I believe this is a first for me, but… TMI Alert! In this post I will be talking (tactfully but forthrightly) about Women’s Things, namely periods, hormones, and menopause. I will pause a moment and let any gentlemen and uninterested folks leave the room.
<Muzak… doo doo doo… Richard Clayderman… dingle dingle, la la….>
OK, everyone ready? Good.
For the last few months I’ve been riding what can only be described as the Roller Coaster from Hell. Or possibly TO hell. Or maybe a combination of the two, endlessly looping from misery to mania to misery and around again.
I’m not known, in the first place, for being even-tempered — this may be partly due to Asperger’s and partly just my nature — but this was beyond the pale. Everything, and I mean everything, was upsetting me — work, leisure time, pets, chores, TV commercials, get-togethers with friends, traffic jams, scary movies, specks of dirt on the hallway floor. Anything at all would send me into either a towering rage or a prolonged bout of gut-wrenching sobs. Often both.
For a while I thought I was just having more meltdowns (“Asperger tantrums”) than usual. But it was the sobbing that finally clued me into the fact that there was something else at play here. I am infamously not a crier, except in rare cases like when I watch the episode of Little House on the Prairie where Laura’s dog goes missing, or when I hear the “Humming Chorus” from Madame Butterfly.
I began to wonder if I was seriously depressed, and was considering making a (rare) doctor’s appointment and asking for a course of antidepressants. But as I see her rarely, I knew she’d do a full history, which always (for us girls) includes “When was your last period?” (Guys who are snickering here: may the Gloved Finger of Probing sober you up in a big hurry!)
And so I had a look at my calendar and, to my horror and dismay, noted that the worst “brain hurricanes” seemed to coincide with the significant bits of my menstrual cycle — the actual period, and mid-cycle, or ovulation.
I also noticed that my once regular periods (my doctor used to joke that I could set my watch by them) have become a bit unpredictable — sometimes every 22 days, sometimes 40.
I have been blessed my entire life with periods that are no trouble at all — negligible PMS (easily managed by Evening Primrose Oil), no hemorrhaging half to death or migraines or cramps or any of the myriad miseries many women seem to suffer with the arrival of “Aunt Flo.” My hero, Temple Grandin, suffered terribly with the ups and downs of hormones throughout her life, and I know hormonal cycles are often extremely troublesome for other Aspergian women. Thankfully, not for me. Until now.
Needless to say, this turn of events was a huge — and unhappy — surprise. I had always hoped to sail unbothered through menopause, which I’d always looked on as being a somewhat “Western” construct cooked up by Big Pharma (marketing opportunity!) and by women with too much time on their hands and a tendency to whinge.
(On the other hand, Temple Grandin, always a pragmatic thinker, says in her most recent book, The Autistic Brain, that she was relieved to finally hit menopause and say goodbye to “all that nonsense.” I love that.)
But, alas, it seems “sailing through” is not in the forecast for me. I am, after all, creeping up on 50, and it seems I am not to be spared the joys of perimenopause, which is the precursor to actual full-on menopause and the start of the whole shutting-down-of-the-baby-factory process.
(For those of you with a penchant for languages, peri is from the Greek word meaning “around” or “about,” and menopause is from the Greek meaning “I am homicidal and will rip the limbs off anyone who approaches me.”)
Currently my only issue is the mood swings (“only” as in “only a sucking chest wound”) — although I presume that as time ticks along, my body will begin to go through other changes, such as the notorious hot flashes (currently being enjoyed by my friends J and W, who can now almost literally fry eggs on their foreheads).
Long story short, I said “Enough, already!” to the yelling and crying, and headed down to my local wholistic dispensary (yep, I live in that kind of neighbourhood) where I pleaded with them to give me something to help me. The nice man smiled knowingly and said the magic word — Vitex — and sold me a bottle of same.
Vitex sounds like a brand name, but it’s actually from the Latin name of the plant, Vitex agnus-castus, otherwise known as Chasteberry. And the word “Chasteberry” refers to its use centuries ago in monasteries to keep the monks’ sexual drives under control. (I am not making this up!)
There is loads of information about Vitex and its uses, side effects (few), and history on the Internet, and I strongly suggest that you Google the heck out of it before ingesting this — or any other herbal supplement — and talk to your doctor first. Although herbal supplements and naturopathic remedies are only loosely regulated here in Canada (and thus not taken terribly seriously yet), many preparations have very potent and well-known side effects and interactions, and can really mess you up if you take too much or mix them with another drug you’re on.
For Aspergian women who are taking any sort of anti-anxiety or antidepressant medication (even herbal ones like St John’s Wort), or any kind of hormone therapy — even the birth control pill — it is essential that you speak to your doctor first before considering taking Vitex.
Anyway, I’ve been taking these little nuggets of Happy for about three weeks now and they do seem to be helping. I’m familiar with the placebo effect and this is definitely not it: try talking yourself out of a murderous rage or 30 minutes of bawling along to an episode of Roseanne and you’ll see what I mean.
For the first time in months and months, I feel “together” enough to do a bit more socializing, and it’s been more than three weeks since I smacked the crap out of my laptop or the vacuum or that cupboard door that won’t stay shut. I can focus on my work again (honestly, at one point I wondered if I’d had a stroke because I couldn’t hold a thought in my foggy, soggy brain for more than … hey, look! a puppy!). I can watch Star Trek TNG (or the news, or a commercial for lawn fertilizer, come to that) without a box of tissues in my lap (seriously…).
Vitex apparently takes about three months (!) to get fully into your system and be truly effective, but (fingers crossed) so far so good.
Stay tuned for the first week in August, when I’ll crack out the Little House on the Prairie DVDs and perform the ultimate in field testing.