Sunday, April 10, 2016

It's Not You, It's Me

Guess where I am?  Just guess - go ahead!! Guess! Guess! Guess!  Give up?  Ok then, I'll tell you. I have found myself smack-dab in the middle of perimenopause. Seriously.  Actually, it's more like the second phase of it.  I spent a lot of time on Sunday researching the symptoms, non-pharmaceutical therapies, and everything else I could find about the subject. There is an abundance of information out there and I am slowly trying to make my way through the weeds to find the answers to all of my questions.

One of the things that I've learned, is that every woman has their own menopause path to walk (or run down, while screaming hysterically and crying).  I have always known the age a woman begins perimenopause varies, some as young as their mid-thirties, others in their fifties, but I didn’t realize that the symptoms could also be so different.  It makes sense, though, and I feel silly for not realizing it.  Most women don’t have the same PMS symptoms, the same child birth stories, the same metabolism, so I’m not sure why I didn’t realize our perimenopause and menopause symptoms would also be different.

Over the past six months, as I have been slowly moving into this next phase of perimenopause, I have been surprised at some of the transformations in my personality. I’ve experienced my first panic attack (is there an award for that???), have battled with severe anxiety, cry often (and often for no reason), wake up frequently through the night, feel exhausted and overwhelmed, my migraines have increased, my skin is dry, I had a weird burnt tongue thing for a few days, and I have become anti-social.  ME!!!  Anti-social!!

SnapChat Filter - I wasn't actually crying

Did I mention crying?  I hate crying...

I have always been slightly socially awkward, but somehow I've managed to keep it hidden.  Suddenly finding myself with these anti-social tendencies has been rather bewildering to me and I don't know how to handle it. I am usually a good listener and someone who is easy to talk to, but that person seems to have disappeared.  Seriously, it's been so bad, that unless accidental eye contact has been made, I quickly turn and go the other way when I see people I know in public.  In fact, I don’t want to talk to anyone after work.  I dream of being able to go straight home after work and stay there, surrounded by my animals and spending time with my DH, but that won’t happen... At least not until DD gets her driver's license this fall.

One of the thoughts I had during my extensive "research-athon" yesterday, was if, possibly, some of what I've been feeling has been exasperated by the discovery  a few months ago that one my my "close" friends was not really a friend; but I don’t think that’s the case. Then I started to think that perhaps my lack of social desire could be due to work and how much I dislike my current situation there.  It's been so bad lately, that when I pull into the parking lot at work, I sit in my car, giving myself a pep talk just to get myself through the doors of the office.  No, that’s not a good thing and yes, I have several applications out there. But that's a blog for another time, and besides, I don't think  t's the cause of my newly found desire to live as a hermit. 

I know that hundreds of generations of women have survived this, most of them without medication, and I know I will survive “Mental”pause; I just hope my husband stays with me.  I’ve caught him looking at me, when I’m staring out the window.  This morning, I was crying as I was drinking my coffee.  Not loudly sobbing, no sounds escaping. - just silent tears, streaming down my cheeks.  He came over and kissed the top of my head, asking if I need anything.  No, I don’t need anything.  Well, actually I do need a few things, but nothing he can help me with.  A new job, a new house, warm weather, a week where I’m not running in a million different directions, new shoes because I only have three “nice” pairs that I wear to work, to lose fifty pounds, and a two week vacation to Hawaii.  Ok, ok, I really don’t “need” any of those things, but I would like to have them.

I already know that I am not going to take hormone replacement therapy (HRT) to take care of the side effects of menopause. It’s a matter of morals for me, and it’s a choice that I feel strongly about.  Big pharma does not care about the number of women who have developed breast cancer because of their hormone replacement “therapy” (my own mom included in that number), nor does it care about the thousands of PMU foals orphaned or slaughtered to create it. Please know, I will not judge anyone for doing what they need to do to get through this, but do yourself a favor and research the prescription your doctor hands you before you fill it. 

Since I know what I’m not going to do, do I know what I am going to do?  I know what I should do, but I don’t have an actual plan of action.  I should exercise (I love hiking & Zumba).  I should go to a yoga class, something I have read time and time again during my research.  I should take vitamins, minerals, and supplements, especially B complex, vitamin C, magnesium, and ashwagandha. I should find time once a week to do something I enjoy (**cough cough** horse back riding).  I should identify the biggest stressors in my life and either remove them or find ways to reduce them.  I should spend more time with my fur babies. I should work in the garden with DH.

Now that I have a list of remedies to start with, I also need to work on my gratitude.  I am grateful for that job I don't want to go to - REALLY!!! I am also grateful for my house, the car that I spend thousands of hours running DD around in, the shoes I do have, my health, my family, my animals, and my small circle of friends.  I am also thrilled that I don't have more severe symptoms, especially rage or non-stop periods.  My period has been irregular for several years now, only making an appearance three or four times a year, so that's something I am extremely grateful for.

So, have you been here?  Have you made it through this dark, irrational time? Did you find something that helped you through it? I know I’m not alone during this journey, even though I may feel like it at times.  We should start a local support group, but I probably wouldn't want to go.  :)
PS - If you see me in a store, and I am running the other way, just remember - it's not you, IT'S ME!  :)

Monday, February 29, 2016

The Loss of Our Brother...

Mental illness is a horrible, horrible burden for any family to bear.  I wish there was more discussion about mental illness rather than gun control, birth control, or any other political topic du jour, but there is still such a stigma attached to it, everyone is afraid to touch it, talk about it, or do anything about it.

I am the oldest of three children; however, my middle brother and I  "lost" our youngest brother a few years ago.  He is not dead, but he is definitely lost.

When he was our baby brother, many, many years ago, he was cute, funny, adorable, and so very lovable.  Middle brother and I both protected baby brother and loved him. According to my mother, when BB was a toddler, I would translate his baby talk for him. "He said he wants a peanut butter and jelly sandwich". I also have many memories of MB and BB running around our house in Norfolk, towels tied around their necks, fashioned into Superman capes or playing with their giant yellow Tonka trucks.

Of course, looking back on those days, there were signs that things were not right with BB.  He used to bang his head on the sidewalk or flail about on the ground and everyone dismissed it as temper tantrums. He was also what people called "Hyper Active", which in today's world he would have been diagnosed as ADHD.  My parents changed his diet, using the Feingold Diet principles of using only natural food without additives and eliminating other foods, such as those containing salicylates (apples, tomatoes, plums, berries, etc).  The diet change seemed to help BB's tantrums.

Everything seemed normal, until his late teenage years when he began walking into walls - literally.  After numerous appointments with military doctors who always wrote off BB's headaches as sinus or allergy problems, my parents finally found a civilian doctor who ran a multitude of tests on BB, including CAT scans and MRI's, and was able to provide them with answers.  BB was diagnosed with a medical condition called Hydrocephalus.  In simple, layman terms, Hydrocephalus is caused when too much fluid accumulates in the brain and cannot drain on its own, causing pressure on the brain and the head to become enlarged.  Typically, this disease is found in infants or older adults.  My brother was a teenager when he was finally diagnosed with it. Surgery was scheduled and a shunt was installed, which relieved the pressure and allowed the fluid to drain into his stomach.

I believe the first time BB's shunt failed was within just a couple of months from when it was first implanted in his brain.  In fact, within those first couple of years, the shunt failed several times leaving him in a comatose state a couple of times, and clinically dead on the table once.  I believe the MedStar unit got to know his name pretty quickly. With each surgery, each coma, each swelling of his brain, his personality began to change.  It may be purely coincidental.  He may have developed  BiPolar Disorder and it was masked by the complications of the surgeries, or he may have developed the disorder as a result of the complications of the surgeries; I believe that is something we will never know.

Eight years ago, BB got married and he and his wife had a beautiful baby girl a few months later.  Our entire family was ecstatic for him.  With all of his medical problems, we had been worried about his future.  Unfortunately, our elation for him faded as he and his wife made poor decision after poor decision and ultimately began using drugs, often in front of their children.

Two years ago, when I was visiting my mother as she recovered from a mastectomy, I saw first-hand just how out-of-control BB and his wife were.  There were times when I would look out the window and see BB's wife walking up and down the driveway, throwing her arms in the air yelling at her unseen demons.  Strangers were often at the house, more than likely with drugs. BB and his wife were hoarders of the worst kind.  There was dog, cat, and mouse excrement in all of the rooms, on the furniture, in the children's beds, and on their clothes.  There were bags of trash strewn throughout the house.  The kitchen was full of open cans of food, dishes used as ashtrays, prescription pill bottles within reach of the children, fly strips full of flies.  Basically, not a good place for the children - or
anyone for that matter.

It was during that trip to my parents when I decided to approach BB and SIL, asking if we could take care of the girls while they straightened themselves out. MB came with me, and I'm glad he did because when BB looked at me, I could feel the hate toward me radiating from his body.  That was the first time I was ever terrified to be around BB.  Surprisingly, BB and SIL agreed and promised they would go to rehab.  While the girls lived with us, they told us about "Mommy and daddy using dollars to put medicine in their nose".

Not surprisingly, the promise was short-lived and the battle for custody over their daughters ensued, albeit a very brief battle that we lost.

They left a dead ferret in the house, and left the live one to fend for itself.
BB and SIL packed up, left a dead ferret and one live ferret in the house, took the girls, and fled to Florida.  While in Florida, they were evicted from two different apartment complexes and picked up additional police charges (there is still an open warrant for BB there).  After they had no other options in Florida, they fled to Louisiana to live with SIL's mother.  Last fall, SIL was arrested and jailed for Possession of a Controlled Dangerous Substance, Theft, and Monetary Instrument Abuse and BB was charged with Contempt of Court with no bond (not sure what he did).  SIL was released on February 12th, and BB was released on February 16th.  Again, thank you to the states that allow this to be easily accessible public information!!

This afternoon, BB called me for the first time since we tried to take custody of his daughters in 2013.  I did not recognize the number, so I answered the phone when it rang.  I had to say "Hello?" into the phone a couple of times before I finally heard a man loudly sobbing. I knew who it was, and my entire body tensed up. When BB finally collected himself enough to start talking, it was unintelligible at first, and then he managed to form actual words.

The conversation was very one-sided.  BB was talking in a very manic manner, getting lost in his own stories, repeating stories but changing them slightly, and lying (always lying).  I listened.  It was difficult.  It was more than difficult; it was heartbreaking.  My heart hurt.  I had a lump in my throat, but I kept the tears in check.  I tried to gently remind him about what he said to our mother three years ago - "I hope that cancer kills you".  He immediately started ranting about how much she hated him.  Then he tried to say that none of us helped him, and I reminded him that we tried.  We tried to help by giving the girls a safe place to live while they cleaned up and got off the drugs.  More ranting.

He finally realized that I wasn't going to offer him money or a place to live, so he hung up.  The pain associated with hearing him sobbing on the phone, coupled with the knowledge that most everything that comes out of his mouth is a lie, was unbearable. Not being able to tell BB that I loved him was also heartbreaking.  Big tears fell, friends.  Big tears and shoulder-heaving sobs. I was texting MB while listening to BB, which helped me handle the phone call.  I called MB later that night and still had tears in my eyes as we discussed the entire situation.  Thank God MB and I have each other to talk to about this.

There is no help for those who refuse to help themselves.  You cannot convince me otherwise. We tried to save them and could not.  The health and judicial systems in place have ensured that people like my brother and sister-in-law have more rights than the people who try to help them.  In fact, they have more rights than their own children who have to live in the craziness of their parent's drug addiction and mental health problems day-in and day-out.

At this point, I'm sure our poor father will continue to hear from BB and SIL (and her mother) whenever they need money. I hate the stress it is putting on him.  All we can do is pray that our nieces are safe and protected from the insanity they are living in. 

Sunday, February 28, 2016

Fat Momma and Horse Dreams

Two weeks ago, we finally started the lease on a horse named Anton.  Of course, when I came home and told my husband (DH) we were doing a half-lease on a horse, he immediately asked "Which half? I don't think we should pay full price if we get the ass end."  Talk about laughing out loud!  Oh how I love him and his crazy, sarcastic sense of humor.

Anton is a seasoned warmblood who, according to Emma's riding instructor, loves Dressage.  By seasoned, I mean that Anton is a 24 year old gelding who has apparently seen quite a few dressage tests in his time.  Of course, you cannot tell that he is an older guy when riding him - well, I can't tell when I watch Emma ride him.  Emma has been riding him for several months now, and I am looking forward to being able to ride him soon.  I hope.  Fingers crossed.  Prayers being said.  Trying to sound positive when I say that I will be able to ride him soon.

Why am I putting off doing something I so desperately want to do?  Fear.  Not the type of fear you are probably thinking about.  I am not afraid of falling off (had lots of practice at that when I was a younger rider) and I am not afraid of riding in general.  I am afraid that I am too heavy to ride.  I am afraid of how difficult it will be to mount the horse.  I am afraid about the things people will say when they see me on a horse.  I am afraid that my large butt will not fit in a regular saddle.

These may seem like irrational concerns, but they are real enough to keep me from taking that next step of actually riding.  I want to ride so much, I think about it several times a day.  Seriously!  When I go to the barn with Emma, I want to ride with her, not just watch from the other side of the ring.

In addition to my fears, there are so many "horse" things that I feel I need to relearn.  There was a point in time when I could answer just about every horse question thrown at me; breeds, riding styles, health, feeding, and so on.  I can remember going to the Maryland State 4-H Horse Bowl when I was a young teen.  The Horse Bowl is like a combination of That's Academic and Jeopardy - at least that's what it was like in the early to mid 80-s.  I still have one of the books I used as a study-guide with lot
s of notes scribbled in it.  I was also that kid who cantered everywhere, "played horse" all the time, and read all of the horsey books I could get my hands on.  I used to think it was so cool that I shared the same first name as Marguerite Henry, author of horse books such as Misty of Chincoteague and King of the Wind.

(Picture source  

Back then, I believed with every fiber of my being that horses would always be a part of my life. Here I am, a couple of decades later, and I need horses back in my life. I need that gentleness, trust, companionship, and unconditional love.  I'm not sure when I will ever work up the nerve to get on Anton, or any other horse for that matter... I just hope it happens soon.