One morning a few months ago, in the upstairs hall, Mia planted her butt down on my left foot and wrapped her long almost eight-year-old limbs around my leg.
"Walk!" she commanded, and I lifted my foot, and her, with an enormous effort. Mia's giggles enticed her little sister to join in the game and Nora took a seat on my other foot. I could feel their pointy pelvic bones through the soft skin of their bottoms. I groaned like Frankenstein's monster and did a shuffling Godzilla walk down the hall as they laughed and laughed.
It was a perfect moment because it seemed they had forgotten the day before when I roared in a way that was entirely scary and not at all fun and they cried and ran in fear. Their short memories are a kind of forgiveness I may not deserve but will accept with deep gratitude.
On good after-mornings like that one, I have been tempted to minimize the fury of the day before, chalk it up to something fleeting and temporary, admonish myself to be better in the future, a better mom, more patient, breathe through it, chant the mantras, wait a moment, wait ten, take a break, on and on the retrospective advice comes, from the wiser part of me, that wise mom who has all the best intentions, but who runs and hides when the monster reappears. And she better. Because let me tell you, during those bad moments, I will mess Wisey up. I will show her where she can put her "count to ten."
Full stop. Deep breath. Okay. As I was saying...
It's taken me a few months to formulate a plan to take care of my monstrousness, bring the Hulk back down to Eddie's father.
First she had to be understood. I started charting my periods, impossible before I had my oldest daughter Mia, when they would disappear for months at a time. Getting pregnant seemed to reset my clock, though, so once I started paying attention, the pattern became as clear as the red ink on my calendar: Seven to four day before onset, I usually freaked out. Like this:
Full blown anxiety attack. The phrase "wringing her hands" belongs in a far off literary place of gowns and fainting couches, but the actual action, the shaking and squeezing of my own fingers in helpless anguish, came naturally to me this morning. I scream, "Help me, help me!" as I careen through the house, sobbing, from window to window, slamming each shut to keep out the rain, but too late, I image, to avoid the neighbors' revulsion.
"This morning was sliding down," says Mia, after I recover and announce we can go to the pool and the Exploritorium.
So I had a description, defined symptoms, a timetable for her reappearance. I needed some help making a plan.
A complete physical, blood tests, a consult with a traditional Chinese medicine practitioner - this last taking place in a typical medical center and except for the tongue examination, much less New-Agey than I was expecting.
I am a big believer in the placebo effect. Just the act of taking a chunk of time out of my day, talking to a unflappable professional with a sympathetic manner and a familiarity with my type of symptoms affords a kind of relief in itself. Knowing someone is on the case, on my side. "Irritability. Anxiety. Um, rage." There. I said it, out loud. And no one recoiled.
Except me, I guess, when the lab results came back. I am a little anemic (not much of a surprise for this careless vegetarian, easy to remedy), a little deficient in vitamin D (well, of course, after a long winter, a few diet changes and supplements should do the trick) and here's the thing, I've got the progesterone level of a menopausal woman. .08 ng/ml. A pre-menopausal woman will typically have levels between 7-38 ng/ml at the same time in her cycle.
Blurg. Trying to figure how I feel about my body acting older than me. I don't feel old. I'm only 46! My baby is in kindergarten!
Progesterone helps the body metabolize the stress hormone cortisol, I'm learning. "Progesterone is the feel-good hormone of the body. When it is present in sufficient quantities, a person is more relaxed and able to cope with stress."
So maybe the reason why I feel thrown on the rocks today at the monster's appointed hour when I'm trying to wash some spinach and the girls start fighting upstairs is that I'm missing that nice soft cushion of girly progesterone that gives me a world of motherly possibilities instead of the only fight-not-flight solution I could drag out of the scree which was yelling, "I NEED HELP I NEED HELP YOU NEED TO HELP ME STOP FIGHTING AAAAAHHHHHHHHRRRRRR" which worked about as well as you can imagine.
Now I'm on a slew of supplements. D, B-50, Chinese herbs with dong qui, fish oil (blech), calcium, a multi with iron. Shopping for blackstrap molasses (for the anemia) and saffron (for the PMS) at Whole Foods. Closing my eyes and taking a deep breath as the acupuncture needles slide in. Calling in the prescription for the progesterone. Wondering where this trip will take me.