Tempering My Steel

Navigating people’s questions about some of my personal issues has always been difficult for me. It’s not that I’m hiding anything, and I’m not embarrassed, but properly communicating something that has brutally defined me as an adult is daunting. A few words in conversation are never enough. I have written this to help me better explain my experience to other people. I’m not looking for advice and I’m not in the market for pity. All I want is some is to explain myself and have it be heard.

I can't even tell you how much this motto has gotten me through each day.

I can’t even tell you how much this motto has gotten me through each day.

I’m now of the age where most of my friends have their families completed or well underway.  I’m 40.  I’m at the bookend of my fertility.  My door is closing.  But it was never really open for me and I don’t think anyone really understands that.  I have always felt fundamentally broken.  My wide hips have never been childbearing.  My C cups, which they say are meant to feed my child, were only ever used to get attention from others.  Some call me selfish; some pity my husband, my parents and me. For all my wonderful qualities, I am still a genetic dead end.

In a lot of ways I haven’t felt right since the Fall of 1993. I was 17 and my mom had taken me to see a gynecologist because I hadn’t had a period in a year. Even before that, I was a “late bloomer” when I got it at 14 and managed, at best, to have a quarterly period.

I didn’t really mind since my periods were rather debilitating. Leg cramps, back cramps, abdominal cramps, nausea, diarrhea. It was not fun and I usually had it bad that I’d stay home from school with Pamprin and a heating pad. Once in awhile, I’d get a shot of whiskey because my people were very old school that way.

I was a very innocent 17 year old, and having a pelvic exam, even done by a woman, even when my mom was in the room, was rather horrifying. She had a mobile with butterflies above the exam table and that’s what I focused on. When my blood work came back, that’s when everything in my life changed.

My doctor was kind but told me I had a condition called Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome or PCOS. Simply put, but body produced too much estrogen and testosterone and not enough progesterone. I didn’t ovulate. Instead I formed scar tissue around what should have been erupting eggs. And she told me there was no cure and I likely wouldn’t be able to have children. I could treat the symptoms. I could take birth control pills to have a monthly cycle and I could take a medication that would slow additional hair growth.

At 17 I was looking forward to college, not kids, but still knowing that the option of motherhood might never be there for me was tough to take. I always dreamed about meeting my daughter. I felt a responsibility as the only child of the only boy in the family. I was always the kind of little girl that had played with dolls and thought about having a real life one of my own eventually. Suddenly, that wasn’t likely.

I was already very concerned with my appearance. I hadn’t been able to successfully lose weight since I was around age 9. This, also, was a symptom of PCOS. Go to Weight Watchers was the advice of the doctor. I had already been a veteran of Weight Watchers, Richard Simmons plans, hospital nutrition programs, crash diets in magazines, and an ulcer causing time with Slim Fast.

I realized that as well as having a mustache that I needed to bleach once a month; I had hair on my chin!  Like a mini beard! It came out of nowhere.  Now I really kept my head down in school.  I didn’t want anyone to look at me or see what I felt like I was becoming – disgusting.  When I’d ask my family about the things that bothered me about my appearance I seldom got reassurance that helped.  Either my mom said I’d grow out of it like she did (how did that help me now?) or someone would say they didn’t notice.  I didn’t believe any of it.  I hated what I saw in the mirror every day.

The knowledge of my condition made my mental state worse.  I just felt wrong and broken.  I had serious moments of rage where I’d attempt self-harm.  This could have been exacerbated by birth control pills we tried, and the fact that PCOS itself lends to depression biochemistry.  But I’d sit up at night, pulling my hair and slapping my face because I was angry and frustrated and I didn’t know who else to blame for feeling shitty.  My body betrayed me.  My body didn’t keep its contract with me.  I didn’t trust my body.  I didn’t love my body.  I didn’t love myself.  I was defective.

And speaking of birth control – there was nothing more embarrassing for me than going to Wal-Mart once a month with my mom to get a prescription.  At 17 I hadn’t even really held hands with a boy and was mostly scared to death of them.  And to think that I was on birth control like a slut?  Well, what did people think about me?   Every time I went with my mom to fill that prescription I felt judged.  And the irony of it all was funny at the time.  Birth control for someone who couldn’t give birth.  Birth control for a girl who felt absolutely undesirable.

The next couple years were a struggle with depression as I sorted out the issues in my head and my body.  I eventually found a birth control medication that gave me a monthly cycle without horrific side effects.  I took a medication that regulated my hair growth so it didn’t get significantly worse.  I managed the growth I had.  I still felt alienated from my sexuality.

Once I was out of college and on my own, I kept going with the same management of the condition.  Birth control and spironolactone to deal with the effects.  Try to lose some weight.  Antidepressants when necessary.  I never felt much like there was anything else to try until I met a doctor who had some additional ideas.  I went on an additional medication, Metformin, to deal with insulin sensitivity and to help with the weight loss.

This is about the time I learned something really interesting about PCOS and medicine.  Every practitioner had her own idea of how to treat it and what it was.  Some managed the symptoms and some wanted to do more underlying cause.  Some tried to give me a little hope and others didn’t really want to work with me at all.  I tried requesting an endocrinology referral at one point and was told that unless I was trying to get pregnant it wasn’t something the office was willing to do.  When my test results came back with some doctors they’d deny me medication that had previously worked because my ranges were still in “normal” for a woman, without the consideration of my age and my history.

It is incredibly frustrating to argue with a doctor about your life.

By far the kindest medical professional I met with in my 20s was a nurse at Planned Parenthood.  Without insurance, I turned to Planned Parenthood for the birth control.  I did not get dismissal. I did not get judgment.  I received compassion, understanding, and every script I asked for.

When I finally did become sexually active, I managed to tell my partners enough about this condition that they understood.  Most of the time they just cared that they didn’t have to worry about getting me pregnant.  The nagging reminder that I couldn’t have a child didn’t really bother me consciously again until I met someone that I did want to build a life with.  Suddenly I started to think about my daughter again and how she would look like a mixture of the two of us.  That she’s better get my nose!  But I hoped she would get his analytical mind. And then I’d remember that the little girl in my mind wouldn’t be in my arms.

By my mid 30s my friends were having their families.  My friends with infertility were dealing with it in proactive ways.  And I remained treading water.  Still on the Pill, we decided to not use other forms of birth control and if it happened, it happened.  My periods became ridiculously light, but my PMS was often crushing.  I have taken many pregnancy tests, alone, first thing in the morning, and I am always slightly disappointed by the result.  Even when it’s been the worst possible time in my life, any time I get a negative result it is never a relief that it is for some people.  It’s a reminder that I am still not a whole woman.

By my late 30s a few interesting things happened in my life.  I got off the Pill cycle accidentally because I couldn’t get things filled in time and found my weight loss really benefitted.  I started to do more with my nutrition to work with my IBS and I found that my absorption issues were likely hindering some of the medical things I was trying.  So I changed some things around and I decided to seek the care of a Naturopathic Doctor.

This decision was not something that was well received in my household!  I decided to go off the Pill and to try hitting PCOS closer to the source.  I’ve always thought of it more as a receptor binding problem.  Chemical messages being sent are not received.

The biggest game changer from my natural medicine experience was finding I was deficient in inositol – an important component of cellular transportation.  And by supplementing it intramuscularly, I have gone off the Pill and have a normal cycle.  It seems silly to some, but getting a period every month, every 28 days, with no placebo pills to tell me it’s around the corner seems like a freaking miracle.  I chart my cycle in an app on my phone with a smile.

I feel like Pinocchio.  I feel like a real girl.  I feel functional.  I feel like a woman.  I feel like I’m not broken.

As ecstatic as this makes me feel, it’s bittersweet.  I’m 40.  I’m married and we made peace to not have children a long time ago.  It’s not part of our plan.  It’s not equally and enthusiastically wanted by the two of us.  At the same time, my mother is helpfully reminding me that since she doesn’t have grandchildren, she feels like she has no one to pass things along to.  My thoughts are “I still failed because it’s too late.”

So I will take each day as it comes.  I will hold my friends’ children and I’ll focus on my own health.  I really don’t know what the future will bring.  Despite feeling like the sun is setting on my time to meet my daughter, I could be wrong.  And if I’m not, maybe someone younger and in a different situation will be sparked to stop treating PCOS like a sentence and a list of outcomes to manage.  Maybe she will try something crazy like seeing a Naturopathic Doctor for another way to deal with it.  And maybe she’ll meet her daughter.

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It’s Just a Flesh Wound.

You don't really want to see it uncovered.

You don’t really want to see it uncovered.

Thursday I, once again, cut my thumb on the mandolin. Dumb move. This is the third time. It still hurts. No carrot slice is worth flesh.

The cut is on the side of my thumb and it’s very inconvenient. I feel happy that I don’t have contacts to take out anymore because that would be very difficult. I managed to still put my soup together slowly with the cut but it made it hard.

Once upon a time I also broke my right arm and got it cast in a very awkward position (think C3PO). I couldn’t drive, put my hair in a ponytail, take off my bra. And just like now with this thumb thing? It made wiping my ass annoying. 

I’m right handed. I do things with both hands together but I rely on that right hand for most everything. Things can be done with my left hand. It just takes longer and feels strange, for awhile anyway.

I recall getting better at eating with my left hand (except chopsticks), having legible penmanship left handed after awhile, even figuring out contacts during my 8 weeks in a cast. I know that all the little movements my thumb helps with are going to get compensated for and in a couple weeks this will be scarred over and filled in.

This is a good lesson for me that shit happens to make things inconvenient. And getting a cut on the thumb may seem like a big annoyance but in the grand scheme of things? This is a drop in the bucket. Since I’ve done this 3 times now maybe I’ll hold on to what I can learn.

⚙There’s always other ways to do stuff.
⚙It might take longer but it will get done.
⚙Muscle memory is constantly created.
⚙Porcelain is sharp.
⚙Keep it clean, keep it covered is a decent mantra.
⚙Be grateful for every part of your body and how it works together.
⚙If it doesn’t work together so well, you’ll figure it out.
⚙You can’t rush healing.
⚙Normal is always changing, you are always adjusting to your current state.

Mistakes, I’ve Made a Few…

Do you ever find that your strengths can also be your weakness?

I’m still playing with the concept in my brain but I’ve made a realization. I’ve always been a little too obsessed with mistakes. My mistakes – figuring out where I went wrong and course correcting. Other people’s mistakes. Wow, am I good at pointing out mistakes other people make. (Sorry!)

I’m a great editor. You want any written piece checked for grammar, fonts, spacing, spelling, relative color of ink? I‘m your girl. Those “find the differences” puzzles – they are toast around me. I’ll tell you all the goofs in the movie. I could recognize when my Walkman battery was low and my cassette tapes were playing a little slow.

This is a skill that has served me SO well, but it’s also been a huge energy drain. Honestly, unless it’s your resume, or something really important – who freaking cares? It’s not as important as CREATING. And that’s really what I love to do. So why tear down when I can be building?

Maybe I’m always looking for mistakes because I always feel like I am wrong. If I can find a mistake in something else – maybe it isn’t me.

Okay, that’s a pretty big thought for a Monday night! Well, don’t worry, it actually was the result of spending from Friday night at 6 PM until last night at 8 PM in an intense personal development course. Being a Beachbody Coach pushes me out of my comfort zone. Well, I followed in the footsteps of a lot of the coaches on my team by doing this work and I’m turning a corner.

The Universe is always creating and destroying. Catabolism and Anabolism go together. Pointing out and searching for mistakes – it can be super important in the right situation, but it’s a form of destruction. It’s necessary sometimes but it’s also the easy way out of a lot of problems.

I’m choosing to be on the other end of the balance for awhile. I’m going to CONSTRUCT.

Let's build something awesome.

Let’s build something awesome.

Feeling Sassy.

I’ll be up front with you all.  I’ve been on a roller coast of emotions for the last 6 months.  It hasn’t been pretty at times.  If I had known what I was in for when I decided to go off The Pill and go with Natural Medicine, I’m not sure if I would have thought it was worth it.  I do think it is though.

I’ve been having normal periods on my new plan.  I take herbs and I get customized intramuscular shots twice a week.  A test result showed I am deficient in inositol and I think that the supplementation has made a difference.  I feel good – I have more energy.  I have periods but they aren’t heavy like they were pre Pill.  The only thing that I’m having trouble managing is my emotions.

It’s a tricky thing for me.  On the one hand – I’m really emotional anyway.  I’ve been known to cry during a musical montage on a TV crime drama.  I’ve started crying when having difficult conversations with professors.  Bosses.  I didn’t look very professional.  Premenstrually, it was always worse.  I’d cry because my husband wouldn’t have lunch with me.  I’d cry because I heard a sad UB40 song.

On the other hand – I’m on antidepressants.  Most of the time, I’m not able to access my emotions when I want.  It keeps me from getting too low, but it also keeps me from getting too happy.  Sometimes I’m laughing and smiling on the inside but it’s resting bitchy face on the exterior.  Sometimes my insides are on the spin cycle and I just need to have a good cry and make it work.  But at the given time, my neurotransmitters decline that invitation, so I stay bottled up.

I never seem to have a hard time with the anger emotion.

Since being off The Pill and treating my PCOS naturally, I’m not getting typical about-to-start-my-period blues.  I get unexpectedly blindsided by a small rebuff.  It sends me in to a 3 day stupor of feeling like shit. I wake up on a seemingly random day and want to punch everyone in the esophagus.  I feel irritated, like my skin is too tight.  Nothing makes me happy.  Then, poof, it’s over.  Instead of having the feeling that someone is running my body and I’m a passenger, it’s more like I’m getting tossed around in the storm with little awareness to what’s going on until it has passed.

However, today I’m feeling Sassy.

SassyLaurie

I’m taking my moods and my symptoms with a period app, because, well, there is an app for everything.  Let’s see if I can figure out some sort of pattern to the madness.  I’ve added some moods and symptoms and Sassy is one of them.

Feeling Sassy is a good one.  My filter pretty much didn’t exist today and I was freaking hilarious.  I had swagger.  My hair was on point.  My makeup – really good.  My workout was over first thing in the morning and I felt like a champion the whole rest of the day because of it.

I’ll take feeling Sassy over sad or mad.

Jenga Booty

It sounds a little bit like “Jungle Booty” doesn’t it?

I came up with the expression “like a Jenga Puzzle built on quicksand” awhile ago.  I can’t believe I haven’t wrote about this before.  When you lose weight, things change.  That much everyone knows.  Your body changes, you start to look better.  Yay!  Well, usually.

Let's see what happens!

Let’s see what happens!

Weight doesn’t come off the way it went on.  It’s like the honey badger, it does what it wants!  It would be so nice if weight loss worked like a rewind but it has other plans.  Right now I can feel my ribs clearly.  I can even reach under them.  My ass has flattened.  I no longer have “the bubble” off my caboose.  But, I still have two rolls of abdominal fat.  And that same abdominal fat is not symmetrical from left to right.  Once again, I’m having trouble keeping my pants up because without the butt, it’s like trying to put a belt on a beach ball.  My arms have lost underlying fat, but have just ended up looking deflated, while my neck has gotten gorgeous angles.

The real source of the expression is more about the way that I feel when I exercise.  Even losing a modest 6 lb has ripple effect impacts in my body.  A small change in weight, a shift in how it works, and everything is different.  The way I think about it is my body has adjusted to life being larger than expected.  Some large and small muscles aren’t being used as they were probably intended.  After years of living as a larger size, they’ve made adaptations to still be able to move as much as possible, even if it isn’t the right way.  Once I start to lose this extra size, suddenly they are not required to work as they once did, and they are not ready to work as they should.  This sometimes feels like a giant step back, but it is more like a side step, followed by a forward step that is really, really hard – like walking against the current of a river.

I’m still active and it’s still forward progress, even when it feels like it isn’t.  I’m using more and more of my body the right way.  It’s actually really great to learn to recruit my gluteus properly.  I’m still mastering the lunge, but I know that it is always improving.  In general, I love being more active. I love waking up in the morning and not having pain in my hips and lower back.  I’m looking forward to my next round of learning more about myself and my body and I’m excited to see what I can do.

Crazy.

Something crazy happened this weekend.  On Saturday morning I cried 3 times before 8AM.

The thing that makes this so unbelievable is that I haven’t cried in a really, really long time.  Other than a few weeks ago when I read the photo essay of a dog’s last day before his owners took him to the park and had the vet meet them there with the needle of peace.  Once in awhile I also get PMS tears.  But these tears came from somewhere else entirely.

I was tired.  I felt defeated and I just had enough.

On the bike.  Again.

On the bike. Again.

Last week was tough.  Internship days were LONG.  Workouts started earlier than I ever even wanted to think about getting up.  My butt got totally chapped from the spin bike, and my hand can’t grip a water glass.  I dissolved in to a punch drunk mess in evening workouts on Wednesday and Friday – complete with doing round house kicks making sound effects like a little kid.

I feel more out of control than ever right now and I’m just hoping this is the point where everything comes together.  Workouts are hard.  I don’t see the changes in my body that other people do.  Money is becoming more of an issue.  My house is a mess and by the time I get home at night and eat dinner I have 30 min before I need to get my ass upstairs and in to bed.  All so I can get up and do it all again.

I want this, I really do.  I’m up for the sacrifice.  But I think there’s a part of me that wonders if I’m going to fail and I’ve just set myself up for it to all fall apart.  And then all these early mornings will be for nothing and I’ll just be a sleep deprived mess who goes off the road on her way home at night.

So yeah, I had that “Biggest Loser” moment of tears and frustration.  But I sucked it up that day, and I sucked it up the next day, and I’ll keep sucking it up.  I’ll keep doing what I’m doing.  I’ll try and take back a little more control over my diet.  I at least got to vacuum my bedroom today and hopefully I sucked up whatever mystery bugs have been biting us in our sleep.