I sat in my therapist’s office and cried. Through blubbery, huffing sobs, I tried to explain what was wrong.
I’ve lost my mojo.
The therapist, a stunning Frenchwoman who looked like a 50ish Brigitte Bardot, furrowed her delicate swooping eyebrows. What eez zees sing, ‘mojo’?
You know. Zest. Vibrancy. Juiciness. Feeling like a superstar in my skin. Wiggling it, just a little bit.
Ah, she said. And waited. Behind me, I could hear her dog, a petit toy poodle, sighing quietly in his soft fluffy sleep. (Of course. What else would a middle-aged Brigitte Bardot own?)
I hate when therapists wait. They know that if they give you enough rope you’ll hang yourself. (My husband is a jerk… [pause] … well, now that I say that, I realize I’m actually an insensitive bitch. Stuff like that.) They wait to allow the words to roll out of our mouths like fat, sizzling, self-incriminating marbles, burning our lips as they burble and dribble down our chins. As soon as we’re half way through a sentence we know we’ve just uttered some dumbshit fib from the deepest recesses of our tantruming toddler brain. But our therapists wait, so we have to finish the job.
She leaned forward in her chair. The leather creaked slightly. A strand of blond hair fell forward. She brushed it away with a red fingernail attached to a bejewelled finger. What makes you sink that you should have zees ‘mojo’ now?
Uhm, well. Huh.
I used to have mojo. (I think. We are all revisionist historians.)
When was zees?
Uhh. I’m stumped. Did drunken groping and partying in undergrad count as mojo? Did sloppy misfired lip-squashing in high school count as mojo? Did stuffing my ass into skintight jeans at 12 count as mojo? Did wanting to punch the world in the face count as mojo?
Crap. I don’t even know what mojo is or if I ever had it.
I try to recover the sinking ship of my self-concept. I feel like I used to… I feel like I once was… I feel like I had…
She smiled a smile of sexily-slightly-imperfect teeth between two slashes of red lips. Her perfect cheekbones made twin apple-lumps on either side.
You feel like you used to… Yet you are no longer zees person.
I. Am. No. Longer. Zees. Person.
If you’re of the Buddhist persuasion, this comes as no surprise. Impermanence is your game.
Q. Why don’t Buddhists run?
A. Because where they are right now is as good as anything else.
Some months later I sat in my doctor’s office. She is similarly sexyfabulous. She is — no shit — an actual rock star. Like gets on stage, plays guitar rock star. She squinted at my blood tests. Yup, the ovaries have left the building.
It’s funny, because I wrote about this in 2010. And yet I never really did much about it. I took hormones for a little while, then quit. Because I felt like a failure. Because deep down I’d still bought in to that line of crap we feed each other in the fitness industry: If you just try hard enough it will all work out for you.
So I walked around with a kwashiorkor belly, brain-blasting 4 am wakeups, vibrating anxiety, and cyclic homicidal rages for 2 years after I figured out part of the puzzle, thinking, Why do I suck so bad? Why am I failing at fitness? Should I eat more X? Should I eat less Y? Should I do more Z training?
I visited naturopaths. I considered two-a-day workouts. I got acupuncture of both the sensible sports medicine and New Age woo-woo variety. I did more core work. I tilted my pelvis fore and aft. I tracked my eating. I quit tracking my eating. I ate everything. I ate nothing. I ruminated and obsessed. I tried on ill-fitting pants and cried. I suddenly understood caftans and elastic waistbands.
Shit, I even let myself get talked into reiki.
Irrelevant. I stayed the same. I still wanted to kill everyone and my belly looked like a turtle strapped to my ribs. The 10 lb that mysteriously appeared in 2009 stayed put. I felt shame. I was an impostor.
I was still cycling, but with no actual periods. It was like my body was taunting me. Wanna period? Can’t have it! Yoink!
Doctors had never heard of this mysterious phenomenon, but I heard from dozens of women my age who were doing this spectral uterine routine. It was the invisible Great Menstrual Pumpkin.
I thought about hormones but avoided them at the same time. What if I got face cancer at 62? What if my breasts fell off? What if the hormones never worked for me anyway? Would I be a failure? Ruminating endlessly, I lived in a world of uncertain, probably horrible, outcomes. Mentally I was 70 years old and dealing with apocalyptic disease.
This past September, I cracked.
First, for my 39th birthday I made a deal with myself. No more self-criticism. Ever. I would love myself fiercely, warts and all. This was an act of epic sanity, especially considering what happened next.
One week later, plunged into the depths of pre-imaginary-menstrual-syndrome despair, I croaked helplessly to OMGBFF: I want to crawl. Out. Of. My. Skin. This is not a metaphor. It literally felt like my skin was too tight. Like a too-small pair of fishnets. A psychic sausage casing.
One day during this period (ha), cycling home on a beautiful sunny day, I felt rage so intense that I could have punched an old lady in the gut. But I couldn’t even come up with a fake excuse for it like That guy cut me off or Look at your stupid face, hipster. (Previously, I’d had one of these inner volcanoes while on a trip with OMGBFF. She was so not doing anything to provoke me that she was actually sleeping at the time. The best excuse I could come up with was that she was sleeping like an asshole. “Sleeping like an asshole” has since become our shorthand for bizarre emotional over-reaction.)
I was truly angry at nothing. Floating in a nebula of fulmination. With stabbing, twinkling little starlights of anxiety.
This had to end. I had to face reality. Quality of life right fucking now trumped potential 62-year-old face cancer.
Thus my defeated trip to Dr. Rock Star. You have no progesterone, she said. And your body won’t lose weight because your fat is your only source of estrogen right now.
The world made a gentle ka-thunk as it slipped elegantly into place.
It’s not my fault.
It’s not my fault.
IT’S NOT MY FAULT.
All the self-criticism. All the trying so goddamned hard. Bullshit. Wasted energy.
Dr. Rock Star is a bit nerdy, in all the best ways, so she tried to cheer me up by sharing some of the interesting properties of the bio-identical progesterone she was about to prescribe, the progesterone that was about to calm my panicked, raging hormonal ocean.
It’s a gelatin oil capsule, so you can actually use it as a suppository, she explained. If you’re having a really bad day, you can always shove one up your ass!
I went home and took my first bio-identical progesterone pill. (FYI: In my mouth. Not my butt.) Within 2 hours, a wave of peace crashed on to the battered beach. Then another. And another. A deep, euphoric shudder of Aaaaahhhhh rippled and flowed through my entire system.
I woke up the next morning 3 lb lighter. The next morning, 3 lb lighter again. 6 lbs of water. Gone. Just gone. Litres of water that had been sloshing around my innards, flushed.
My belly looked astonishingly… normal. Not riptshizzled cover-mag, not “perfectly” (barf) boy-flat, just stunningly, beautifully, gorgeously, average-womanly, normal.
The upward pregnancy-pressure on my diaphragm that sometimes made me breathe in little huff-huff-huffs, the stuffed-sausage sensation, gone. Later, I read that progesterone acts on aldosterone, a hormone that’s part of our bodies’ water regulation system.
I’d been walking around with a goddamned medicine ball in my guts for years. No wonder I felt so shitty.
I would have cried with relief and righteous anger if I hadn’t felt so groovy.
I made peace with my new body size and sensations. My ass fat is the only thing standing between me and an estrogen desert right now. I loved all over my hard-working adipose. Thank you, I breathed, quietly, into the ass fat. Into my soft belly. Into my silky, smushy, subscapular skinfold. Thank you for quietly making my hormones in my time of need. I am sorry I was angry with you. Let’s never fight again.
Ass fat smiled, knowingly. Smugly. Handling its bidness like a boss. Is there anything the posterior chain cannot do?!
I bade a sad goodbye to my ovaries. They waved, from a distance. Sorry we couldn’t stay longer. But the universe had plans for us. We’re off to get reincarnated as half a lung and a cow shinbone! Godspeed, little doodles. I shall miss your shenanigans.
I am no longer zees person.
Whatever person I ees now, I am not sure. All I know is that I’m fucking done with beating myself up and self-loathedly squeezing into my jeans from a decade ago, crying while I felt the waistband slicing into my bellybutton.
I threw that shit out. All of it. It felt good, like tossing out a fugly 9th grade yearbook photo or some expired food in the back of the fridge.
Anyway here is the most important point. If you’re feeling fucking crazy right now, this may be you too. We hear a lot about declining estrogen; much less so about declining progesterone. It’s very common for progesterone to drop lower than estrogen, leading to estrogen dominance, aka A Big Sweaty Plate of Bloated and Insane.
Before you make any sudden moves:
- Go and get your sex hormones tested. While you’re at it, test thyroid and adrenal function too.
- Talk to your doctor or ND about bio-identical hormones if you need them.
- Do not put synthetic shit into your body. It doesn’t work the same way. When it comes to molecules, little deviations make a big difference. If it’s appropriate for you, you’re looking for 17-beta estradiol and progesterone. Accept no substitutes nor similar-sounding molecules.
- Look for transdermal formulations where possible — these don’t go through the liver and may be easier on the body.
- Look for the lowest possible dose. Sometimes a little bump is all you need. My progesterone formulation has a half-life of 35-55 hours, so I don’t take it every day. And I only really need it for about a week per cycle.
And you may need to find your own Brigitte Bardot to check your headspace too. I am told that the late 30s and 40s are a time of great power for women. Declining hormones tear veils away from our eyes. It is the beginning of when we learn to get over the crap we’ve been spoon-fed, to feel some rumbling righteous anger, and start loving ourselves.
We may be crazy during this time, but it’s crazy like a fox. Anxiety and anger are not just random hormonal effects; they can also be “dashboard indicator lights” that tell us when systems are out of order. Yes, I was angry at weird random shit. But I was also angry at things that I needed to be angry about — stupid sacrifices I’d made, ways in which I’d let myself get lost, dropping my internal compass somewhere in the woods.
Anger is about boundaries and needs. If our boundaries are being invaded or we are not sufficiently in tune with our own needs to keep those boundaries clear, we get angry. This is right and good and healthy. This is our fierce female self protecting us.
To get you started with your own righteous anger, here are some ways in which the conventional narrative is bullshit.
1. Menopause doesn’t just magically appear when we’re 50. Our bodies are diverse and the 21st century fucks with them. If you’re in your 30s or older — hell, for some women, even in their 20s — and weird shit is going down, pay attention.
2. Working hard, making smart food and exercise choices, getting real with your behaviour, and doing your best is important. But hormones are like unto gods when it comes to things like body composition and moods. They are powerful. If your hormones are fucked then your body will be fucked, no matter how hard you try or how much you want it otherwise.
3. Self criticism doesn’t do jack shit. It makes it worse, in fact, because then your body gets stressed and shuts down hormone production even more. Vicious cycle! Ha ha ha! Take all those fitspiration posters and throw them the fuck out.
4. Many doctors don’t know what the fuck is going on. Luckily my Dr. Rock Star is awesome. But you may need to make a pest of yourself with asking tough questions until you get some answers. I visited a gynecologist and endocrinologist — both of whom had never heard of what I was dealing with. Srsly?
5. Sometimes you have to bust out the big guns. If you can fix your wack shit with a few supplements, great. High fives! But that may not be possible. Modern medicine does have some wonderful inventions.
6. Low carb eating may not be for you. If you’re an active woman, you may need a decent baseline of carbs to help with hormone synthesis. What works for other people may not work for you. (More on this — and thank heaven for Stefani Ruper!) I felt worlds better when I quit following nutritional dogma and fear-based eating, and started working with the signals my body was giving me.
The antidote to both anxiety and anger is meaningful, purposeful action. Learn from my errors. Take action now, in your own life, if you need to. Emotion is an action potential, not an embarrassing side effect.
Start sensing in — viscerally — to what you are experiencing. Be present with it. Stop thinky-braining yourself. Feel what is going on. You know when something is wrong.
Whatever you decide, whatever path you follow, know this: You are not crazy. You are not bad. You are not alone.
Godspeed, little doodle.