It started during the first round of the NHL playoffs, I know that for certain. Well, that’s the first time I noticed something, anyway. I remember sitting in my family room, overwrought and having murderous thoughts about my father every time he would flip to another channel during period breaks. It got me timing them on my phone, 17 minutes to the second, and after that he had better watch out. I didn’t really think too much on it, after all, hockey is the closest thing I have to an organized religion, and I’ve been pretty intense through playoff seasons in the past.
Except a few days later, it progressed to me watching the games on the television in the basement. I was very upset and reactive, and not just about hockey. My father became the target for my anger, and my mother for my not-quite-hysterical crying jags. I thought it was hypersensitivity and anxiety, and in many ways, it was. Just not quite the ways that I thought.
Then my head started pounding with migraines. I became exhausted. I already knew my emotions were all kinds of erratic. And I was spacey and generally unfocused. I would stop in the middle of sentences and just stare off at nothing, losing thoughts – or even the ability to generate them – completely for a minute or so. I knew by then things were not at all right.
The migraine tied it up into one neat little cluster of symptoms for me. It was all related to my headaches, a seed my psychiatrist had planted with complete innocence at one of our early visits. He had discussed my migraines, my mood, and done some very casual speculating about temporal lobe epilepsy. I brushed it off entirely in the moment. When I was having psychogenic nonepileptic seizures (PNES) from the post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) that manifested due to the electroconvulsive therapy (ECT), I was sent to see a neurologist specializing in seizure disorders, the Man, every doctor in the land knew of him and how good he was (and I had to wait six months for an appointment). He cleared me absolutely of epilepsy, or any kind of pathological seizure disorder apart from the one induced by the trauma. And yes, it was fun to stick all of those unpleasant acronyms into one sentence, thank you.
But with my bipolar disorder stabilized, there was this strange cluster of symptoms that I knew beyond a shadow of a doubt were not bipolar-related, and the migraine was seemingly the pivotal item upon which they all rested. There had to be more to explain it. Especially because shortly after the migraine episode passed, my symptoms remitted. After a second episode when I was back home to visit my family in Pittsburgh, I began to poke into information on partial seizures, and even made an appointment with Dr. the Man. But while, in theory, things were coming together, something about this explanation didn’t feel right to me. I canceled the appointment and just kind of left things alone to simmer.
Then last month, a light bulb went off. The light started in my uterus, but quickly made its way to my brain. I was holed up in my room, I had been for days. I wanted to smash someone or something, I was gobbling up Xanax and weeping, everything around me was irritating and stupid, I was exhausted and my head hurt. . . And then I had a cramp. Just a small one, but it pulled everything together in my mind. I looked up the symptoms of premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD), and voila! My mom had it, too, which I knew somewhere in my brain. They gave her a couple of medications to try back in the day, but apparently the cure was worse than what ailed her, and she just had to ride it out. Cooped up in a house all day. With two small children. Good Lord, that woman really is a saint.
So between me, my OB/GYN, and my psychiatrist (except mostly it was me), we’ve got it all set to where I up my mood stabilizers (Carbatrol and gabapentin) at a certain point in my cycle, and I’m a normal (well, my version of normal), mostly functioning human being again. I’m still a little more anxious, irritable, and weepy, but I have been getting by pretty well on the balance. Especially since I started kickboxing again. Such joy, such release, endorphins, everything that is good.
So since things are going so well, let’s throw something into the mix to fuck things up. It’s the way things work for me, I think I would be caught more off of my guard if things just went to plan. And honestly, there is no bitterness in that statement. I am completely used to it by now.
The IUD. Oh God, the saga of the IUD! Everything about it has been great, except the excruciating pain after insertion and the unholy cramping of my last period. I don’t think I gave quite an exact idea of that, and even if I did, I’m going to again. Keep in mind, ladies, that this is super-atypical. There is usually increased cramping during your first couple of periods, but not, not, not anything like this.
Last period, I spent the majority of time basically bed-bound. I had a heating pad cranked up to very high, I was taking Vicodin, alternating every three hours with mega-doses of ibuprofen, and I added in some old, expired muscle relaxers that belonged to my dad (he was happy to contribute what was left in the bottle as long as I shut up after I said the word “cramps” – and by the way, don’t be stupid and ever try this at home), and I had worked out a technique to keep myself immobile from the chest down by the end of the first day. It was a simple thing, I moved, I wanted to die. Pain really is a fantastic learning tool.
And still, and still, all of these measures only made my pain just bearable. I swear to you that I am not playing up the intensity of this. It started in my back, wrapped around my abdomen, and actually went shooting all the way down through every nerve in my left leg, out through my foot. My OB/GYN said that it sounded as bad as labor pain to her. I have no frame of reference, but I did feel totally legitimized and not like I was being a whiny bitch about things. So that was nice.
And now I’m counting down to go time again. I’ve got my shiny new bottles of (doctor prescribed) medication in my nightstand. I’ve got my heating pad next to my bed. I am all prepared. Only I’m stressed as fuck about it, of course. And ladies, you should know what stress can do. It can delay your period! Which for me means a longer time on an increased dose of mood stabilizers. Which at this point is honestly making me a little dopey. Time is passing oh-so-incredibly slowly, I’m walking around in a bit of a fog, and I just feel like there is something like a medication buildup clogging my brain. But I can’t knock my doses down, because even now I’m still edgy.
Of course, there is somewhat of a light. The good doctor and I agreed that we’ll (we’ll? what, is she going to go through the pain, too?) try two more cycles, and if the pain doesn’t get any better, the IUD comes out. Which is a bridge I shall cross if and when I can see it in front of me. Right now it’s a pretty long way off.
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