Scatter my ashes here...

Scatter my ashes here...
scatter my ashes in the desert...

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Not Just LIKE An Ultra, This IS One...

And the gun must have gone off while I was having brain fog. This is my brain on wacked-out hormones. And this is how my brain feels during the day lately, most days.

This is Alene, emotions on speakerphone, these days feeling like she's losing her mind, her faculties, and her sanity. This is Alene who should buy stock in Kleenex. This is Alene approaching menopause, squarely in the thick of what's called perimenopause and the worst part of it.

Menopause is an ultra.

This blog is supposed to be about running, and running ultras. Women who read this will "get it" immediately. So I'm going to say a fast little apology to the male readers of this blog, just for a second, a quick whisper of "sorry" but guys, I'm not all that sorry, because it's relevant for you, too, if you have any women in your lives who are important to you.



Lately readers of this blog have noticed I've strayed from the topic of running. It's been difficult terrain for me for over a year, and worse the past two months. I've been struggling not only in running but all areas of my life and there's a reason.

I'm struggling to remember things. I have to write things down right away or they're gone. I can't multitask worth crap. I can't seem to process complex information coming at me in any form. I tried to sign up online for a class the other day and I was looking at the instructions on the screen, I stared at it, I knew it was in English and laid out in steps, 1,2,3,4, etc. but my mind could not make sense of it.

I'm overemotional about everything. And everything makes me cry. EVERYTHING. On the other side of that, I occasionally feel rage. Like I'm going to tear into something, scratch someone's eyes out, scream until my lungs blow out. Dennis made a joke about hiding all the knives in the house.

I feel transparent, like everyone can see me in all my emotions, naked and exposed to the world.

All of my buttons are visible and able to be pushed by the slightest breeze. And anyone in my life who intentionally tries to push my buttons gets a SUPERCHARGED response, usually preceded and followed by crying. And yes, there is at least one willing and eager button pusher out there.

My endocrinologist in Arizona warned me long ago that when I did hit perimenopause I would struggle. She said most women with thyroid problems have a harder time with the hormonal shifts of menopause. And that thyroid could be harder to manage during that time. Before I was diagnosed with Hashimotos one of the first things they thought was that it was early menopause.

While originally trying to get my thyroid regulated I can remember having horrible fatigue and brain fog, depression, mood swings, and feeling like I had someone else's brain. My original high-functioning, sharp version was temporarily dumbed down to something that couldn't even read an ordinary newspaper or magazine article, because by the time got to the last sentence of a paragraph, I couldn't remember what the first sentence said. I put off entering nursing school for several years until my thyroid was regulated with medication because I felt I couldn't learn. Fortunately once I got things back on track I was fine.

I've been shifting into this new gear for some time now, probably a couple of years, but there weren't any definite or consistent signs. Feeling brain fogged and having a hard time concentrating, I've also experienced with thyroid. Not sleeping well, that happens occasionally. Last fall I went through a few months of sleep problems and night sweats but they went away after I ran Across the Years. Strangely I slept better during that race and in the months afterward than I have in a while.

But at the end of this summer I started getting night sweats with a vengeance. Now it's almost every night. And then I got my first daytime hot flash a few weeks ago. And my menstrual cycle is all but impossible to predict. The best way to predict it? Sign up for a race. A big one, one that I train really hard for.

Time doesn't wait for you to feel better. You can't call into work because you didn't get enough sleep. You could once or twice, but you can't do that when it's happening every day. I work in a female-dominated profession and many of them don't even get it. Most of them are not there yet. Most of them will probably not be working at the bedside by the time they hit this phase of their lives.

One of the nurses I work with who is older than me has a magnet on her locker that says "I'm on my last nerve and you're getting on it!"

She gets it.

Another coworker said to me that she thinks I'm depressed. Well I'm not. It can get depressing when you feel like crap all the time from sleep deprivation and I do still (thankfully) have the presence of mind to understand that my brain's neurotransmitters are probably all screwed up due to sleep deprivation and low estrogen and all the other things going on in my body.

But I know what depression feels like and this is not it. It's not that I have lost my enthusiasm or interest, it's not that I want to crawl into a hole in the ground and never come out. I am enjoying the company of my friends more than ever, things in my life are basically good, and I'm not in despair. I know there's a light at the end of this tunnel, there's a finish line, but it's a long way off.

I have the support of my husband. He's been so patient and understanding and his sense of humor gets me through the rough moments at home. The girls are perceptive enough to know when mom is crying or upset and they stare at me until I notice, then they come over and give me hugs, without my having to ask!

The point is, it's an ultra. If you're having a rough time, you have to at least consciously make a plan. Get from one aid station to the next, don't focus on anything else. Distract yourself. Be one with the pain.

This is a process. It's a long run, and there is a finish line. I will come out on the other side and I'll be better. While I'm in it, I need to keep moving forward, even though I'm uncertain, charting new terrain, and sometimes afraid. The finish line is out there, out of sight, but it is there. I keep moving toward it even if every step I take is such a small fraction of the distance I still need to cover. I know that many small steps make up a long ultra and will carry me there.

There aren't any quick fixes, and you can't drop out. I can try different things but there are no miracle cures and finding things that work won't happen overnight. People expect it to happen like that, but it doesn't. And there are few remedies other than hormone replacement therapy that have scientific evidence that they work to back them up. Black Cohosh, Estroven, Melatonin, Red Clover, say the alphabet, there are "cures" from A to Z and I could spend a ton of money and time trying them all. I will try a few. With my sister's history of breast cancer, I'm not going the HRT route.

Instead I am working on a plan. It's sketchy so far, imperfect, but it's evolving.

First, one day at a time. That's all I can do.

A few things I can look forward to: I'm looking forward to getting back on track with running and I just ordered a pair of snowshoes given our early winter dump of a foot of snow. I am enthusiastic about training for ultras again in 2010 and doing miles with my running friends. I signed up for the Old Pueblo 50 in Arizona in March.

Get back on a regular running and training schedule with a goal. No high mileage or performance goals here. Just get out and do it. Make myself go out every day I'm not at work doing a 12 hour shift, even if I don't feel like it.

Cut out unnecessary sources of stress and fatigue. Set limits with the button-pushers and energy-suckers.

Work on ways to relax and remove distracting thoughts like work and other stressors from my mind whenever I'm going to sleep or need to go back to sleep.

Take some supplements like calcium, vitamins, and omega 3 and take the time to cook healthy meals for us. I used to love to cook. Now I will have more time to do that. Try a few of the so-called natural remedies, one at a time, see if they help.

Work on creative pursuits, writing and painting, and other fun stuff that comes up. For example, I met a woman on the flight back from Sacramento who is a spoken word poet from Chicago. She reminded me, among other things, of how I used to dabble in writing poetry and a few of my poems were ideal for spoken word. I'll have to go back and see if any sparks can fly. To dramatize the words and express my emotions creatively in a safe place, might be good therapy for those really bad days.

Read some new books to open my mind to new and different ideas to get the ideas circulating through my brain.

Get together with friends on a regular basis for social purposes and to talk, other than running. A number of my friends are going through this too. We can help each other.

Until next time...


christopher said...

Wow. This is your life in Ultra Color. Love it! Keep Up, Be Great, Sat Nam, Love Christopher.

Alene Gone Bad said...

Chris, It's like being on a big screen TV. But I'm still running...

Heidi said... picnic in Ft Collins right now! I am so sorry that you are dealing with this now, as if you don't have enough other crap to worry about. So glad that you have the girls and a good support system =) If you ever need to vent to someone with a little estrogen, give me a call. I may not get the menopause thing yet, but I certainly get the frustration of dealing with a body that you cannot come close to predicting, can't call in sick to work when it is ALL THE TIME!! Although...feeling pretty good to day for the 3rd day in a row (can't remember the last time that happened...usually it is 1 good, 2-4 BAD, etc...), and SOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO thankful! We miss you guys =)

Heidi "Mighty Mouse"

Run Home Pam said...

Hi Alene,

I'm so sorry to hear you're going through this. I experienced something similar after my third child was born almost 5 years ago. I had a wicked case of Post Partum Depression (as it was diagnosed). But it wasn't really depression. You're right about that. I had all the mood swings you are talking about along with debilitating panic attacks all night long. I was afraid to sleep. No eating. No sleeping. All with a newborn in the house. It was bad.

The thing that helped me the most (besides running, of course) was Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. My therapist gave me excellent coping strategies that I still use to this day. I learned to deal with myself as I was. Which I desperately needed to learn to do with three kids under 5 at home. The process for me was like getting to know myself again under these new conditions. (Because all of this hit me literally overnight.) I learned my limits and learned to be patient with myself. It was a terribly difficult time, but I am a stronger, more compassionate person for having come through (mostly!) to the other side.

I wish you well. Keep running! Keep on keepin' on. But take your own time.


Alene Gone Bad said...

Thanks everyone for the words of support and sharing your own coping strategies. It's making the adaptations in the face of new conditions that is the challenge. When something new hits you and you have to change because of it, it's the delay that gets you. The time it takes between it slapping you in the face and when you finally learn some coping strategies that work. You are right Pam, it takes time and you have to take your own time. It can be hard to do in a world that expects everything NOW. Thanks for the reminder.

Alene Gone Bad said...

Rick you sent me a nice comment and I appreciate it! I accidentally hit the "reject" button instead of "publish" and now I can't get it back. I'm sorry! Probably brain fog.

Juli said...

Thank you for writing about it. I just turned 51 and am suffering from some of these things. There is good in everything and menopause DID help me to stop enabling my children and the results are showing :). As far as practical advice--I believe food is our medicine and it can make all the difference. I am not a perfect eater, but I think I am having an "easy" menopause so far and wonder if it is the exercise and much improved diet over the past 3 years--back to the basics and real food. "Easy menopause" is like an "easy 100 miler"! You had many good ideas in your post on how to deal with it--dietary changes, and we can all improve, is one more idea.


Alene Gone Bad said...

Thanks Juli. I am reducing the number of hours I work and tha will go a long way toward taking care of myself and my family nutritionally. Less fatigue means more time to cook healthy meals and plan those meals. I'm looking into all of this stuff. And it takes time.

Funny how we tend to doubt ourselves first, think we're losing our minds or inadequate in some way, rather than seeing it for what it is, a natural process. Except the way we live our lives doesn't allow that natural process to be okay.