We had some friends over for dinner a few nights ago, and the conversation meandered to a discussion of if, as conventional wisdom holds, "things...Read More
The Lies My Hormones Tell
Today, I want to talk about hormone poisoning.
No, not my broke-ass thyroid induced challenges. Instead, I’m tackling the once a month, “maybe it will be a meltdown, maybe it will be OK” thing. Buckle up!
hormone poisoning: the monthly moodiness, food cravings, and motivational slump caused by girly hormones (or the annoying lack thereof). See “On Being a Girl.“
In my post “On Being a Girl,” I complained about the cramps and the dropsies that make even ordinary tasks seem impossible for a week out of every month. I used to be surprised by the bashing of my elbows into doorframes, or the glasses and plates that seemed to fly from my hands of their own volition. Then I read the book 28 Days: What Your Cycle Reveals About Your Love Life, Moods, and Potential. This little book was a revelation! Based on what’s happening hormonally in a woman’s body on each day of the month, the author offers predictions about how we might be feeling, physically and mentally, on each day of our cycle. It’s like a hormone horoscope for every day.
After studying its pages, I started marking my calendar with key days: Day 28 (Blech. The official start of tampons and pads.). Day 1 (Start the countdown clock to next month.) Day 23 and 24 (Descent into PMS.)
The action I failed to take until recently, however, was to change my plans and behavior based on those horoscopes. I’d write DAY 23! DESCENT INTO PMS! on the calendar and warn Dave that I might not be feeling too chipper that day… then I’d carry on with normal life. Which lead to some terrible business meetings, botched workouts, meltdown-level conversations with family, and every dress in my closet thrown into a pile in the middle of the bedroom floor because “nothing fits and I’m ugly and I’m just donating these and never wearing anything but black yoga pants again.” (Cue loud nose-blowing and wracking sobs.)
I’m not sure why I was recognizing the information I had at my fingertips, but not acting on it.
Then I got a little smarter. I instituted two bits of behavior to make hormone poisoning more manageable:
1. PMS Blackout Days
I put a banner on my calendar across Days 22, 23, and 24 — the days I know to be the worst for moodiness and emotional sensitivity. When the need for business meetings comes up during that week, I schedule around those PMS Blackout Days. But the Blackout isn’t just for interactions with other people; it’s a reminder to myself, too… to go easy, to remember my hormones are playing tricks on me, to give myself mini time-outs if I need them to do a short meditation or to lie on the couch to watch Jeopardy!
2. “Now Is Not The Time”
One of the great gifts of meditation and yoga is that I’ve learned I can acknowledge and recognize my emotions without being sucked into and swirled around by them. Why, hello, Disappointment! You’re being a right bitch today, aren’t you? (For more on that, read my post “Oh, Yeah? Observe This.”)
I use that trick to help me manage the lies that my hormones tell me during the PMS Blackout. Throughout the days and nights (thanks a lot, stress dreams! of Days 22, 23, and 24 of my cycle, I fret. It’s faux fret, induced my chemicals firing or not firing in my brain—but knowing that isn’t always enough to stop my feelings from attaching to those thoughts. Hence my new approach: when a faux thought enters my mind, I firmly say to myself, “Now is not the time.” I take the faux thought, attach a label, put it in a faux box, and throw in on the top shelf of the faux closet in my noggin. When Days 25 and 26 arrive, and I’m back to an even keel, I can unpack those boxes and see if any of the thoughts really need to be addressed. Most of the time, they don’t. Because most of the time, they’re lies.
The Top Three Lies I’m Told by Hormone Poisoning
Before I dig into the f*cking awful things my hormones whisper to me, I need to acknowledge that since I switched to paleo and eliminated all caffeine and added sugar from life, my periods have become much more manageable. Days 22, 23, and 24 used to be debilitating; now they’re mostly just inconvenient — and physically, the cramps and flow are less like a horror movie and more like an unfortunate incident.
Hormone Lie #1: You’re ugly and fat.
On Day 21, I can look in the mirror and think, You look pretty good, 47-year-old lady. Keep on doing what you’re doing, ’cause you’re doing great!
On Day 23, the monologue goes more like this: Was my nose always this big? I don’t remember those bags under my eyes; is that why I look so terrible in photos now? GOD! Why is my left arm so fat? And I look like a freakin’ linebacker! Could my stupid boobs and shoulders be any broader?! Nice back flab, too. I really should cut my hair (or grow my hair; it’s stupid to have it this length.) I HATE GETTING OLD. [And… scene.]
The trick: This one is hard, no lie, but I just make myself stop. I firmly say “Now is not the time” and walk away from the mirror, then I actively think about something else. Sometimes, it’s been crossword puzzles. When I’m berated with hormone lies, I crawl into crosswords. It’s impossible to hear the taunting when my brain is working on a 14-letter answer that will unlock the entire right-hand side of the crossword grid.
Hormone Lie #2: You should eat a chocolate chip cookie because you deserve it and nothing you do matters anyway.
It’s been a long time since I had to battle cravings on a regular basis, thanks to Whole30-style eating about 90-95% of the time. It’s been years of transition and tweaking, but I’m at a very comfortable place with my eating habits. I eat in a 12-hour window every day and generally don’t snack—I eat three or four times a day and each meal keeps me going for about four to five hours. We usually have a little dark chocolate in the cabinet, and most days, I can take it or leave it. Until the hormones start talking. Then they don’t just want me to eat the dark chocolate—all of the dark chocolate—they want me to put on my shoes, get in the car, go to the grocery store, buy a box of chocolate chip cookies and a gallon of milk, and eat the cookies while driving home because waiting the 5 minutes until I’m back inside the house is just too f*cking long.
Yeah, I’m not doing that.
The trick: Again, I firmly say “Now is not the time” and stay out of the kitchen. I use all of the tricks I described in my post about true hunger versus emotional appetite—and sometimes that means I just have to white knuckle it until the feeling passes. In anticipation of cravings each month, I do buy a few Larabars, just in case I fell prey to my hormone thoughts. Usually the Larabar wrappers stay intact.
Hormone Lie #3: You’re worthless and your life sucks.
The worst moments of Days 22, 23, and 24 are when I know in my heart that I’m not really upset, but my body is reacting with a full-blown sadness reaction: snotty nose, hot tears, pouty lips. It’s a truly whack out-of-body experience. I’m not really sad, but the tears flow anyway, and the rational part of my brain is, like, What is happening here, people?! Get it together. You’re not really sad. (It doesn’t happen very often any more, but I remember it very vividly.)
While the tears flow, two soundtracks play at once.
The first is the brat tape, the one that says I’m useless and nothing ever works and you should just lie on the couch and give up because you’ll never be successful enough or pretty enough or smart enough.
The second tape is the smart tape, the one that says I have a great life filled with kickass friends and smart, devoted readers… I have a supportive, loving family… I have Smudge… I’m not a superhero yet, but I’m strong and fit and mostly healthy and all I need to do right now is ride out this hormone-induced emotional wave and everything will be fine.
The trick: Honestly, I usually just give myself over to a big-time tantrum of crying and snot and tear-soaked, snotty tissues—a good, old fashioned, messy, wet, hot, feel-so-sorry-for-myself indulgence. It usually lasts about five or 10 minutes, and then it’s over.
Most of the time, I’m all good with being a girl.
Let’s face it: our clothing options are better, eyeliner is fun, boobies are pretty — and we have the beautiful ability to be athletic and feminine and strong and sensitive and silly and smart, all at the same time. But when I’m feeling a little Day 23-ish, you can probably find me thinking “Now is not the time,” while I watch Jeopardy! on the couch with Smudge.
Practical Tips for Managing an Unruly Period
Here are some resources to help you better understand and manage your period… and don’t forget meditation, walking, rest, Whole30 food, and magnesium supplementation.
Kathleen Shannon, the brilliant designer behind Well Fed and a smarty-pants blogger, recently published a kickass blog about period matters. Highly recommended read on the practical side of period management, plus some frank conversation about delicate matters.
I’m old school, so I rely on that little 28 Days book and keep a copy in my makeup cabinet in the bathroom. But I also use the app Clue because it’s totally awesome. It tracks mood, physical symptoms, flow, ovulation, PMS, and more. LOVE IT! Learn more about it right here.
The book mentioned above. Do yourself a favor and pick up a copy!