I don't really mind getting older, but I have to admit, I am hating perimenopause.
Ever since puberty, I've known women whose monthly cycles have a profound effect on their moods and mental states, but I've never considered myself one of them. Until now. I'm not sure why this has changed for me, but perimenopause seems like a plausible thing to blame, so I'm blaming it.
Sure, I got a little irritable for a day or two, but honestly, the strongest mental effect of my cycle was a powerful craving for cookies for a few days. (I still get that, by the way. I always love cookies, but for a few days each month I basically transform into Cookie Monster.)
Now, though, something much more profound happens. For three specific days of my cycle (and I'm on the pill, so I know it is always the same three days), I feel like a failure. I feel like everything I'm attempting to do is doomed to fail. I am sure I should just give up.
The first couple of times this happened, I was completely unaware of any reason, and I actually started searching job ads for a full time position. This despite the fact that my contract work is bringing in enough to meet my financial targets for the year, and so I have decided not to start to look for full time work until November, at the earliest, and then only if I can't convince myself that I have a chance of making my financial targets next year.
After a couple of months, I caught on to what was happening, and to be honest, it sort of blows my mind. I strive to be empathetic to what other people experience. I thought I was being empathetic to what my friends who experience powerful emotional effects from their cycles were telling me. But clearly, I didn't really understand. I was thinking of it as "oh, they get really sad." No, this is much worse than that. Honestly, I have started treating it as if my own brain is lying to me.
This week happens to be the week in which my three monthly days of feeling like a failure fall. So starting on Sunday, I had to keep reminding myself that this feeling was an illusion, that the objective data indicates I still have a chance of pulling this new career thing off. (To be fair to my three days of pessimism- I'm not doing so great that the idea that the venture will fail is ridiculous. It very well might fail. But it is not failing yet.) Since I was in the grip of Lying Brain, I didn't really believe this pep talk, but I told myself to just go through the motions anyway. I'm pretty good at going through the motions despite crushing self-doubt, it turns out. (A hidden benefit of my years in a male-dominated industry! Or perhaps the reason I've lasted so long in a male-dominated industry? Hard to say.)
Today was the day my brain stopped lying to me, and I felt so much better that I can't describe it. I had one of those days in which there is an unfortunate confluence of a bunch of different work and home things, so the day was a tough one. But I sailed through fine until after dinner, when I went to make scones for the kids' lunches and accidentally cooked the pumpkin instead of defrosting it. Then I melted down. If only I'd remembered to take the pumpkin out of the freezer earlier, I self-flagellated. But that sort of emotional response is more inline with what I'm used to from my monthly cycle, and after a brief time feeling sorry for myself, I got my act together, opened a can of pumpkin, and made the damn scones. At no point during the day did I think "I'm a complete failure and I should just give up on all my goals now." Whereas yesterday, which was a pretty uneventful day, I thought that at least 30 times.
So anyway, I now have a little bit of personal experience with my brain lying to me, and it sucks. And I have just about the best scenario of lying brain I can imagine: there is a physical cause I can identify and the effect is time bounded and predictable. I am trying to imagine what it must be like to have your brain lie to you like this in unbounded and unpredictable ways, and I can't really do it. I have even more respect for people dealing with illnesses like depression and anxiety than I did before.
And I have a new appreciation for the limits of empathy. Empathy is not the same thing as understanding.