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Non-Attachment: An Update

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I have friends who know the intention I set for 2017: to practice non-attachment as “best” (ha!) I can.

They ask me from time to time, now that it’s May and we are more than 1/3 into the year, how it’s going.

I tell them, “it is what it is,” and laugh. Because that’s all there is and yet, there is so much more.

My beloved older brother and I were together in February on a 75˚ sunny day that made us feel like we were in Florida in February — when the angle of the sun is so distinctly “winter” that you know the experience is novel — when we weren’t. We were running an errand and I drove with the top down. I was thrilled to have him all to myself for that special hour. He’s a busy man, husband and father and we were all together as a family again to celebrate our “Second Christmas” because we are all in different places on actual Christmas.

We started talking about life in a way we hadn’t in years. It was just us. We got around to “new year’s resolutions” and I spoke of my new year intention. He is a really smart guy and he’s read a lot of amazing books and philosophers so he’s willing to go down the rabbit hole with me at times and I love those talks. I summarized up saying that “non-attachment” feels like a trap because I end up wondering if I’m “doing” it right. “Like, how do I know if I’m doing it the right way? If I try to stay in my own zone and let go of shit my kids or other people do, isn’t that like not caring about my own standards and personal space and boundaries? Do I stop caring about my family and dogs and just let them figure it out on their own? What if my not caring about something means that someone could get hurt or be negatively affected? Say, if I see a toddler walk into the street, of course I’d stop my car… when is non-attachment not good? Do I just keep driving and say, ‘well, he had it coming…’…”

I continued as rainclouds gathered above us on our way home and I wondered about whether I should close the top but decided to keep it open… it’s just rain… I can always pull over…

“Am I good at non-attachment??” We laughed.

Then I said, “Ah, fuck it.” We laughed louder and the rain began to gently fall around us amidst a sunny sky, and we were moving fast enough to stay dry.

The truth is that it’s hard. It’s hard to be soft when the world wants you to be broken instead. It’s hard to be aware when the world seeks to numb you. It’s hard to be open when you would rather clam up and turtle yourself in.

I have the true gift and blessing to host a “restorative / yin” yoga practice. This class centers and restores me in a way NO physical practice can. I have to be centered, or near-centered in order to give it fully. Sometimes that is easier said than done. I’ve been caught up in traffic or arriving on the heels of a disagreement with someone.

“Fake it ’til you make it.”

My therapist once mused about 10 years ago when I spoke of the crushing feelings I had about my mother and my father; about my childhood in spite of being a mother myself. A family event was on the horizon and I was a bit raw from the Work he and I had been doing in my head and heart. I didn’t want to attend but he said “fake it ’til you make it…”

I so dislike that phrase. I can’t fake it until I make it, because what if I never “make it”? And then, of course, what if I’m already there? What if the “what if?” is really “so what?” Because I dislike that phrase, teaching restorative classes means I can’t share what I don’t have, so I have to “rally” to let go. I realize it’s as much for me as it is for them.

I begin by inviting everyone to sit and to “soak” in their space. I propose a slow breath in. I suggest a flowing, peaceful breath out. I suggest an awareness of the heart rate and a connection with the energy in the room… after the first two minutes, I’m centered. I’m present. I’ve made it.

In those restorative classes, I talk about the poses and their effects on our bodies’ systems: circulatory, immunity, digestive, pulmonary, lymphatic and more… I read poetry, quotes and essays by Rumi, Chodron, Emerson, St. Francis of Assisi, Thoreau, Mother Theresa, Buddha, Lammott, Brach, Jesus… sometimes the stories are ancient and sometimes they are contemporary. Sometimes the readings are fresh to the class and sometimes they are repeats.

My sense of “non-attachment” means to me that it doesn’t matter if the quotes are the same, because every time I read them, it’s a new day for the listener and for me. It’s how our day shapes up which leads us to how we hear what is being read. For some people it might be the first time they’ve heard it and for others it could be the sixth. The point is, that life throws us experiences that shape HOW we hear those readings.

I remember going to Mass and being irritated by having to hear the story of Lazarus or Jesus Calming the waters, or of his curing a blind man by spitting in the mud that he rubbed in the man’s eyes, or of the woman at the well, or … or … or … until I realized: oh… this isn’t about repetition… it’s about lessons. For me, now in retrospect, it was about choosing to be irritated or choosing to NOT be irritated and listening.

Why am I harping on repetition? . . .Wait for it. . .

After a recent restorative practice, I was told that a new student loved it, but that the readings were the same as the week before. I got the impression that it felt stale to this person. It didn’t affect the same way as the first time.

NON-ATTACHMENT BREAKDOWN. BITCHY DEFENSIVE YOGA TEACHER BREAK-IN.

What is ironic is that I was also told by another student that what I read in that very same class was EXACTLY what was needed. People tell you things in these spaces. They feel safe in their vulnerability. A marriage was dissolving. Sobriety was new. Children were raw and wary from years of hurt and neglect. A rebirth was taking place right in that studio; right on that mat; right before us all in a private, silent, and beautiful way. This student found the readings both soothing and buffeting and it was all very needed.

As an adult child of alcoholics, I could identify with the children this practitioner had injured. I rested my hands on my heart and bowed to this yogi who is boldly stepping into the light, no matter if one reading is exactly the same as the week before. No matter if one pose is repeated.

justbeyoupillow

The whole point of a yin practice is to “get down” with who you are. To get close to the discomfort of being in your own skin and letting the feelings well up and breathe them out so we can let them go. The whole point or a restorative is to let stuff ride through you and try to practice non-attachment, to truly BE “it is what it is.”

So the conflict: Do I change what I do to please the one person who itched that night when I’ve been doing what I’ve been doing and people tell me this class is like their church? That they wait all day for it? That they count the minutes until class? That it’s a form of body prayer for them? That it’s their sanctuary from the world? That it lets them go soft when the world insists they stay hard? I’ve been teaching this type of class this way for three years and I’ve never heard a “it was great, but…” and maybe because that’s people are too nice? Mmmmmmmnnnnope. Not around here…

“It’s not me it’s them.” Isn’t that a fun line? The truth is, it’s all of us. The insight for me, however, is that I’m keenly aware of my own shit and that any reaction I have to anything is mine, including this person’s reaction to what I did. Carl Jung said basically that when we don’t like something or someone, to pay attention to it because it gives us insight into ourselves. I used to really dislike that concept because it was right. It means “work”; it means we look in the mirror and parse out what we are and grow up and stop being little babies.

Are we judgy? Are we reactive? Are we irritated –in a restorative yoga class?! REALLY?!– breathe, molly . . .  by a repetitive reading SO MUCH that we are going to talk about it, or are we going to do some digging and wonder why we are so irritated…? So attached? What are the expectations of this person? Levitation?

NnnNgnnn. Breathing. . .     

So ok.

I love feedback and I am all for mixing things up, and frankly, some of the readings have felt repetitive for me. That said, I feel strongly that I must be guided to read what I read; that if I “preselect” what I’m going to read, that it’s not authentic, it’s “planned” and when is life ever really that way? As a yoga instructor, there are times when you think you have the best idea ever and then you get to your place of practice and you “read the room,” and your initial idea vaporizes. The moods of the people or the events of the day or the week DO NOT mesh with what you had in mind at all. That happens more than I’d like. In that way, I have to be responsive.

I remember a power vinyasa class I was preparing to teach. I had a whole line up all set. And as the people streamed in, the mood was SO unlike what I’d prepared to experience. I had to think on my feet; I had to find a way to ease into the place I wanted to bring us because while the tone of the room might’ve been heavy, the truth is that people come to that class to revive and to work, so I had to steer the ship.

But I’m attached. I don’t like what I heard about that restorative class and the readings. Do I say “fuck it” and do what I’ve done? Not if you know who I am I won’t. I will roll up my sleeves, do some digging about my reaction and serve the class to the best of my abilities. I could decide to blend both my worlds: write my own essays for the class that I teach, and maybe that has traction. I could write essays based on a reading and that would blend it all together. It’s a consideration. It’s got legs, actually.

And so RIGHT NOW, as I previewed this post, I find myself bowing in gratitude to this person who spoke up. I find myself utterly awake: I can change this, I can write up thoughts. I can share myself in a way that will never be experienced again. Why buy or read other writers’ works when I’m a writer myself…? Why not share me? Weave me into the readings?

Holy cow.

My prescription for non-attachment: lean in to what chafes you. Roll in it. Get its stink all over you. Decide if it’s worth learning from or letting go. There is no right or wrong answer, and my experience has been that if I can’t let it go it’s because I’m supposed to grow from it.

Thank you.

10 Things You Never Knew You Wanted (But Now You Absolutely Need)

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10 Things You Never Knew You Wanted (But Now You Absolutely Need)

I love this blog and you should too. MLP hits it out of the park and into the stratosphere where most of these models’ outfits are from. Enjoy and laugh again.

I Miss You When I Blink

Are you good at resisting advertising? I try not to be a sucker, but time and again, the glossy ads in fashion magazines draw me in with their magical promises. I don’t think I have any interest in the high-couture lifestyle they’re offering . . . until suddenly I do.

Take a look. Don’t you want it all, too?

hermes

If you’d asked me yesterday, “What’s on your wish list?” I wouldn’t have said sparkly red gravity-defying sneaker-huaraches, because I’d never seen any. But now I have — and now I feel stupid for walking around vertically like some basic fool all this time.

 * * *

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At first, I thought, “Matching blue lace top and leggings with reverse shin zippers? Hard pass.” But then I looked at Jennifer Connelly’s face and posture and thought, CHANGE OF OPINION, MADAME CHAIRPERSON. She is not kidding around. I’m positive that if I wore…

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In The Gray.

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I decided on Christmas eve as I was dousing my hair with chemicals that it would be the last time; I am over coloring my hair every 3 weeks just to have it fade in a week and not match the rest of it for two more.

I can do without the time suck, the expense and the occasional professional tune-up to correct the banding that I created for myself in my efforts to Feel Like A Natural Woman.

Tomorrow will bring me to the end of the third month of my journey.

I posted on Facebook about this and I referred to this situation in a blog post I wrote a few weeks ago in an attempt to bring both of you up to speed on the higher-level events in my life.

There’s a movie called “The Grey.” Remember back in lit class when we would discuss: Man vs. Man, or Man. vs. God, or Man vs. Machine…? Which type of struggle encompasses this film? Yes.

It’s about a group of maybe nine rank and file (i.e., necessary) men from a petroleum company who survive a plane crash somewhere in a tundra. We don’t know where, exactly, but we can guess it’s very cold and very remote. The group of men are a typical motley crew: one is a new father, another is a great guy, one is an ex-con whose vulnerability dressed in hubris would be his downfall, one has a kidney disorder, another is a kind of MacGyver / dog whisperer / shaman / former Seal, one is a recovering alcoholic who’s divorced or in reconciliation with his wife, one is devoted to his family, another is just a standard prick. I think that’s eight. Let’s go with that. Bottom line: they all have their gifts and their flaws. It’s like Lord of the Flies but grown-up style. We start to get to know them on the night before or of the flight back to the “Main 48” as part of their leave from their jobs in that isolated place. The plane crashes somewhere in the Northwest territories of the U.S. and then we begin.

From the beginning, you sense tension and that’s how movies work.

What lives in the tundra and can do quite well thank you? Grey wolves. And then the drama begins, because you KNOW shit’s about to hit the fan, but who’s going to get it first? And how will he die? Will it be an embolism or a knife fight with another survivor? Before you run to Netflix and start to watch it, I must tell you that Liam Neeson is in the film. So now you really have to decide if you can take it.

It doesn’t matter who dies. Or how or if you’re psyched or sad when he finally he got his because he was so sweet or such a jerk to everyone or he lost his glasses or he has a fear of heights or he softened his granitic heart just before.

What matters and what any of this has to do with me is that this is how it feels for me right now as I have decided to grow out my gray hair.

When I was 39 I tried this. Maybe it was the cut, maybe it was because I was still “young” or maybe it was because it just didn’t look “right” in terms of balance, but I threw in the towel and started coloring again.

Then five years later, I started adding highlights. And “warmth” to my colorings and let me tell you: I am not a “warm” tone person. I am more Snow White. So anytime you add “heat” to my hair… it doesn’t work. (I tried to come up with an analogy that had to do with a croissant and it wasn’t working, so I let it go — some battles are not worthy of the energy.)

I joined a Facebook group, “Gray and Proud” which is a fun place for people like me — trying to figure it out, in the process of no more processing, and the people are generally super supportive.

I feel like the wolf is out there… just waiting to wrestle me to the ground and say, in her “all the more to eat you with” voice, “Stop. Just stop with the coloring… you know how frustrated you get when you see the end result and you feel it’s not you. You are going to be 50 in SIX MONTHS; that doesn’t mean you’re half dead, it just means you’re 50 — so stop trying to make your hair look like you’re 30 … I’ve got grays… so what if they’re tipped in black … but I’m a wolf. You know that’s not where you are right now… so be cool, man… or i’ll bite your head off.”

And then I’ll say, “But you’re a wolf. You were made that way.”

And she will turn around, snarl and say, “So were you. Get over yourself.”

And I’ll snarl back, “yeah, ok…” but in a really weak way because she’s a wolf and I am NOT a wolf and she could just… yknow, END IT right there (IT COULD HAPPEN!) and so here I am.

Before I share pics, some things I’ve noticed:

  1. Less hair is falling out in the shower.
  2. The bluing shampoo I use (to keep the silver from yellowing and to help keep my chemical low-lights from getting brassy) is sort of harsh… my hair feels NOT soft after I use it; that was a surprise.
  3. Even on this Facebook group, there are Nellys from Little House on the Prairie. Someone asked about conditioners, and everyone was giving input and then some person said (insert nasal and uppity tone): “You know blah conditioners are just blah wax and your blah hair is not alive, so you’re just blah putting wax on your blah hair follicle blah like you would on a wooden blah floor…” and I stopped myself from typing: “Stop being a JAN BRADY. Let the woman ask about conditioners, you hag.” (That must’ve been one of my PMS days.)
  4. Combining points 1 and 3: when I posted on this group about less hair falling out, many people commented and agreed and in retrospect commented that they’d noticed it as well and a person much like the person in point 3 said, “Probably not… Hair blah goes through a blah natural shedding blah stages like all cellular blah  – can you get me a Tab? processes….” and I couldn’t help myself so I said “I appreciate that. But this is a profound difference, AND I’m seeing baby hairs coming in unlike another time in my life….” she didn’t comment. Maybe the wolf got her.
  5. People are looking at my hair now. I’m past the stage of “maybe she’s going to get her roots done soon” and have entered the “no, this is intentional, she means to let her hair look like this.” Hmm. 
  6. The amount of gray coming in is going to rock my world when this is all done. I would say that I am about 75% gray from the tips of my ears forward to my face. I still have a nice (getting slimmer) black streak in the front, but shit’s about to get real… So I need my stylist to help lighten more of the artificially darker hair a bit more.
  7. I spend more time finding a good pink lipstick and putting on mascara. Will it all add up to the amount of time I spent in a chair in a salon? No.
  8. I am more hair aware. That bugs me a bit because I’m not a terribly vain person. I have always tried to look like I didn’t just roll out of bed, but this experience does make me feel as though I need to walk around with a sign that explains point 5.
  9. I’ve lost 5 pounds. That has nothing to do with the hair, just thought I’d mention it.

Without further ado, the photos… (that’s really why you’re here):

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Ooops. How did that get here? (snort, MC)

countryclub

This is the country club look; or the way my hair looks just before I wash my face. I generally don’t wear a headband because it’s 2017. 

harshlighting

I love this one. It captures my ___ perfectly.

lottery_pch

When I win the Publisher’s Clearing House sweepstakes — which would be really great seeing as how I never participate. I feel like I resemble Wynona Rider here… (which explains why I don’t like her.) 

natural_light

This is natural light inside. Things are coming along and I am trying not to hate it. Intentionally messy. 

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Ooof. Outside. Hair is a mess. On purpose because I’m TRYING to show the randomness of it all.

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This is how I generally look when I teach yoga to kids. The bangs soften my face.

yogateacher_sane

This is how I look when I teach yoga to adults if my bangs simply don’t cooperate.

So will the wolf come and get me? I don’t think so. I’ve told my kids they can only say two things about my hair, because I’m really in this to win it … I’m really done with the coloring and I’ve been blessed with dark eyebrows, big green eyes and a fairly happy skin tone and complexion to pull this off for years before I start to worry people.

They can only say, “This is really cool,” or “It’s good you’re doing this for yourself.”  The  minute they tell me I look old, is the minute the wolf comes out.

Thank you.

Perimenopausal Fun: How to Know When Low-Dose Estrogen is NOT for you

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I’ve written a handful of posts dedicated to women’s health and those posts receive the most traffic and comments from internet searches (and likely from Russian bots). This tells me I’m on to something. The one that receives the most traffic is a post dedicated to “PMDD”: pre-menstrual dysphoric disorder. 

Wondering about that third word, are you? It means the opposite of “euphoria.” Disorders can’t be cured. So this one has to be addressed and managed. I feel as though I am cured from it, but I know that I am not…

My style is glib at times, but my intensity and interest in this subject is real because being a cisgendered female is hard. I won’t go into my sentiments surrounding the appropriation of my gender by cisgendered males because frankly I don’t have the required bandwidth nor the belief system to fully engage. To me, men feeling as though they are missing out on being a woman and who get to forgo the hips and the breasts expanding, and the periods (missed or on time), and the unwanted advances and leers of horny old men are out to lunch. I’ll trade a week and you can go through it all — you can:

  • put on a training bra in the dark or in a locker room,
  • deal with feminine hygiene (maybe even in a public bathroom or, say, totally unprepared at your violin lesson for your first time as a WOMAN),
  • barter your lunch for three tylenol to abate your cramps and risk suspension or expulsion from school because of it,
  • birth one of my kids,
  • fight off a drunken asshole’s overtures at a keg party… or
  • sit on a couch waiting for your ride home when your date cools off because you won’t sleep with him… or worse.

Go for it.

I also would be willing to bet that most men who want to appropriate my gender wouldn’t have the stones to endure a week of perimenopause.

This is becoming political… my apologies, but I feel I had to say something.

This post is about females and the shit we go through in our middle-life stages.

First: get an app on your smartphone or keep meticulous records. I use “PLog”: https://itunes.apple.com/app/period-log-free-menstrual/id494474881?mt=8 

With that said, one year ago, well into the end of my ninth year of perimenopause (which is the purgatory between getting your periods every month or so and all the emotions and physical symptoms that come along) and the time of life when all that shit stops, I was suffering. My moods were all over the place, yet I didn’t really dial in to them… I just sort of noticed them, “that was rude of me to say…” I’d say to myself. Or, “Since when do you do things like that?” I’m still there.

The weird thing about perimenopause to menopause is that it’s not a pause. A pause implies a restart. And your cycles don’t stop like a machine would stop, say if you turn off your car’s engine. Short of an oophorectomy, it’s believed to be a “pause” of your “menses.” Let’s be honest here too: it’s not at all a ‘pause,’ it’s a full-on shut down, so even the nomenclature is screwed up here. I’m guessing a man invented the word:

The answer to this mystery is found in the origin of the word. In 1821 a French physician named de Gardanne first coined the term menopause when he published his book “De la ménopause, ou de l’âge critique des femmes” using the term menopause to describe the phase in a woman’s life.

YES! It was a man! Merci, dude! I don’t speak French, but I’m seeing blah french blah french blahcritique” and “des femmes” which is never a good combination.

For menopause, things shut down like a forest fire which starts out slowly because someone didn’t put out a campfire. Or because of the climate or winds or a cigarette was tossed out a window… Then it smolders a bit and it gets oxygen… and it spreads to dry grasses or pine needles (which are basically small vats of kerosene because there is so much oil in them) and then a few yards in one direction and then an acre and then an entire forest, and then a national park…  But that’s fire.

For women, it’s much more subtle, but the experiences can feel similar. Just like some fires are “controlled burns” or a “small forest fire,” the clinical definition of menopause requires that a woman’s periods must stop for a full year.

For me, last year about this time, I was desperate for help. And based on the condition I’m in today, I’m nowhere near that year of cessation.

First: what the fuck is going on?

Borrowing from my immediately previous post, this graphic explains is what’s going on:

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I’m 49 now. I started on this circus clown car ride (the middle graph) 10 years ago. Any day can be like that middle graph for me. Sometimes it is an entire day that feels like that.

The changes in hormonal levels as women age cause the following symptoms (lifted word for word from the Mayo Clinic site which is much more reputable than webmd, so take a breath, my comments in red):

Symptoms

Throughout the menopausal transition, some subtle — and some not-so-subtle — changes in your body may take place. You might experience:

  • Irregular periods. As ovulation becomes more unpredictable, the length of time between periods may be longer or shorter, your flow may be light to heavy, and you may skip some periods. Oh? If you have a persistent (what do you mean, ‘persistent’? like a child, “momcanihaveacookie?momcanihaveacookie?” persistent?) change (vague, object!) of seven days or more in the length of your menstrual cycle, you may be in early perimenopause (early?! ARE YOU %)(!@&_%@ kidding me?! EARLY?!). If you have a space of 60 days or more between periods, you’re likely in late perimenopause. <– not me, not yet. I’m still in this hang time. 

  • Hot flashes and sleep problems. Hot flashes are common during perimenopause (I have been spared the recognizable hot flashes, mostly and so far). The intensity, length and frequency vary. Sleep problems are often due to hot flashes or night sweats (DING! now we’re talking: the intensity of my night sweats for 10 years have rivaled those of my immediate postpartum weeks when the hormones females use to create and sustain life inside the uterus and the rest of her own body, which is effing exhausted from the process, but it’s really only just the beginning), but sometimes sleep becomes unpredictable even without them. <–OMAIGAAAD! I would literally trade all of my Cap’n Crunch for just ONE NIGHT of uninterrupted sleep. I realize the flip phrase, “I’m so tired I could take hostages” is no longer in vogue, but my kids get it.  

  • Mood changes. Mood swings, irritability or increased risk of depression may happen during perimenopause. The cause of these symptoms may (y’think?!) be sleep disruption associated with hot flashes (fuck yes). Mood changes (muuuuahhhahaahaaaaaa boooohooowoohaaaaaaaa… waah… grrr… what? me? grr… your mother sews socks in hell… ) may also be caused by factors not (NOT?!) related to the hormonal changes of perimenopause (um: no, highly doubtful).

  • Vaginal and bladder problems. (Oh what fun it is to ride…) When estrogen levels diminish, your vaginal tissues may lose lubrication and elasticity, making (you feel as though your privates have been replaced by 03-grade sand paper and generic brand tissues – or so I’ve heard) intercourse painful. Low estrogen may also leave you more vulnerable to urinary or vaginal infections (thankfully not there yet: word to the wise, ladies from my doctor: PEE IMMEDIATELY after sex, not in the bed, but y’know, within a few minutes as your urethra needs to flush itself) . Loss of tissue tone may contribute to urinary incontinence. Do those kegels and pelvic floor exercises! Yoga! Find your psoas muscle (no, it’s not a sex muscle).

  • Decreasing fertility. As ovulation becomes irregular, your ability to conceive decreases. However, as long as you’re having periods, pregnancy is still possible. If you wish to avoid pregnancy, use birth control until you’ve had no periods for 12 months (and even then: watch it. I have friends who’ve welcomed a new member into the family thinking they were good to go).

  • Changes in sexual function. During perimenopause, sexual arousal and desire may change (and not just a little… ). But if you had satisfactory sexual intimacy before menopause, this will likely continue through perimenopause and beyond. (Stay in communication with your partner. That’s the important part… so smoke signals from the other wing of the house are always a good idea, that way your man will know when it’s safe to approach.)

  • Loss of bone. With declining estrogen levels, you start to lose bone more quickly than you replace it, increasing your risk of osteoporosis — a disease that causes fragile bones. This is JUST as important and really, a serious issue. Watch the caffeine intake, take moderate walks for resistance exercise, use weights (even low weights) to maintain your bone mass health.

  • Changing cholesterol levels. Declining estrogen levels may lead to unfavorable changes in your blood cholesterol levels, including an increase in low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol — the “bad” cholesterol — which contributes to an increased risk of heart disease. My mom’s went through the roof as she aged; mine has always been about 157 so I need to keep an eye on it. That said, Mom ate cheese like you read about (I just read about eating cheese) and indulged in lots of sedentary, unhealthy behaviors and addictions and basically no did not exercise ever / at all / ever / constantly / never. At the same time, high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol — the “good” cholesterol — decreases in many women as they age, which also increases the risk of heart disease (you can encourage your HDL levels through exercise and diet. My mom died of a massive cardiac arrest — not a heart attack which (broken down by me) is a major incident and spasm of the heart muscles — but the cessation of electricity to flow to her heart causing her heart to no longer function; coming back from a CA, for a woman in her condition [not good at all] would have been a divine miracle).

More from the Mayo Clinic site includes:

When to see a doctor

Some women seek medical attention for their perimenopausal symptoms. But others either tolerate the changes or simply don’t experience symptoms severe enough to need attention. Because symptoms may be subtle and come on gradually (like a thief in the night), you may not realize at first that they’re all connected to the same thing — rising and falling levels of estrogen and progesterone, another key female hormone.

If you have symptoms that interfere with your life or well-being, such as hot flashes, mood swings or changes in sexual function that concern you, see your doctor.

This is where it gets fun for me. Because I went to my doctor. She put me on a low-dose birth control pill, “Lo-Estrin 1/20” because of my complaints:

Wanting to punch people, exhaustion, brain fog, emotional projection, confusion, inability to take a joke, complete viper-like mood swings, appetite disruption, back aches, headaches (which I simply never get), sleep disruption, fantasies of running off to Cabo (still never found a cure for that).  

I took the pill. For the first cycle, it’s 21 days of the drug. Within two days, I felt like I was 26 again: super able, focused, interested in sex, I had an appetite for food, I was sleeping like a dog (that’s a good thing because we all know babies don’t sleep) and other stuff. I felt great. As is the case in a standard birth control pack, on the first Sunday of the fourth week, you take a sugar pill (or just skip a week and start back up on Sunday with the new pack) and that starts a period. 

I did that. 

Halfway through my second cycle on the pill, when I was supposed to be “ovulating” I started to spot. I made a note. It lasted five days. On the first Sunday of the fourth week, I took my sugar pill to begin the standard pill-induced menses.

On Tuesday, I began to have thoughts that can be best described as sympathetic to suicidal ideation. I’m not kidding. 

I practice mindfulness (it’s how I’ve avoided becoming an alcoholic or other addict). I have spent years on a therapists’ couch so I understand emotions, and I get how powerful they are. Being a writer I was able to back out of this “sympathetic interest” and write a script, in my head, or a narrative about a woman who resembled me (but was taller, natch, and blonde) and my station in life who woke up and decided she didn’t want to live anymore. 

The depths of this transient depression were unlike anything I’ve ever experienced before, maybe I can equate it to the loss and ineffable grief I felt after I was dumped by a boyfriend, with whom I thought I would spend the rest of my life, when I was in college. Maybe. It was deeper than the grief I felt after my mother died — but maybe it was just faster and more intense. My grief surrounding my mother’s death lasted months and wavered in intensity. This moment hit me hard and fast. Out of nowhere. One minute I was pouring my coffee and the next minute I thought of suicide. 

I knew what was up. I did the math: this is a new deep and ugly feeling. I’m taking this pill, this is supposed to be my period, and I have PMDD but it’s under control…

So I grabbed my dogs and we took a very brisk walk for an hour. Charlie was all about it, but poor Murphy, who was 8 at the time, was frequently looking up at me and saying, “Can we take a break now? Please?” I was so grateful for their company. They kept me present. I have said twice to myself that my dogs are keeping me alive and this was the second of those times. The first time was when Murphy vocally persuaded a man, whose intensity and energy was palpable from 50 yards, to turn and cross the street away from us. Murphy is a golden retriever, he doesn’t bark warnings to humans; it’s not part of his breeding.  

Halfway through the walk, I started to feel better. I worked out the scene and projected it on to a false character. I put her through her paces from ideation to the moments of and the grief of her surviving loved ones and the days, weeks, holidays and life’s milestone moments which would undoubtedly follow because LGO: life goes on.

After I worked all that out, I did take a break in my walk and I called my doctor. I told her assistant what was up and she asked me if I needed emergency assistance and I told her I was ok. That I was outside. That I had no weapons or agents of harm with me. That the sun was on my face and my dogs were by my side and I was ok, really. Because I was and I thanked her for her concern, but I was calling to let her know what was going on because it was really scary when it first started. I asked, “Should I take the real pills now instead? Should I continue with the sugar pills?” (I felt like the patients who took L.Dopa in Awakenings; I didn’t want to stop the pill!) 

She relayed my message to my physician who said back to the assistant, “Tell her to stop the Lo-Estrin and call us after her periods stop for a year…” That doctor, is Joanne Herrmann, MD, and I don’t think I’ll be crossing her threshold any time soon. I understand it was a game of “Operator” going on, and you can call me weird and codependent, maybe, but if I had a patient who told me what I told her assistant, I’d be calling back that patient myself. She certainly practiced Primum non nocere. I guess.     

Later that day, I had lunch with a friend and I told her everything that happened. She listened intently; but I think I scare people because I’m so vivid and in-tune with how I’m doing. That was the last time I saw her.

Since that last pill, I’ve gained a new respect for estrogen and progesterone. I’ve learned that any time I’m feeling shitty and allowing it and noting it is a good thing because it means the process is still happening. It means I’m here.

I had a very high-level understanding of the phrase “mood swings” until that day. The take-away: investigate your options. Lo-Estrin 1/20 might work for you… just be ready for those sugar pill days.  

Causes

As you go through the menopausal transition, your body’s production of estrogen and progesterone rises and falls. Many of the changes you experience during perimenopause are a result of decreasing estrogen.

Risk factors

Menopause is a normal phase in life. But it may occur earlier in some women than in others. Although not always conclusive, some evidence suggests that certain factors may make it more likely that you start perimenopause at an earlier age, including:

  • Smoking. The onset of menopause occurs one to two years earlier in women who smoke than in women who don’t smoke.
  • Family history. Women with a family history of early menopause may experience early menopause themselves.
  • Cancer treatment. Treatment for cancer with chemotherapy or pelvic radiation therapy has been linked to early menopause.
  • Hysterectomy. A hysterectomy that removes your uterus, but not your ovaries, usually doesn’t cause menopause. Although you no longer have periods, your ovaries still produce estrogen. But such surgery may cause menopause to occur earlier than average. Also, if you have one ovary removed, the remaining ovary might stop working sooner than expected.

Complications

Irregular periods are a hallmark of perimenopause. Most of the time this is normal and nothing to be concerned about. However, see your doctor if:

  • Bleeding is extremely heavy — you’re changing tampons or pads every hour or two for two or more hours
  • Bleeding lasts longer than seven days
  • Bleeding occurs between periods
  • Periods regularly occur less than 21 days apart <– that’s one I will now begin to keep an eye on

Signs such as these may mean there’s a problem with your reproductive system that requires diagnosis and treatment.

So this is all good, and I’m thankful for it. But the bottom line for all of us in this situation is symptoms and how we manage them.

About three years ago, Dr. Herrmann suggested I take something called “Brisdelle” which is a subclinical / super low-dose (7mg) of Prozac. The idea is that it will calm you down enough to sleep at night and abate next-day anxiety which is increased because of night sweats which happens because you’re anxious…? I’m still a little fuzzy on that. So I tried it for four days. It made me feel like I was a narcoleptic game show host. I stopped after a week. Some people have doubted my claim, that the drug needs to be in my system for six weeks before it takes full metabolic effect.

Mmmmmkay. Survey says….?! Znnngngzzzgngn! Where are you from, little lady….? Znnnngngngnnnznzzng.

I take herbal supplements: Estroven AM and Estroven PM; they help. Maybe they’re doing an insanely bang-up job and I have no idea because I’ve been taking them for about a year. Before that I took something called “Herbal Equilibrium” but Dr. Herrmann told me to stop taking it because she doesn’t believe in supplements… well, she believed in that Lo-Estrin 1/20 enough to prescribe it and it made me very sad, so maybe she’s wrong.

But we address problems by understanding what they’re made of. In this situation we need to dial in: WHAT does estrogen do??? Since we all know how we got here, thanks estrogen, we need to know what is going on and what estrogen regulates because it’s super subtle stuff.

A year ago, I did not know that estrogen played a major role in digestion. Did you?

I did not know that estrogen is involved in the sleep process and the release of other hormones which help us get a good rest. Did you?

So I went back to the web, and I blew off Webmd again and went straight the alma mater of one of my besties’: Northwestern University, for help. This page and its title, “How Hormone Depletion Affects You” was exactly what I was looking for. It will have all the information about WHAT estrogen and progesterone mean to you and why this crazy circus clown car is in your life.

Here we are ladies:

Screen Shot 2017-03-17 at 12.26.20 PM

That feels about right…? Doesn’t it?

Oddly, I am comforted by that image.

It tells me, “Sigh. Finally. Someone out there understands. I’ll have that Nescafé International Coffee now… Vienna Font Brick Caramel please… yes, I’ll wait… ”

The paragraph accompanying that DaVinci -esque image does a great job of introducing content that I simply can’t improve upon (for many reasons, the foremost of which is because I’m not a doctor), and it will behoove you to read it and learn about what is going on because all I can do is commiserate with you:

Hormones are the messengers in the body that travel through the blood stream to start, stop, speed up or slow down your physical and chemical functions and processes across all body systems. Your ovaries are the source of estrogen and progesterone, the two key hormones that control the reproductive system, including the menstrual cycle and fertility in women. You are born with all the eggs you will ever have. The eggs are in the follicles, which are found in the ovaries. During menopause, the number of ovarian follicles declines and the ovaries become less responsive to the two other hormones involved in reproduction—Luteinizing Hormone (LH) and Follicle-Stimulating Hormone (FSH). As your ovaries age and release fewer hormones, FSH and LH can no longer perform their usual functions to regulate your estrogen, progesterone and testosterone. These inevitable changes in your hormones and natural decline of estrogen levels during menopause can significantly affect your health for years to come. Click on the bars next to diagram to discover how estrogen depletion can affect each part of your body.

We’ve got this, sisters. Keep the conversation going.

Thank you.