pissed and miserable syndrome

Male readers beware: this post is about menstruation. This post is about what happens to me right before I get my period. This post is about the day or two during the month that I am a hot mess.

The medical profession calls this phenomena PMS or Premenstrual Syndrome. Symptoms include bloating, headache, food cravings, constipation, difficulty focusing, cramps, clumsiness, fatigue, breast tenderness, mood swings, forgetfulness, irritability, poor judgment, sleep problems, lethargy and a bunch of other extremely inconvenient physical and emotional changes that signify the body’s unrelenting attempts to get knocked up.

My mother was my first and remains my strongest example of femininity. I vividly recall her getting ready to go to a party with my father when I was a small girl. I watched her curl and pin her hair, apply lipstick, maneuver the clasps on her bra behind her back, expertly roll her pantyhose into place from her neatly painted toes up to her thighs, push earrings through the permanent holes in her ears, slip a dress over her head before calling my dad in to zip her up, step into her elegant heels and check herself in the mirror with the same pat-on-the-hips move she does to this day. I had been granted access to the ritual of womanhood that is getting ready for a party. She was so beautiful. The dress was soft pink and sparkly and I was convinced that my mother was a princess and my parents couldn’t reveal this information to me because they were possibly in hiding from unnamed evil forces in faraway kingdom.

I also remember my mother always smiling at strangers and answering the phone in an up-beat tone. She was always volunteering for things and being helpful. My mother was kind to the cashier at the grocery store and chatted easily with other parents at school or at church. My mother cooked us dinner every night and kept our home clean and organized. She helped me make a dress for my teddy bear and sang me to sleep. Through her example, I came to understand femininity as beauty, grace, kindness, selflessness and service to others. Being a woman was about looking good and making other people’s lives more comfortable.

It wasn’t until I grew up that I realized my mom wasn’t always thrilled to be cooking and cleaning and organizing and driving and folding and helping. I learned later that she put many of her dreams on hold to raise her four children and support her husband and was often left frazzled and stressed from taking care of us at the expense of nourishing herself. I didn’t realize until I became a woman that my mom was creative and driven, hardworking and intelligent.

Before my mom shared her secrets with my sister and me – namely that she wasn’t superhuman and had feelings and needs of her own – I caught glimpses of my imperfect and human mother one or two days a month.

When I was in sixth grade, my mother sang the entire theme to the Star Wars movie using the f-word. I had never heard my mom cuss before, so it was rather unsettling to hear her raging through the house, screaming, “fuck —  fuck —- fuck-fuck-fuck-fuck —- fuck.”

I think she was upset because she had asked my older brother and I to fold laundry – which usually meant holding up my mom’s underwear and laughing at how ridiculously large they were – and we had taken way too long to complete our simple task. It wasn’t our fault. We weren’t used to taking care of ourselves. Human mom had demanded we do chores and normal mom would return soon and she would fold the laundry and let us go watch tv.

There was also the time that she smashed a dish so hard into the dishwasher that it shattered and cut her hand. The crack in the dinner plate seemed to coincide with a crack in my mother’s grip on reality. In these moments, I saw her humanity and it was unsettling. One or two days a month, my mother had a wild look in her eyes. I would catch her crying, clenching her fists or grinding her teeth. Usually in these moments she would mumble something about not being appreciated or feeling overwhelmed. She might retreat to her room and slam the door with extra oomph. My mom has always been a master of containing her feelings.

“We’re sorry, Mom,” my sister or I might say… although we were probably thinking that she did our laundry and cooked and cleaned last week and we didn’t hear any complaints so what’s the big deal now and we hope she feels better soon because we really want to go to Skate Ranch later and before we go we are going to need her to wash our favorite outfits that we can never find and are always dirty.

“It’s okay girls. I’m okay. It’s just PMS. You will understand someday,”  she would state as she pulled herself together and started picking up the house.

As a child, I raced toward adulthood with Olympic speed and could not wait to become a woman. I was excited to ride a bike, wear makeup, walk to school with friends, wear a bra, get my period, kiss a boy, drive a car, drink alcohol – I wanted to do it all – but I never really got excited for PMS. I never thought, “I can’t wait until I am older and get PMS and get to smash dishes and give my husband the silent treatment.”

And then it happened to me… PMS. It starts with the nagging cramps in my thighs and a desire to eat every carbohydrate and piece of cheese in site. I may feel a bit weepy but my PMS arrives with a big old bunch of rage.

A perfect example of my personal brand of PMS occurred when my husband and I were living in a cramped little apartment on Kits beach in Vancouver, Canada. I was using the computer and he grabbed the mouse to click something. Hot boiling venom rose up within my body. I stated something hurtful about him being selfish and went into our 2 foot X 2 foot kitchen to simmer and there my world imploded upon me. I had no love in my heart. The world was a stupid and terrible place. I hated everyone and everything. The nerve, THE NERVE, of that man to take the mouse and click the maximize window was too much, TOO MUCH!! As I fumed and slammed dishes, I took a glass in my hand, held my arm out vertically and grinned as I released my grip and let gravity take its course. The smashing and shattering of glass was the perfect audible representation of my internal chaos.

This irrational behavior startled my husband who asked, “what the hell are you doing?” To which I screamed something unintelligible, ran out the door while pulling on my boots, and proceeded to walk the beach for hours in the cold rain – too stubborn to come home. A snapshot of me in the moment before I ran for the door would capture a woman with wild eyes and gnashed teeth, mumbling and seething and erratically banging about. I’m pretty sure I looked a lot like my mom the night she cut her hand on a broken dinner plate.

My new venture into parenting with PMS struck me this week. On the heels of the terrifying events of my daughter’s health scare, I was hit with some of the most intense PMS I’ve ever had in my life. A week ago, I was praying over Lou’s paralyzed body, promising a God I don’t understand that if she could live, I would be the best mother and person possible and love her absolutely every waking moment of my life. I forgot to add in the caveat – except the two days a month I have PMS.

Fortunately for Lulu and unfortunately for my husband, Jim is usually the target of my premenstrual rage. Feeling all the tell-tale signs, I made an announcement on Sunday: “I have PMS.” Jim knows this means to steer clear and don’t say a word and do everything I command and have a damn positive attitude about it too.

I will be Lulu’s example of femininity. I hope to show her that women are strong, athletic, compassionate, fierce, hardworking, honest, kind, creative, powerful and magical. I hope that she will have memories of me getting ready to go off to work and be inspired by my passion for my livelihood. I hope she will see my brain in action and appreciate the way I feed my body and keep myself active. I hope when she looks at me, she thinks I’m the most beautiful woman in the world, as I thought of my own mother when I was a girl.

One day, my daughter will probably think my underpants are way too large. Lulu will inevitably see my PMS in action as well. In addition to the virtues in the preceding paragraph, large underwear and PMS are also part of my femininity. I have been thinking a lot about the fact that there must be an evolutionary basis for PMS. Roomy underwear just makes sense without explanation but PMS must serve a purpose. The rage and strength and power and impulse of my PMS has to be there for some reason other than to make me pissed and miserable.

I am on a mission to find a really good definition of PMS for my daughter and to help her understand this change and how to harness the emotional energy contained in these days. Women used to be sent off to live in a tent during menstruation. It’s as though the villagers said, “hey cranky lady, get out of here and come back when you’ve stopped bleeding and started acting nice again.” Popular culture seems to accept the answer that “bitches be crazy.” I am disappointed in myself that I’ve internalized a lot of this thinking and feel lost in my PMS and like I need to hide out until it ends. I want my daughter to view her monthly cycle, both the physical and emotional rhythms, as a part of her femininity not to hide from but to embrace.

Wish me luck because I have yet to figure these things out for myself.

If you refer to the symptoms in paragraph two, “difficulty focusing” is among the list. I apologize if this post has seemed a bit all over the place. If you didn’t like this post, please don’t tell me because I might cry or yell at my husband or smash something!

powerlessness defined

“The more I do this deal called life, the more I realize that it isn’t about the things that happen to you, the good things or the bad things, but rather how you show up and react in the world that counts.”

– Insight of an old-timer shared at a 12-step meeting

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Great teachers and spiritual guides come in all shapes, sizes and packages. My greatest teacher is my 10-month-old daughter. She has yet to utter her first word but possesses an uncanny ability to speak directly to my soul – that untouchable place where true understanding resides. How is it that this child, through her mere existence, can teach me more about myself and the nature of being than I ever hoped to know?

Worry has been a constant companion in my life and an inherited trait as far as I’m concerned. My mother and her father can worry with the best of them – falsely predicting life’s unpredictables with remarkable steadfastness. At its core, anxiety is the paralyzing combination of an intolerance for uncertainty and a fear that one lacks the capacity to face uncertain events. Worry is the sick way we fool ourselves into thinking we are somehow doing something about uncertainty or manipulating the uncontrollable nature of our destinies. Worry typically begins with a thought, “what if….” What if I am dying of an incurable disease? What if I lose my job? What if my husband dies? What if I lose my baby? The snowballing of these thoughts can lead to some pretty twisted thinking and emotional anguish. I consider myself to be an expert worrier.

There was the brain tumor scare of 2001. I would stare at my pupils in my college dorm room mirror for hours on end, convinced that one was larger than the other, which obviously indicated my death was imminent. In 2003, I was convinced I had a heart disorder and wore a halter monitor for 48 hours, only to be told by my general physician that I was anxious. After I gave birth to my daughter, I actually had an MRI of my brain because I was convinced, beyond a doubt, that I had multiple sclerosis. Turns out I was extremely sleep deprived and therefore twitching, fatigued and forgetful. The kind and patient neurologist did a side-by-side comparison of the 2001 and the 2011 brain scans to put my fears at ease.

When my husband meets his friends for a drink on a Friday night, I inevitably begin to worry that he won’t make his way home safely. Keep in mind that he is a very responsible father and husband and has not given me reason to doubt his ability to manage his own life. The “what if” thinking begins and pretty soon I envision myself at his funeral with our small daughter, I begin writing his eulogy in my head and imagine I am too heartbroken to deliver it when the time comes, I see Lulu reaching out for him and myself running to the bathroom to hide my despair from her, I tell her stories of her father and wrap myself in the smells of his clothes at night. I will never remarry. I will never move on. I wonder if I can extract sperm from his body at the scene of the accident so that Lulu can have a sibling and won’t have to be alone in her grief.

My worries are too numerous and many of them too insignificant to list. I am driven by a thousand forms of fear. At the top of this list are fears about my daughter’s health and well-being. Perhaps my gaga-goo-goo guru knew that to teach me about the futility of worry, the lesson plan would have to incorporate a kinesthetic teaching approach. I have always been a hands-on learner.

This past Sunday night, Lulu started behaving strangely. Around 7:00 pm, she became fussy and was drooling A LOT. I thought she must be cutting a new tooth.  By 8:00 pm, she was becomingly increasingly stressed and was having a hard time lying face-up on her changing table. She kept trying to sit up and was making a weird gulping noise. By 9:00 pm, she was inconsolably crying and trying to cough which was obviously painful. Her cry was alarming because it was as though someone pushed a mute button. She was hoarse and no sound escaped when she screamed. I called my husband to come home from work and we stood with her in a steamy bathroom. She eventually calmed down and fell asleep on my chest in her rocker, but her breathing sounded labored and kind of wheezy. We called the pediatrician and ended up in the ER by 10:30 pm. By 1:30 am, my daughter had a breathing tube inserted and by 3:30 am, she was being transported via ambulance to the University of Iowa Pediatric Intensive Care Unit. Lulu was diagnosed with Epiglottitis, a very rare condition in which a virus attacks the Epiglottis and can cause such severe swelling in the neck that the airway closes.

We spent four days in the ICU and are now home with a happy and healthy baby. How, you may ask, could this experience make me less anxious? Watching our daughter struggle to breathe and having to let her go with strangers into an operating room to be intubated was the most terrifying moment of my life and shattered any illusions I have about being in control in this world. Powerlessness defined.

To think of the time and energy I have spent worrying about what might go wrong. Never in a million years could I have predicted Epiglottitis. I had never heard of it before Sunday! Similarly, I could not predict that my Aunt would die of ALS or that my sweet niece would be diagnosed with Type I diabetes at 7-years-old. I have no control over what is going to happen to me or to the people I love most in this world. I do have control over how I show up in this world.

I have spent a large part of my adult life ruminating over the wreckage of the past or projecting tragedy into a future that has yet to unfold. When everything happened with Lulu, I saw myself walking a road. In a moment of clarity, I realized that I have walked my path always straining to see the ever-changing horizon, mentally absorbed in the danger that might await me there. Regret, anxiety, worry, fear – these emotions remove me from the present and prohibit me from both enjoying the path at my feet and dealing with immediate certainties with true awareness and serenity.

I am powerless. I have no power to predict the future. Worrying about the future only serves to distract me from the present. When I am not present, I am actually more vulnerable to life’s uncertainties because I am so wrapped up in my melodramatic thinking that I can’t see what’s right in front of my face. Be present. Be still. Enjoy life. Play. Have faith that in the moment of uncertainty, you will have the necessary tools to face life on life’s terms. These are the lessons that my daughter taught me this week.

My first sponsor used to say, “wait until the miracle happens.” Sunday was my miracle. The gifts of a 12-step program, both sobriety from alcohol and the slow alteration of years of fear-based thinking, are the reason I was able to be present with my daughter on Sunday. I was keenly aware of her distress and able to respond to her calmly and quickly. In the emergency room and at the hospital, I was strangely peaceful and collected and focused on her needs. I shudder to think of how this could have turned out had I been actively drinking. I fear I would have put her in bed and not responded to her muted cries. I have an overwhelming sense that my sobriety saved her life.

God, I fucking love her. Thank you, my tiny little teacher. I promise Mommy heard you loud and clear. I will stay in the day with you. I will not let fear drive my life and remove me from the beauty and splendor of the present moment.

I look forward to a lifetime of learning from you. I would appreciate it very much if ventilators and feeding tubes are not part of future lesson plans.

my very own kairos moment

Feeling a bit uninspired yesterday, I passed along a blog post by Glennon from Momastery.com about the difference between Chronos time and Kairos time. Glennon wrote, “Kairos is God’s time. It’s time outside of time. It’s metaphysical time. It’s those magical moments in which time stands still. I have a few of those moments each day. And I cherish them.”

The mother of a 10-month-old, I undoubtedly have my “let’s get through this second, minute, day” moments and my “I wish I could stay in this moment forever” moments. Yesterday, I had my very own Kairos moment I thought I would share with you.

Lulu (the aforementioned 10-month-old) is covered in dried baby food. She loves her black bean, banana and quinoa concoction from Happy Baby, but it adheres to her face and hands with the strength of super glue. A warm washcloth wasn’t cutting it, so we moved bath time up an hour. As Lulu was sitting in the tub with lukewarm water up to her belly button, she let out a rather impressive sneeze. The force of the sneeze precipitated a most powerful fart from my adorable little 23 pound baby. The gas escaped her bottom with such force that she was literally lifted off the floor of the tub as by jet propulsion. This chain reaction startled her and as her bottom plopped back down onto the bathtub surface, she looked at me with amusement and astonishment.

My heart burst with love for this beautiful little sneezing, farting creature. I laughed out loud. That good, deep, soul-clearing laughter that is always a surprising and cathartic experience. This entire sequence of events lasted mere seconds but the hilarity and sweetness of the moment has been with me ever since. A moment in time to bottle… minus the gas.

 

gobble gobble

Some people say the glass is half-empty.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                               Some people say the glass is half-full.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                               I always wanted a a bigger glass.

If the directions say to take 2 every 4 hours,                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        the alcohlic takes 4 every 2 hours,                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                         just to make  sure we get enough!

I can do anything alcoholically!                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                           I can drink water alcoholically!

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When I am actively drinking or living as a dry drunk, I am all about the about the gobble gobble.

I want more, I need more, I feel I am entitled to more. At holidays past, I couldn’t get the drinks down fast enough in order to warm myself up to get more closeness or distance between myself and others in the room. I would shovel in the food. I would focus on my comfort, my needs. I was a life gobbler… all about what’s in it for me and completely focused on the fear that there wouldn’t be enough of whatever “it” happened to be.

When I am working a program of recovery, I am able to authentically be thankful.

This year, I have the intention to be about the thankful part of the holiday. I am leaving soon for the in-laws, where I will inevitably be surrounded by alcohol. I am choosing to go with an attitude of gratitude. I am grateful for my loving husband and our beautiful daughter. I am grateful for my health, my job, my home, my extended family and great friends. Today, I will try to ask myself how I can be of service to others rather than how I can best serve myself. I will say a little prayer to keep myself out of my own way. I will slow down and be mindful of the fact that in any given moment I always have enough. I will not be a life gobbler.

 

sick puppies cannot care for sick babies

Lulu is sick. She is almost 8 months old and this is her first time with a fever or anything more significant than congestion. She is fussy and uncomfortable and crying these huge tears we seldom see coming from her sweet, little, almond-brown eyes. She is full of drool and snot. She is farting and gagging. She doesn’t want to eat a whole lot. She alternates between exhaustion and screaming. She seems to be in a fair bit of some type of pain she cannot speak.

I want to acknowledge some of the wonderful stuff that has occurred in the past 48 hours. My daughter was sick and I was here to take care of her… sober. I responded to her pain and upset. I took her temperature and changed her diapers and put dry clothes on her and made her bottles and gave her baths and rocked her and shushed in her ear and sang to her. I stayed awake in the middle of the night and let her sleep on my chest as I sat in a chair because upright was the only position where she seemed comfortable. I put her in bed with me and rubbed her back and woke up at every sound. To most parents, these probably sound like pretty obvious things to do for a sick child. For me, this is a big deal because more than just doing these things, I was present and aware and tuned in to Lulu.I had the capacity to provide care, security and love to my child. In the midst of the fever and the poopy diapers and the no sleep, I was able to look at her and feel this enormous gratitude for this amazing little being that I get the privilege to take care of for as long as the Universe lets me. I have a generally healthy and thriving infant and I must be one of the luckiest people on the planet.

I can’t help but think about what taking care of Lulu with a fever would look like if I were still drinking. My drinking wasn’t always out of control, but I couldn’t control my drinking and therefore could never predict with much accuracy how a night of drinking would end. What state would I have been in when Lulu awoke in pain in the middle of the night? What would my embrace have looked like and smelled like and felt like at 2:00 am? How much comfort does a drunk parent really provide to a sick child? Would I have been able to take a rectal temp? Would she have been safe sleeping in bed with me? My sane husband most likely would have taken charge and let me sleep off my drunk.

The ensuing guilt, remorse and shame the next day would have been unbearable. My own self-loathing would eat away at my relationship with Lulu as I watched her depend on her father for the security I was too unstable to provide. I’m sure I would vow to be a better parent. Around 5:00 pm, I would get the itch to drink and start excusing my behavior of the night before. No defense against the first drink I swore I wouldn’t have, I would pour myself a glass of red wine while taking care of her. I would feel the war in my chest between the instinct run wild to drink more and the pressing matter of the sick infant at hand. Things would start to feel unmanageable. Her cries would elicit irritation rather than sympathy. I would get a rising up of anxiety in my chest because this baby was really cutting into some much needed drinking at the end of a long day of taking care of said baby. I would probably let Jim take care of her and promise myself that next time I would do better.

My skin crawls just thinking of how alcohol warps my thoughts, feelings and attachments. Alcohol would rob me of the experience of completely loving my baby through her first fever… which I have a feeling is bringing her first tooth right along with it.

 

 

 

rain, rain and more rain

I expected sunny weather in Florida. That expectation has led to a bit of disappointment that it has been raining for two days. The weatherchannel.com warns of coastal flooding and high surf. Acceptance is the answer. Time to accept the weather and make the best of our trip. We drove a golf cart encased in clear plastic around the course today for fun. I am going to exercise (gasp) in the clubhouse and I am writing this blog and I will have lots of time to catch up on my book, Women, Food and God. I lived in Vancouver for a couple of years – a little rain is nothing new.

Date night was wonderful and fun. It helped me remember why I married the guy sitting across from me at dinner. He is more than just a co-parent or a roommate or a financial security blanket. He is smart and kind and funny and very sexy. At first it was difficult to ignore the voices in my head harping on the past and warning of the future, but they quieted down and gave up as I stay focused on being present.

We decided to have all appetizers. We had oysters and clams and Grouper bites and mushrooms stuffed with crab and stone crab legs and warm bread and butter. I had two bottles of sparkling Pellegrino and two cups of delicious coffee. We finished the night by splitting a piece of Belgium chocolate cake. We talked about our lives and made funny observations of things we witnessed in the night. Jim talked a lot about his experience being a father. He never does that… or perhaps I’m usually talking so much that I don’t do much listening!! I was sober and present and it was the best date night we have had in a really, really, really long time.

What I crave or desire in the moment is often what brings eventual suffering. It is becoming clearer to me that cravings or strong urges for things are, for me, an indication that I want to be elsewhere. They are a signal that I am about to jump ship on the present moment. I need to pay attention to this.

date night

My mother-in-law has volunteered to watch the baby so my husband and I can go on a date. Second date night since Lulu arrived. First date night sober in YEARS!!! We are going to a seafood place called Prawnbrokers in Fort Meyers, FL. I am wearing a skirt and earrings and lip gloss, so this is a pretty big deal. I feel nervous. I’ve been married for seven years and I feel nervous going to dinner with Jim (oh… that’s my husband’s name).

Jim is a very relaxed guy and I am more your anxious/nervous type of gal. I want to enjoy dinner with him but my insides are already spinning. We are going to have an unheard of two hours alone. My first thoughts will be of family business: reviewing the finances, discussing the “issues” of this week, stressing that we both need to lose 30 pounds, wondering aloud about Lulu’s development. No wonder he doesn’t ask me out more often!!! I’m such a stress ball.

A cocktail made it easier slide right past my typical list of talking points. With a cocktail, I quickly get to a place where I crack jokes and make friends with nearby diners and perhaps start a dance party table-side. I feel pretty good three or four drinks down. About the time I hit my stride, my husband’s night is pretty much over. When I drink, he can’t relax. He has to babysit me. I keep downing drinks and racking up the tab. I become incoherent and the night is adjourned. This is followed by waking up in a panic at 3 am and perhaps apologizing for going a bit overboard. Jim is forgiving and kind. He has never once told me I have to quit drinking. He has told me that I’m not very attractive when I drink (ouch!).

Intention for tonight: stay present and take in the evening. No business needs doing – unless it’s monkey business.