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Archive for May, 2009

This morning is not starting off well.   Well, to be honest, it’s actually just everything that’s been happening for some time finally reaching critical mass, and I think I’m about to become a small and very localized nuclear reaction.  Or at least, I want to.  I’m not going to.  But it’s tempting.

As flaky as it sounds – and it does sound a fair bit flaky, so be warned – every single time Mercury goes retrograde, I develop what my IT buddy refers to as viciously bad “computer karma” only it doesn’t just extend to computers, it includes (evidently) all machines and parts thereof.  (Laugh if you will but it’s a soundly documented phenomenon – we’ve been keeping track the last few retrograde cycles.  Flaky and absurd, but eerily accurate whether you believe in astrology or not.  I don’t, but I’m starting to reconsider.)  So far this week, I have popped a key off my Blackberry, which will necessitate replacing the entire keypad at a not-insignificant expense (and it’s an important key, so I really have to have it); I have a crack in my windshield which, while not remotely vision-obscuring or in any way likely to spread, will still prevent me from passing inspection, which I have to get done before the end of the month, so I’ve got to have that fixed; my laptop refuses to do about nine-tenths of the things I need it to do, for reasons which even my IT buddies can’t decipher (nope, no Conficker, we checked)…and various and sundry other very minor things which are not life-altering but nonetheless make each day a trial of patience.

But the worst thing of all, the thing that has me wanting to crawl into bed and never come back out, is that I have managed to break my USB flash drive.  This, my friends, is a disaster of epic proportions.  Why?  Because that’s where I store my writing.  ALL of my writing.  Every syllable.  And pursuant to the news that my IT friend delivered this morning, it’s so broken that it can’t be fixed even long enough to recover the data.  There’s considerable doubt whether there is even a chip that can be pulled out and somehow accessed, though we’re not 100% on that so I’m holding by my ever-shortening fingernails to that tiny sliver of hope.

Yes, it’s backed up.  Or it was, about six months ago.  Why, you ask, would I be so colossally stupid as to go six months without backing up the very essence of my existence?  That is an excellent question, and I will answer it as soon as I figure it out myself.  Stay tuned, because this one’s got to be good.

A great deal of the important stuff is backed up.  What is not backed up includes an entire novel, all of my notes and outlines for said novel, and sketchy plot summaries for about four more.  Thankfully, about two weeks ago I printed the novel for my first reader, so it can be retyped.  Unfortunately, I have made massive additions since that time (to the tune of about 10,000 to 15,000 words) that are not recoverable.  (One of the reasons for that being, of course, that my laptop is not performing Word’s autosaves as directed.  Or it’s deleting the files daily, I’m not sure which and it totally doesn’t matter because either way, there’s no autorecovery going on.)

I’m not happy.  It’s still sinking in so I’m still in the process of discovering just how not-happy I am. The wages of sin may be death, my friends, but the wages of extreme technical stupidity are overwhelming depression and despair.  [Let this be a lesson to you – back up.  NOW.]  😦  Because it’s this, on top of the fact that in less than a month, we’re moving my mom back to Oklahoma – which means I won’t see her again for who knows how long – and the fact that I’m currently desperately unhappy with my job, the fact that I’m struggling to keep from gaining weight, forget losing, despite really stellar eating habits and a kick-ass exercise regimen (thank you, perimenopause!) and a stack of medical bills that are currently keeping me awake some at night…oh, and starting through the college application and financial aid process with my elder daughter, and not knowing where my husband will be working or where I’ll be living in a year’s time, assuming we can sell the house because who knows if the market will have rebounded by that time…I’m feeling a bit panicky and desperate.

However, at this moment, as I’m contemplating all the things that keep piling up on my bewildered psyche, I can’t help thinking of something that will make many of you roll your eyes.  I keep looking back at this season of the Biggest Loser, one episode in particular.  This illustrates why I keep watching the show, despite everything:

On this episode, one of the contestants – Tara, who won something like 70% of the challenges and never once fell below the yellow line to be up for elimination; the woman is a machine and a paragon of determination and grit like I have never seen before – ended up playing target for all the other players except one.  The players had the opportunity to add weight to other players’ loads (which would eventually have to be dealt with during a challenge) and every single one of them (except for Helen) elected to target Tara first.  Most of them also targeted Helen, but Tara ended up with by far more weight than anyone else.  To make matters worse, the other players were particularly poisonous about it, laughing and making jokes about the whole thing and taking enormous satisfaction in the process.   I commented to my husband that they were the sort of jokes where you act like you’re joking but you’re really being very catty and mean, but you’re careful to do it in such a way that when someone’s smart enough to call you out for being bitchy, you can act all innocent and hurt and say, “I was only joking!” even though you clearly were not.  It was this episode where I became firmly on Tara’s team, because I just hate shit like that.  I mean, just be honest about it.  Which, BTW, is basically what Tara said.)

Anyway.  During the challenge, the players had to pull a 2-ton race car nearly half a mile down the track, and whatever weight had been given to them by other players was added to that car.  Tara ended up pulling the car plus 257 pounds.  And she kicked everyone else’s scheming ass.  She won the challenge by a landslide, despite the fact that she was pulling more weight than anyone else.  Why?  Because she didn’t quit.  (Note:  Helen didn’t quit either.  She didn’t win, but by God she finished.  And she did end up being the Biggest Loser.  So there.  That’s what people get for being mean.)

Oh, Tara wanted to quit.  She was intensely hurt by the fact that she had been a constant target for everyone for weeks because of the fact that she was so strong and seemingly invincible – she’d been bearing up extremely well and letting it roll off, but we all know that eventually that sort of backhanded hostility, however veiled, begins to wear on you – and she contemplated throwing the challenge and weigh-in and just getting sent home.  Her partner, Laura, stepped up to the plate and convinced her to stick it out, and in the end Tara won the challenge and many others, and ended up only missing the grand prize and title by 5 pounds.  Because she never, ever, gives up, no matter what.  Hand her more adversity and (no pun intended) challenges, and she just pours on the effort.  She always brings it.  She never accepts less than her best and she never gives up on herself.  And I’ll be damned if, nine times out of ten, it doesn’t pay off in a big way.

Tara’s sort of my hero, which you’ve probably figured out.  There have been a few women on this show who have really touched me and inspired me, and she’s definitely at the top of the list.  Not all of them were the winners – in fact, as I think about it, the only one who really was, was Michelle from last season.  But all of them share the single characteristic of refusal to give up in the face of what seems like more than they can take.

My problems are pretty small, all things considered, and definitely don’t qualify as “more than I can take”.  It’s just that when you pile up a lot of little things, the resulting pile can be as big as if you piled up a few really big things.  But I just keep seeing Tara pulling that car.  I don’t care how cheesy it sounds – that affected me.  The image is just burned into my brain – not her crossing the finish line, but her at the beginning with her head down and her face set and just pulling, pulling, pulling, even though she was light-years behind and didn’t seem to have a snowball’s chance in hell of winning and was terribly unhappy because she felt isolated and targeted.  She pulled that damned car anyway, with everything she had in her.  And it was enough.  I can only imagine what it felt like to cross that finish line and realize that, against all odds, she had won.

So, you know, so what if right now my car feels like it weighs a bit more than it should? The wheels are still turning, and it’s not actually more weight than I can successfully pull.  It’s not actually the end of the world.  I just have to dig in and pull harder.

I can do this.  I need to always remember that whatever life hands me, I can deal with it.  It might not be particularly easy and there will be days when, to quote Carrie Underwood “I guess I’m gonna have to cry,” but I can deal with it.  And the more I deal with, the more I know I can deal with – the more faith I will have in my own strength and capacity for growth and fortitude.  I can take the little things and turn them into big lessons…sure I can.  It’s sort of what I do.  🙂

I choose what I feel.  I choose how I react.  And I do not have to choose to be broken, no matter what happens.  I can choose that, and if I do it’s my life and my choice, and no one has the right to criticize me for that.  But I don’t have to choose it.  I can choose to accept it, find ways to deal with it and, if possible, fix it (or at least mitigate the damage) and go on.  And eventually, I’ll get that car across the finish line and know that I’m so much more than I ever thought I was.  And whether or not I eventually win the race, I’m still a winner for having never stopped pulling.

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Well, this isn’t exactly a book review – I think it’s sort of SOP to finish the book before you review it – but it is a recommendation.

A couple of months ago, I picked up a copy of “Menopause: The Silent Passage” by Gail Sheehy.   I’ve been slowly starting to educate myself about menopause and perimenopause, for a few reasons.

First, in the latter part of last year I started having a number of different physical symptoms that were honestly scaring the crap out of me.  The worst was the heart rhythm abnormalities, but there were some others – chronic insomnia, fatigue, major mood swings, an inexplicable inability to lose weight or even to keep from gaining at times, and the ever-popular erratic periods.  I put a great deal of it down to stress and ignored it for as long as I could, but eventually the heart issue got too severe to ignore and I went to the doctor.

Several rounds of tests and about $3,000 in medical bills later (thank God all but about $700 covered by insurance) I still don’t know anything except that (a) I didn’t need any of the medications I was taking, and am thankfully now prescription-free; and (b) my heart seems to be fine.  I ended up being referred to a psychologist for CBT (cognitive behavioral therapy) to manage the anxiety that my doctor said is causing every single symptom I have.

I have nothing against CBT.  It’s a very valid therapy and I think just about everyone on the planet, including me, can benefit from it in some way.  But I know anxiety – I have lived with anxiety disorders for 20 years, thank you very much – and this isn’t it. Stress, sure.  Anxiety?  Not really.  And what anxiety I did have was primarily due to the symptoms I was having – it was the effect, not the cause.

So, even at the beginning of all this, I suspected ‘early menopause’ because of the erratic periods, the fact that I’ve had a tubal ligation, and the fact that my mother started experiencing symptoms of menopause in her late thirties.  I’m now 36, so the timing seems about right.  My doctor admitted that this could be ‘part of’ my problem, but was evasive and unwilling to discuss treatment options as he feels that hormones aren’t the way to treat me.  And evidently, synthetic hormones are the only treatment of which he is aware.  (To be fair, he is a GP, not an OB/GYN.  But still.)  Also, I did have hormone levels tested by my gynecologist a couple of years ago when I had similar symptoms, and they came back as normal, so I thought that was that.

Well.  It’s not nearly so simple as all that, as it turns out.  According to Sheehy, the hormone levels of women experiencing perimenopause can spike and drop four to six times in the course of a single day.  Add to that, the fact that when I actually had the hormone levels taken, my cycle was evidently normalizing, because I finally started my period a couple of days later.

Anyway.  It’s taken me a couple of months to get around to actually reading the book, for reasons I wasn’t actually able to articulate until Sheehy did it for me – the ‘need to know and the fear of knowing’.  Yes, I want to know if this is what’s happening to me, or if I’m just nuts, the way my doctor seems to think I am.  But part of me is just so afraid to admit that my body is undergoing a massive and radical change that is going to turn the way I look at myself upside down…

I finally started readiing it, and my God, am I glad I did.  I’m about halfway through, and already she’s made so many things make sense, and put so many of my fears to rest.  A lot of it is stuff that I already knew, though I’d never strung it all together into a coherent picture of what menopause will mean for me – but a lot of it I didn’t know.  Most of all, it gives me hope.

For instance, while women who have suffered from depression in the past are far more likely to do so during perimenopause and menopause, it’s also true that postmenopausal women exhibit the lowest rates of depression of any population group.  Do you know how that makes me feel?  Once I’m through this roller-coaster ride, I may actually be consistently sane for the rest of my life!

The book also discusses the reality of perimenopause, which seems to be one of the biggest things we end up fighting with our doctors about.  If you haven’t stopped having periods, you’re not menopausal, they will say.  If you’re under forty – or, heck, under fifty in some cases – you’re too young, and it’s not menopause.  So they won’t treat you, they won’t talk about it with you, they essentially…well, treat you for anxiety.

I’m very excited about this book, because it’s giving me hope for the future, and peace about the present.  Yes, my body is going through some bizarre stuff – but it’s normal.  It’s okay.  And it can be handled in a number of ways.  Being me, I am leaning toward a homeopathic approach, but I will tell you right now, I am not ruling out HRT should it become necessary.  However, rest assured that, being me, I will do the most complete and exhaustive research possible about all the alternatives, and will try the least extreme first.  But at least I know I’m not crazy, I know that this isn’t something I just have to ‘live with’ and I know that when I’m through the process, I’ll be settling into the best years of my life.  And hey, if I’m starting early, there’s at least a chance I’ll be finished early, right?  So maybe I’ll have more ‘best years’ than most.  🙂  This is all very reassuring for me – my mother is one of those people who did have a pretty turbulent menopause; I know, because I remember some of it, because I was a child when she went through it.  But she doesn’t really talk about it; she dismisses it as “well, sure, I had that.  It goes away.”  After all, when she went through it, there weren’t a lot of options other than just waiting it out.

In any event, I think the book is a must-read for anyone over thirty.  Since I haven’t finished it, I can’t tell you how much science it presents, though there is definitely some, and it is somewhat dated – this edition is copyright 1998 – but it presents the topic in a very calm, reassuring and comfortable way.  For me,  it’s the first source of many, because I will go on to do a great deal more reading and Internet research; that’s how I roll.  But it was a great first source, because it is doing what I needed the most – dispelling the panic and frustration and confusion, so my mind is clear and lucid for the  more in-depth research I’ll want to do.  [And when I’ve done it, and armed myself with all the information I can find, I’ll go talk to my gynecologist about it.  If she’s not interested, I’ll find one who is.]

Knowledge is power – and finding that you’re not alone is enormously comforting.

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