I've always been ... hormonal.
Sometimes, I mean this in the flattering, womanly sense. I have insanely wide hips, a smallish waist, and a huge rack (34 FF, according to the grabby old lady at the bra shop, who was SO SMUG about my 38DD bra that I came in with. SO SMUG. I get it, lady, I saw that episode of "Sex and The City," too). I got my period when I was 8, and changed my pads in a tiny cubbyhole in my summer camp bunk, while all of the other girls were playing Jax in the next room.
I didn't tell anyone but my mom, who has always been amazing and supportive about body things. She, too, "became a woman early," and she was progressive and empowering, consistently. I still have the 10+ letters of affirmation I received at camp from all of her Brooklyn lady friends congratulating me and welcoming me to the club.
I learned about my body early, and I grew up with reverence for it, even in the years that I hated it for not being like everyone else’s. At some point, my mother and I were co- problem-menstruators; I vividly remember her saying things like “My hole hurts,” which at the time was horrifying, but I totally get it, now. The rag troubles started early, but like hers, became debilitating and painful by the time I reached 18.
I began to have mood swings, and my actual cycles were unpredictable -- sometimes twice in a month, sometimes nothing for three months. I was also in a monogamous sexual relationship for the first time, and so my gynocologist suggested the pill for both contraceptive and regulatory reasons. I cheerfully decorated my case with the letters ABC (Anti Baby Candy), and set a cell phone alarm to remind me to take it. It felt good! Maybe this would help!
But a few months later, I found myself sitting on a couch wrapped in a Mexican blanket, sobbing, while watching "A Baby Story." People who say that the pill doesn't affect mood have never had their best friend stage an impromptu intervention for their birth control method. Mine did after she came home from class and found me like inconsolable, gorging on peanut butter Oreos and straight-up cry-yelling "My body wants to have a baby! It's ready!"
I got off the pill. Dark times, my friends.
Though the weepy, irrational baby-yearning stopped, my symptoms continued. Over the next few years, I tried about a dozen doctors and pretty much everything they offered me: lower dose pills, the ring, just condoms, evening primrose oil, yoga, anti-depressants (for Pre-Menstrual Dysphoric Disorder, which basically means extended PMS), and metformin (from the doctor who was convinced that I had PCOS -- I don't, I was just fat and of Mediterranean ethnicity, but this lady was totally willing to give me Diabetes medication without so much as a blood test).
Around the age of 26, my cycles became like clockwork (a pretty sure sign I don't have PCOS), but my symptoms continued to worsen. My only solution, to this day, has been to address the symptoms, because the cause continues to elude me. I take water pills when I am so bloated that I can’t wear my fat jeans, I take sedatives when I am too emotional to sleep, I gasp after every sip of Diet Coke because during PMS, it tastes like drugs.
The last doctor I went to seemed annoyed that his normal bag of tricks had already been exhausted -- this is usually a warning sign that a physician isn’t willing to get very innovative. He told me that I was probably depressed, and to get on anti-depressants and see if they would help. Despite the fact that I am not depressed, I listened, tried it, and subsequently turned into a scary robot with no facial expressions for a couple of weeks.
A friend saw me on the street and shouted: “Jackie!” and then “…It’s me, Jen?” after receiving no facial recognition or verbal response from me. Pills are scary. I got off of them after my boss had a “sit-down” with me, asking me if I was “OK,” because I wasn’t “doing any work.”
I went back to the drawing board with my doctor, who very efficiently ended our relationship by telling me that my body was "just telling me that it was time to have a baby.” Then he stepped back into his time machine and WHIZZZZZZZZZZED back to 1954.
This has happened over and over again. Doctors get discouraged when they don’t find answers, but no one listens to me. I have asked for hormone level tests a million times, directly asked for them, but for some reason, doctors would prefer to think I have an emotional issue and go in another direction.
So now I am 28, and I don’t really have a doctor, because I want to punch all of them in the face. It’s been 10 years of trouble, and in the meantime I’ve lost 100 pounds (officially! This week!).
I've radically changed my diet and my activity level, and done a lot of other things to make my life and body happier. Other than awful PMS and life-disrupting periods, I have never been healthier.
For two weeks out of the month, though, I am a person who I do not recognize or trust to make decisions, to have opinions that will hold up after I start bleeding. From ovulation to the first day of my period, I am a rapidly filling, leaky water balloon of tears and water weight. I gain 7 pounds overnight sometimes.
I have crying fits where all I can manage to get out is “I am not upset about anything!” I can’t sleep. I question everything in my life, and cannot trust my own feelings, which are so intense and so opposing my normal feelings that I am thrown into confusion about everything: from whether or not I like cereal to whether I am happy in my relationship. I plan my life and big decisions so that important things do not happen in those two weeks.
I know the insanity is about to come to an end when I start to get searing pains in my sciatic nerve, which shoot down my legs. I yelp when I try to sit cross-legged, I bend over in public doing inappropriate, sexual-looking stretches. 48 hours later, I can feel that I’ve gotten my period before the blood even hits my drawers, because the pressure release in my head is akin to the moment your hangover lifts. Who has two thumbs and is actually excited to start bleeding from their genitals every month?? This bitch.
Clearly, this is no way to live, and yet here I am, doing it month after month because I don’t see another option. The baby-monster-robot-doctor suggested that I get tested for endometriosis. No, let me rephrase: After I asked for the fourth time if this was something I should look into, he finally agreed.
I’ve had to be my own advocate every step of the way, researching and pleading, but I didn’t go to medical school, so all I have to go in is instinct, history, and the scary internet. Is that all doctors have, too? Why am I the one steering this ship?
The only way to diagnose endo is invasively, and so I am leaning toward that as a next step, but it is pretty frightening. They "GO IN THROUGH YOUR BELLYBUTTON,” whatever that could possibly mean. His only other suggestion was a series of Lupron shots, which would give me “pretend menopause,” which is the least-fun sounding game of make-believe, ever.
If after three months my symptoms were gone, then it was “probably endometriosis.” I considered it, but the idea of tricking my body into anything when it already feels confused is unappealing. Also: hot flashes. No thanks, I already have constant pit-stains without the help of injections.
It was refreshing to read Emily’s article a while back about her menstrual complications, it’s always nice to know you’re not alone, as hollow a victory as it may sometimes feel like.
If you've found a doctor who will pay attention to you or a find a solution to your ladyproblems, I’d love to hear your stories. Some of us do indeed listen.