Fair warning: I’m going to swear, at the end of this.
Something is very wrong. At first, I thought that I was exhausted from holiday travel, and I assumed that this had triggered mid-winter depression. It’s not uncommon. I asked my psychiatrist for a higher dose of anti-depressants and bought a sun lamp. It let up. Then, it got worse. Curious about why my cycles seemed closer together, I started tracking them. To my very great surprise, they were almost a week shorter than they used to be. When the migraines and moods hit for the second time in January, I fell apart. I couldn’t wake up before noon, but I couldn’t make myself fall asleep, even with a sleep aid. I had taken on this “depression” by setting up a schedule for myself, so it was a sudden change in my sleep patterns. By day 2, I couldn’t stop crying. I had a panic attack about calling my therapist, let alone going to her office. I made it in once or twice, in all of February. I went in to get blood drawn (six vials) so my psychiatrist could run some tests. I saw her as soon as the results were in, but before she even looked at the labs, she listened to me. It was a medical mystery she had seen before: women who had given birth for the first time in our late 20s/30s (instead of at 19, as previous generations might have), seemed to have PMS that sounded almost like peri-menopause. My labs did show a potential risk for some thyroid dysfunction, which would explain a lot, and my Vitamin D levels were very low, so that might explain a lot, too.
Hormones were the big worry, though. We talked about who to see, next. The Vitamin D was the easiest fix: since my number on that test had been 14, instead of between 30 and 100, the normal range, every single time I had been tested since before my pregnancy, and nothing I had tried had budged that number even a little bit, she told me that an endocrinologist would prescribe “this brand that seems to work, when nothing else gets absorbed.” I don’t know what the brand is, yet, and that doesn’t really make sense to me, scientifically, but I had heard about this from a friend, very recently. Because I cannot gain weight–I am eating, people! and I am still under weight by 5-10 pounds! no amount of bacon has given me 5 more pounds!–and have a few other symptoms, she recommended an endocrinologist who wouldn’t focus on the numbers that might not mean much. Evidently, the range of “normal” for thyroid tests is not reliable; we don’t test people who feel great, so no lab has a great idea of what is actually normal. Printouts from labs give you big bold “out of range!” numbers, even when something is just a tiny bit out of range, so it was important to see a specialist who was willing to “try things” to see if they helped me feel better. I listened; I was willing to try just about anything, by then.
By the time I saw my psychiatrist, I was functioning again. I walked to her office, which isn’t far, but that means that I did this all by myself, while my mother-in-law took care of the toddler, at her house, and my husband worked. I made it through 24 hours alone, without freaking out, while ten days earlier, at the beginning of my cycle, I had actually eaten breakfast in bed, because getting out of bed was just. too. much. The timing of all of this sparked a long story, from this Doctor Who Listens, a rare creature, and not one I had expected to meet, having chosen her from an insurance directory based on her proximity to my house.
A long time ago, decades, perhaps, she had met with a “coop” of psychiatrists, ob/gyns, midwives, and endocrinologists; they were all seeing women who had had their first babies in their 30s and arrived at their respective offices with the same symptoms. They couldn’t sleep without waking every few hours, even when their children were sleeping for six. They had “PMS like teenagers” and skin changes to match. Their cycles seemed to refuse to go back to what they had been, before children. They were exhausted, all the time. Some of the doctors in the coop dismissed this as Motherhood. Some decided to start testing hormone levels. They saw enough women with levels somewhere between Healthy 30-year-old Women Levels and Peri-Menopausal Levels to convince about half the care providers that pregnancy was causing a permanent change for the worse.
To make life extra fun, I don’t fit neatly into any category: no obvious thyroid dysfunction, no obvious estrogen withdrawal, definitely no psychiatric cause. The last bit is very good news. My fears that I was spiraling into some sort of psychotic break have been put to rest. The fact that I have no answers and now wait on Doctor Time for appointments and new tests and still don’t know what any of those tests will be or what they will show? That fact SUCKS for anxiety levels. I’m a tangled ball of anxious thoughts, racing around my mind like NASCAR drivers.
These are the first words I have written in weeks.
My sleep is getting worse, as my appointment with the recommended endocrinologist approaches. My fear is not that tests will show something horrible; I had enough blood work to rule out just about everything terrifying, including HIV and Lyme’s disease. (How’s that for thorough? From a psychiatrist! So rare!) Even before those first results came back, I wasn’t afraid that I was *dying* – I didn’t feel like my body was in major trouble. I just feel wrong, inside. So, my panic before getting those first results, and my anxiety, now, is that a lot of specialists and testing will tell me that nothing is wrong. I should go home and get more rest and take Vitamin D and go for more walks, and blah blah blah. Everything I’ve heard before. I want something we can all agree is THERE, and I want something that a simple medication can help with. I don’t want to go through anything like trying to find the right combination of psychiatric medications. I don’t want to try mood stabilizers. None of that is on the table, now, but I just don’t know what will be left to try, if this medical mystery remains a mystery. What if I feel so wrong, moods swinging every which way, for no discernible reason?
I want my body back. I want my mind returned to its previous state, even if that’s a state that requires enough anti-anxiety medication to make most adults sleep all day. I want more than two good days a month. I want to stop feeling terrified that my cycle is going to shorten again. I want to inhabit this body without fears about what it will do to my mind, once or twice a month.
I nearly hugged my psychiatrist, when she said, “Of course, there is no research on this, because it doesn’t happen to men.” She rattled off a list of things I’ve heard chalked up to changes every mother just has to deal with, and I realized all over again, for the 10,000th time, that women are told to put up with all kinds of pain and discomfort and anxiety and mood swings, because that’s just what life as a women is like.
I started teaching a HypnoBirthing course to a lovely family, and I heard myself talking with them about how the uterus functions, and why there is no physiological reason that healthy uterine muscles should cause us pain, not even during childbirth… and the light went on yet again. It says, right there, in the script I know so well, that even during a healthy woman’s menstrual cycle, there is no physiological reason for the pain we call “normal.” Painful cramping is a sign that hormones are out of balance. The medical community knows this, because these are just muscles, and as they function normally, just like any other muscle, they should not hurt. But just as the medical community KNOWS that birth happens without any need for medical intervention but BEHAVES as though each birth is a medical emergency, women who are not pregnant hear that, for no reason at all, we are destined for pain and suffering.
I need all my willpower not to start reciting my HypnoBirthing curriculum, when I hear women joking about how much childbirth sucks, and how it must just be amnesia that lets any woman agree to go through it all again. I remember almost every darn minute of my birth, and it was amazing. Sure, there were moments of discomfort and even pain, but my body, mind, heart, and soul worked together with my baby to accomplish this incredible thing: a baby’s gentle entry into the world, from my womb to my arms. The sensations I remember most clearly? Tension and pressure. Muscles tensing in this incredibly powerful, strong way, in waves what moved down when my baby was ready to move down through the birth path. Pressure as my body unfolded to make space for that tiny body to move, gently, from the uterus to the outside world. I later learned that my child crowned for AN HOUR, and all the while, I craved love and support and gentle reassurance, not painkillers.
I will not settle for a monthly cycle that sucks days from my life, because my body can function perfectly. If hormones calmed me down, during pregnancy and childbirth and that first year of breastfeeding, with no periods, then I refuse to accept that hormones will now turn me into a weeping, raging, miserable person I do not recognize. Somebody who knows where to look had better look everywhere, and find me some damn answers.
I see my midwife a week after I see the endocrinologist, and I’ve already spoken to her on the phone about what we’ll be discussing. Now I just have to pray that my body cooperates enough to let her do her work, because God help me, I only have 8 days between the onset of the next period, as predicted by my handy charting app, and my appointment with my midwife. In the meantime, you’ll find me on Polyvore, distracting myself by making collages of pretty things. And hey, if you want to buy some pretty things, or take a HypnoBirthing class, I am happily competent (no crying!) while I’m working on Jamberry, Chloe and Isabel, and childbirth education.
It felt so good to write this. I keep myself going by reminding myself that I am successfully refusing to lose ME to these moods, or even insomnia, while I wait for answers. I haven’t lost anything, the system has just been hacked by a nasty fucker who is not welcome and will not stay.