In nearly four decades, it has never rained on my birthday. As I write this on Sept 4, 2010 (mark your calendars for next year — Mistress loves presents!), my 37th birthday, it is raining.
The only inevitability in natural systems is change.
I also write this with my right foot wrapped in an ice pack. Were I to unfurl this ice pack, I’d see bluish-tinted skin spanning the tips of my toes to my cuneiform bones, as if Vulcan blood pulsed in my veins. My left foot matches. I am wearing dusky sandals.
A few days ago, while warming up for a barbell complex with an empty 20 kg bar, I momentarily lost my focus and let the Olympic weightlifting bar — which spins in its sleeve — drip from my fingers and smash across both bare feet, crunching metatarsals and sesamoid bones between iron and hardwood platform like a potato chip panini.
There are two morals here.
First, don’t drop barbells on your feet.
Second, use heavier weights.
Had I warmed up with even a 0.5 lb plate on the bar, I could have thrown it from my full height and it still wouldn’t have scrunched my tootsies. Hell, had I been working the big-girl plates, I could have dropped it then dived underneath like a mechanic working on a car.
I offer penance to St. Mark Rippetoe, St. Dan John, St. Mike Burgener, et al.
At least this is how I choose to interpret the situation.
I’m lucky. Nothing seems broken. I remain unrepentant about doing most of my lifting in bare feet. After all, it took me 15 years to drop something on them. As Homer Simpson said regarding Krusty the Klown’s vow to spit in every 50th Krusty Burger, “I like those odds.”
As I hobble around, I meditate on the quality of life experienced by those who have not cared for nor appreciated their ability to move. Getting to the bathroom is an expedition (and it involves stairs — oh horror!). A revolving door provokes deep anxiety.
Lose the ability to move and you lose nearly everything. Barring unforeseen accident and/or disability, this is about 95% within our control.
Stay moving. We are like sharks who must keep swimming or die.
In other aging-related news, these days two things that are not doing much of anything — swimming or otherwise — are my ovaries. Yep, I’m effectively perimenopausal. And let me tell ya, it’s a helluva ride.
Let’s get some facts out of the way, because like me you may not have known that such a thing can occur to you in your 30s. (Menopause? That’s for people’s moms, right?)
Hormones are pulsatile, which means they’re typically released in little puffs and bursts, like tiny chemical farts. Some toot their teeny horns on a regular cycle, such as a day or a menstrual period. Others respond to stimuli such as light/dark, food, stress, etc.
As you age, your hormones may start blipping and blopping a bit more randomly. They may go up or down in a general average direction, but that’s average if you look at it over, say, a decade. From day to day, you could swing wildly between low, normal, and crazy-blast high.
This means that in your 30s, 40s — or even for a few unlucky folks, in your 20s — you could easily experience symptoms of hormone fluctuation as your estrogen and progesterone go wacky. And these symptoms may not correlate to a one-time blood test, which simply measures the level of hormones available at a single given moment, not over the course of time.
Thus, you might experience the following joyous events:
- waking up in the middle of the night feeling like a steamed dumpling
- puffing up like a balloon, especially in your lower belly
- the sloshing sound of epic water retention
- mood swings: crying jags, major anxiety, paranoia and apprehension, crabbiness, general psychosis
- brain fog, trouble remembering stuff like what the hell is Brad’s wife’s name, what is the word for those orange things you eat, and oh by the way where the hell am I?
- GI changes: digestive problems, bloating, new food intolerances
- changes in your libido
- headaches and migraines
- the sudden appearance of a few extra pounds, again often around your midsection
- your boobs deflating and going south
- heart palpitations and feeling like your skin is crawling with ants (apparently this is known as forMication, which is less fun than forNication, just FYI)
- “phantom periods”: all the cramps, all the PMS, same monthly cycle, none of the red tide action (bonus: saves on Tampax!)
As with the unbroken foot, I’m lucky I didn’t suffer all of these things. But I sure was a crazy, bloated, crying, paranoid bitch for a while until I figured this out.
I’m fucking pissed.
I’m not pissed because my ovaries (or possibly something higher up the command chain) have decided to check out early. That’s their business. I always was a bit precocious anyway.
No, what I’m pissed about is this: Despite being a so-called “expert” in the field of women’s wellness, I DID NOT KNOW ABOUT THIS. Nobody does. Nobody, that is, except the millions of women who are sweating, crying, bloating, and wondering WHAT THE FUCK IS GOING ON AND WHY IS MY BODY POSSESSED?
In 2006, my periods started going wacky, suddenly appearing every 2-3 weeks. This was accompanied by what seemed like hypothyroid symptoms. I felt like my skin was vibrating and my whole life was on fast-forward. I’d wake up at 4 am, eyeballs sproinging open like the guy in A Clockwork Orange, as if someone had dumped a bucket of cold water on me. (This, I learned later, was from an adrenaline rush to free up glucose once cortisol checked out of doing its regularly scheduled overnight job. Thanks, stress!)
Food turned to the proverbial ash in my mouth. My weight dropped to 104. I hadn’t been 104 since I had my wisdom teeth out and sucked Tylenol and chicken broth smoothies through a straw for two weeks. My sternal ribs looked like a rickety ladder. The only thing I miss about this time was that my pullups kicked ass.
I visited my doctor. Everything seemed normal. She shrugged, unconcerned about the sudden exuberance of my cycles. “Frisky ovaries,” she said.
I imagined my ovaries like Mexican jumping beans, doing an acrobatic, tap-dancing version of La Cucaracha on my uterus.
Fast forward to 2009. I am sitting in a new doctor’s office, no longer underweight — indeed, feeling rather like a PMSing walrus — wondering why my periods have, after their initial spate of Rockette kicks, suddenly gone MIA. The new doctor, thankfully one who actually gives a shit about things like actual medical diagnoses, says three words: premature ovarian failure.
She looks at me with gentle eyes. I can see her figuratively reaching for some kind of caring informational brochure like So, Your Ovaries Are Lazy Skanks.
“So…” she says, “this means you cannot have children.”
“Really?” I say, with great excitement. I am, in fact, thrilled at this bit of news.
“Yes… umm…” she continues, soldiering on bravely with her shpiel, “many women find this somewhat traumatic…”
“No,” I squeal, “this is fantastic!”
“…and so, we recommend counselling to deal with the — what?“
I pump a high five. “Now my mother will finally get off my case about not having children!”
Doctor wrinkles eyebrows. Writes me a prescription for estrogen cream.
I finally fill this prescription in summer 2010. My pharmacist is one of those middle-aged Eastern European battleaxes that you find in bra shops, the kind that barge into the changeroom, flinging aside your flimsy privacy curtain, to grab your tits and pronounce judgement on them. She squints at me over her half-moon glasses on the gold chain. Her voice is approximately 130 decibels.
Her: IS THIS PRESCRIPTION FOR YOU?
Her: THIS IS ESTROGEN.
Me: Yes, I know.
Her: WHY ARE YOU GETTING THIS?
Me: Because I need it.
Her: WHY DO YOU NEED THIS ESTROGEN? PLEASE SPEAK INTO THE MICROPHONE AND LOOK DIRECTLY INTO THE BRIGHT BLARING SPOTLIGHT.
Me: I apparently don’t make enough of my own.
Her: YOU ARE TOO YOUNG FOR THIS.
Me: No shit.
Her: THE VAGINAL APPLICATOR IS IN THE BAG. NOTICE I SAID VAGINAL APPLICATOR. NOW EVERYONE WILL LOOK AT YOU AND FEEL ACUTELY AWARE THAT NOT ONLY DO YOU HAVE A VAGINA, YOU INTEND TO PUT SOME MEDICINE INTO IT. I AM ALSO MAKING A JUDGING FROWNY FACE AT YOU AND YOUR VAGINA. YOU’RE LUCKY I DIDN’T GRAB YOUR TITS. HAVE A NICE DAY.
Me: *grabs bag, runs away, desperately grateful not to suffer scrotal acne or explosive hemorrhoids*
Over the years, working with clients, I have come across many women who are also pissed. Except in their case, they’re pissed because their bodies let them down. Mean bodies! Lazy bodies! Stupid bodies!
“I can’t believe I ended up with Type 2 diabetes,” says one, usually a diehard couch potato type. Really? You pumped sugar into your body for five straight decades and you’re mystified?
“My body is letting me down,” says another, usually a type-A ultramarathoner CEO type, whose body is merely a sniveling hunk of meat to be tamed. Really? You live a high-stress life, don’t sleep, work 100 hours a week, hammer the bejeezus out of yourself with ever more stringent physical abuse, and when you aren’t complaining about what a lazy ass your body is, you’re telling it what a piece of shit it is… and your body is letting YOU down?
“I hate my body,” says a third. Who even cares who this one is, because it’s approximately 600 million of you. Well guess what, your body probably hates you back for years of loathing.
Actually, no, although you probably deserve your body’s hatred, it doesn’t. Because that’s the thing about your body. It loves you like the best mother bear in the world loves her Gerber baby cub — with a fierce, visceral, snarling love that will do anything to protect you. Boy, are you friggin lucky.
If you’re mad because you’re over-fat, feeling cruddy, out of shape, riddled with aches and pains, etc. etc. you should start by taking a good, hard, honest look at how you’ve treated that ever-patient container of yours.
- What have you fed (or not fed) your body?
- How do you rest your body? How long do you sleep every night, and how well? How do you still your mind and give it serenity?
- What chemicals do you put into your body? What industrial-pharmaceutical products do you eat, spray, inhale, bathe in, or smear?
- How do you move your body? Do you move it at all, or jam it into a chair or car for several hours?
- Do you let your body out to play in its natural environment? Do you see sunlight or greenery, or breathe fresh air, or feel the change in temperature every day? How well do you match your schedule with the cycle of the sun?
- Do you say nice things to your body? Do you high-five it when it comes through for you? Do you high-five it just for existing and being a marvellous triumph of engineering?
- Do you subject your body to a constant cacophony of sensory overload and stress?
- When was the last time you wrapped your arms around yourself and gave yourself a big smushy hug? When you patted your tummy and felt its softness happily, instead of hating it for not being a hardened washboard? (Seriously, when the fuck did “washboard abs” become a goal that otherwise reasonable and intelligent women pursued? Evolution is laughing in your face, ladies. Suggest revising goal to “squatter’s ass”.)
Why, in short, should your body perform for you? Have you earned that performance?
If you can read this list and — in good faith — say “Hey, I’ve done a darn fine job, and I still don’t feel well,” then you are indeed entitled to be a bit grumpy about the state of affairs.
But most of you will have gotten stuck on point #1, mouths agape, drooling Froot Loop crumbs. Admit it. Hey, we’re all works in progress.
This isn’t about blame, of course. Most of you are also pros at self-blame (which is often part of the problem in the first place). It’s about taking responsibility and accepting the inevitability of change.
Maybe there are factors within your control that shaped the outcome. Maybe not. Shit happens, after all. But was it really random?
When I was first diagnosed, I racked my brain, scampering towards self-blame, as many women do. Did I eat too much? (Maybe.) Too little? (Maybe.) The wrong things? (Doubt it.) Did I train too much? Not the right way? (No, squats are almost never wrong!!) Was I too stressed? (At the time, yes. Now, no.) Was I too lean? (No.) Should I get fatter? (I tried. Didn’t help.)
But blame is useless. It’s a narcissistic exercise. If self-flagellation were helpful in achieving life goals and meaning, wouldn’t nearly everyone be perfect? Blame immobilizes us in a snake-biting-tail cycle of helplessness and shame.
Responsibility, on the other hand, is extremely useful. Responsibility is about responding — moment to moment, dynamically, as the terrain of life shifts. It’s response-ability. It’s action-oriented. What bag of shit has life just handed you, and how can you make it stink less?
The best you can do is make the choices that give you the most options. Poor choices limit my options. Good choices expand my options. Then I am prepared to face change in the best way possible.
In June, Toronto was rocked for three days by G20 protests and riots. On Saturday, June 27, I walked down Queen St. West, one of my familiar haunts, to face a line of riot cops, just to see what it was like. At that point, it was much more like a rock concert, with riot police standing in for the stage, bored-looking hippies standing in for the headbangers, and iPhones standing in for lighters during the power ballad.
I left when the tear gas threatened. About 10 minutes after I walked away, a car was set on fire by the spot where I stood. I watched the ensuing footage on Saturday night, goggle-eyed and slackjawed as the rain poured down and cops poured into the streets. Neither let up. The next day, police rounded up hundreds of people — protestors and bystanders alike, boxing them in and then shoveling them up.
Shocked Torontonians watched the footage (or were among the nearly 900 people swept up in mass arrests) and said, “This is not my city. This is not the city I know.”
Well, it is.
It is your city. It’s just different now.
On Sept 5, I found my first two gray hairs.
Change is inevitable. And you’re gonna have to deal with it. Roll with it, give yourself the best chance possible, and try to have a sense of humour about the pharmacy lady.