always suffered from the psychological effects of PMS but this seemed different. I felt a bit more unhinged than normal.

After a particularly troubling event in which I transitioned from making jokes on Facebook to writing and sending some pathetic poem about what a lousy friend I am in a matter of minutes with no apparent cause, I consulted Doctor Google.

I learned that those women who have suffered from PMS in the past will find those symptoms exacerbated by perimenopause. Oh joy.

63d9e3d67abf012cf8e379ee790cc96b

Then I read this line: “The average length of perimenopause is 4 years, but for some women this stage may last only a few months or continue for 10 years.”

I burst into tears. I seriously didn’t think that I would make it four years let alone ten. I would have no friends left by then, turned away by my insanity. That was assuming I’d even live that long. Those negative voices could be nasty and I was finding myself in some dark places.

MjAxNC1jYmM2NDhiZWRmMzZkNTc5

The next day I made an appointment to see my GP. I knew that I was going to need pharmacological help to get through this and I wanted to see my youngest finish school and to see all of my boys become independent productive citizens of the world.

I was about to head overseas to Nepal and since I didn’t really want to be starting new medication when I was hours away from a hospital, I made the appointment for after my return. It did mean that while I was away I had a weird day with inexplicable tears at dinner and rage eating half a block of chocolate and a bag of snacks in my tent but I had a friend by my side so I made it through intact.

At the appointment with my GP after I returned from Nepal, I was prescribed a half-dose of an anti-depressant which I was to try and take only for the 7 days prior to my next period, the time it was presumed I would be most crazy. There was a problem with this plan. I was trying to predict a cycle that was becoming increasingly unpredictable.

But I followed the plan and kept notes on when I started and stopped medication and cycles and when the Mad Days came.

And the Mad Days were most certainly mad. On one occasion, I drove home from my singing group planning to email the leader and resign from the group because I was convinced everybody in the group hated me.

On the scariest day, I was carrying such an undercurrent of intense rage, I had to fight against the urge to floor the accelerator in the car and slam it into a tree. Even scarier, I didn’t even know what I was angry about.

menopausememe7

The most interesting discovery was that the Mad Days came not at a consistent ‘before’ date but at a consistent ‘after’ date – nearly always exactly two weeks after my period.

At my next check up with the GP, this was all discussed and it was agreed that I should take the medication every day. Once I had made my way through menopause, we would work at taking me off the medication.

At a final follow up two months later, the GP was astonished to learn that I had not had a psychotic incident since our last appointment. “But you’re on such a tiny dose!” he said. “It’s amazing that it’s had that much effect.” I could see him mentally filing away the information for the next patient that came in with similar symptoms. Lucky woman.

I’m not saying that my life is smooth and uneventful. I still struggle some days. But I no longer feel like some psycho has control of me.

I’ve reflected this week, in the wake of the arrival of a period that was some six weeks in the making, that in all likelihood my mad episode of dieting was probably hormonally influenced. Still a bit crazy then.

So. I travel on, creating myself over with each step of the journey and looking very much forward to that post-menopause stage of life when I can be a new, but probably still crazy, me.

pre-menopause

Escape From The Diet

I’ve never been a fan of diets. Breathless discussion of the latest fad by shiny-eyed converts over dinner makes me want to stab my ear drums.

Admittedly, I’ve never really needed to purposely diet, having been born with suitable genes to keep me reasonably thin. Not that I can eat what I want and never put on weight but a moderate approach to food and exercise seems to work.

aNa5t4a

I work on the dieting theory that if my clothes start to feel a bit tight, I cut back on the naughty foods and exercise more until my clothes fit properly again. Then I go back to what I was doing.

I do occasionally undergo what I call the Stress Diet. Whenever life gets really challenging I tend to stop eating. The worse things are, the more weight I lose. After the deaths of my sister and niece my weight dropped to 52kg (115lb). I’m 173cm (5’8″) tall. Not healthy.

I think my main objection to diets, particularly those that target a particular food type such as carbs or sugar, is that they tend to demonise food. If you eat the ‘wrong’ food, it’s supposed to make you feel bad. Food is there for nutrition, yes, but it’s also there for enjoyment. And oddly enough, diets that are highly restrictive are shown to be ineffective in the long term. Hardly surprising. I mean, who wants to live without beautiful bread or delicious chocolate for the rest of their lives?

So then, how was it that I found myself recently counting and recording calories and obsessing about whether I could afford to eat that slice of freshly baked sourdough bread? Why was there an app on my phone adding up every little thing I ate and sending me messages if I forgot to input what I ate for lunch?

I told myself it was a motivation tool for exercise. After all, if I exercise, I burn calories and thus I earn extra ‘credit’. Maybe I could have that piece of chocolate?

0e88ff43e1edc0fa102d43e8c3c5e963

Making those 2km on the rowing machine worth it

I told myself, why not lose a little weight now that I didn’t have to keep my weight over a certain value so I could donate more plasma at the Blood Bank since I can’t donate for a year because of my pulmonary embolism?

To be honest, my original intention was to lose a lot of weight. I was hurting. Not physically but mentally and emotionally. But mental injuries don’t show and it’s hard to convince people that you’re in pain. I thought if I could suddenly lose a lot of weight maybe it would be a physical signal to people that I was not okay.

So I signed up to an app and I set a strict weight goal and I started counting calories.

Of course, as part of this I started exercising more regularly and I started to feel better within myself. But by then, the Diet Cult had me in its grip.

I cut out breakfast and lunch and tried to minimise what I ate in the afternoon when I got home from work. I switched from my favoured flat white coffee to an espresso. I went to the gym and worked hard despite pain in my left foot. I started researching low calorie meals I could cook for dinner to help keep my calorie count low despite the fact that the men in my family all actually need extra calories in their diets.

But it was when I found myself drinking black tea – which I loathe – and going to bed hungry and sad that I realised that I had in fact fallen into exactly the traps I don’t like about diets. I was paranoid about what I ate. I felt guilty about every extra little treat I recorded in the app. I got depressed when my weight didn’t go down as fast as I wanted.

I deleted the app from my phone and I broke the diet. Oh boy, did I break it!

download

And in the weird way the internet has of tapping into your psyche, just as I was coming to the realisation, on a YouTube session on the TV I stumbled across this hilarious piece from Michael McIntyre. It was like a sign. I laughed until tears rolled down my cheeks and I knew it was time to ditch the diet and go back to my usual plan – Everything In Moderation. Or, Run Marathons So I Can Eat As Much Chocolate As I Want.

 

Have you tried any diets? Did they work for you?

 

 

 

Listening For The Answer

RUOK_speech_bubble_

Last Thursday was R U OK? Day in Australia. Founded by Gavin Larkin after the suicide of his father, it is a day to remind us to check in with our fellow travellers through life starting with the simple question “Are you okay?”

This year’s R U OK? Day took on particular poignancy in the wake of the death a few days before of a well-known Australian footballer and coach in a single vehicle crash that investigations seem to indicate was deliberate.

We can never really know the pain another is carrying so it’s important to start a conversation that may save a life.

But before you ask the question “Are you okay?” here’s a couple of things to think about:

1. Be prepared to listen to the answer

This is no “How are you?” automatic piece of politeness. If you’re going to ask someone if they are okay, you need to be prepared to listen to the answer. And don’t take any preconceived ideas into the conversation about what you think may be wrong. If the answer doesn’t match your preconceptions, you run the risk of dismissing the answer or ending the conversation because it’s not as bad as you thought or you don’t think it’s something worth talking about. Which brings me to the next point.

2. The experience of pain is unique to each person

The “Orchid Hypothesis” put forward by David Dobbs supposes that some children are more strongly affected by both positive and negative experiences in their lives while ‘dandelions’ thrive in whatever life throws at them. In a similar vein, Jerome Kagan researched the effect new experiences had on a group of 4-month-old babies and predicted (correctly) that those who reacted strongly by loud cries and rapid movement were the ones most likely to grow up to be introverts while those who remained quieter and calmer would likely be extroverts. He introduced the terms “high-reactive” and “low-reactive” to describe those who are deeply affected by new experiences and those who are less so. And this has a physiological basis. High-reactive people have a more reactive amygdala, the part of the brain that controls many of our basic emotions such as fear.*

All this sciencey stuff is just to say that people have different pain thresholds for mental and emotional pain just as they do for physical pain. So, when you ask “Are you okay?”, the other person may describe an experience that has made them not okay that may seem trivial to you. But the pain to that person is real and deserves as much care and attention as any other experience.

It’s also worth noting that high-reactive people are often aware that their reaction to an event may seem minor to others and may use words such as “It’s nothing”, “It’s stupid” or “It’s really nothing worth talking about”. They need to be told that it is something, it’s not stupid and you do want to listen if they want to talk about it.

3. Empathy not sympathy

In responding to a person’s answer, it’s important to respond with empathy not sympathy. I could explain the difference but I think this video does it in a much clearer and more entertaining way:

 

So, take the time to look around you, notice the people in your life and find out if they’re okay. The R U OK? website has some fantastic resources for having these conversations.

I’m not going to expect you to answer “Are you okay?” in the public forum of the comments on this blog but I do ask you that question and hope you can find someone you trust to talk to if your answer is “No.” There are also trusted services such as Lifeline you can call.

Blessings.

*Reference: Quiet – The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain.

PS I’m also not going to answer the question in this public forum. I will admit to some mental health struggles in recent times which has prompted this post but I am receiving good support and assistance and while the seas are still a bit choppy, I am no longer feeling swamped. Thanks for asking. 🙂