I was chatting with my friend yesterday and when she said she felt nauseous and tired for no reason, I knew we were suffering from the same thing, a natural disaster I call “Hormone Rita.”
(No time to read? Watch “Beware of Hormone Rita” on YouTube)
Because I’ve been tracking my cycle each month, which is basically me studying my womanly health as though I were a first-year med student, I started to notice a curious pattern. I noticed that while happy on the outside, I was having this “Something Wicked This Way Come” experience at the same time each month. And this wicked experience wasn’t “cute” like any of those commercials that have the gray depression bubble hovering over the woman like some cartoon cloud to be blown away by a cartoonish Zeus.
It was worse than that. In some ways, I feel like another person moves in and inhabits my body. Someone we’ll call Rita. She charges in, cigarette in hand and kicks me out with a hefty shove and I’m left sort of caged in a corner of my body while she lives in me as she pleases.
And she’s not very pleasing.
I know what it means to not be happy. A few years ago, when I was genuinely feeling scared about my direction in life, or worried about what was going to happen to me, or felt like everything sucked, I knew I was unhappy. That is an identifiable feeling and when friends would say, “snap out of it” I sort of could because at the root of it, I knew I was feeling sorry for myself or that I was scared and I could work to change my mood and mindset to something more positive, even if just for happy hour.
Today in this time in my life, I don’t have that unhappiness. I’m actually quite happy. But what’s happening is that Rita is taking over. Who is Rita really? Hormones. Shitty, crappy, powerful, illusive, invisible hormones.
To me, Hormone Rita is more than PMS. She’s stronger than those flimsy three days PMS Susan likes to occupy. Hormone Rita is an ass-kickin’ bad ass.
For those that don’t know, the process of being womanly occurs over a 28-30 day cycle. Roughly. Each woman is different. Day 1 begins when the blood moon rises. So, you start counting on that day for the next 28-30 days watching and waiting for who-the-hell knows what’s next. If you’re TTC, you’re watching for Ovulation from perhaps Day 11/12 on and then you’re watching for any signs of pregnancy until blood moon arrives around days 28-30. So, for almost three weeks, you’re watching yourself and the things that are coming out of it like a first-year med student. For those that are not TTC and just living life waiting for blood moon, and wondering if you’re going crazy, you too may be watching your body and all that comes out of it like a first-year med student.
On Day 15, I feel it coming. The sickness. It starts in my shoulders. The slightest irritation from any source makes my shoulders twitch, like a drug fiend. It’s then that I find my strap to brace myself. This isn’t a strap for a roller coaster ride, friends. Because roller coasters can be fun. This is not. I put the leather strap between my teeth and bite down. Ready for what’s to come.
If I’m lucky that month, Days 18-21 are “manageable”. I’m still being spit upon by Rita, but I can function and I fight back with exercise (good) and alcohol (not-so-good). BUT. The big kahuna is still to come. Day 25-26. It’s looming in the near distance. I bite down and pray.
In med student talk, what’s potentially happening is that progesterone is running amok through my body while Rita is on the couch watching Netflix and eatin’ up all the Pringles. Too much or usually, too little progesterone, causes a twerk in your hormones. You become unbalanced. That dip brings on the need for the leather strap around Day 15 and …. and then, for some reason, there’s another big twerky explosion — either progesterone or estrogen — that happens on Day 25. Doomsday.
This past holiday season, Day 25 fell right before Christmas. Sweet baby Jesus.
Matt would Face Time me from his parent’s home in Florida, where he was for the holiday, and I’d be balled up on the couch. Too far gone to even pretend I was fine. Rita was raging. I made it to none of my friend’s Christmas parties. Cheer was not on the agenda.
One morning while he was gone, I laid in bed and literally woke up crying. Who WAKES UP crying? The tears were there just waiting for my eyes to open and to really run free. I pulled the dog near, (’cause she sleeps on the bed) wanting her to lick my pain away, and she didn’t get it; she just wanted to go out for a walk. (My cat Iris would get it. #dogsaredifferent). I was turning in the bed, sobbing so deeply from pain I couldn’t identify. I took a roll call. Lack of pregnancy? Being alone? Overall general ennui (or “NYU” as Nicole and I call it)? I wanted something inside me to raise its hand and say, “It’s me!” You’re sad because it’s me. Only, nothing was really the cause. Which made it worse. Like really worse. I cried for a long time and I felt myself spiraling into a place that was scary. I thought about what it would take to just make this feeling stop. To make it go away and leave me alone. I thought about the things that end life. I’ve done this before. And what makes me stop thinking about the things that end life is thinking about my family and Matt and how much pain THEY would be in if I ended my (temporary) pain.
I think about how many women reach this point during a moment in their month. And how they may not be able to attribute this sadness to “merely” hormones and not something much worse, like a depression that can be diagnosed. Does this make sense? I’m not a doctor. I don’t know the difference or the name of hormone-induced depression versus depression-depression. In my head, I just feel that there is a difference because once Hormone Rita shifts, and takes a break for a few weeks to creep to her reclusive corner of my body to feast up for the next go-round, I’m fine.
I’m writing this so that if you’re that woman who’s feeling so bad for seemingly no reason, these words here might turn on a light bulb that gives you a reason. And then you can tell your loved ones, whomever they may be, that you’re going through this. I’ve told my parents, I told my sister-in-law after she asked me if I hated her and I told Matt. One month when Hormone Rita crept in, much like the grim reaper that time, I came out of the bathroom and folded into his arms and sobbed, “I can’t stop crying!” He said, “What do you need?” I’d said I didn’t know, just to get me out of the house.
Now, whenever this happens, we have a code word. It’s Benihana. Why? I’ll tell you why.
That day I couldn’t stop crying, we hopped in the car and drove around the Valley. I discovered I was hungry. We found a Benihana restaurant. Of all places. We went in. The place was a madhouse. This was actually a gift because the chaos was incredibly distracting! I’d always known Benihana to be a quiet, sort of upscale place and it has turned into Red Lobster/Disneyland/McDonald’s during the 6 o’clock rush. Who knew? We sat with a group of women who had driven down from somewhere a few hours north of LA. (One of those distant towns where you nod your head, “Yesss, I’ve heard of that place,” when really you haven’t.) Turned out it was a birthday tradition for them to come to the Big B each year. Apparently, Benihana has a great birthday special these days guys, and this became painfully and joyfully apparent after multiple explosions on “Happy Birthday” popped off table after table.
The woman I sat next to was on the thin side; her hair jet black and long, made me think of a 20-year old, modern-day Morticia Addams. She was covered in tattoos. She was dressed for dinner in that way that some folks iron their khaki chino pants, brush their Timbs and are rea’ty go. Next to her was a young girl, I think she was ten. Next to her was another woman. She was heftier in stature, and draped her arms over the little girl’s chair. She, too had the jet black hair and was ready for dinner via bright purple eye shadow and thin penciled eyebrows. She may have had a piercing; I don’t remember. As dinner went on, I realized these two ladies were a couple; mommas to the little girl and I think my tattoo friend was new to the relationship and was finding her way in the family. We all know how that can go. Across from me sat the mom of this family. She had a bright, yet tired smile, and seemed to have lived in a different part of town than her daughter(s); something closer to The Beavers, perhaps.
As we waited for our chef to make that first sizzled flip of shrimp, I noticed they were interestingly quiet as though there’d been a bit of a disagreement in the car that leads to edgy silence once in public. You know what that means, “The Peppur Show” comes ON! I interviewed, I encouraged, I inspired. With Matt as my co-host, soon we were chatting and laughing and carrying on together.
While we all seriously couldn’t have been more different, me in my frazzled vintage and Matt in his Chicago daily wear, we had the best time. We stuffed our faces and toasted to their birthdays and found our common ground as you do when you open up around the Benihana grill. And all was right with world. Rita was silenced.
After that, when Day 25 rolls around and Matt begins to see the struggle seizing me, he only has to say, “…Benihana?” His eyebrows lift behind his round spectacles, hopeful that my time in this month is what’s causing me to not look like the woman he likes to love. He doesn’t do this in a condescending way or as a weak offering of an olive branch…It is sincere. Sometimes I bite his head off; because Rita will take it as condescending. But if I get to speak in my voice, I whisper, “Thanks honey, it’s okay.” And off I’ll go back to the glow of my laptop, or to the bed, or I’ll return to what I was doing when he asked with hopes I’ll remember what that was and not be left staring at the hopeless abyss of the closet, clueless.
While Matt was gone in Florida, I pulled myself from the couch and got into a manic panic of Google searching and determined I needed help. And not help from those drugs advertised on TV. I wanted holistic stuff. I’d done a lot of this research before, because balanced hormones is needed for getting a bun in the oven. I scribbled a list of things I knew would cure me. I walked into a modern-day apothecary in Studio City. I grabbed Maca Root. To help balance me out. I don’t like asking for help, but I forced myself to go to the counter and ask the ladies their opinion of Maca. The internet had a lot to say about it, pros and cons. They weren’t sure about Maca. (That made Rita mad; “Then why the hell are selling it?!?”) The pharmacist, in her white coat, asked, “Have you been to a doctor to get an actual diagnosis?”
I said, “No,” knowing it was time. I know my hormones need serious balancing. Rita said, “Get outta here with that bullshit. Really lady? Pffft” and flicked an ash at her as we paid the $21.00 for the pills and left.
I write you from Day 22. I hope to be-goodness that I make it through this month. The Maca root sits unopened in the bag it was sold in. I’m afraid of it because some say it can make matters worse. I did try the Dandelion tea and Red Raspberry Leaf tea I bought that day and I think they’re working; I don’t feel sooooo edgy. Nonetheless, wish me luck and I’ll do the same for you. And, for reals, like exercise, when I write I feel so much better. If you’re also struggling with this, find your pen.