This morning I woke up out of sorts. It wasn’t the Covid hangover where the blending of days creates a general fog. And it wasn’t lack of sleep. In fact, there wasn’t a particular reason at all; and this is where my anxiety has been living. Nothing was causing me to feel unsettled, no clear reasons to acknowledge – other than the insanity we all have been sharing since COVID began and the slow return to our new normal. But the blank canvas of my day today made my heart race. Don’t get me wrong, I still had house chores, meals to shop and prepare for the boys, driving to be done, words to be written. But my mind went to the other place – the weird and unsettling place of no engagement, no clear connection to the outside world and my role in it. And the place where my heart races, my chest closes in tightly and I await the hours to climb back into bed.
I didn’t grow up with anxiety or depression, so these emotions are new to me. My chest never lies and when it gets tight, my mind is usually to blame. But these days, my old tricks don’t work. Breathing in deeply doesn’t help. Meditating makes no difference and honestly, only a shot of vodka relaxes my body – which isn’t great if the anxiety takes ahold at 8 a.m. instead of 8 p.m. A lot of women my age are feeling the same, it seems, but not many discuss it. Hormones. Menopause – or to be precise, peri-menopause. The stage of life where your cycle behaves so erratically you are left guessing as to why you can’t stop crying reading a Hallmark card as you wait in line at the pharmacy, or your ability to rage at someone comes all too easily and seemingly out of nowhere. Your irritability is that of a teenager and the disconnect from your body makes you feel vulnerable and at the whim of a force inside of you that you don’t recognize or understand. I use the pronoun ‘you’ on purpose; I know that this is not just my story. This is the story of countless women I have spoken to going through versions of the same thing.
So what to do? Well, I do find one thing to be certain…swapping what’s in my head for the contents and emotions of someone else’s isn’t the answer. For once I don’t feel like phoning a friend. But getting out of my own mental way is a must. Staying quiet and in one position also doesn’t help me at all. As the spiral of thoughts continue, I do the easiest and most worthwhile thing I can do – I go for a walk.
I remember being a new mom, exhausted and feeling defeated by 9 am. I remember my first son crying all the time for five months from colic and trying everything to get that kid to shut up! And the only thing that ever worked was being outside. A walk for me with the baby carrier – a cradled child held by my arms under a tree; the wind in my baby’s hair at the beach. He always stopped crying, as long as we were outside. Now here I am, 23 years later, hormones raging inside of me but for very different reasons, and being in nature – outside and moving my body – is the only thing that seems to relax my anxious heart and open my seized up chest. My mind clears. I sometimes engage with fellow hikers and their dogs (making up salacious stories in my mind about their lives). My poor dogs have been on more walks since lockdowns and menopause entered my life – they look at me like I’ve seriously lost the plot when I pick up their leashes for the third time in a day. But it works. Everyone has their own form of meditation and mine usually involves a tree and some mileage on my shoes.
Living with five men/manboys means that there’s a lot of testosterone in my house but we run low on the girly stuff. Going through peri-menopause shouldn’t be a surprise but equally no two women seem to be on the same meds, if any, or on the same regime, and absolutely no one has great answers. There’s simply no rhythm when one month you’re connected to the lunar cycle and the next four you’re not. I feel like my hormones are playing a game of roulette in there; landing on black means nothing is going on and then the wheel spins round and it’s red, baby! Watch out! Either way, all I know is that I need to walk more.