Life begins. Life goes on.

August 31, 2017

I meditate daily to the theme from the Motorcycle Diaries (De Ushuaia a la Quiaca by Gustavo Santaolalla) because that movie and accompanying music are: compassion; adventure; discovery; curiosity; love; pain; belly laughs; friendship; tenacity; memory. These, the desired pillars of my life, expressed only half-heartedly so far – as I un-bury myself from the chronic trauma of Pre Menstrual Dysmorphic Disorder (PMDD).

After years of telling myself I just wasn’t smart enough to find the answers or find the right practitioner, or that I was out of my mind, (exacerbated no doubt by those flowery feminine protection ads dressed up in squeaky clean white pants telling me how pretty my period is) or demented, panic-stricken, broken, suffering from various mental illnesses and too stubborn to swallow the orders doctors were selling me, I only had the energy to get by. There is information on the internet and you can talk to your doctor, of course…but there is not nearly enough clear direction for this thing, this PMDD that incinerates, obliterates a life…this thing that 3-5% of women in the world are saddled with.

I hope we can find more integrated and holistic cures and better ways to cope and discover what a lifetime of care looks like. I’ve always known I could be better than my afflicted self. Now, I want to live differently, fully. It feels good to open up a little, given how people talk about us (women who endure so many things having to do with our gender parts). I want to talk through this reality, and understand the reality other people live (or who are dedicated to helping us, and just haven’t had a voice or been heard), and together, hopefully, we can build some bridges to awareness, compassion and hope.

Then.

While I always wanted truth to be a pillar I could put on my list with the rest, it would have been a lie. I only told the truth about insignificant things, in unimportant scenarios. I couldn’t tell the truth to myself. I was virtually invisible anyway, I only saw the vaporized version of myself when I walked by a window or a mirror. Surviving mattered, truth was a luxury.

A couple of weeks shy of my 50th birthday, I felt like I was in a stupor most of the time. My current client at work was not happy, I couldn’t solve the problems. I was failing. I was relentless, punching myself in the head, I was spent, exhausted.  One morning instead of driving to work, I drove to an emergency room and checked myself in.

I experienced some mysterious condition of the heart (I am sure it was Truth, accompanied by vengeance, demanding an audience). Sometimes I don’t listen so well. I spent a five day stint in the hospital hooked up to an intravenous bag of iron, and a lot of other shit, exposed to a line up of heart-related tests. I knew it had nothing to do with my heart and everything to do with 30 years of trying to will myself out of the fucking hourly, daily, weekly, monthly, yearly (more than 30 years) dungeon that is PMDD. It’s a hard conversation to have with a cardiologist (with whom you’ve already shared the daunting pain in your chest).

My acupuncturist, whom I’ve known for close to 20 years, has gently guided me through my stubbornness and avoidance. He told me six months before I went into the hospital that I had three to six months before my body would give out on me, because I would not acknowledge that my life was killing me. I’d laugh and tell him (often) that the only way I would stop was if I had a heart attack. Only then would I believe I’d pushed myself far enough. Something out there was laughing at me, it wasn’t a heart attack after all, but that something wanted me to believe it was. Yeah.

I used to think I should care about how great (or not) other people viewed my competence at work, getting promotions, being good at everything I tried, impressing people, setting up a good retirement plan. I worked really hard and long. These were my signature characteristics. I was tough and strong and loyal and I didn’t quit. I was always puzzled why I’d never been fired for being unprofessional, or crying at work, or yelling and swearing at my bosses and colleagues, etc. et-fucking-c. I think this may be some kind of cosmic indication that I have some serious guardians in my galaxy…and that those who know me best know that I have good intentions, a good heart and am smart and solution-oriented – all wrapped up in a bow with the words ” severe pain in the ass” written on it. To all of you: you’re why I made it in the “real world”. I am thankful for all of you. You’ve stood up for me, however hard it’s been. And even when you couldn’t, I understood, understand. You know who you are. Thank you.

Now.

I have a love who lives in a far off land and we spend part of the year together. During my last visit, during the worst part of my cycle (extreme rage over nothing, anxiety, paranoia, lack of sleep, crying, depression) I spilled some tea. I slammed things and broke things, yelled at him, swore at him, swore at myself, gave myself bruises and then went in the bedroom and cried until I fell asleep – hoping he would have left for work by the time I got up – I was embarrassed, mortified.  I came out of our room and he asked me: “Are you OK now?” He told me he didn’t want to leave me alone, how I acted scared him. He made me tea, we ate bread and olives. Because this is how you work things through in his culture of centuries-old, wisdom-infused DNA: with tea and food. It worked.

I always thought I was able to hide this “condition” for the most part, didn’t really have long term partners I had to explain it to. How do I explain this? How do I ask someone else to live with this? How do I subject children to this? He made me tell him everything. So I did. His compassion, and the look of fear and confusion in his eyes made me want to change things. So I did. He had more empathy for me than I had for myself. Truth.

I have about 15 journals dating back through the years, all documenting my cycle and symptoms, various trials and tribulations. A couple months ago I wrote a summary of all of it, the last 30 years and created a spreadsheet. I monitored, once again, everything – what I ate, how it affected me, how I slept, how much I peed and shit, how mad I got, how sad and anxious I got, how much I fucking cried, how many days I just wished I wouldn’t wake up in the morning – all at different times of my cycle, with comments around how severe or mild it all was, every day.

Once again, I looked for updated information about PMDD (so much more material now than when this all started for me…in my late teens my doctor wanted me to go on Prozac – I kind of knew then I was fucked and mostly on my own). I was a survivor. I was tough, a god damn athlete who came close to making the Olympics, got a full scholarship to a big American university; a young woman who watched my mother work her ass off while my father spent time in prison for embezzling money from my swim club – how cruel people were to my mother and how gracefully she handled it – me, not so graceful, I could just tough it through, like always. Fuck it. And that’s exactly what I did, for 30 years (with the sporadic plea for help from a doctor or specialist that amounted to nothing, despite their smartness and good intentions). I don’t blame anyone, ever, I didn’t have the energy or insight to fix it, so I soldiered on. Muddled through, hoping one day I would figure it all out, or miracles. Miracles.

Finally, really, sick and fucking tired of being sick and tired, I talked to my acupuncturist and asked if he minded me trying to find someone who had dealt specifically with severe disorders afflicting women, specifically PMDD. Of course he encouraged me and I went on a 24 hour mission and ended up tearily reading a case study about someone like me posted on a blog from a Chinese medicine clinic in California. I wrote them an email asking if they’d talk to me, help me. When I woke up the next morning, there was a reply waiting for me. It said: “Sure, let’s give it a go”. We FaceTimed and I filled out a hundred pages of info about myself and we talked about every little part of my body from the top of my head to the tip of my toes. I felt truly heard for the first time – by someone who knew the questions to ask, I didn’t have to “prove” anything. I introduced California to Calgary, my “team” conferred and a plan was hatched.

I started taking a tea formula composed by my brilliant doctor in California (the foundation of which was concocted by a third century Chinese master), coupled with acupuncture treatments from my genius comrades in Calgary. Four days in I started to experience what I called hesitant shock – I wanted to be in shock, (good shock) see and feel a difference in some of my symptoms, but I didn’t want to get my hopes up. A few more days in other symptoms subsided. One cycle passes and I hardly recognize myself. Two cycles pass and instead of taking my regular 16 extra strength Advil per DAY, I took 12 in 5 days. My cramps had subsided that much – probably the most debilitating purely physical symptom I had.

Those physical symptoms have already started to “unknot”, but it’s not done. I am immersed in the rest — the emotional, spiritual and mental recovery required. Truth. My life from now on. How has all this has moulded me, what do I keep, what do I leave? Can I list truth with the rest of my pillars now?

Next.

I wanted to be a lawyer, the queen of the Gypsies, an adventurer. Not forever, not all at the same time… I wanted to be what I wanted to be whenever I wanted to be it. In flux. Always. It took a long time for PMDD to kill my dreams. Survival mode became my life. I ate myself for fuel. Time for a new diet.

 

 

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