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Silence has been both a friend and an enemy for me of late. I realized, after a day of blessings and a day of self-pity, that service is one of the keys to feeling more like myself. Nothing great, nothing spiritual, just small things that help others. It is what is at my core. It helps me find my fair winds and keep sailing.

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Oak Island, North Carolina.

Quote of the day: “The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.” — Mahatma Gandhi

Daily gratitudes:
A beautiful warm day
Finding components of our dream house
The coyote standing in the middle of the dry field at sunset
Sun shining on wild sunflowers this late in fall
MKL’s and my girls’ support and love

 

Warning for some: TMI ahead.

Perimenopause.  The prefix “peri” is from the ancient Greek, and means “near”.  Near is a relative term.  I am near the Caribbean when compared to someone in Juneau, Alaska at this moment, but that does not make me as near as someone in Miami, Florida. “Near” is a hedge word.

However, if we check in with our friend Wikipedia, the word “Peri” means the following:

In Persian mythology, the Peri are descended from fallen angels who have been denied paradise until they have done penance. In earlier sources, they are described as agents of evil; later, they are benevolent. They are exquisite, winged, fairy-like creatures ranking between angels and evil spirits.

I like that definition of “Peri” much better. And it really describes who, how, and where we perimenopausal women are.

The highs and lows of perimenopause are meni and veri. See what I did there? Yea, get over it.

I say “Get over it” to myself many times each day, as I am perpetually awash in a slippery tangle of hormones.

This thing they call perimenopause – in laywomen’s terms, pre-menopause…do you mean it’s actually WORSE once you hit ACTUAL menopause?  I’m still technically not menopausal, yet I have all the symptoms – and I try to view them as positively as possible. Hot flashes are just short private vacations to a tropical island. Mood swings are experiences of the rich depths of my mercurial personality.

Based on my research, I fail to see where the actual differences between perimenopause and menopause lie, except that I guess you never get a period again, instead of having one that lasts three days once or twice a year.  Or one that lasts twelve days when you are on a vacation in the islands. Maybe that’s part of perimenopause – your body has gotten smart enough to wait to release the deluge until you are in the exact place and time when you don’t want said deluge to occur. Perhaps your body is giving a giant Bronx Cheer or having a last hurrah before your reproductive system gives up the ghost altogether.

Regardless of it’s motives, it feels like my body is not playing fair.

Don’t tell me to “own it”, to gracefully accept this change in life. I DO own it. I’m not treating my body as separate from me. In fact, I’m totally on board with this change of life.  Let’s just go ahead with it, okay? No more of this dinking around. Right now, my body is like, “Oh, okay, I’m done with periods.  (Significant pause.)  JK!  LOL! LOVE YA!

Stop it.

I’m in a pretty happy place these days. Got a wonderful love, got a cozy house, got a decent job, got an amazing daughter. But the unpredictable tide of hormones can have me going to bed smiling, and waking up in tears, wishing I could just stay in bed all day eating Slim Jims and sugar cookies with a bottle of rum, watching Jerry Springer.

MKL and I will be celebrating our one year anniversary on Friday, and I feel for him. It must be hard for a guy who has been single for a while to find himself involved with a woman who has several different personalities. He never quite knows who is going to show up. In the olden days, couples had been together for a long time before the peri/menopause days hit, and so the man knew who the woman was, and could recognize “the change” as an anomaly in the woman he’d lived with for years. In a new relationship, I imagine it’s more along the lines of the old game show “To Tell The Truth”  – will the real Seasweetie please stand up?

I am blessed that MKL has the wisdom to look beyond the mood swings, and see the true me. I am blessed that he just hugs me when I’m having “one of those days” and asks if I want to talk, but doesn’t insist on it. He doesn’t try to talk me up or down or out of wherever I am.  He just loves me, steadfast and true and stable.  (OK, enough gushing about MKL.)

As (almost) all women do, I just have to wait until this plays out. I have spent my life (as many women do), blaming my hormones for a variety of moods and behaviors. I don’t know why I’ve been blaming my hormones, as my hormones have been fluctuating since I was 13, so really it’s just my normal state of being. I guess I expect that once menopause hits, my hormones will calm down.  But I think the only way that could happen is if they went away altogether, and they’re not going to do that – and if they do, I think someone would give me drugs to simulate them.  And besides, if they were completely gone, or if they were simulated, that would just be another thing for my body to adjust to. It all just doesn’t make a lot of sense.

It comes down to “I am who I am” and there is no need to make excuses, blame internal or external factors, or expect change to follow some logical, predictable, orderly sequence.

I can just be here, right now, somewhere between angel and evil spirit, waiting for the next deluge that may never come.

Angel on the Beach by Kamil Vojnar

Soldiers go off to war and they know why they are fighting, and who they are fighting.  They know what they have to do to win.  But what do you do when you can’t seem to defeat your foe?  When you feel like you’ve vanquished this foe, and you’re doing all the right things, staying vigilant and yet somehow, this enemy sneaks in through some unguarded window and takes over again?

I’m talking about depression.  I’ve suffered with depression for a long time now, off and on, off and on, for 30 years.  For what sometimes feels like forever.  I guess I’ve tried everything.  Therapy.  Exercise.  antidepressants.  It’s all helped, definitely.  Changing my life so drastically over the last 2 years has – I think? – helped.  (And today is the 2-year anniversary of my moving into the Cottage.)

I had a pretty rough bout of depression in the summer.  Then, with a change in meds and the addition of a lot of aerobic exercise, I felt much better.  In fact, I was cruising along just fine.  Until a few days ago.  I opened my eyes one morning and it was back.  No rhyme, no reason.  It seemed to come with the wind.  Now, I’m sluggish, dull, have no interest in getting out of bed.

Have you seen those commercials that say “Depression hurts”?  It does.  Even though it’s been warm, my old broken bones hurt.  My hands hurt from arthritis.  I barely had the energy to take a 2-mile hike yesterday.  What a difference from the 6-mile hike I took a couple of weeks ago.

I keep asking myself what’s wrong, what’s missing.  And I can’t really come up with anything.  Yes, I’m in a bit of a limbo now, not knowing when or where I’m going next, or what I’m going to do next.  But I don’t think that’s what the problem is.  It doesn’t feel situational. 

I have learned that there are two types of depression: endogenous and non-endogenous (or exogenous) depression.  Endogenous depression is typically genetic.  Here’s what our friend Wikipedia has to say about it:

“A sufferer is prone to become depressed on the advent of traumatic events, exhaustion or when under high levels of stress and may not be aware of the disorder until confronted by symptoms of depression for the first time.

Depressive episodes can occur at any age, but despite the predisposition may never become a serious problem. The severity of depression resulting from a diagnosis can vary greatly, from mild to severe. Worsening of a persons mood may not be triggered by any external element. It is hard to determine its endogenous origin. It is often the case that a sufferer first confronted with life events that might trigger depressive condition and when no particular source of the mood disorder is found, the depression is considered endogenous.”

That sounds like me.  Right now, nothing has triggered it, but yet it’s there.  And it’s bad.  Even Kelsea notices.  She worries a bit that she will suffer from it too.  She’s talked to me about it, and she’s talked to a trusted counselor at school about it.  It’s just something we’ll have to keep an eye on.  Nice legacy her Mother may have given her, huh?

I feel like my work is suffering.  My good habits are suffering.  My relationships are suffering.  I am suffering.  And I can’t just “snap out of it”.

I feel grey inside.  Empty.  Yet incredibly heavy.  Smothered by cold, wet cotton balls.  It feels impossible to generate any enthusiasm for anything.  I want it to pass.  I want to master this enemy.  But I have no idea where to start.  I just want this feeling to go away.  It usually does.  It just takes time.  Damn it.

Chinooks.

They happen in Montana, in Alaska, in the Black Hills of South Dakota.  And they happen here.

Strong, warm winds that can raise the temperature by 30 degrees in a matter of hours, that can turn a foot of snow into a mudpile in half a day.

That can create knee-weakening migraines in strong women.  That can cause sleeplessness that makes a morning bed look like a tornado roared through overnight.  That can make the general population irritable as a porcupine in a hurricane.

Their arrival is heralded by a unique cloud ridge that perches behind the mountains.  If you didn’t know what you were seeing, you’d think that a huge storm was coming in.  But if you thought that, you’d be mistaken.

There are similar wind phenomenon across the world.  I thought that they were essentially all the same thing, but research has shown me that they are all characterized by slight, yet significant, differences in areas of origin, flow patterns, and the resultant changes to the atmosphere that they cause.

The Diablo Wind, a strictly California breeze, sucks the humidity from the air and increases the risk of fire danger by enhancing the updraft heat from existing sparks.  It is strongest on mountaintops, complementing its companion, the Santa Ana wind, which thrives in the California canyons.

The Santa Anas, common in late fall and winter in Southern California and Baja, can be hot or cold, but are known for blowing strong enough to clear the smog from Los Angeles – a herculean feat.  Strongest at sunrise and sunset, they, like the Chinooks, are known as a disruptive force of emotional nature.  And if you’ve had a big night on the town, they can contribute to a whale of a hangover.

The Foehn Winds, also known as snow-eaters, and seemingly the original version of Chinooks, are found in central Europe, and contribute to the milder, warmer climate of those countries.  The Foehn wind has the honor of being the first subject of research on the psychological, nay psychotic, impact of wind on the human spirit, by 19th-century physician Anton Czermak.  While not clinically confirmed, Fohnkrankheit (Foehn-sickness) can be seen as an indication on German-made aspirin bottles.

The Foehn winds are known as Zonda Winds in Argentina, Lyvas winds in Greece, Bergwind in South Africa, Favonio in Italy, Hnúkaþeyr in Iceland, and the Nor’West Arch (most commonly occurring in summer) in New Zealand.  New Zealand environmental scientist Neil Cherry stated, “About 10% of people affected by the nor’wester feel elated and wonderful.  But the rest feel depressed, irritable, and lacking energy. People feel they can’t cope with everyday things…There is irrational anxiety and a sense of foreboding.”  Huh.  Maybe that’s why a friend was telling me yesterday that he had a general feeling of unease.   Not that we’re in New Zealand, but it seems the same principle applies to these winds in all countries.

(Please check out other wonderful works from this artist, Annette Abolins, at www.abolinaart.com.)

While I can’t find clinically validated research online regarding the impact of wind on mental health, it’s clear that it’s been noted all over the world, and the “myth” that wind causes unusual behavior has been perpetuated in modern-day film and literature.  The winds create positive ions, which do have a tendency to make people feel “bad”.  Even without documentation, I know the Chinooks have effected me since I moved here, and I see that they effect Kelsea as well.  

The only time I was ever able to feel a sense of peace and purpose to the wind was after I started sailing – with that newfound love came an understanding of the wind as something positive and powerful that can help us move through life.  Since the Captain’s passing, however, that feeling has departed as well.

Native American mythology considered the wind to be a living being that communicated with those who would chose to hear its unearthly voice, such as shamen and medicine men.  As I feel that my feet are kicking up dust at the beginning of a shamanic path these days, perhaps it is something I need to think more about, to journey on.

I am sure that any wisdom I could gain from the wind spirits would be beneficial – perhaps lesseing my desire to take an automatic weapon to stupid drivers, which is how a lot of my irate emotions manifest on Chinook Days such as today.

Please pardon the kitteh’s french.  Unfortunately, it sounds a lot like what I was saying this morning.  Think I’ll take some duct tape with me when I go pick Kelsea.

A few weeks ago, I wrote about my concern for my own mental health around the mourning of my Mother.  I did some research about the phenomenon that psychologists call “complicated grief” (which I labelled for myself “profound grief” because that’s how I felt it).

But that same day, I wrote about a dream I had.  A dream in which my Mother was hugging me.  A dream so vivid in its physical sensation that I could still feel her hugging me when I awoke.  A dream that was a visitation.  A dream that I never wanted to end.  But end it did. 

That day, the dream was on my mind quite a bit.  I felt odd.  And the next day, I felt….better.  I felt like, somehow, my Mother’s death had found its little nook in my soul, where I could tuck it and have it — and me — be comfortable, be at peace.

I’ve checked in since – it’s been over a week – and the sense of a weight being lifted is still there.  The darkness that has shifted in me like fine black sand since her passing is gone, faded, lightened.  I keep waiting for it to come back, waiting for the other shoe to drop, but I don’t believe that’s going to happen.  It – or maybe I – just feel different.

When I was contemplating my complicated grief earlier, it was feeling unbearable.  I told a friend that I was concerned, that I felt stuck in it, and I didn’t want it anymore, but I didn’t know how to fix it.  That I was thinking about going back to a therapist to discuss it, even though that’s the last thing I can afford now.  We had that conversation the night before I had the dream.  Perhaps my Mother, or my subconscious, needed me to get to the point where I could say “I want this to stop.  I want to let this go,” before the universe could spin things around to a resolution.

I have not dreamed about her since, which is soothing and surprising, because I would dream about her most nights.  But Kelsea, my daughter with the shine, had a dream last night.  She dreamed I was standing in the doorway of her bedroom, and that my Mother was standing behind me.  And I didn’t notice my Mother.  And she was smiling at Kelsea.  She said it felt like a visitation, not a dream.  It made me feel like it was a sign that all is right in this cross-section of our spirits now.

It made me smile.  I think we have both found some peace.

I have always gotten the Winter Blues.  They’re a little late in their severity this year – they just seem to have hit now.  I am subdued.  I am quiet.  I am teary.  I anger quickly.  I am despairing.  And I just figured out this morning, when I looked at all the bare trees and felt my soul sink, aching for want of green leaves, that SAD had finally struck.

When I first started noticing it years ago, it hit in January.  In recent years, it’s moved up to hitting in November or December.  This year, while I was, as usual, disgusted with the cold, and only satisfied with the snow when it was too deep to leave the house, I wasn’t experiencing the exceptional indigo blues that typically accompany winter.  Yes, I had the blues, but between divorce, the holidays and the cold, that was to be expected – they were your standard Crayola Blue blues.

Today, they hit me like a ton of sapphire bricks.

While Seasonal Affective Disorder is not, according to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (or DSM-IV), a mood disorder with its own classification code, it is what they call a “course specifier”, which means that it can contribute to major depression.  It appears to be a biochemical imbalance in the brain due to the shorter days of winter.  There have been arguments made that SAD is a natural response to cold and an absence of light – a sort of hibernation response that might very well have been a survival technique of our distant ancestors.  I’d believe that.

Symptoms of SAD can include:

  • fatigue – got it, but what else is new?
  • lack of interest in normal activities – kind of got it
  • social withdrawal – no more so than usual
  • craving foods high in carbohydrates – no, no cravings thanks to Atkins
  • weight gain – again, kudos to Atkins for keeping this one at bay

While you might think that SAD would be worse in countries towards the Arctic Circle, such as Iceland and Norway, it’s actually less so.  Researchers suspect this may be some kind of genetic adaptation, or it may have to do with the large amounts of Vitamin D that people in these countries consume.  (Did you know that Icelandic people eat 225 pounds of fish per person per year?  I didn’t.)

SAD is primary treated with light therapy.  A special light that emits full spectrum bright white light can be helpful.  I used one off and on when I first started feeling the severe effects of SAD.  I pointed it to the backs of my knees (yes, I know, but it seemed to work) every morning for about 20 minutes.  I should probably retrieve it from Pat’s house, but it’s pretty big, being one of the first of its’ kind.  I’m sure they have more compact models now.

Other suggested treatments are:

  • Medicines – already doing that
  • Changes in diet – I can do that – fish are golden on Atkins
  • Learning to manage stress – Bah-Hah! SNORT!  Yeah, right….
  • Going to a sunny climate for the cold months – That one sounds like the best of all plans to me

One of my bosses insists that my SAD should start abating on December 22, when the days start getting longer.  He considers that date to be the beginning of spring.  I have tried, but I am unable to buy into that theory.

I am just going to have grumble and mourn my way through the cold until the first crocuses start appearing.  Until then, just be sure that all knives and sleeping pills are well out of my reach.  And keep the Kleenex handy.

After yesterday’s whine, I started out today making lists in a new notebook.  It’s really garish, so should be hard for me to lose, even among the evil clutter of the cottage.  It’s good for me to make lists.  Lists serve as a second brain.  I suspect they will continue to do so until I can instill some stillness and quietude into my mind. 

One of my friends says that meditation is a good tool for adding stillness – and would be good for me.   I tend to think this might be true, but where does the time come from?  I am already making time for exercise.  And now I must add something else to the mix that involves taking care of myself ?  Preposterous!!

I never used to like meditating.  I always returned from a session feeling a little bit “off”, as if the universe had shifted just a hairs-breadth while I was away.  It was disturbing.  It reminds me of the feeling you have when you’ve experienced a very small earthquake, like something stable has been ever-so-slightly disarranged.  I voiced this concern to my Mother, who had recommended meditation to me during my turbulent teens.  Given how it made me feel, she agreed that it was probably wrong for me.  I know now that part of what she was saying (or rather not saying), was that I wasn’t protecting myself properly.

The concept of psychic protection is an interesting one.  I am only recently re-learning to surround myself with the white light, the blue eggshell, to take refuge in the safe spaces of my soul when dipping my toes into other realms.  Mother gave me some guidance around the white light, as did a few weeks at Theosophy Camp during the my 15th summer.  More recently, I have received some instruction in this technique from my wonderful Shaman.  It’s not something that comes to me readily, but I have a strong sense that it’s something I need to cultivate, especially these days.

Ordinarily, I wouldn’t think that meditation would require psychic protection.  But I guess in my case, it does.   Something related to that sensitivity or “shine”, no doubt, makes me more vulnerable to the strange swirlings of crossed-over worlds.

Anyway, I was reading a few things on meditation in my web travels last night.  The Zazen school insists you must take a class – can’t learn it from a book – and sit with a ramrod-stiff spine.  OK, I don’t buy that.  A couple of other sites were entirely too woo-woo.  “Just breathe and clear your mind – it’s that simple.”  Don’t buy that either.  I don’t want to contemplate my navel – it’s too hard to see past my boobs.   Thinking about the word “EON” makes my head hurt.  There’s got to be a technique out there that feels simpatico for me.  Maybe I just need to try it, instead of looking for the answer in the written word.  And as Yoda likes to say, “There is no try, there is only do.”  (He may have added “..or do not,”  but I don’t remember.  I’m not as up on my Yoda as I might be.)

I’ll keep you posted.

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I don’t want you to miss out on your history lessons for the day:

Today is Abraham and Mary Todd Lincoln’s wedding anniversary.

AbrahamLincoln3-500

Lincoln wedding

lincolns-190
It’s also Walter Cronkite’s birthday.  He was my favorite anchorman of all time, the one I grew up with, and learned about the Vietnam War with.  He was slightly older than my father, and his daughter is about the same age as me, so I felt “close” to them.  His daughter must be having a difficult day today.  I know I am.  Today is my father’s birthday as well.  But I can tell her, as with everything after your father dies, the first one without him is the hardest.

WalterCronkite
It is the 109th Anniversary of the Tube in London.  I have never had the privilege of riding the Tube, but I have admired the signs.

Mind the Gap
And it is – in what strikes me as a remarkable coincidence – the 676th and the 43rd anniversary of the massive flooding of the River Arno, which nearly destroyed Florence, Italy on both occasions.  No pictures are available from 1333, but here’s one from 1966:

flood

Finally, it is Zero-Tasking Day, and I have already been remarkably busy.  Time to celebrate by doing nothing!

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