The Peri-Menopause Diaries II – Does this bulky uterus make me look fat?

Beat up uterus

Previously on I Hate My Uterus, Why Is It Doing This To Me…

From the number of private messages and emails I received after my last peri-menopause post, it looks like I am not alone in the struggle. Some folks shared their personal experiences and others thanked me for tackling such a personal topic and asked me to keep sharing. So, here I go again, with the usual caveat, of course, that this post will contain graphic women-stuff and if you’re squicked out by that then the time to turn back is now.

Still here? Good. Let’s talk about my lady parts! Yay!

When I last left you, I had come to the end of my peri-menopausal rope and had decided it was time to go to the doctor and seek a solution. And guess what? The doc agreed that I was not just being a hysterical female or that I was a hypochondriac (this is an actual problem with women and health care). He gave me a referral to the local gynecologist and off I went.

But before I tell you about my gyno visit, I want to stop a moment and talk about that whole “hypochondriac” thing because it’s important. If you are female, and you experience pain or fatigue, especially menstrual pain there is a much higher likelihood that your symptoms will be minimized or dismissed by your medical practioners. I’ve read horror stories of women whose genuine problems were dismissed as a case of over exaggeration only to discover much later that they were dealing with cancer or any number of life threatening illnesses. There’s a reason so many women are turning to unproven and sometimes ridiculous or dangerous alternative cures and “wellness” techniques (please don’t put jade eggs up your vagina, no matter what Gwyenth Paltrow tells you), it’s because we’re not taken seriously.

I’m here to tell all the women reading this that if you have a medical problem, if you are experiencing severe pain, fatigue or depression, you deserve real medical solutions. Please don’t let anyone brush off your concerns for your health. Keep demanding answers until you get them, even if you have to keep changing doctors. And where menopause and peri-menopause is concerned, yes, it’s natural but that doesn’t mean you have to suffer needlessly. Leprosy is “natural” but your doctor wouldn’t simply pat you on the head and say, “Some people just lose body parts, it’s part of the natural cycle” if you had it.

/rant

Back to the gyno doc.

Dr. A has a shabby little office in the heart of the city. I can’t say I was feeling overly confident as I sat in the waiting room, flipping through Facebook on my phone to distract from the cries of pain and distress in the next room. Eventually I was led in and Dr. A and I had a long discussion about the state of my health. He read off a list of symptoms and I answered yes to almost all of them (no hot flashes…yet). Then, inevitably, he wanted to examine me and take a biopsy of the offending sexual organs, so off went the pants and on went the flimsy piece of modesty paper.

The exam revealed that I probably had at least one fibroid (common) and that I had adenomyosis aka “bulky uterus” (also common). Chances were that both the fibroid and my endometriosis were behind the excessive, Niagra Falls, bleeding.  Dr. A gave me two options: an endometrial ablation or a hormone-releasing IUD (Mirena Coil), but recommended the former. He discussed the pros and cons of each and sent me home with an armload of pamphlets and a prescription for Fibristal, which would stop the bleeding NOW and also shrink any fibroids that might be lurking in there. He also sent me for blood tests and an ultrasound to rule out cancer.

I headed home, excited about the possibility of regaining control over my rebellious uterus, and hit the Google to research which of these two options I should choose.

Ladies, if you feel like you need a heavy dose of frustration and fear, I highly recommend reading through any women’s health forum about gynecological devices and procedures. Over and over again I read that the Mirena was the best/worst thing that had ever happened to these women, ditto for the ablation. There was no shortage of horror stories, either, about all that had gone wrong. Talking to real women I know didn’t help either—some had great success with the IUD/ablation, others had more of those horror stories.

In the end, I decided on the ablation because I know that hormones have a way of messing me up physically and emotionally (birth control pills were awful) and I’ve had a standard IUD and though it did its job it also caused severe cramping during my period.

So what is an endometrial ablation, you ask?

Quick women’s physiology refresher:

Every month, a woman’s body gets ready to have a future college-tuition-needing human. To prepare for that possible human, the uterus lines itself with a soft, comfy, squishy layer of tissue, known as the endometrium. Meanwhile, the ovaries are busy growing an egg. When it’s ready, the egg hops into the uterus and nestles in to the endometrium to wait for her gentleman callers. When said egg discovers that no one has swiped right on her Tinder profile, she declares, “Egg out!”, drops a tiny mic, and heads out of the uterus, taking the endometrium with her in true diva fashion.* This is a period or menstrual cycle (for those of you who don’t know or who are lucky enough to not have one).

Is that too much science for you?

Sometimes things go awry with the endometrium. Sometimes the tissue that is supposed to line your uterus instead grows in other weird places. This is endometriosis and it is super, super, duper painful. It is also one of the causes of the aforementioned “bulky uterus”, when endometrial tissue grows into the muscle of the uterus.

Anyhoo, there are other causes of bulky uteri, but that’s a common one. An endometrial ablation is when a doctor goes in and burns off the endometrial lining. As the lining heals, it scars, which means no egg attachment, and no (or significantly diminished) blood build up, which means very small or no periods.  A kind of female scorched earth policy, if you will.

There are different ways to burn off the lining, in my case, a type of balloon would be inserted into the uterus and pumped full of water hot enough to do the job. Naturally, this is done under general anesthetic, but it’s a quick procedure and a simple day surgery.

I’ll spare you the details of my ultrasound, which involved me trying desperately not to wet myself as the tech pushed the little ultrasound torture wand on my bladder over and over again. I’ll just say that it confirmed I had a fibroid but its size and location did not preclude the ablation. And my blood tests came back clear, except for my iron levels which had been dropping faster than Trump’s approval rating.

While I waited for my surgery date to arrive, I enjoyed being period free thanks to the Fibristal. This proved less joyous when my two weeks of free samples ran out and I discovered my extended medical insurance doesn’t cover that drug…which is $200 for a two week supply! Thanks, Obama.

On June 28th, I checked in at the local hospital for the ablation. And here I should mention that I am a huge chicken when it comes to getting my blood taken (it doesn’t help that my low iron levels make me feel like fainting when any kind of blood is removed from my body) and a massive, nuclear chicken when it comes to getting IV’s put in. Dr. A made a note that I could have some Ativan to calm me down and I asked the nurse if they had some freezing gel that I could put on my hand.  They did! I apologized for being such a wuss and she assured me that they would far prefer I tell them and take the appropriate measures rather than have me freaking out when the time for the hand-stabbing arrived.

And here let me take another quick moment to talk about self-care. No one likes to feel weak or wussy. Society drills into us that if we ask for any kind of special considerations at any time then we are special snowflakes and whiners. You know what? Fuck that. I suffered through stressful airplane travel for well over a decade because of this logic—Fred can attest to all the times he held my sweaty hands on take-off, landing, and through turbulence. My fear stemmed from a traumatic experience and there was simply no wishing it away. Now? I pop an Ativan and enjoy the ride. In fact, the ride has been so stress free that I find I can now often fly drug-free.

So when I get my blood taken, I ask to lie down. Awesome. No stress, no fear. When I have to get an IV I ask for Ativan and freezing gel. Awesome. No stress, no fear. Don’t let people make you feel small or weak for taking steps to minimize fear and anxiety. Be your own advocate. You are worth it!

/rant #2

The ablation went smoothly. The whole thing takes about 15-20 minutes, though I did not come fully out of the anesthetic for several hours. This always happens to me. I think partly because I’m really susceptible to general anesthetic and partly because I will always take advantage of a guilt-free nap under heated blankets.

That was a week ago. I am still recovering and will be for at least another week. But I am mobile and able to do most daily stuff except vacuuming, heavy lifting and stretching, and sex. As you can imagine, Fred is really bummed out that the house isn’t getting vacuumed.

I was warned to be prepared for heavy cramping and bleeding at first—“the worst period ever” according to the anesthesiologist—but so far I’ve only experience mild spotting and a few medium-painful days.

Will it work? I don’t know. But, even if the ablation buys me a year or two of small or no periods then it will be worth it. I will still have to deal with the wild hormone swings, I assume, and there’s still the matter of the low sex drive to address, but at least if I’m no longer merely a blood factory I can get back to my fitness routine and get out of that rut where I am so frustrated and sad that I want to punch sea otters in the face.

As always, I find myself learning valuable lessons late in the game. I should have sought help a long time ago. No one is ever going to care about my physical and mental well-being as much as me, so it’s my job to demand proper care. I also think that going in for surgery made my husband realize that this was a real medical issue and not some flaky “woman thing”. I’m not sure he’ll ever really “get” it, our bodies are just that different, but me taking action and seeking help went a long way to demonstrating the seriousness of my situation. There’s a wide gulf between “I feel crappy and you should understand!” and “I feel crappy and I am going to find out why and see if there is a solution”. As women, we owe it to ourselves and the people who love us to take that step and to search for solutions.

I waited too long to ask for the help I needed. I hope you won’t.

I will probably share another update down the road. Until then, me and my new, svelte uterus will be doing our best to make things work between us. Because there is no me in uterus.

Sorry, couldn’t resist.

*The egg actually breaks apart but I write fiction and, thus, took a little creative license.

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Will You Be My Ronnie Freeman?

What’s worse than not achieving your goals? Watching other people attain them, exceed them, blow past you on the freeway of success.

Or not.

The single biggest driving force behind my writing has been my competitive nature. Actually, that has been the driving force behind just about everything I do since the days when Ronnie Freeman and I raced, neck-and-neck, to be the first ones to memorize all the way up to the 12 times tables. (We tied, by the way, igniting a silent feud that would last until the final day of elementary school).

To be clear, when I compete in writing, it’s not against any specific person or persons, it’s against myself. And, yes, I know how cheesy that sounds but that doesn’t make it any less true. When I set a writing goal, I will break my neck trying to achieve it. It took five years, and a load of stories, between the moment I decided I would win the Surrey International Writers Conference writing contest and the day I walked up to collect my prize from Diana Gabaldon and Jack Whyte. But I never took my eyes off that goal.

I believed that nothing could ever feel as good as that kind of hard-won success.

And then everything changed.

Overnight.

Literally.

Not long after I’d been roped into volunteering for the Kootenay Literary Competition, I started taking the lead. I’m an organizer and a dreamer, and in this little homegrown writing contest I saw big potential. With a small, dedicated group of volunteers, we put together a fun and friendly awards ceremony that turned out to be a standing room only event. I had my moment in the spotlight to ham it up, as usual, but passed most of the rest of the evening in the back of the room listening to our key note speaker and watching the winners collect their prizes and read from their work. That’s when it happened.

Kristene Perron hosts the 2012 Kootenay Literary Competition

Hosting the Kootenay Literary Competition in Nelson, BC, 2012. Photo: The Nelson Star

As each contestant accepted their award, I watched their beaming faces and felt…happy. Really happy. At least as happy as I had felt collecting my own awards, maybe happier. I hadn’t won anything but it felt amazing to make this happen for other writers. Maybe they would go on to write professionally, maybe this would be the peak of their literary journey, but no matter what happened, for one night, these writers enjoyed some of that all-too-scarce recognition and praise for their work and I was lucky enough to share that with them. This was a new kind of success, the kind that lasted long after the cheque had been cashed and the certificate had been filed away in a box of memories.

Without that night, I think my decision to indie publish would have been a lot more difficult and a lot less rewarding. In fact, I think everything about my writing life would have been “less”.

One of the hardest parts of choosing the indie author life was the acknowledgement that I would have to walk away (at least in the short term) from a long list of dream goals. The choice was not an easy one—though I know it was the best choice for me—and I think part of me will always mourn for what could have been. My goals have changed, by necessity, and indie life holds plenty of challenges for my competitive side, but it still pinches, just a tiny bit to watch other authors achieve the old goals I had to leave behind.

Most authors battle imposter syndrome in some form and I’m no exception. Honestly, it will always sting for a nanosecond when I read about authors winning awards that I can’t begin to hope to win as an indie, or heading off on book tours, or getting picked to speak at big events, or receiving glowing reviews from notable publications, or hobnobbing with other big name authors. Of course it will. Luckily, though, that feeling passes faster than a blink and, in the case of authors I know, is replaced by something incredible: joy.

I’m writing this because one of my author friends shared some good news today (which I will also share far and wide when the green light is given) and it struck me how genuinely happy I was for him. It struck me how happy I am for all my author friends whenever they share good news, something I wouldn’t have believed at the beginning of my journey.

It’s easy to be envious—not just for writers, either. It’s easy to let despair and jealousy take over when you see someone get something you wish you had or, worse, something you feel you deserve. What I’ve learned over the years, though, is that someone will always get something you wish you had or think you deserve. It doesn’t matter how successful you are, someone else will always be more successful. Someone will always get a bigger, more prestigious award. Someone will always get a better review. Someone will always sell more books or make more money. Someone will always have more readers and fans. There’s nothing wrong with being competitive, the trick is knowing when the game can’t be won.

I’ve also learned that for every up there is frequently a down. Today this author is winning an award but tomorrow their publisher could decide their sales aren’t strong enough and cancel a planned novel or series. There are no guarantees in this business. Appearances can be deceiving too. The author you think is basking in the glow of the spotlight could actually be battling anxiety or depression, believing they are a fraud and dreading the day the rest of the world figures it out. You can never know what demons someone else is wrestling.

I’m so grateful to the universe for giving me that night of epiphany because what came afterward was friends. I have met some extremely talented people along the writing path, who I am lucky enough to call my friends. Every time something good happens for an author friend of mine, it’s as if I’m right back at that awards ceremony, cheering and clapping from the back, feeling nothing but happiness. I celebrate my friends’ success because, weirdly, it feels like my success too. It feels like we’re all in this together and when one of us wins, we all win.

When I dig back into my memory, I see two things clearly. One:  as competitive as Ronnie Freeman and I were in the classroom, we were also good friends and neighbours. Two:  Ronnie Freeman helped make me who I am. I learned my time tables at lightning speed, and much more, because someone smart and competitive pushed me to be better. I need other people out there pushing hard to succeed. I need that motivation and inspiration.

I need my Ronnie Freemans and, I hope, they need me.

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Girl Gone Wild

Humpback whale breaching

On Tuesday morning, I climbed aboard a big, yellow zodiac and headed out to watch whales and play tourist for a day with my dear friend Liz and her family from Arizona—son Jeff, and teen granddaughters Katelyn and Lauren.  Despite the wind, which made for some thrilling, bumpy and wet passages, the day could not have been more perfect.  Nature pulled out all the stops: jumping humpback whales, a herd of young elk sunbathing up Ramsay Arm, a docile male grizzly munching on grass, even a black bear feasting on oysters at the water’s edge.

Cut off from cell phones and internet, surrounded by towering green mountains, with blue water below and blue sky above, it is impossible to believe that life is anything but simple and full of wonder.  It is as if the wildlands of the west coast are a separate dimension, a safe haven from the worries and stress of civilization. Not a permanent solution, by any means, but temporary immunization against the chaos of our daily lives, without question.

Each time I venture out onto the waters of British Columbia, I am cleansed. My head clears, my shoulders release from their permanent squeeze, my heart makes room for an abundance of gratitude and humility. I am small in the face of mighty nature; I am only one more animal passing through. I find that knowledge reassuring.

Life has made me weary lately. Not a state I am used to dwelling in. More specifically, hate and fear and outrage and ignorance and expectations and narrow-mindedness and my own multitude of shortcomings have made me weary.

I spend a lot of time online. Sometimes for business and marketing purposes (gotta earn a living), sometimes for entertainment (there are some amazing stories out there), sometimes for education and research, sometimes to communicate with friends and tribe members, and sometimes because I just find myself sucked into the internet vortex (I am only human).

Every day, I watch a group of people who butcher and obscure language and meaning to serve their goals. With each new mutation of what used to be a common language, the fear builds. We blew right past “alternative facts” with barely a bump or rattle. How did we not stop right there. Stop the car. Get out. Demand an end to that nonsense. No, we drove by, rubbernecking like we were watching an accident in the other lane. Well, better them than me. And on we go.

Language is important. Language has meaning. Sometimes too much meaning.

On the other side of the online highway, I watch another group of people constantly tearing apart everything in their path, dissecting and debating and breaking off into ever smaller and smaller and more contentious groups. This movie was a triumph for feminism! Or was it? Out come the scalpels and tweezers. But! But…it got something important really right! But, no, it didn’t get everything right. Let us carve open your moment of victory and joy; let us show you why the things you value are wrong and dangerous and worthless.  The car slows and eventually stops while we all discuss whether this car is the right kind of car and if this journey is the right kind of journey. We sit on the side of the road, terrified to speak, desperately wishing for some kind of forward motion.

Too much momentum, too much inertia. Back and forth. It exhausts me.

And when you turn on the car radio, the choice is static or outrage. So you look at the map and realize you’re getting nowhere.  You check the GPS and it only says “Follow your dreams!” What dreams can you have any more? What dreams can survive on this highway?

At night, I wake to a different scenario. Night is the place where I analyze my mistakes and failures. I watch the movie of my life and note all the plot holes. “You had a chance to fix that right in the opening act, why didn’t you?” I never have answers. The solutions seem so clear with each screening of My Life So Far. Coward…my brain whispers. Coward, coward, coward. You always took the easy path, didn’t you?

When the self-loathing gets to be too much, I take a melatonin and wait for the voices to shut up.

You’re still running away, coward, I hear as I fall into a restless sleep.

I know the voices are right. I know I have demons to face. I know I have strayed far from the path and I’m not the person I want to be. But I wake up in the morning and climb back into the car to navigate the highway and it’s all I can do to plaster a smile on my face and keep fighting the good fight—for logic, for kindness.

But out on the boat, on the ocean that moves beneath me with strangely predictable chaos, I am free. The spray of cold salt water on my face wakes me up from all of it, brings me back to a place where choices are easy and reality bends for no one. The path is simple: avoid the rocks, avoid the whirlpools and waves, watch out for deadheads, and obey the rules of the water. There’s no alternative anything out here, no time for endless debates on minutiae, no place for outrage. The ocean doesn’t care. There are right choices and wrong choices on the water and the latter holds a shocking number of ways to end you.

When it’s time to travel, the boat goes into motion toward a clear destination. The wind in my face assures me everything is going to be fine. When we slow and stop, it is to avoid a hazard or to enjoy beauty.  And what beauty. What heart-stopping, humbling beauty.

Grizzly bear in tall grass

Grizzly enjoying grass

From the boat, against a backdrop of snow-capped mountains, I see a big, male grizzly. He is unfazed by our arrival. An apex predator, he knows his place. He chews on tall, green grass and basks in the warm afternoon sun. I envy him.

The trip ends back on our dock, with smiles and hugs and laughter. We have been awed.

I sleep soundly that night. The sting of a mild burn on my face is a constant reminder of the wind and the sun.  This bliss won’t last forever. Soon enough I’ll be back on the highway and wide awake at 3am. But for now, for the next little while, the wilderness has cleared enough room for me to dream again.

The experience was powerful and fundamental. It seemed to me that it had always felt like this to be a human in the wild, and as long as the wild existed it would always feel this way. ~ Cheryl Strayed, Wild

 

 

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20 Questions

question-mark-background-vector

  1. Does everyone have a secret?
  2. Why does cheese taste better when it’s grated?
  3. If memory is imperfect and we see the world subjectively, is every person on the planet living a different reality?
  4. When my cats and I talk to each other, what do they think I am saying?
  5. What would the world look like if everyone had the wisdom of old age by the time they were ten years old?
  6. If there were real superheroes in the world, would we love or fear them?
  7. Are abusive men actually afraid of women?
  8. Why did the birds practically ignore our feeder all winter, when you would think they would really need an easy source of food, but now, when food is abundant, they are all over it?
  9. Does the environment we are raised in permanently alter our brain so that those who grow up close to the ocean will always love the ocean and those who grew up on the prairies will always love wide open spaces and big skies, etc?
  10. Why do I paint myself into corners?
  11. How can I so easily, and fiercely, advocate for others and not for myself?
  12. Why do people act against their own best interests?
  13. Would dogs be more popular if they purred?
  14. Why does looking at certain things (barnacles, for example) make me itchy and uncomfortable?
  15. Is it just me or do other people also have just a the teeniest desire for an actual, global apocalyptic-ish event just to wipe the slate clean and start over again even though they know it would be awful and full of suffering and death?
  16. Even if some people refuse to accept that man-made climate change is real, why would anyone not want to move towards clean, renewable energy?
  17. If an actual deity came to earth today and announced its presence and performed all kinds of amazing miracles, would believers give up their current faith and believe the “real” god or just find reasons to dismiss that god and keep on believing in whatever they believe in? Or, in the case of atheists, what they don’t believe in.
  18. Why do crinkle cut french fries taste better than regular french fries?
  19. Why did we start saying “hacks” in place of “tips”?
  20. If humans could choose the length of their lives, how long, on average, would we choose to live?
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I Want It All!

Kris on beach

Something pretty great happened last week. Great, unexpected, awe-inducing, and more words that describe an event so completely out of left field that almost a week later I am still shaking my head and asking myself, “Really? Did that happen?”

I will tell you about the thing that happened later. A few people reading this already know about the thing that happened but, shhhhhh! No spoilers! We’ll get to the thing that happened but first I want to talk about greed.

Greed.

Let that word sit in your brain for a second. What images and feelings does it conjure up? Do you imagine a king on a pile of money? A Wall Street banker in a suit that is worth more than you make in a month? A model in a gold-encrusted penthouse in New York City?

Do you see yourself? Can you imagine yourself as greedy?

I couldn’t. Until it happened.

When I see wealthy people acting like greedy jerks—and, yes, #notallwealthypeople—of course I am disgusted but my disgust is tempered by understanding. It is easier than you think to become a greedy jerk.

That’s not true. It is easier than you think to become greedy—jerkiness is a separate animal.

Greed is not just about money. We can be greedy with affection, opportunity, knowledge, time and much more. You need only watch toddlers surrounded by toys, fighting over that one toy that they both MUST have, to know that greed is hardwired into our brains—we are greedy long before we even know what money is. And if we feel we’ve worked for something, that we’ve earned it, that we deserve it, then greed can dig in its heels and refuse to share our toy with the other kids, no matter how many toys we own.

Most of us learn about money management from our parents—whether they try to teach us or not. My parents grew up in poverty and worked hard to escape. Luckily, they existed in a golden age of prosperity, a magical bubble when lack of education was not an obstacle to a good job and the cost of living had not yet zoomed past the average income.  They were good savers with a goal: buckle down and acquire wealth.

And then my dad’s younger brother died.

My dad used to tell me the story of how, walking out of his brother’s funeral, he turned to my mom and said, “If we want to go on a vacation, we’re going on a vacation.” That event changed everything for my parents.  While they never wasted money or were frivolous with their spending, they also did not deny themselves the pleasures of a family trip to Disneyland, a new car now and then, some of the “trinkets” Mom adored, or home renovations.  Mom, in particular, was a stickler for the “new”. Her daughters would never wear secondhand clothing!

I grew up not in wealth, per se, but in prosperity. My “normal” was that you buy new clothes when you want, go on vacations when you want, buy toys when you want, and eat as much food as you want. I was never included in discussions of money or finances. I was not required to do chores or given an allowance. I did, at least, understand that a good job and hard work was a necessity but I left home at the age of 18 with virtually no money management skills.

I am lousy with money. With the exception of a brief period between the time I left my first husband and the year I started making really good money as a stunt person, I have always been bad at saving and delayed gratification. So when I did start making oodles of money, I was a prime target for greed.

You know how you hear about lottery winners who are broke within a year? Crazy, right? I used to think that too but now I know better.

Managing money, budgeting, financial planning and discipline, these are all skills that, for most of us, must be learned and practiced. Think of it this way: If you have no knowledge of canning, drying or preserving food, not to mention the tools for those tasks, what would you do if someone dropped off dump truck load of fruit and vegetables on your doorstep? You’d eat some, put some in your fridge, and give the rest away. Some of it might even go rotten but what are you supposed to do about that? The person who understands how to preserve large quantities of food, however, they would get to work making sure such a bounty lasted them for years to come. Money is no different. If you don’t know how to preserve it, if you lack those tools, you will waste it.

I was 28 when I had my breakout year in stunts. Almost overnight I went from making just above poverty level income to six figures. Then I met Fred, who was much more established than me in the business, and thus made even more money. Eventually I moved in with him and rented out my little condo. For the first time since leaving home at the age of 18, I had more money than I needed.

If you had told 18-year-old me, the young woman who often had to raid her spare change jar to make rent, that one day I would be frivolous with my money, she would have told you to get stuffed. But there I was with my dump truck load of fruits and vegetables and not a can or jar in sight.

I wasn’t greedy in the sense that I refused to share my money. Quite the opposite. I loved buying things for people, treating people for dinner, surprising Fred with a night in a luxury hotel room, etc. It brought me so much joy to finally be able to buy my family nice Christmas and birthday presents.  I loved giving to charities, sponsoring friends for fundraising events without a second thought, hiring local business people for housecleaning, lawn maintenance, and other chores we could afford to not do ourselves.  Where greed kicked in—and greed is insidious this way—is that I started to believe the money would never end, I started to believe I deserved what I had, and I started to want…more. Like the Queen song I had once belted out at the top of my lungs, I wanted it all, and I wanted it now!  I was drunk on money.

The hangover was a killer.

Greed is also infectious. I worked with a small group of people who made as much, or far more, money as I did. Stunt people are by nature a bit arrogant. You have to have some degree of that quality to do a job with a 100% injury rate and where the possibility of death is omnipresent. Stunt people also tend to be highly competitive. Combine those qualities and you end up with a group of people not only pushing each other in training but also playing a game of one-upmanship with grown-up toys.  And when you’re a newcomer trying to fit in, you jump right into the game with both feet.

There was one exchange that has stuck with me across the years. Two of the most A of the A level stunt people told a story of how they had stopped for dinner while on the road. The restaurant was mediocre and the wine list was dismal (by their standards). They ordered a bottle of Dom Perignon because that was closest thing to decent champagne on offer. It was also the most expensive bottle on the menu. The waiter responded enthusiastically. He asked them what they were celebrating. One of the pair responded, “Because we’re thirsty.” And when they told this story we all laughed—silly waiter.

I laughed because I was desperate to fit in. I laughed because the way they told the story was funny. But when I look back I see clearly how this was one big step down the path of greed for me. I’ve been that waiter. I’ve been the person who can barely make rent for her shitty apartment that she shares with two other roommates while some entitled, wealthy prick makes a snarky, derisive joke at her expense.

Greed re-shaped my “normal”. I started to believe that poor people in North America, for the most part, just weren’t trying hard enough. I started to turn a blind eye to the role luck and timing had played in my life and the privileges I had enjoyed as a middle class, able bodied, heterosexual, English speaking, white person. Most of all, I lost touch with the person who had been that waiter.

It all went away, of course. If you’ve been reading these Coconut Chronicles for any length of time you know that life in the post-stunt world, has been a series of ups and downs. I’d like to tell you my experience made me better with money. It didn’t. Well, maybe somewhat better but I think I will always carry a little piece of my parents and their belief that life is too short to deprive yourself of pleasure with me until the day I die, especially since neither my mother nor my sister lived past the age of 57. And I still like treating the people I love and supporting other artists and charities, even when I know I can’t afford it—that may be the one aspect of my former glory days that I can’t let go of. But I did shake the greed.

Oh, man, it feels good to be free from that.

Greed is insidious, infectious and cancerous—it eats away at you from the inside. I can say, with complete honesty, that no part of me feels I “deserve” any material thing any longer. I see money for what it is: stress relief. That’s it, pure and simple. If you can afford to pay your bills, buy food, pay for necessary medicine, keep a roof over your head, and access reliable transportation to get you where you need to go, then most of life’s biggest concerns are covered.

I need very little to be happy these days.

Which is why the thing that happened on Thursday still has me in a state of shock.

My crazy, wonderful, loving, goofball of a husband surprised me with a new SUV.

Kristene with her new SUV

Surprise!

We’ve been a one vehicle household for years, until I took over my dad’s 1998 Oldsmobile Intrigue when he died. The Olds is sure nothing fancy but I loved having my own wheels again and I loved that each time I sat in that car I thought about my dad. At no point did I feel like I needed a better car, or a new car. As long as the Olds was running, I was happy.

Intrigue.jpg

It’s kind of cute! (And it’s for sale)

I know why Fred bought me this new SUV. I know how happy it makes him to treat his wife after years of financial uncertainty and I adore him for it. The SUV is red (he held out for a red one because he knew that’s my fave vehicle colour)and shiny and full of bells and whistles. Every time I get in, I feel like I’m borrowing someone else’s nice new car. It doesn’t feel real. I think it’s going to be a while before it sinks in that it is mine.

This is the second new vehicle I have ever owned and the difference between the two experiences is stark. When I bought my new truck, I wanted to show it off to everyone, I wanted to shout from the rooftops that I had money and could afford a new vehicle. This time, I feel almost a bit embarrassed, a bit guilty, like this is more than I need or deserve. Surely there are many, many more people who deserve this car more than I do. What I want to shout from the rooftops is that I love my husband for even wanting to do this for me. The SUV is nice but it’s his love that is valuable—priceless—to me.

What I am also feeling is vigilant. I don’t want to take this for granted. I don’t want to ever be that person again, the one who laughs when the fortunate mistreat the people they see as beneath them, the one who thinks she’s special because she has a shiny red truck, the one who complains about people on welfare abusing the system and wasting her precious tax dollars. I do not want to be greedy. Not today. Not ever.

I love my husband. Not because he bought me an SUV but because he is the kind of man who wants more than anything to see his wife happy.  I love my husband because after almost 19 years together he can still surprise me.

I do still want it all.

Friends, family, love and fulfillment, I want them all and I want them for all of us.

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The Perimenopause Diaries

shutterstock_573523534****Warning! This post contains graphic “women stuff” AKA bodily functions common to healthy women over the age of 40. If that kind of stuff squicks you out, be thankful you don’t have to go through it yourself. You can also choose not to read this, unless you want to actually learn a thing or two about the reality of peri-menopause and the female body and mind. ****

Some of you may recall The Thing I Didn’t Want To Talk About. Well, it’s high time for an update because I’ve been banging my head against the wall of my uterus since that post but I finally acquired some useful information.

To update you: After I was diagnosed as perimenopausal at the ripe old age of 42, my doctor spelled out my options. Basically, I could go on low-dose birth control pills and take iron supplements or I could tough it out. I chose the former because collapsing into a sobbing mess and then passing out from anemia in the middle of Wal-Mart was oddly unappealing to me.

I did try going off the birth control pills for a short time because they make you break out and gain weight, and that did nothing to help with my general frustration and depression, but even the slight help they offered my tortured body was better than nothing. I have been on them ever since, feeling bloated and heavy and gross, but with 10% less bleeding so…yay?

And let’s stop here to talk about bleeding. (I did warn you this would be graphic.)

I have struggled with my periods for a long time. My first one was at the age of eleven—the horror—and those pubescent periods flowed like the mighty Mississippi. Pre-tampons, I used to be forced to wear the biggest, bulkiest pads made. Try to imagine an eleven-year-old girl trying to hide a pad the size of a guinea pig during PE and dance class. It wasn’t pretty. Or fun. And it didn’t help that no one in my family talked about anything even remotely sexual, which meant I spent my youth in a constant state of shame about this most natural monthly event.

I only learned about tampons by overhearing a conversation between my girlfriend and her fantastically progressive and liberal mother. Thank you Mrs. Craig for changing my life even if you never realized you changed my life.

By the time my cycle had slowed to a somewhat normal rate in my very late teens, I faced another problem: endometriosis. The excessive bleeding had diminished, replaced by pain that would drop a T-Rex to its knees. Hooray!

There were about six or seven awesome years, after the surgery for my endometriosis, where I had no pain and a normal period. The golden age, I like to think of it. Then, perimenopause struck and we’re back to the heavy flow. Oh, but with a twist, because life is hilarious! Now, the heavy flow is no longer the Mississippi, it’s Niagra Falls. WHOOSH! Out it all comes in one massive waterfall. Bloodfall? And it happens randomly. Like, I can be almost done with a cycle, down to teeny tiny spotting, then WHOOSH…ha ha, just kidding! Oh, and periods now last anywhere from 7 to 21 days, and the time between periods is about the same, plus I get wickedly painful cramps.  I am basically a non-stop blood factory.

Result: Anemia. I eat at least one steak per week and take iron supplements every day (when I remember, I’m only human).

All the other symptoms are still going strong. The hormonal narcolepsy hits me at all kinds of inappropriate moments. It hit once as I was parking my car and getting ready for an eight hour shift at work. Thankfully I carry caffeine pills with me—life saver! I get depressed and anxious for no reason. I go through crying spells for no  reason. Then I get frustrated. Then angry. Then depressed again. Because who doesn’t enjoy changing things up now and then? I’ve gained at least ten pounds and my fitness routine is wildly erratic (more about that later). On a scale of 1 to 10, 10 being “teen boy horny”, my sex drive most often hovers between 0 and 3. You can imagine how happy Hubs is about that. Yeah, no stress there. Nuh uh.

What else?

My breasts ache and are ridiculously tender and sensitive. I almost slapped myself once for brushing a nipple while dressing. Also, not conducive to marital bliss. And when I do manage to pump myself up (pun recognized but not intended) for sex, ol’ Vaggy just ain’t as limber and moist as she used to be. Yeah, maybe TMI but I want to be bare-bones honest for the folks out there going through this who are, like me, going slowly crazy because they feel so weird and alone. I feel singularly unsexy to a degree I have never known.

My brain is in a fog. Pre-perimenopause, I could hold vast quantities of information in my head all at once. These days I’m happy to remember a single, simple idea, or why I walked into a room, or to turn the hot water pump off.

Along with the iron supplements and birth control pills, my prime source of therapy and coping has been alcohol and cats. Lots of both.

I think that about covers it.

Oh wait, not quite. Let’s talk about that alone-ness. There are a handful of people with whom I feel comfortable discussing my situation. But, even then, I’m not going to call or text or Facebook message them every time I feel like running screaming off a cliff because that would be almost every other day lately. This means that even though I have a small circle of trusted friends and confidants I can vent to, there are more days I spend pushing down all the emotions into a ball of tense unhappiness than days that I don’t. And as much as my husband loves me, he’s living this too and I’m not going to dump my woes on him at the end of a long, exhausting work day.

Long story  short, my perimenopausal existence feels isolated and lonely most of the time.

Yep, that’s everything.

Back to my story…

Every now and then, life throws you the proverbial bone. In my case, it was a friend of a friend. This angel in human form is a nurse and after listening to me rant briefly about my troubles, she told me that there is a clinic at the UBC Hospital that specializes in female reproductive health and has all kinds of resources for perimenopausal and menopausal women. She sent me a link to their website so that I might find some help, since I live far from the big city and resources are scarce out here.

I saved the link and promised myself to check it out. Then, as it does, life happened, I got busy, forgot, blah blah blah.

In the past two weeks, I’ve had a really bad run. Life on Quadra Island is fabulous and you couldn’t pay me to leave this paradise but there aren’t the kind of indoor fitness options you get in a larger city, even Campbell River. Yes, there are some classes at the Quadra community center but the times never seem to work with my schedule. And the record rainfall has made walking and running a soggily unappealing choice. Time was when I would just do my own fitness routine, using the body-weight exercises I know, but my motivation level seems to have headed off to Antarctica with my sex drive, soooo… bleh.

But finally, FINALLY, the sun came out, my bleeding was down to a mere trickle, and I found the gumption to go for a long, brisk walk! I geared up, including a fresh tampon (just in case), grabbed my iPod and audiobook and headed out. It was amazing! Fresh air! Blood pumping! Good book! At last, I felt normal!

Thirty minutes into my walk, Niagra Falls x 1000 hit.

There I was, way out in the middle of nowhere, hemorrhaging like a hemophiliac in a knife fight. There was nothing I could do but thank the universe that I had worn black pants and slowly shuffle back home.

In case you’re wondering, yes, I cried my eyes out when I got there.

Is it too much to ask just to be able to go for a damned walk???

The next morning, depressed and frustrated, feeling at the end of my rope, I posted a plea on Facebook for jokes and stuff to cheer me up. Thank the universe, also, for kind friends. Today I woke up and decided I’ve had enough. I found the link for that clinic and started to research.

Here’s the good news: There may be help.

I learned that I have menorrhagia, which is a fancy medical word for “very heavy menstrual flow”. I also learned that it’s really not uncommon, much the same as my other symptoms are not uncommon, including the diminished sex drive and crazy cramps. I learned that there are non-surgical methods that have been shown to reduce menstrual flow by anywhere up to 87%! One of the simplest is a very specific use of ibuprofen, who knew? I learned how to best record my bodily activity so that I can share that with my doctor and receive the best treatment for me. I learned that I need to be consuming at least 1 to 1.5 litres of salty liquid such as vegetable juice or bouillon on days of extra blood loss.  I learned that those oral contraceptives I’m taking that make me gain weight and break out? Yeah, not very effective.

I learned that there are health professionals out there working hard to learn all they can about perimenopause and menopause and sharing that information freely with the world.

I feel just a little less lonely today.

I’m going to start keeping a perimenopause diary—I’ll share the link to the template at the end of this post—to see where I’m at, to share with my family doctor, and to try and get back to some kind of normal. Until then, I want to thank all my friends who have patiently listened to my hormonal rants—they may not be over, by the way. I want to apologize to all the pre-menopausal women whom I have terrified with my stories. It may not be that bad for you (fingers crossed). I want to encourage every woman who is peri or menopausal, or who even suspects she may be, not to settle, and to keep seeking out the physical and emotional help you need! (Feel free to contact me at kristeneperron [at] gmail [dot] com if you want to talk privately.)To the husbands and partners living through this, hang in there, but mostly make sure you offer your unconditional support—this shit is tough, yo! To the girls and young women for whom menopause is still a distant possibility, your body is nothing to be ashamed of. Anyone who ever makes you feel bad for talking about “women stuff” is a jerkface meany and you have my permission to tell them so.

Thanks for listening now here are some links. Go get educated.

The Centre for Menstrual Cycle and Ovulation Research – The Centre for Menstrual Cycle and Ovulation Research (CeMCOR) was founded by Dr. Jerilynn C. Prior in May 2002. The Centre studies the physical and psychological causes and effects of ovulation disturbances on women’s overall health. CeMCOR publishes scientific results and disseminates information directly to women.

The Daily Perimenopause Diary – For perimenopausal women, including women with regular cycles who have hot flushes/flashes or night sweats.

The Daily Menopause Diary – For women who have gone at least 12 months without a menstrual period.

Heavy Flow – How to determine if you have a heavy menstrual flow and what to do.

Hot flushes/flashes

Posted in Health and wellness, Women's Issues | Tagged , , , , | 5 Comments

It Matters

Death's Head Moth from Silence of the Lambs

Can the past change?

Two nights ago, Hubs and I re-watched the brilliant, Oscar-winning thriller Silence of the Lambs.  The movie came out in 1991 and neither of us had watched it for at least a decade.

The movie I remembered watching in 1991 was a terrifying psycho-thriller, which I watched mostly on the edge of my seat and sometimes through the fingers covering my eyes. I remembered the savagery of serial killer Buffalo Bill, and the more refined horror Dr. Hannibal “The Cannibal” Lecter—a character that would become iconic and oft-copied in the years to come.  I remembered my held breath as FBI agent Clarice Starling hunted Buffalo Bill in the dark while he watched her—almost touched her—through night vision googles.  I remembered discussing Anthony Hopkins’s performance with friends and our poor imitations of that fff-fff-fff-fff-fff sound he made after telling Clarice about eating a man’s liver.  That is the movie I watched 26 years ago.

The movie I watched two nights ago was not that. The elements were there, certainly, but the past had changed. I was surprised to see that the most memorable character was not Hannibal Lecter but Clarice Starling. My shock continued as I watched a compelling recreation of a story untold numbers of competent women have lived through: trying to make it in a man’s world. Where did this story come from?

Through scene after scene I wondered why I had not remembered the countless examples of the kind of bullshit Starling had to navigate just to do her damn job. A job she was more than qualified to do, by the way. In 2017, the scene which stayed with me after the credits rolled was not Hannibal’s creepy teeth-sucking noise but a quiet conversation in a car, between Agent Starling and her boss Agent Crawford. Crawford had used Starling’s gender as an excuse to get a sheriff out of the room and she was obviously upset about what happened. Here is the exchange:

Jack Crawford: Starling, when I told that sheriff we shouldn’t talk in front of a woman, that really burned you, didn’t it? It was just smoke, Starling. I had to get rid of him.

Clarice Starling: It matters, Mr. Crawford. Cops look at you to see how to act. It matters.

Jack Crawford: Point taken.

This tiny moment was ground-breaking for 1991. Starling points out something many women have always known—that males take cues from their peers, and other men higher up the food chain, when it comes to behaviour and attitudes toward females—but, more importantly, Crawford doesn’t try to brush her off or get defensive. Crawford says, “Point taken”, and you get the sense in that scene that it really is, that he has been given a new perspective and respects it.

“It matters.”

Hell, that’s ground-breaking for 2017!

The movie opens with a steady-cam shot following Starling as she doggedly runs through an obstacle course and I believe that sets the theme for the entire story. From the FBI cadets who ogle her ass as they jog by, to the nerdy entomologist who hits on her as she’s trying to solve a murder, to the serial killer who demands quid pro quo before he will assist her, this is a woman running through the obstacles of an archaic social system to simply, like I said, do her damn job.

Ironic, when I think about it, that in 1991 the story of Clarice Starling, which I see so clearly now, was lost behind the showmanship of the male lead. Hopkins was amazing, no question about that, but so was the rest of the story.

Except…

And here’s where the movie changed yet again. You see, I remembered the character of Buffalo Bill as creepy, twisted, and terrifying. I remembered the Death’s Head moth he used as a symbol of transformation. I did not remember that he was transsexual, nor did I make the connection between “transformation” and “trans”.

Through the infinitely more enlightened eye of 2017, Buffalo Bill’s character was awkward and problematic. The writers tried to deal with the problem through Lecter’s explanation that his former patient only “thought” he was trans and that he likely was rejected for gender reassignment surgery. But rather than making the plot easier for me to buy into that offhand dismissal made me even more uncomfortable. Who gets to decide whether someone is really trans or just faking it? What if they’d let him have the surgery? Would he have then not felt the need to go out and murder a bunch of women to make himself a new female skin? And what does that say about transgender people?

It’s all very dicey and ugly transphobic territory once you start digging.

Sad. Sad because the writer could have easily kept in all the details that made Buffalo Bill so utterly horrifying but with a different motivation attached to his actions. They could have steered clear of the gender quagmire and still had a story every bit as nail-biting. Sad because they told an incredibly progressive story about female empowerment but chose to throw transgender people under the bus to do it.

So how do I feel about Silence of the Lambs in 2017? Conflicted.

This movie did so much so right. There’s no wonder it swept the Academy Awards, taking home wins for Best Actress, Best Actor, Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Writing. It pleases me that a film of this caliber featured a female protagonist who was never sexualized and who was allowed to be multi-layered. The scary parts still make me cover my eyes and hover on the edge of my seat, which is not always the case with aged thrillers. I tell myself that attitudes toward the LGBTQ community were vastly different in 1991—I know they were—but the transphobia in the story makes me cringe.

I took something else away from this movie: the past can change.

I bet that to many men out there, and to many conservative women, it feels as if there has been a sudden swell of feminism. A wave that came seemingly from out of nowhere. In practically the blink of an eye, great swathes of the female population started shouting about misogyny, #everydaysexism, the need for equity, sexual harassment, and on and on and on. The same language and behaviour that was no big deal ten years ago is now in the spotlight—and it’s not a flattering light. Women are vocal, they are frustrated, they are angry.  Where did this all “suddenly” come from?

In large part, I think we can thank the internet. Speaking for myself, it was reading the stories of other women that showed me so much of what I have experienced over the years was not fair or even normal—or at least should not be considered normal. For the first time, large numbers of women could connect with each other, instantly, and share their stories. Patterns emerged and what so many of us had all just unwittingly gone along with because “that’s just the way it is” appeared now as a problem that could, and should, be solved.

When I look back on my life, it’s a different movie in 2017. Scenes that I had brushed off as unimportant, especially when looked at collectively, reveal a re-occurring theme. And there are so very many of those scenes. Some are small, some are large, but all keep telling the same story—I was Clarice Starling, running that obstacle course, over and over again.

I had three close male friends in junior high and highschool—one of whom was my on-again-off-again boyfriend and a much bigger story—who I have always remembered fondly. But in the past few years, more and more, I am remembering the times when maybe they weren’t such good friends and, more and more, I wonder why I put up with it?

Some scenes are comical. I recall playing a new video game at one of the boys’ houses and wanting my turn at the control. Little did I know that the three boys—as a joke—gave me the wrong instructions for the game just so that my turns would end quickly and they would get to play more. Harmless fun, right? You might even be chuckling right now, I get it. Then there was the time we were all goofing around about something and two of the boys grabbed me, tackled me, and then dragged me by my feet through a bunch of bushes. When they let me go and I climbed out, covered in dirt and leaves and branches, they were doubled over, laughing so hard they could barely breathe. Ha ha ha! Such pranksters. And then there was the time we went to their friend Mike’s house for lunch. Nothing unusual led up to the moment. We were all eating sandwiches or whatever, complaining about school, talking about teenager stuff, being kids. For a reason I can’t remember (or maybe there wasn’t a reason), one of the boys grabbed a knife out of the drawer and started heading toward me. Very funny. I laughed because these were my friends and they were being silly. But then another “friend” grabbed a knife, and I was backing away and trying to be cool and not scared at all. And then the four of them were chasing me through the house and no one was laughing.

No, the worst did not happen. It didn’t go that far. I don’t recall exactly how it ended but I know that at some point someone realized we had to get back to school and the “game” ended. Ha ha ha. Funny, right? But when I look back at that scene in the movie now, I wasn’t having fun. I was scared. I was confused—weren’t these boys my friends? I was mad at myself for not keeping my cool. I considered myself one of the guys and that was a guy kind of horseplay, so why did it feel so real and so legitimately threatening?

What you need to know is that I have a long list of scenes that were one thing in the past and have changed to something else in 2017. Or, rather, I have changed. I will no longer see four boys with knives chasing a girl around a house as fun or as play. I no longer need to subject myself to threats and bullying for the “privilege” of being one of the guys.

What you need to know is that I have given you just the smallest sample of scenes from one woman’s life. And guess what? At some point, some woman will read about my scenes and start looking back on the movie of her life and seeing her own scenes in a new light too. This, my friends, is how we got to here.

This sudden wave of feminism is more like a Tsunami. It starts deep and far off shore. As it travels through the ocean, it’s barely detectable on the surface—a slight change of current, a slight rise in the level of the water. It’s only when all that force finally hits the shore that you can see the real size and scope of the wave—but, make no mistake, it has been there all along.

You may feel as if this wave of female anger and frustration has appeared out of thin air but, make no mistake, it has been there all along.

My feelings about the past are no different than my feelings about Silence of the Lambs: conflicted.

I can’t ignore everything that was brilliant and good but I’m never again going to feel comfortable with what was wrong.

What I know is that we need to fix the script. We need to make a better movie.

It matters.

Posted in Entertainment, Life, News and politics, Women's Issues | Tagged , , , | 7 Comments