However, in the winter, we would become ill more easily, had less energy for activities, and generally, less tolerance for socialization. Perhaps being a mother exacerbates the minimum and maximum energies expended, but I think some of the delay in my realization relates to how one's perception of things change when one is inside vs. outside a system.
When I was growing up, we attended church regularly. When I say "regularly," I mean we were there All. The. Time. It was, and still is (as far as I know), an extremely liberal church, and low on the dogma scale. So, although I typically went to church twice a week or more, I ended up with a very open-minded view on religion and spirituality in general. After my confirmation class, I identified as Agnostic, recognizing the value of spirituality and a belief system, and later eschewing organized religion in general for its hypocrisy.
But back to my point - we lived at church. Of the four members of my family, three of us served as Elders on Session. My parents each served multiple terms.
The holidays were the busiest times, and that busyness reached an apex in early December. We all sang in the choirs, my sister and I were in youth group, and we attended multiple services a day during the holidays. This was all on top of work for my parents, school and extracurricular activitIES for my sister and I. I always had at least two or three extracurricular activities. And homework. And regular social events.
Really, it wasn't much different than what I hear many kids do these days.
Then, I went to college, switched majors twice, and still graduated in three years.
Then, I went to graduate schoo for three yearsl, and was 6-12 months from finishing a PhD in Neurobiology and Molecular Biology when I completed a Master's Degree.
What's funny is that I had more time to myself in graduate school than I had in any other part of my life. But I still didn't have enough time to notice any patterns in my mood.
For the last 16 years or so, my body has been in relatively good sync with the moon. There have been a few exciting exceptions (two in particular I can think of right off the top of my head), but generally, for half the year, I ovulate with the new moon, and for the other half of the year, I ovulate with the full moon. In January/February and July/August, I go through a transition, which can be either a short or a long anovulatory cycle. Typically, these transitions are preceded by a tremendous amount of activity, and typically stress.
January/February and July/August are the months when I am most likely to face serious anxiety and/or depression.
Besides being exactly 1 month after the winter holidays and equinox, February heralds my birthday.
Besides being exactly 1 month after the summer equinox, late July heralds two birthdays, and two anniversaries in one week.
These are the times when I'm most likely to want to pretend I'm in a psychogenic fugue, walk out the door, and never come back. And it's not because of my little family; it's because of social pressure, which makes it even harder for me to spend time with my family, because I'm physically, mentally, and spiritually exhausted.
I kind of think everyone is on this schedule. Why do I think that? Because right as I'm having delusions of joining the circus because I am already fried, other people seem to be feeling stressed and typically enter our sphere looking for support.
And this is usually the thing that pushes me, head first, over the edge.
What's the edge?
The edge is when I think about disappearing myself, through whatever means.
Last month was really bad.
Through the Spring and Summer, I dealt with some very serious emotions related to things going on in the lives of several close friends who had approached me for help. Also, I lost a "friend" because she just couldn't hang with me through my midlife crisis. It's been a doozy. There was a lot of family stuff (including finding several lost family members through DNA testing). I had a few potentially serious health problems.
Any one of these things would have been difficult to handle, but they all came down on me at once. There were quite a few times when I wasn't sure what the point of it all was anymore, and last month was one of those times.
I knew I needed to be alone.
Five days before my period should start (and usually does), the Flo app notifies me. And again at three days. At three days, I usually look at it, say to myself, "No shit, Sherlock!" and dismiss it. I can tell, because my fuse is way shorter than usual.
After this past month, the Husband now has it on his phone, too.
I was diagnosed with Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder (PMDD) back in 2005. That was the year that started my real personal health journey, because I was having severe visual migraines. That was also the year I discovered bioidentical progesterone, which eliminated them.
Later, I also supplemented vitamin B6 (as Pyridoxal-5-Phosphate) to help with my symptoms, because I learned there was concern about progesterone use masking a vitamin B6 deficiency.
Every cycle, I take Progest-E from days 12 to 26. The progesterone in the formulation is extracted from wild yams and delivered in a suspension of mixed tocopherols. I do a number of other things nutritionally to help with this disorder, and for most of the year, these approaches are enough to keep me adjusted. I will write about those other things some other time, in case they help someone. But the point of this post is something entirely different, and something that was missing from my holistic health perspective for all these years. It was something I suspected, but now I know for certain.
This August, I had hopes that my PMDD would be controllable. But as the day approached, I had this niggling feeling that things weren't okay. I had taken the meditation class, and earlier in the week had a particularly groundbreaking session, reaching a huge realization that made me feel, deep down, that I was done with people-pleasing for good.
It wasn't even a day later, the Universe decided to give several tests of my new resolve, including a huge fight with my daughter (we have only had one disagreement before, when she was six years old, and I still have tremendous guilt about it, even though she doesn't remember it), misunderstanding my therapist (leaving me wondering if I needed to go find a new therapist, or if I could even ever trust a therapist again), and also still processing the aforementioned stuff.
Then, the family came. Both sides. For one, I reluctantly accepted a self-invite, the other uninvited.
I think they got what they needed. I didn't.
Not for me, later, when I would again wonder why it is that I am so worthless that requests to be alone are constantly ignored. Maybe if I suffered from some physical symptoms, they would take me seriously? Instead of something I have "control over?" (I don't have control over it).
Why can't people understand? When it's dark, I need to go Dark.
The thing about being busy, for me, is that I do not have time to process my feelings about things. I am highly adept at smiling, nodding, and then processing pain later. I maintain the appearance of someone strong, and can be strong, through having enough time alone. The time alone, is, for me, a necessary evil.
For many years, I would go over and over conversations in my mind, worrying that I might have said something wrong. I worried a lot about inadvertently hurting other people, because I learned a long time ago that people can misinterpret my shyness as aloofness, and my intellectual passion as snobbery. So, I try to be really mindful of my interactions with people, so that I do not come off as critical.
I have a lot of guilt about stuff that other people probably don't even notice or care about.
When I am in a good place - 25 out of 27 days a month, not too busy, replete with sleep and food - I can allow myself to think that if a person were upset with me, they would say something.
When I am not in a good place, my mind believes I have hurt others.
And being someone who feels so deeply, the thought that I might have hurt someone else, hurts me terribly.
I read in Christiane Northrup's Women's Bodies, Women's Wisdom a long time ago that it is normal for women to turn inward around the time of the menstrual cycle. In researching various spiritual modalities, I have found a wealth of information and support for accepting the natural emotional cycle that women experience during their fertile years.
On the Natural Shaman website, Cat Stone writes:
"The Autumn (Pre-Menstruation) is a time of harvest and withdrawal. This energy can be really tough for some women. During this phase, our focus begins to turn inwards in preparation for menstruation. We can feel disconnected from life and our mind can become negative and critical. We harvest and complete projects and tasks, ready to withdraw from the outside world all together, like the Autumn Equinox, we remember the past. If the pressure is on to remain in the outside world, we can become even more confused and irritable. This phase slows us down and brings our attention back to our own needs. It is during this phase that women can feel out of control, and suffer from PMS or PMDD." - Cat Stone, The Magic of the Menstrual Cycle
It gets worse for Winter.
These are times when I MUST have time alone. I need time alone to think and process a lot of awful thoughts about myself. I need time to process the grief about who I thought I wanted to be and accept who I really am. I need time to process uncomfortable feelings like not wanting to be alive, so I can cry about it, and move through it. I have my own little Hero's or Fool's Journey every month! It's something that keeps me evolving.
Why can't people understand? When it's dark, I need to go Dark.
"Why do you avoid your emotions?" my therapist asked me earlier this Spring.
I had just read Jung's Undiscovered Self, and I knew that he believed that the cure for most neurosis was in bringing thoughts and emotions into alignment.
"Because if I didn't," I said, "My life would be a shit show."
A few years ago, I went on a feminist reading kick, first reading Gail Collins' When Everything Changed: The Amazing Journey of American Women, and Betty Friedan's seminal work, The Feminine Mystique. I would learn from Friedan that I suffered from the "Woman Problem."
"Sometimes a woman would tell me that the feeling she gets is so strong she runs out of the house and walks through the streets. Or she stays inside her house and cries. Or her children tell her a joke, and she doesn't laugh because she doesn't hear it," says Friedan.
"I've tried everything women are supposed to do-hobbies, gardening, pickling, canning, being very social with my neighbors, joining committees, running PTA teas. I can do it all, and I like it, but it doesn't leave you anything to think about - any feeling of who you are. [...] There's no problem you can even put a name to. But I'm desperate. I begin to feel I have no personality. I'm a server of food and a putter-on of pants and a bedmaker, somebody who can be called on when you want something. But who am I?" says another mother in Friedan's book.
In the interest of curbing any arguments about my choice to homeschool, I want to be sure to say that having the kids at home was a great antidote to my "Woman Problem" for a number of years, for the most part, at least when we were at home together, because the kids are always changing and growing, and it is a delight to see them maturing. As they require less and less from me, however, my activities are more and more mundane. My contribution seems less and less "special."
The things that, over the years, contributed to that feeling of wanting to run away were the things that never stayed done. Dishes, laundry, paying bills, weeding, mowing, picking up pet poop, dusting, mopping, BUYING GROCERIES. The last one is my current bugaboo, with two teenagers. Sometimes I personally skip eating because I just don't want to have to go to the grocery store any sooner than necessary.
Again, we are almost out of groceries. We made it exactly one week on a $375 trip to the grocery warehouse. We ate at restaurants multiple times because everyone is sick and tired of cooking.
This is totally why fathers push their teenage boys out of the house. (Props to my kids who totally say, "Thank you for buying me food all the time!" and clean the kitchen without being asked - this isn't a rant about them, it's a rant about misogyny and the lack of a "Village" mentality).
My mother told me once that a psychologist friend of hers asked when I would go "Supernova." I wondered what the hell he meant, and my mom explained that I was such an overachiever, there is no way that amount of effort could be sustained very long. I was a senior in high school at the time.
It's true - I did go pretty "balls to the wall" on everything I did, getting very close to a PhD by the time I was 24. And although I went to school in New Orleans, and have several really hilarious stories to share about Bourbon Street related shenanigans, I think that was kind of the last young person variety fun I had for many, many years.
I was 21 when I got married, my husband 22. We lived in Ohio for the first 2 years, then California for 3, then we moved to the Colorado Springs area for 4 years before settling in Loveland 12 years ago. I learned that it takes a while to make friends when I'm new to an area (and that has made me fairly outgoing), and I have also learned that children help you make friends. But I have also learned that the nature of the friendships I had before and after children is wildly different. Painting the town red hasn't really been in my lexicon. But then, it's only been about 5 years since I have been able to have an uninterrupted conversation.
Babysitters and the funds for concert tickets were right out. And, once I passed the 40 year mark, hangovers were significantly less fun. Not that they were ever fun, but even less so with kids to feed in the morning.
These are the things they don't tell you when you hear your clock ticking at 24 years of age.
"It's not a clock," the male standup comic's girlfriend had said, when addressing his fear of commitment, "It's more like a fuse."
Do supernovas have fuses? I think my biological clock just broke permanently.
I would like here to sing the praises of women comics. Watching Jennifer Kirkman*, Lynne Koplitz, Amy Schumer, Iliza Schlessinger, Ali Wong and others on Netflix has been a balm for my soul. They are the antidote to the superego. They're like a Jungian Adjustment. I knew, through having mom friends, that some struggles women face are universal, but there are things even mom friends don't discuss with each other. Especially if there are kids within earshot.
But these amazing women are opening up that dialogue.
Through their raunchy monologues, they're helping me see that the Darkness inside of me that needs acceptance is normal.
In fact, I noticed some time ago that during my "mood swings" I am much more likely to recognize and come up with effective solutions to real problems. I'm more likely to write philanthropic letters to correct unfair situations at that time. I'm more likely to make art that captures an emotion. I'm more likely to deepen a relationship with a friend by being more vulnerable than usual. I'm more likely to undergo some sort of beneficial psychological transformation during this time. But these things are more likely to happen if I am afforded the very necessary time alone, and if I am allowed to slow down.
This is another place where I have felt like "less than a woman" due to the feminism of my mother's generation. Talking about emotions, sexuality, fluctuating energy levels - all of this was still taboo until very recently. It helps to be able to laugh as I look back at when I got my first period, almost exactly 31 years ago, at the Gove Middle School Halloween Social, while I was dressed as a bride. All in white. Yep. I had to wait until after my parents got home from choir practice, after the babysitter left, to ask my mother if I was going to die. I don't remember if I was relieved or disappointed when she told me it was my first period.
Lack of discussion about this topic, I feel, keeps women from full acceptance of themselves, and perpetuates the misguided notion that needing a little more sleep or some alone time for part of the month is some sort of pathological state. Or understanding the natural fluctuations in sexual appetite! Growing girls need to know about it so they can better care for themselves when they are menstruating. Growing boys need to know about it so they can be more sensitive to the needs of female family members and future partners.
Discussion of this topic is a necessary evil.
When I'm in this place, sometimes it is not solitude that I need. Sometimes I need radical acceptance. I think I'm just now finding the friendships where I feel like I can be myself, where I can share the Darkness inside of me without fear of criticism. The kind of friendship where I can laugh at raunchy jokes or dance to soul-shaking music, and want to do it again. The kind of friendship where we have secrets we would never share with others.
The kind of friendship which understands that there are necessary evils.
The kind of friendship that reminds me why it's good to be alive.
I refuse to apologize if this piece lacked in "flow." My mind is jumbled; I'm writing out of emotion. I was interrupted four times while writing this. In a few days, again, my thoughts will "flow" and then I'll be back to my usual happy, horny self. Don't you worry.
Where can a girl find a nice Red Tent these days?
*Jennifer Kirkman on Netflix. OMG. Watch both her specials, but especially the newer one, Just Keep Livin'?