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reflections

Navigating the Zone of Chaos

I grew up working class to parents who had me at 21. I got spanked as a child. Roughed up a little more than just that, too, if I’m being honest. Was a smart kid, got teased by other kids, skipped a grade, was chubby and awkward during puberty before I became eating disordered and sporty.

I used to be a bit of an endurance athlete. In high school I ran cross country and track—the mile and two mile. I’ve run five or six marathons in my adult life (after 29).

I got married and moved out at 18—and filed my own divorce at 20, but not before a suicide attempt to get attention because he was manic depressive, was hitting me, and I hoped seeing how sad it made me would make him stop or prompt my parents to take me back (they didn’t).

I waitressed and worked my way through college, somehow missing the boat of connecting my athletic or academic talent to the real world as directly as I might have during those years.

 All this is mentioned to illustrate my grit and why I would be the kind of person to white knuckle my way through perimenopause—until enough things aligned to nudge me toward action.

I also gave birth without drugs at home. This illustrates not only my grit and ability to bear pain, but my aversion to doctors and the medical establishment that would explain my not being so plugged into the healthcare system now, and therefore not too in touch with guidance about perimenopause, even if doctors today were offering it.

And I am only one example. I know there are myriad women who have weathered their own traumas, far worse than mine, who also would be predisposed to toughing their way through this life change.

For many years, the word “menopause” sounded like something for someone else, someone else way older than me and so I got used to ignoring it. I didn’t have much to go on from a family history perspective as my mom had an atypical medical pathway that did not include menopause as part of aging.

So I’ve just basically been going nuts for the past five years or so and wondering what was wrong with me. Like, I vaguely knew of perimenopause and I cutely tried to look on the bright side and be so triumphant about how well I was doing—til I realized I actually wasn’t and all the picking at my past and other people wasn’t helping at all.

But finally the stars aligned for me when I came across Dr. Mary Claire Haver in a recent episode of the Huberman Lab podcast and while I knew there was something up with hormones that had to be fixed—I started bioidentical hormone replacement therapy (BHRT) a few months ago—I had no idea just how crazy that really was and for so many people. The  irritability, low energy, deep introspective emotions and sensitivity, lack of focus.

All the stuff I was going through was exactly like she described when she spoke about the “Zone of Chaos” with hormonal fluctuations. I have been doing better since starting BHRT, which consists of estradiol and progesterone derived from wild yam—it’s pretty fascinating—and they send DHEA supplements with it. I may need a higher dose, but I haven’t felt quite so low as I did prior to taking the hormones, where I would actually say I felt suicidal.

Nobody outside of my two immediate family members I live with knew because I did all my work and I smiled and I was collegial and bright. Even more now than I was at times when I was younger and hadn’t developed emotional intelligence or soft skills so much just yet. (I may cover in another post how I now have a better understanding of how my cycling hormones have affected my mental health throughout my whole damn life!)

Hearing Dr. Haver (now that I heard her on Huberman, I am seeing her everywhere on my feeds and I am wondering how I haven’t heard of her before!) and recently reading in a supplement industry article another woman describe so perfectly what a wild ride our biochemistry puts us through, have helped me so much. “The rise and fall of different hormones and inflammatory molecules are not synced with our trade show calendars or packed schedules. In reality, even simply leading an important Zoom call can look and feel very different in different phases of the cycle. But duty calls—and sometimes it feels like survival mode,” resonated with me deeply.

I feel less alone. I feel validated—and I hadn’t realized what a relief that would be.

I can stop ruminating on my past to try and figure out what went wrong. Lots of things—as skimming through my opening to this essay plainly reveals—but those aren’t really the reasons I feel like I am scared of everything and losing my mind every few days for the past five years. And there’s nothing left to solve (for me) from a psychoanalysis standpoint.

It’s fucking menopause and I need to physically balance my hormones to not feel that way, or learn how to manage it without psychological probing, but through mediation, breath work, exercise, yoga and such. I think those methods in concert with the hormones are what I would recommend.

The saying that the unexamined life is not worth living may be a thing, but it’s not the whole thing—and at some point, these constant examinations are no longer of service and one must do something else or perhaps just learn to be still.

Women who are 39 or older, I would say (but honestly it’s never too early to learn) should tune into what’s being said, now, finally, about perimenopause and menopause so you can shore yourself up for when it hits. Lots of things out there to sell you, supplements, workouts—some work, some don’t.

Look for things that are science-backed and don’t be afraid to explore things that are new if you have a good gut feeling around what you learn. Take another look at hormone replacement if the last thing you remember hearing was about cancer or other risks. Those concerns have been debunked.

I think if I knew what I know now in about 2019, the past several years might have been much less painful for me—and the vast majority of this pain was the rollercoaster ride of my own head.

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