Ahem, get ready. Today I am writing about hormones. (Even if you are a man, please read this if you currently or, in the future, may live in any kind of close communication with a member of the female sex). Let me make the disclaimer that the phrase used as the title of this post was actually dubbed by my husband (who doesn't know I'm using it as a post title). Before you get mad at him, know that he said it compassionately. Really, he did. We were discussing (Um, ok, I was philosophizing while complaining) how darned hard it is for me to stay 'sanctified' when I'm having a battle with my hormones. Seriously. As a Christian, I believe that all of us humans have this bothersome sin nature to deal with. It's the fight against natural tendencies toward selfishness, or anger, or laziness, or lust... These things are sinful in the eyes of God because they are not love and they manifest in an egocentric focus on ME, ME, ME!
Some people seem to have it easier than others. Some seem to be born with naturally generous or gracious or kind or patient personalities. However, every one us has a few (or many) things that we need to rely on God's grace to sanctify us from.
Now, when you are a woman, you may find that this battle suddenly gets twice as hard at certain times of the month. There was a time, not that long ago, when this PMS thing was not acknowledged by doctors or psychologists. Apparently they thought women were just making this up. Now, however, it is clear, medically, that hormones affect the brain and absolutely do contribute to anxiety, anger, and depression. (For the uninformed men out there, if there are any actually reading this, PMS is Premenstrual Syndrome and usually hits in the week or two before the next period starts).
This all seems pretty unfair to me. If you've been there, you know that you just feel like you've been taken over by someone else sometimes. You don't really know WHY you feel so irritated, annoyed, frustrated, or anxious when your circumstances are just the same as they were a week ago when you felt just fine and were patient and kind. But, for some reason, it is just as if your happiness and patience went AWOL for several days.
I'm not saying that there isn't a spiritual aspect to this. There really isn't an excuse for sin. As my husband pointed out, it doesn't really matter what is causing the sinful behavior, we still need to trust God to get us through it. (For instance, what if it were a really lousy circumstance like sickness or loss or financial trouble? Would we not still need to be relying on God as our strength and source of peace?)
Anyway, there was a time, not that long ago, when, in spite of having been female my whole life (yup, it's true), I didn't know much about hormones and didn't really buy into the idea that they could affect your mental state all that much.
Then, I went though what I now recognize was Postpartum Depression, otherwise known as PPD. Pregnancy wasn't that bad for me. I never had morning sickness and my energy levels weren't that low. Besides getting more tired on those hot summer days, not being able to hike 8 miles without eating lunch (yup, that was dumb), and getting nerve pains near the end, not to mention the usual annoyances of having to go to the bathroom all the time and waking up a lot, I really had an easy pregnancy. My mood wasn't too bad either.(I don't think. I actually don't really remember what my mood was like, but I don't think it was too awful...)
After my daughter was born was when it got rough. Of course, with a newborn, I was always exhausted and the C-section, although I recovered well physically, was emotionally traumatic. I felt very removed from the whole experience.
Worst for me was the emotional disconnect I felt from my baby and the cloud I seemed to be in for about 10 months. It was hard to explain. I didn't feel like she was my child and I didn't feel the delight in her and enjoyment of her that I often feel now (Thank God that I do now!). I used to tell my husband that I felt like I was in a cloud. I didn't know how else to explain it. It just felt like I was functioning mechanically, with no emotional connection. I would try to grasp at it and it was always just out of reach.
Most of the time, when I heard PPD described, it sounded like I was supposed to be sleeping all the time, and crying the rest of the time. I never cried though, and I certainly didn't sleep! (I'm not much of a crier or sleeper anyway.) I wasn't completely unmotivated, either. I would get interested in things like cloth diapers, healthy foods, etc. In many ways, I didn't fit the definition of PPD, which is why I didn't realize I had it. The only time I had those overwhelming feelings of depression and hopelessness and just felt like climbing into bed and covering up was for about one minute almost every time I nursed.
Now, if you know anything about breastfeeding, you know that there is a hormone rush that causes the 'let-down' of the milk. All the books say it is supposed to be relaxing and cause loving feelings. Not for me! Instead, it was a wave of depression. I figured out what was happening after a month or two and then was able to just power though that minute or two until it passed.
It wasn't until my daughter was nearly a year old and I started to get my emotions back again, that I realized this had all been abnormal. I started doing a good bit of reading on the topic or hormones and PPD and discovered that, sure enough, hormones can be badly out of whack for many months following birth and can lead to all kinds of emotional troubles. If I had known, I probably could have obtained a simple solution that would have balanced my hormones and inserted some normal feelings of happiness and delight here and there amidst the difficult adjustment to motherhood. It would have made the harder times much easier, I'm sure!
Anyway, now that I'm done with pregnancy and breastfeeding (for now) and have been for a few months, I've been able to observe my normal states of mind throughout a cycle. Sure enough, my first two weeks are great. I'm happy and enjoying life. A few days after ovulation, though, I get irritable, impatient, and often have depressing feelings of hopelessness or anxiety (I also have trouble sleeping for several nights in a row). This lasts for several days, then I often get a sudden letup and am pretty happy again until this time next month. It's not too bad. I'm functional, and I know many women have it even worse, but still...
Some may think this isn't a big deal. So, most of us have to deal with PMS (all women, I mean!). Do we though? Thinking about my PPD troubles in combination with what I have read has led me to think that this roller coaster of emotions is NOT inevitable. At least not the extremes.
Some women are more sensitive to the effects of progesterone than others (the hormone that dominates after ovulation). Others have an estrogen dominance possibly brought about by foreign estrogens that come in meat, dairy, pesticides, and even lotions and shampoos. Our bodies react uniquely to the same amounts of hormones. Two women may have the same measurements of progesterone and estrogen (also, testosterone, which women have too!) but respond completely differently to them.
What I've learned is that there are a few things we can do to help our bodies and minds balance out. For normal monthly troubles, a good diet and exercise, of course, are essential. Also, a good multi-vitamin (especially with the B vitamins, Magnesium, and Calcium) can really help. There are also several herbs such as Chasteberry, Evening Primrose, Red Raspberry, and Black Cohosh that can help (problem is, if you may become pregnant, you have to be careful with some of these, and those last two weeks are the time when you could be pregnant and not know it!).
There are also bio-identical hormones to take (as differentiated from the synthetic ones in popular birth control pills) if needed. There are progesterone creams that can be applied right to the skin, or estradiol (most relevant form of estrogen) and progesterone pills. I feel that a simple blood or saliva test to test my hormones postpartum and then the use of something like this could have very well made my first year of motherhood much more enjoyable!
Well, now I know. Next time, if I have these struggles, I can probably have the cloud that fogged my mind and emotions easily fixed. If you have any of these troubles with PMS or PPD or menopause, ladies, talk to a doctor and make sure they don't just put you on anti-depressants! A simple hormone adjustment can really be the key. Meanwhile, I know that I can make sure I have the right vitamins, look into herbal and/or hormonal supplements, and then trust God to get me through the second sin nature of hormones!
Some books that were helpful to me were "Hormones and the Mind" and "The Estrogen Alternative" which you can probably find at the library like I did!