Thursday, June 19, 2008

Raging hormones.

Listening to the podcast This American Life is one of my all-time favorite things to do. I've been know to drive completely out of my way so I can listen to it in the car. Once I drove to Cincinnati to "shop for maternity clothes" just so I could get my fix. Who's gonna argue with a crazy pregnant lady?

Speaking of crazy...This American Life recently dedicated an entire show to hormones and the affect they have on some people's lives. It was fascinating. Fascinating. I listened in my car like usual and found myself driving slowly through a parking lot with my hand clapped over my mouth, shaking my head and whispering, "No way. No way!"

Act one was about a man who lost his testosterone and with it, his desire. All of it. He went from being a relatively normal guy to someone who didn't want...anything. Nothing gave him pleasure but since he didn't have desire, he didn't really mind. He was completely content but without the feeling of satisfaction. He didn't feel anything at all.

Act two was about a person who was born a woman but chose to live as a man. Part of his transition involved taking massive amounts of testosterone to help him get in touch with his masculine side. Did he ever. He grew facial hair, got a deeper voice, and began to see woman almost entirely as sex objects. For a guy who used to be a gal, that's quite a leap!

Listening to this show solidified what I've suspected about hormones for quite some time. If they get out of whack, it can completely change your life.

My first glimpse of this came when I got on the pill for the first time right after high school. Bill and I had finally gotten together after two years of friendship and heavy flirting and it didn't take long (maybe 6 days?) for me to give into temptation (yes, my husband is the first person I had sex with). We were completely head over heels in lust and love and I was on top of the world. Things were great until my parents realized what we were doing and made me get on the pill. It only took a month or so for me to go from heaven on earth to hell in a hand-basket.

That Halloween I showed up to a party dressed as a witch and overheard someone say, "I didn't think Bill meant literally..." For my birthday a few weeks later, Bill took me to a concert in San Francisco and when I realized a friend of ours was going to ride with us, I got so upset that I didn't speak for the entire trip. Not. one. word.

The most insignificant things would send me into a tailspin of rage. I was out of my mind. Completely irrational. A different person.

Of course, I didn't realize this at the time. When it was happening to me I just thought I had changed. "This is how I am now," I thought. "Deal with it!" I didn't realize until my sister got on the pill for the first time a few years later and screamed at me through tears of rage, "This is how I am now, deal with it!" that there may have been a connection.

I don't necessarily think the pill made me crazy but it certainly intensified my less desirable side. Instead of having a few unbearable days of PMS, it was like I was suffering from the symptoms ALL THE TIME. I was irritable, unable to deal with the unexpected, exhausted, completely irrational, and ready to snap at any minute. They joy had been sucked out of me and it was almost impossible to smile. Oh, and I had the sex drive of a nun. Perhaps that's why the pill is so effective against pregnancy. Who wants to do it with a frigid bitch?

I got off the pill as soon as Bill and I broke up (it didn't take long!) but over the next several years I experimented with it again and again. I would see an ad for a new low hormone variety and think, "I wonder if that will make me crazy?" I'd express my concerns to my doctor but the most common response I got was, "Just try it." So I did. Some had an immediate reaction, some took a couple months to really get a hold of me, but they all made me a version of myself I'd rather not have to live with.

I gave up on the pill long before Liam was born. We used good old fashioned family planning or the "P.O.M." (Do NOT make me spell it out. It's so...graphic. I much prefer the less racy description, "leave church without singing.") It worked so well that I started to think I wouldn't be able to have kids. If it was possible, surely we would have had an accident at some point! When I got pregnant after trying (ahem, singing) only once or twice, I got a little scared. Now that I knew I could get pregnant, I was afraid it might happen again before I was ready.

I knew I couldn't get back on the pill (by this point, Bill had all but amended our marriage vows to include, "Yeah, yeah, sickness or health, whatever, as long as she's not on the pill.") but I didn't know much about my other options. An ad for an IUD in a parenting magazine caught my eye and when I showed it to Bill, he was on board immediately (What can I say? The man loves to sing.). I asked my doctor about it, being sure to point out exactly what I did NOT want (like, divorce) and hoped she could help me decide if it was a good choice or not. After pointing out the relatively small list of options, ("If the pill makes you crazy, don't take it. Condoms work. If you use them. IUD's are good. I have one and I love it."), I decided to go ahead and try the IUD. What's the worst that could happen. Heh.

When a hormonal imbalance gets a hold of you, it's not the kind of thing you can self-diagnose. You can't see what you were like yesterday and compare it to how you are today. It's like yesterday never happened. You completely forget what life is usually like. All you know is today sucks. Everyone around you is wrong and it's really starting to piss you off. Your child is whiny, your husband is lazy, your house is unmanageable, and your job is annoying. And whoever shrunk your pants in the dryer is going to be sorry. Zero to bitch in 60 seconds? Try no seconds.

Fortunately for me, I have a partner who can ever-so-gingerly point out that the smiling, happy version of me is gone and the evil, snarly me is about to drive my nervous dog, blankie clutching son, and patient-but-too-smart-to-go-there-again husband running for the hills. He sees in me what I cannot see for myself and eventually finds a way to break the news. It can't be easy for him. When I first see that white-flag look in his eyes, I want to kill him. "Oh, sure, I guess this is all my fault. Blame it on me and my hormones. Again! Like you didn't have anything to do with this? What about the fact that you haven't shaved in 3 days, huh? WHAT ABOUT THAT?!?" If I can find a way to see what is happening while it is happening, it's like grabbing onto a rope thrown from a rescue boat after falling overboard. I'm still in the deep, dark ocean all alone but there is a chance I might be able to escape without drowning.

So, I tried the IUD. For a while there, it seemed to be working just fine. I was on and off my period for about 6 months but other than that, there were no real emotional problems. Then one day, a friend of mine told me she thought her IUD was making her crazy. She was irritable, forgetful, exhausted, and had no sex drive. Hmmm. I had recently forgotten to go to work twice in one week. I wondered if it was making me crazy too. I asked Bill. The white flag look washed over his face. Relief. "Maybe you should get it taken out?"

I couldn't believe it! I had had it in for almost a year. I really thought it was working for me. Was it possible that it was fine for a while and then, not so much? I knew I had a lot of research to do but in the meantime I decided it would be best to get it out. For a hormonally sensitive girl like me, the less I have to work against, the better.

So, it's been out for a couple months now and I feel...I don't know. No matter how badly I want to end this post triumphantly, I think I will have to settle for honest instead. Yesterday was awful, the day before was great. Today is pretty good so far. Bill says he thinks I have about 10 good days a month. The rest of the time? Oh, hell. I have been keeping a calendar so I can see if there is a pattern. So far, I'm afraid he isn't exaggerating. I'm researching PMS and hormonal imbalances and looking for answers (Bill said he found some good information online. When I asked him what he Googled he said, "PMS, rage, help.").

I had never thought about PMS until very recently but I'm starting to wonder if it has been my problem all along. 10 good days a month? Surely that's not normal. Does anyone have any insight, advice, suggestions? I need all the help I can get. In the meantime, I will continue reading about "PMS, rage, help," and hoping today continues to be a good day.

I'm afraid this won't be the last unnecessarily long post about my hormones. I'm sure you're on the edge of your seat now!


Callie said...

I have no help to offer for the pms symptoms. However I notice the white flag look in Mike's eyes too monthly. Poor guy and poor me...I hate feeling that way. Not sure which IUD you had but I have the paraguard IUD and it has no hormones in it. It works because it's copper which is weird but it works. And I'm glad it does. I was on the pill briefly and hated it also. Just thought I'd throw the copper IUD option in there for you. As a social worker I think it wouldn't hurt to talk to someone (therapist, counselor) about your feelings though and maybe they could offer some solutions. Seems like you have/had a lot to be anxious about (ie. Bill's job, a 2 year old, law school, etc.). Okay this is way too much of a comment and I hope things get better. :)

hezza said...

You really must read "The Female Brain". It is written by a neuropsychiatrist who has extensively studied the effects of hormones on the brain. I have many things to tell you about BCP's and hormones and my life, but let's table it for our lunch date. It will be better in person.

Oh, and I love TAL, I listen to the podcast (it's Free!) when I travel. Makes me happy.

Anna said...

My dr's office calls family planning/POM "withdrawal." :)

Courtney said...

Try Wild Yam cream for hormone balancing - we get way too much estrogen in everything! And try Rescue Remedy mouth spray when the witch shows up...