The doctor opened the door, leaving it slightly ajar while I tried to squeeze through the gap. I lug an overfilled handbag, in one hand, a bunch of scripts and the other some rumpled, snotty tissues. “There’s never a dull moment in your life!” she said as she shooed me out the door. I grimaced and kind of fake laugh, shaking my head. God.
I arrived with a sore shoulder and scuttled out with some scripts for sleep, a low dose pill and some kind of topical gel for rage. It may have been my throw-away line like “I’m also becoming an angry middle-aged bitch.” She asked whether I was taking anything for the bursitis pain, which I thought would pass a year ago, how my sleep was (never enough) what are my stress levels like, (more than I need) and exercise (evaporated totally since the shoulder injury).
She suggested I had adrenal fatigue. I was working for two companies, managing after school activities for two kids, running on daily fuel of about a litre of coffee packaged food at sporadic hours. In addition to this, I was studying a diploma of counselling, volunteering one day a week, and my husband was pretty absent and working away a lot. There was so much on my mind, so many balls in the air, I became overloaded and lost focus. I had a car accident and my period stopped. Then I stopped doing everything that once brought me joy.
After the rear-ender, had some whiplash and shoulder pain; this was followed by restricted movement, countless rounds of physio, and two useless cortisone injections. It meant I didn’t go to yoga, I stopped being the fun mum, piggy-backing my kids to bed, and I stopped running. I stopped hanging out with friends because I was busy with work and the kids and driving, back and forth. I ferried the kids to their after and before school activities, so their lives would be broad and rich and full of culture while mine was diminishing and narrowing into a darkened vortex of work space and car space and the mindless driving, driving, driving.
I became too cranky to meditate and I became Shouty Mum again. I wish someone had shouted at me “Yoo-hoo! Self Care!” I wish I had written that down on a very large piece of paper and stuck it to my fridge. Everything that I needed to hold me together, I had let slide.
My weekly stress busting exercise of running a few ks around the block, slowed to a once a week guilty walk. My new way of blowing off steam was to belt out loud power ballads with the radio in my car. The quiet had stopped. The space between things had shrunk. There was nowhere for me to land. I’ve done burn out before in my twenties, that was a car crash on the Sydney Harbour Bridge, a bout of shingles and a one way ticket overseas, I kept running, never really letting anyone help me.
My over thinking had become out of control, my patience a ragged thread. The nice part of me, the one that used to be helpful, compassionate and understanding was blurring out and in its place was impatience, numbness and rage. I had nothing more to give.
I realised I had this during a work conversation, as I quickly glazed over, losing interest. A scream in my head yelled “Why don’t you just shut the f up and get out of my office?” My blank look did nothing to discourage the person talking about the problem they had had with a colleague. “For god’s sake!” the voice in my head screamed, “I’m holding my handbag and my keys, please leave, so I can pick up my kids from school without break the sound barrier”. Go somewhere else and word vomit about your day.” I smile. Disconnected from the me smiling.
Instead, I lose it in traffic. I save it all for the motorway. “Are you freaking kidding me?” “Thanks for the warning buddy.” “Really, now, you too?” “No one thought to let me know it was a no indicating day??” Crank up the power ballads.
My Doctor explains it to me “It’s because your hormones that kept you stable for so long are ramping up and getting into frantic mode. Your fertility window is closing and those luteinising hormones are whacking the heck out of your ovaries.” She is lovely, descriptive, and brutally honest. She talks with her hands, which I like. She smacks her fist into her open palm. “ This is what happens when you get hit by the RAGE” She taps her computer screen bringing up a list of medication we can try, she mentions: gels, creams, pessaries, oral contraceptives, IUDS, hormones which go under the skin, something called a marina which just sounds too big to go anywhere. I am overwhelmed and I cry.
“Really?” I say. I spent most of my life trying not to get pregnant, now I’m at the gates of menopause, I still have to consider these things? She sighed, shrugged with her palms up and rolled her eyes. She didn’t need to say it, the sigh and eye roll meaning, “The shit we women have to put up with is phenomenal, then they sweeten it up with a longer life expectancy.”
After I admitted I probably had one solid night’s sleep in ten years, she offered me sleeping tablets and anti-depressants. I can’t take sleeping tablets because my children don’t sleep. I consider taking the pills, grinding them up and adding them to their little bowls of rice or mashed potato.
“I’m not very good with chemicals” I say, “I’m pretty sensitive.” She looks at the screen, “Still not drinking?” I nod. “The pain killers aren’t addictive or anything”, she looks at me. Like I’m an addict. Like pain killers aren’t addictive. I say no to the antidepressants and the pain killers. I get why she might want to offer them, I’m tired, I’m hormonal, I’m stretched, I’m in pain, but the thing that tipped me over was that I stopped everything else I needed. Everything that helped my sanity.
I remind myself to breathe. Drink water. Eat food which doesn’t come out of plastic wrap or a can. Pour myself another tea. Look up my yoga time table. Meditate.
Until the Doctor explained it, I didn’t understand it was out of my control. I couldn’t understand why I had become so angry. I now see I had suppressed a lifetime of emotions by swallowing them down with alcohol. This allowed me to soften the blow, vent my anger, in a sociably acceptable way. But I wasn’t getting the help I needed with the mindless drunken venting to friends. I needed a counsellor, not a wine. Now I see what happened, no exercise, no yoga, too much stress, kid wrangling on my own, pain and no place to vent.
I can normally moderate myself with exercise, food, meditation, sleep or friends. But the angry hormones were something extra adding to the mix. The increased cortisol, the adrenalin overload, the depletion of energy, the fatigue, the tears. The overwhelm, and just wanting to lie down and for everything else to go away.
I’m not big on medication, I have lots unfilled prescriptions. I suffer through a cold, burning eucalyptus oil and sipping lemon tea. I get a massage for headaches; I’ve never had to medicate my mood. This time I understand, there is a chemical imbalance, my hormones are going into overdrive, my stress levels are through the roof and the additional pain is reducing my sleep and energy. This time, I say to the doctor, give me the things you think will help. I’ll take care of the rest.
I consider, how as a society, we soothe our souls, suppress our pain, rage, hurt and sadness. Life is complex, fuller than ever before, we are bombarded by media, social media, which shows us how our life could be, if only we had the right car, right house, right lounge suite. Life is a lot louder, with added colour and texture. Everything is a competition. We all are expected to want more from our lives now.
I’ve done some work on mine. I’m back at yoga, the gym, catching up with friends, a counsellor, listening to my meditation app and booking massages as often as haircuts.
This time I know what to do, I live my life, my way, with external supervision. I ask for help when I need it. I’m too vibrant to burnout.