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In Which a Womyn’s Circle Would Probably Have Been Helpful

12 November 2008

For a year or so now, I thought I was going crazy.

I know this sounds like one of my typical hyperbolic post starts, but it’s not.

Sporadically, I would have a day to two days where I would just lose it over some insignificant little thing, blow it all out of proportion, get angry at myself for flipping out (but this would just stir the emotions even more), withdraw from the family (both because their very presence made it worse and because I didn’t think they should be forced to be around the ugly soul I had become), lose sight of any way out of this pit, … and then it would just disappear. The mood would be gone, life went back to normal, and the family acted as if nothing had happened.

(As an aside, I don’t think they were “acting”. In a discussion this weekend, it became clear that they don’t remember, for example, the awfulness last December when I had one of these episodes, or the details of other ones; I mean, the Consort remembers these episodes, but not the activities I practically ruined with my outbursts; the girls probably just chalk it up to how moms are supposed to act, god help them.)

Yes, a part of what I experience does sound like depression, but isn’t depression more of a constant in your life? It doesn’t ebb and flow on such a short scale; the switches were so freaky fast (I could see one of these episodes coming on, from time to time, but I wouldn’t be able to stop that train). And some of the problem was the strength of the emotions I would feel. Sometimes, like this weekend, waves of fury (and I do mean waves — I could feel them swirling up my body) would engulf me. In the midst of it I would feel proud of myself that I could hold it together enough not to give in to the urge to smack the child whose rudeness had so pissed me off; unfortunately, what seemed “better” to my furious mind included saying some really mean things to her.

When the Consort called me on it later that evening, I could see that he didn’t understand that it could have been worse than some mean words. And that night I cried myself to sleep, thinking that it would probably be better for everyone if I just disappeared. And as I thought that, I realized I needed to do something about this. This was getting out of hand. I made a vow to myself when I was a kid that I would NEVER use that threat with my children. NEVER. That is a low blow to make to someone who has no real power to do something about it. I hadn’t, and I wasn’t planning to. But the mere fact that I was thinking it to myself wasn’t good, and frightened me.

I mentioned to the girls and the Consort on Sunday (when the worst of the episode was over) that I planned to discuss this with the doctor I’d be seeing on Tuesday (for a completely separate and benign issue, don’t worry). Maybe I do need antidepressants, I said, and hopefully the doctor will be able to get me going in the right direction — an emergency prescription, even if that isn’t his specialty? And they told me it wasn’t a big deal, that I wasn’t crazy, that they loved me. They’re so innocent. Sweet, but innocent.

So yesterday, after the gyn and I discuss the reason I was in there (I was tired of being anemic all the time; we were going to do something about it) and had decided on what we were going to do to take care of the anemia, I mentioned these terrible mood swings and emotional upheavals I have from time to time, which I noted were usually around the time of my ovulation.

That’s normal for your age group, he said. The hormone cocktail that swirls through your body when you’re in your forties can produce mood swings. I was stunned. Why don’t people talk about this more? Do they, and I just didn’t pay attention? I mean, I know about the hot flashes, the sweats, and the chills, but mood swings? (Thinking about it later I think I’ve got some visions of 1950s-era women being all weepy — from movies? — but that isn’t what I’m experiencing.) Some women take progesterone, that seems to block some of it, he continued. Others take antidepressants, but usually getting on a birth control pill cycle stops the mood swings. That’s it? Getting on the Pill? And, he continued, if you’re on the Pill, you won’t experience the hot flashes, either, when they do begin.

I’ve got my own reasons for not wanting to go down the antidepressant route (and I may talk about those reasons in another post sometime), but especially in this case, where the mood swings really are a focused, narrow-window sort of experience, I didn’t think they’d be the best solution.

So, twenty years after I first started taking the Pill, I’ve got a new prescription for it. That’s a weird concept, don’t you think? I do. We’ll be giving it 6 months or so to see if it is taking care of the problem. Since my moods were sporadic, I think it will take at least that long to see if the Pill is working. But at least it will take care of the anemia, even if it wasn’t the treatment I originally went in to see this gynecologist for.

I seem to have lost my male readership (or they are being rather quiet lately), and I know there are women of various ages who read this blog. If any of you farther along on this ride of mid-life (or who are younger than me but have been paying better attention to what others talk about) have any tidbits to share of what other normal issues can be expected as we move beyond our thirties, could you share? Just like new parents wish they had a list of “Things that you ought to know about babies but that no one thinks to tell you”, I’d feel a lot better if I had a map of what’s in store up ahead, so I can stop thinking that the Consort should be looking into committed care facilities for me.

And so that I won’t ever again, in apologizing to my daughter, have a conversation where I say to her, “Remember the mean thing I said to you this weekend?” and she replies, “Which one?”

20 Comments leave one →
  1. Three of Four permalink
    12 November 2008 10:08 am

    Yikes! I’m so sorry you’ve been struggling with this, but very glad you’ve found a way to stop it.

    It doesn’t take the mean words away, but talking about it with the girls probably helps a lot. They are of the right ages to be having their own seemingly untriggered, hormonally-driven mood changes and are in a unique position to really understand you. And vice versa…

  2. 12 November 2008 10:33 am

    Good for you for following up with your dr about this. Frankly, I’m shocked at how much of the perimenopausal stuff is just treated as “routine” and how, once you start suffering from various aspects of it, you realize how many women are going thru the same thing. At least you can tell when you’re reacting due to a mood swing! Hope the pills regulate your moods and keep you in a saner place…

  3. 12 November 2008 12:41 pm

    Well, for one thing, you’ve had a lot of stress, having lived away from home without all your stuff and with less space than you’re used to, and have had a lot of changes to adapt to. Once one gets back to normal, one expects to just bounce back but it takes longer than you might think. And you’re anaemic, which is depressing. I have been anaemic and I was miserable, bad tempered and had little energy or resilience. So, while I’m not disagreeing with the doctor’s diagnosis, if going on the Pill doesn’t completely cure your symptoms, it doesn’t necessarily mean you *should* have antidepressants, you may just need more time to get back to your usual self.

    Having said that, I should acknowledge that I haven’t had any problems myself that it has occurred to me to blame on the menopause (though I wonder if my doctor would have suggested it, had I been to him about my stress levels and mood swings in the 3 year+ period it took me to get over the looking-after and death of my mother). I’m now 55 and 2 months and, after 43 years of regularity except for pregnancy and breastfeeding, haven’t had a period since a couple of weeks before my birthday. If that’s it, it’s been rather undramatic.

  4. 12 November 2008 1:45 pm

    Huh. I didn’t know that the Pill can resolve anemia issues, too.

    I’m sorry to hear about all of this, but so very glad to know that you’ve found a way to address it. I’ve gathered from many other posts here that your family is pretty awesome–I can’t imagine them being anything but supportive of you. I can’t offer any advice about the road you’re on now (I’m a few steps behind you), but I’ll definitely be thinking of you and waiting for happy-news-filled update posts. 🙂

  5. 12 November 2008 1:47 pm

    I’m 49, perimenopausal, and bitchy as hell sometimes. Yes, I have the mood swings and the hot flashes. Not all women who go through perimenopause and menopause do have these symptoms, but apparently you, Imperatrix, and I do. I have depression, so taking Paxil helps those symptoms and the perimenopause bitchiness. As my therapist said, “Whoever planned these things didn’t think it out. I mean–your kids end up in moody adolescence just when you’re in moody perimenopause. Yikes!”

  6. 12 November 2008 1:50 pm

    Yes the rage rings a bell though of course like you I didn’t realise at the time. I can’t remember reading anything that led me to expect it. I just blamed the job I had and the people I worked with though on reflection I think I have to admit it was me and my pesky hormones.

    Just the hot flashes now or as my friend calls them personal summers so I’m getting used to wearing layers (I now know why middle aged women love cardigans and show their flabby arms so much). I’m sure stress does play a part though as I am much more likely to be hot in a stressful situation which makes it a bit of a vicious circle

  7. 12 November 2008 3:48 pm

    I seem to have started perimenopause — hmm, do you start perimenopause, or begin to stop menstruation, or…. oh never mind. But after about 1/2 a year, I’m back to full-on periods, like nothing ever happened.

    We ask my mom what her transition from menstruation to menopause was and she replies she never went through it — her doc put her on the pill after her 6th child and 3rd c-section (she was a good catholic girl, but also a nurse), and when she went off the pill, she was already *in* menopause.

  8. 12 November 2008 5:28 pm

    I have nothing to say other than thanks for sharing. It’s better if people know this stuff – not good to be scared you’re suffering from depression when in reality it’s a normal (well, relatively) symptom you’re suffering from.

  9. pierre l permalink
    12 November 2008 6:25 pm

    With apologies, at least one of your male readers is reading every post, but lurking. Having been very surprised by the recent picture of Marmite, I wasn’t sure I was safe on this blog any more, and came close to commenting for that reason.
    I do hope you have found the solution to your problem, and will, of course, continue to read your every post.

  10. Split Sister permalink
    12 November 2008 6:33 pm

    Wow. This is enlighteing . I get crazy mood swings too, feeling like everything is spinning out of control, yet knowing that it’s all in my head and trying like hell to keep it all together. Maybe I should talk to my doc about the pill too…given that we share the gene-make up and everything. Glad you found a possible fix to your roller coaster ride, I hope it works out. again, wow.

  11. Peaceable Imperatrix permalink*
    12 November 2008 7:26 pm

    3 of 4: I’ve always tried to show the girls that an apology is always given. Even if it confirms that you were acting like a jerk.

    Diane: My experience with specialists is that they often have a cocky attitude, but rarely share info without prodding. My family practitioner, on the other hand, is a much more “sharing” sort of doctor.

    Z: It’s nice to have stories of mild transitions; they give me hope! And you’re right this has definitely been a year of transitions, sometimes our bodies react a bit after the fact.

    Marsha: You’re right, they’re pretty awesome. The Pill can help for anemia when your anemia is due to heavy bleeding (since it reduces the length and intensity of your cycle). (Oh, and the 7 sham ones are iron pills in the scrip I was given.)

    Katharine: Your therapist has it right! Although I suppose back in the day, you’d get your girls out of the house and married before they could put up much of a hormonal fight. 😉

    Breezy: Thanks for confirming the feelings of rage. Oh, layers — that’s a wonderful idea. And for sure, I can see stress being a potent trigger.

    Ellie: I think the body not being able to make up its mind is part of the “joy” of the process. Blech. What your mom said is pretty much what the gyn said — he said he has a tough time getting women off the Pill, when they don’t need it anymore!

    B: That’s what I hoped — that people could read this and be prepared, if they haven’t hit this yet. Being able to pinpoint the reason behind a problem is just as important to me as being able to get rid of the problem.

    pierre: Lurk away! But, as I mentioned in an email to you, I had no idea Marmite would scare anyone away…

    Split Sis: Definitely talk to your doc about it. Especially if you find these moods tracking with ovulation.

    Thanks, everybody. It was kind of scary to hit Publish on this post, but your comments definitely made it worthwhile.

  12. 12 November 2008 8:40 pm

    47 here. Hot flashes, mood swings and, worst of all, periods like horror movies. The latter is what got me back on the Pill. Which I’ve been on for maybe 15 months now.

    Verdict? The period thing is ALL better. And that is reason enough to stick with it. The mood swing thing is better, but I still have my moments. I don’t know for sure, but I do think I’m less likely to overreact than I was. That said, I’ve been on birth control pills before that made me grouchy and when I went off them it was like a dense fog lifted. So you may need to try more than one brand/kind. The hot flash thing is also not as hot flashy as it was, but I still don’t have as good a thermostat as I used to have. When I get hot, I have a very hard time cooling off. But I don’t have that “my skin is peeling off from the heat I’m creating” feeling as much any more.

    Unasked-for opinion? I don’t have a lot of faith in anti-depressants. Try the Pill. Good luck!

  13. Peaceable Imperatrix permalink*
    12 November 2008 9:09 pm

    Kathy! Just what I wanted to hear. Glad to know I’m not the only one using the Pill to get my period under control. Thanks.

  14. pierre l permalink
    13 November 2008 1:28 am

    Sorry Imperatrix. That was a poor quality, ambiguous, comment. It was such a great picture of Marmite that I could almost smell it; my British wife used to eat it when we met, but she stopped because I wouldn’t allow the smell in the house (well, I said I didn’t really like it, we didn’t have a fight).

  15. Peaceable Imperatrix permalink*
    13 November 2008 8:03 am

    No problem, Pierre. Marmite is only good in tiny doses, anyway!

  16. isabelita permalink
    13 November 2008 1:41 pm

    I just turned 58 a couple of days ago, and do still experience hot flashes, usually at night. It’s not so bad in codler weather, but uncomfortable in the summer. I can’t take hormones, since I am very allergic to them, as in anaphelactic reaction type allergic. Had my uterus removed eight years ago due to fibroids, so that fixed the period situation! But I know I’m still going through menopause.
    My treatment has been maintaining a schedule of as much vigorous exercise as possible. and I think that’s a good plan for everyone, not just menopausal women. Once you have amde time for exercise, it’s like brushing your teeth, it’s necessary maintenance. And a lot more fun. Being pleasantly tired from exercising also seems to mellow out my moods.

  17. 13 November 2008 1:57 pm

    When the earth began shifting for me my gyn suggested a stress management course based on the one developed by Jon Kabat-Zinn (“Wherever You Go There You Are”). Meditation and maintaining good sleep, exercise and eating habits made a big difference for me and after a year I was able to stop taking hormones. I still get hot flashes but in the winters here they come in handy…

  18. Peaceable Imperatrix permalink*
    13 November 2008 4:43 pm

    isabelita: Mmmm hmmm. That makes sense. I’ve started “getting physical”, to the point that if I think, maybe I’ll skip it today, a louder part of me replies NO!!!! So that’s good.

    marcy: I’ve always wanted to mediate. (I love listening to a guided meditation, sooooooo calmmmmmmming.) Yep, in our chilly house heat flashes would definitely be useful. BTW: I’d love to comment on your blog, but comments are disabled. Boo hoo.

  19. 15 November 2008 7:00 am

    I like that you address things that most others shy away from… but we are all connected friends, so I applaud you for keeping it real.
    I’m glad they put you on the pill rather than some mind bending antidepressant. I’m on the tale end of menopause (HOORAY!) and can honestly say the best thing I did to deal with the mood swings was to avoid people! Plus lots of long hot baths and dark chocolate.
    And don’t go off on some mother’s guilt trip with your daughters. I have two and know all about that. Don’t be sucked in.
    Be happy.

  20. 18 November 2008 6:08 pm

    Sorry I missed this until now. You just described me, about 10 years ago. Maybe less, I don’t remember. I was having anger issues, always a few days before my period.

    I was already on the pill, but I ended up switching–this was AFTER they put me on Prozac, which I took for a few months and then quit. (It totally ruined my creativity. I didn’t write a word for those months.)

    It really is the hormones. They’re awful things.

    I have tried many, many versions of the pill. The one I have now works great. If the one you’re on doesn’t, do ask for another. And another. Until you get it right. (Headaches were one side effect for me–migraines that put me to bed in a darkened room.) And don’t try taking them straight on for 3 months. I almost bled to death when I tried that, both times.

    And I hate to say this, but when your girls go away to college, you’ll be all done with that anger stuff. You’ll be crying all the time, but that eases too. I’m actually enjoying life pretty much now, and I’m 46. About time.

    Bottom line: They will take the Pill from my cold, lifeless hands.

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