Perimenopause Is Taking Up Residence In My Body, And It’s Not Leaving

Everything is dry on my body. From my hands to my hair to my vagina — it’s all changed. Creams and lotions don’t seem to help and they aren’t hydrating my skin like they used to. My Aries moodiness has turned into something more than just my normal bullheaded attitude. I can no longer blame my irritability on my astrological sign. It’s the start of menopause, I am sure of it. My body just isn’t the same, including my sex drive. Everything feels different and my body is telling me that what I am experiencing is perimenopause.

The Symptoms Of Perimenopause: A Seemingly Neverending List

Honestly, I’m having so many weird symptoms, I don’t even know where to begin, and I’m not even sure what to attribute them to. It is perimenopause … or just a crappy mood? Here are some of the most common symptoms of perimenopause.

Hot Flashes

The symptoms of perimenopause can be brushed off as just having a bad day — a sweaty mess of a bad day with intermittent hot flashes. We’ve heard about the infamous hot flashes which we often attribute to actual menopause, but that can also happen in perimenopause. 

Irregular Periods

The body goes through so many changes — perhaps the most notable is that periods and ovulation become irregular. So, you could have a 60 day cycle, or you could get your period every two weeks for a while. Fun times.

Vaginal Dryness

Along with the mood swings and irritability, there is the also infamous reality of vaginal dryness, and that does not mean only during sexual intercourse, but at other times as well. Lube is your friend here.

Painful Intercourse

Dyspareunia (painful intercourse) is something not often discussed or talked about when we think about conversations with our doctors. Dyspareunia is a condition that affects the vulva and vagina with increased dryness and a thinning of the vaginal tissue making penetration during intercourse perhaps even a constant vaginal tightness. This is why between 17-45% of menopausal women say that sex is painful for them because there is little lubrication, even if they are aroused to adequately enjoy sex. 

Lowered Libido

For some, their desire for sex also decreases because of lower estrogen and testosterone levels. Some women report a decreased ability to reach orgasm, and I mean, doesn’t everyone want to get to orgasm? Sigh.

My Own Surprising Symptom: Increased Cholesterol

Hitting perimenopause is a huge deal, and can last, according to my own gynecologist, TEN years before menopause actually settles in. With changing hormone levels, many women find that their cholesterol levels creep dramatically up.

My recent blood work surprised me when the results popped up in my health app. My cholesterol levels increased since my previous blood work just last year. As I scrolled down my app, I sat there shocked, stewing perimenopausal confusion. How could I have an increased LDL cholesterol level? I don’t overdo it on the carbs!

Perhaps changing my diet will help increase my HDL, the good cholesterol so that I can be healthier. According to Webmd.com, there are things we can actively do to alleviate some of the symptoms we experience during perimenopause. We can exercise more, quit smoking, get more sleep, drink less alcohol, get more calcium and take multivitamins — basically, do all the things we should be doing to be healthier humans, and not just because we are inching closer to menopause.

It’s All About Acceptance.

I could run and hide from this all (and I want to). But I’m taking it all as a sign that I must pay attention to my body. It is not enough to simply bask in the glory of not having a regular period. I must give my body the attention it needs, to notice it, to see it. I’m trying to take Oprah’s advice about menopause: “So many women I’ve talked to see menopause as an ending. But I’ve discovered this is your moment to reinvent yourself after years of focusing on the needs of everyone else. It’s your opportunity to get clear about what matters to you and then to pursue that with all of your energy, time, and talent.”

Amen.

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It’s Not Just You — Late-Stage Pandemic Is Turning Us Into Forgetful Basketcases

I’m not a big fan of non-elastic waisted pants, but I wear them and know how they work. Or I thought I did. I put on a pair of jeans recently and went to slip my belt through the belt loops and I couldn’t remember which side I normally started on. I just picked a side and buckled it, but it didn’t feel right. Can a belt feel right? I think the excess fabric is normally on the left, I thought. Or is it? I forgot how to put on my own damn belt.

My memory and attention to detail is usually exceptional; recalling facts, important to-dos, items needed at the store, and everyone’s schedule is second-nature and done with what now seems like unappreciated ease. My belt confusion and forgetfulness is new for me, but has been getting worse over the last several months. The longer we have been in this pandemic, the harder my brain has to work to remember stuff — if I remember at all. If you also have a corner of your garage filled with recycling and trash because you forgot to roll the bins down on what was supposed to be pick-up day and now have bins that are too full to hold more stuff, then you’re not alone. This pandemic has turned our brains into sieves.

Elisha Wilson Beach tells Scary Mommy her brain is “on overload.” “Trying to balance my work with literally 55 Zooms a week between my four kids (yes I counted them) [means] I’m in a perpetual cycle of forgetting something,” she says. “I forget at least one Zoom class a day. I walk into a room at least once a day and forget what I went in there for. I can’t tell you how many times I have forgotten where I am driving because it’s like my brain can no longer comprehend how to drive and do other things at the same time.”

Anyone else’s neck hurt from nodding too hard in agreement? My anxiety also shot up because I can feel that stress in my bones. And then I forgot what the hell I was supposed to be reading and writing about. This is because we have all been in a state of chronic stress for a prolonged amount of time. We have been multitasking media — meaning we use multiple media streams at once — every day for over a year. And we have been doing this in isolation or very small bubbles with little variation and minimal contact with friends, family, and co-workers. Studies show that each of those factors negatively impact memory function, but when they overlap continuously for a long period of time? We never had a chance.

“We’re all walking around with some mild cognitive impairment,” Mike Yassa, a neuroscientist at UC Irvine told The Atlantic. “Based on everything we know about the brain, two of the things that are really good for it are physical activity and novelty. A thing that’s very bad for it is chronic and perpetual stress.”

Even if we are navigating this pandemic with comfort and privilege, the stress of unpredictability and lack of stimulation, i.e. boredom, can change our brains. When we’re stressed, our body releases cortisol. It’s the “fight or flight” chemical that protects us and is beneficial in short bursts. When we’re under stress for long periods of time, our body makes more cortisol than we need and more than we can release. The excess cortisol eats away at our brain’s ability to function properly, can kill brain cells, and shrink the prefrontal cortex which holds the keys to learning and memory. Add this to the decreased use of our hippocampuses because we seem to be stuck in a Groundhog’s Day-like loop of repetition and you get Elly Lonon.

“I was in the shower yesterday, stopped to write something down,” Lonon tells Scary Mommy. “Then I closed my left hand and was horrified to find a white, creamy substance squishing out. I frantically flung it off and washed my hands. Then I remembered it was conditioner.”

Studies and sales reports show that people have been coping with stress and boredom with alcohol. While this may provide temporary relief, alcohol is literally fuel to the fire in our brains because the more people drink, the shittier their working memory becomes.

Vaccination rates are increasing and the weather is improving and giving us more options for outdoor activities but we are still very much in the thick of a dangerous pandemic. So what can we do to improve or mitigate the effects of COVID-19 forgetfulness? We can be more intentional to add variety into our days. Change the location where you work if you can. Listen to a podcast or pick up a book. Try a new recipe. Take a different route to the grocery store. Anything you can do to change up your routine and force your brain to work in different ways is good for you.

Getting more activity and movement into your day helps too. Exercise improves memory function, but it also boosts your mood and can help with sleep. Walking, stretching, and dancing are all great ways to build 5-10 minutes of movement into your day several times a day. A (COVID-safe) walk with a friend would be doubly beneficial.

It’s also important to be gentle on yourself. We are living through what better be the only pandemic we will ever have to experience. Remind yourself that it’s impossible to function the same way we did before the pandemic, and it will still be difficult even after we are on the other side of it. The pace we have been trying to keep is not healthy or sustainable. Try to be proud of what you are accomplishing instead of beating yourself for some of the misses.

Julie Minor sums it up pretty well for us all: “I have ADHD so a lack of consistency and structure means all of the cues I need to do the things are not there and I’m like, ‘WAIT. WHAT AM I DOING WITH THIS PLASTIC BAG IN MY HAND STARING AT THE PANTRY?’ I don’t know. I’m just there. Staring at my pantry. It’s The Blur. The past year has been an immersion into The Blur.”

Take heart, friends. I was going to say something else to comfort you, but I can’t remember what it was.

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Parenthood Cost Me My Bladder

In what was a devastating turn of events, my OB/GYN, who’s literally my ride-or-die for hooha care, informed me at my annual exam that she could see my bladder. Yup. Actually see it.

“What?” I asked, sitting up instantly, my visit going from my first minutes of tranquil solitude in months to a brutal reminder that forty, and all its consequences, was right around the corner. (Okay. Forty actually already passed, but I don’t know any of you, so I can pretend otherwise, and just write as if I am perpetually in my thirties. Next article I might even be in my twenties.)

“Yup, stage 2 prolapse for certain,” she said. “Do you want to see it?”

“No, I do not want to see it.,” I said. Why would I want to see the evidentiary proof of my vagina’s collapse? “But, what does this mean?” I asked.

“Well, are you going to the bathroom frequently, or straining while going?” she asked.

“Hmm.” I hadn’t really thought much about it. I had noticed waking every night, and not making it on long car rides (sometimes not even making it on short ones). But I had assumed it was something temporary that would fix over time, like the linea de negra that’s still slowly fading on my belly, or the thirty pounds of baby weight I was losing at a rate of .25 pound a month. “Is this a problem?” I asked.

“At your age, it’s not good. But, don’t worry. You can always have it surgically lifted back into your body,” she said.

What, what now? Lift it back into my body. Wasn’t that the same procedure my seventy-year-old mother-in-law had last year? How did I get here so soon? Sensing my hesitation, she suggested pelvic floor therapy instead.

“It will help strengthen the muscles,” she said. As she spoke, I felt the urge to pee, but I pushed it back. Why face reality when I can just pretend it doesn’t exist?

Parenthood had stolen a lot of things from me, my tiny waist (okay I never really had a tiny waist but again for the purpose of this article, let’s pretend I did), my perfectly polished fingernails, the ability to wear pants without elastic waist bands, my perky bosom (okay, they were never really perky either), and I had accepted all of that in exchange for my adorable bundles of joy. But my bladder? This seemed too much to process. I had always been so fond of it. Proud of it even. How much it could hold on transatlantic flights. How quickly it could empty. Others had even commented on it in public restrooms, saying things like “Wow, you go so quickly.” That part is hand to God true. I would never lie about my bladder.

Now all that was ending. It was perfectly in place for all these years, and suddenly it was slipping away, that first sign that I was hitting middle age. I wasn’t prepared to accept this reality. I pledged to make it right, and to correct the wrong that my three pregnancies had done to my poor bladder, who had been nothing but a supportive friend over the years. So, after eating a half a box of Oreos, I signed up for pelvic floor therapy.

When I entered the building, at first glance, it seemed calm and soothing. The spa smelled like lavender, and there was a waterfall flowing down the wall behind the receptionist. The receptionist barely whispered as she handed me forms to fill out, and assured me there was no rush and to fill them out at my leisure. According to the pamphlet, I would embark on a journey of exercises to train my pelvic floor muscles to actually hold my bladder in place, to regain the ability to run without dribbling (and I don’t mean a basketball).

I handed the receptionist the forms and moments later a lady came to take me back. She was a smaller lady, maybe 5’1 and 100 pounds. She walked on her tiptoes, and seemed to float in her Skecher sneakers. She talked while we walked, which always unsettles me. Friendly people can be daunting sometimes.

“So, I’m Mrs. G., are you excited to get started?” she said.

“Depends, Mrs. G. Depends.” I snickered at my joke, which she didn’t seem to get. She went over some introductory questions asking about what brought me there today.

“My doctor says I have a prolapse,” I said.

“And are you incontinent?” she asked

“You mean like my grandma?” I questioned. The label seemed dirty, like I’ve done something wrong. And maybe I had. The third child might have been a bit much, and it did seem to be the straw that broke my bladder’s back.

“It’s okay to admit it,” she said.

I do pee myself all the time, and wake frequently at night, but I couldn’t admit it. It seemed private and shameful.

“Well, let me tell you about pelvic floor therapy. What we are trying to do is strengthen the muscles that hold your bladder up.” She pulled a small rubber chicken out of her desk. “You see what happens over time and after childbirth, is these muscles weaken and with gravity, the bladder is pulled down. Let me show you,” she said. She squeezed the chicken until a sack came out of its’ bottom. “Now, that’s what happening to your bladder.”

She asked me to hop on the table to show me some exercises. She said to lay flat on my back with my knees up and bent, pelvis tilted. “Okay, so what you are going to do, is tilt your pelvis, and squeeze those muscles. Now, I want you to inhale. Raise your pelvis up. Squeeze those muscles for five seconds while exhaling. Release. Lower yourself. Inhale.”

“You think you got that?”

“Yes,” I said lying.

“Tilt. Inhale. Raise. Squeeze. Exhale. Release. Inhale,” she said, while I followed along terrified that I was going to exhale on an inhale and release on a squeeze. Within minutes, I was in a full sweat. This was no day at the spa.

“Okay, good. Now I want you to pretend your vagina is a straw, and that it’s trying to suck up a milkshake. Just suck as hard as you can,” she said, resting her tiny hand on my gigantic arm.

In my life, I’ve pretended my vagina was a lot of things, but never a straw. I tried to suck my hardest, but I felt so much pressure (and not just from my bladder). She kept asking, “Are you sucking hard enough?” But I just couldn’t suck anymore. My pelvic floor was having performance anxiety. I felt instantly sad and full of defeat. I wanted to give up. I didn’t really need this. Or did I?

When I left, I called my husband for moral support. “The lesson is always don’t have kids,” he said. “How big a deal could this really be that you have to go to therapy for it? You are making a mountain out of a molehill.” It’s not clear why I expected support. His bladder, after all, is still properly placed so he cannot relate. But ultimately it was a big deal. I’m 29 — eh, 40 —years old and I wake to pee at least once, sometimes twice a night. I can’t run anywhere except around my cul-de-sac because ten minutes into running I always have to stop and pee. I know every gas station in a ten-mile radius of my home.

“I’m incontinent and it’s affecting my quality of life,” I said to him, lifting my shoulders back, proud to finally be able to admit the truth. “Can I hang up now?” he asked, not at all affected by my revelation. “Whatever,” I said. I rewarded myself with the other half of the box of Oreos, sat back and said I can do this: “Tilt. Inhale. Raise. Squeeze. Release. Exhale.” I have, however, had to switch from milkshakes to ice cream cones.

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CDC Director Warns Of ‘Impending Doom’ Amid Nationwide COVID Case Spike

America, we’re gonna need you to make up your mind if you want things to go back to normal in 2021

It seems warmer weather and more access to the COVID vaccine have given many a false sense of security. CNN reports America’s past success against Covid-19 has been practically wiped out as new infection rates soar nationally.

This comes as some people who have already been vaccinated wonder if they still need to follow masking and social distancing protocols. The short answer? Yes, vaccinated individuals still need to follow safety measures, as doctors are still determining how long the vaccinated are immune — and to what extent the vaccination works against new variants.

Now the head of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention admits she’s fearful of what will happen next. In an interview with the news outlet, the director said she was putting aside prepared remarks in order to speak to Americans directly.

“What we’ve seen over the last week or so is a steady rise of cases,” said CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky.

“I know that travel is up, and I just worry that we will see the surges that we saw over the summer and over the winter again.”

This news comes as some were thinking the infection rate had turned a corner.

“Now is one of those times when I have to share the truth, and I have to hope and trust you will listen,” Walensky said.

“I’m going to reflect on the recurring feeling I have of impending doom … We have so much to look forward to, so much promise and potential of where we are and so much reason for hope. But right now, I’m scared.”

Before she became CDC director, Walensky was on the front lines of the outbreak, watching some patients die from Covid-19.

“I know what it’s like as a physician to stand in that patient room — gowned, gloved, masked, shielded — and to be the last person to touch someone else’s loved one, because they are not able to be there,” she said.

The country has come “such a long way,” Walensky said, urging all Americans to keep masking up and “hold on a little while longer” as more people get vaccinated.

Wearing masks and keeping the course is the best way to get out of this, one Twitter user posted.

President Biden has taken Walensky’s advice into consideration, asking governors to extend the mask mandates in their states.

Biden also hopes that 90% of Americas will have a vaccination site within five miles of them in the next three weeks.

We’ve come so close to this thing improving and the CDC is basically begging Americans to not throw in the towel yet — so it’s probably best that we listen.

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I Couldn’t Physically Parent My Own Child––Living With Crohn’s Disease

As an ex-teacher, mothering was something I approached in the same way I approached my academic life. I was an A student in Education and, as soon as I found out I was pregnant, I became an A student in Mothering.

I sat in the back of the biggest bookstore in my town, colorful stacks of parenting books on the wooden desk in front of me: sleep methods, baby whispering, feeding routines, parenting philosophies. I stayed for hours, devouring every piece of advice available — and there is a ridiculous amount available. I puzzled my way through contradictory approaches until I found one that sat well with me.

Attachment parenting seemed perfect, most likely because it’s the complete opposite to how I was mothered. My own mother left when I was six and my sisters and I were raised by our dad.

Mothering was almost a blank slate and I was determined to research every aspect of it. It became an obsession.

With my method of parenting researched and selected, I swaddled, sung, swayed, and shushed my way through the baby years. I carried my little girl everywhere, pressed up against my heart, and enriched her life with books, music, friends, and nature.

Then, when she was two, I got sick and none of my book learning mattered. I was failing at mothering.

“I’ll be fine once I can get a full night’s sleep,” I told my worried husband. I pushed aside the strange pains in my body. There was no time to focus on myself when a small child occupied my days and nights.

Boy_Anupong/Getty

My daughter was born premature and from day one I was sleeping less than 45 minutes at a time. Trying to keep up with the two-hourly feeding schedule of an early baby is a full-time job. Even at age two she didn’t sleep well, which meant I wasn’t either. Most of the research and prep I’d done didn’t apply to a sick, premature baby.

It was more than exhaustion though. Eventually my body refused to be ignored. I crawled in a fetal position. My husband called an ambulance.

Two weeks later, 24 pounds dropped from my already slim body, I returned home. I was unable to eat solid food and lived with constant waves of pain. The doctors diagnosed Crohn’s disease; armed me with handfuls of medication.

“Let’s hope for remission,” they said. “That’s all we can tell you. It’s different for everyone.”

Trapped in bed for months by my broken body, I started to write. I propped myself on pillows, my neck too weak to hold my head up, and typed into my laptop. In between restless naps, I crafted parenting articles for nationwide magazines. To my surprise, editors snapped them up and asked for more. I’d always wanted to be a writer; now it was the only thing I could do.

It’s a strange thing working as a parenting writer when you can’t physically parent your own child. I wrote “Fun Activities to Do in Winter” and “Ways to Help Your Child’s Speech.” I used the experiences from the past two years as anecdotes and inspiration. Writing about them made me feel connected to my mother-identity, even though all the parenting was now left up to my husband. I sat in bed and wrote.

For a year, I watched life from the sidelines.

I loved cuddles with my daughter but, with a wiggling two year old, even that was too painful at times. Books and words became our main way to connect. Sitting beside each other in bed, I could read out loud to her, show her my work, tell her funny stories about herself. I made up children’s stories just for her which she asked for on repeat. “Read the one about the zoo, mummy!” “Make me a story about a spy!”

I wrote to encourage other mothers. I wrote to entertain my daughter. I wrote to comfort myself.

My health slowly improved. One morning, I watched my little girl play with her aunty on the lounge floor. They rolled around pretending to be lost in a jungle, both giggling wildly. “There’s no way I’d have the energy for that,” I thought, forcing myself to laugh along with them. Today was a bad day. But yesterday had been good. I’d eaten. I’d been able to move around.

I sat on the couch, watching my daughter laugh, and started to question myself. Is it really impossible for me to play with her or do I not want to? It had been a long year of hospital stays, bed-rest, and pain. Perhaps I was giving up my mothering: letting go so it didn’t hurt so much when I couldn’t do it. Like my mother couldn’t. Mothering isn’t always what we expect or plan for; it can be painful and complicated.

Over ten years later, my now pre-teen and teen daughters snuggle in beside me on the couch; they read their own stories out loud. There are days when that’s all I can do — listen, read aloud, snuggle. There are weeks when they look after me more than I look after them. I’m far from the perfect parent I set out to be, but who needs perfect? Cuddles and stories come pretty close.

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The Relief Is Real When Your Parents Get Vaccinated

I was recently in my childhood bedroom, getting my six-year-old ready for bed. I was tired from the long drive across state and the many hours we had just spent laughing and catching up. I was so looking forward to laying down myself, and letting the exhaustion of the day wash over me.

Out of the corner of my eye, I noticed my mom in the doorway poking her head in to say goodnight. As soon as my daughter saw her, she bounced up and embraced her Nana in the 300th hug of the day. After she jumped back into bed, I tucked her in and casually said “Goodnight, Mom, see you in the morning.”

With those simple words, I felt a catch in my throat at the end. It took all my power to hold it together for a few more minutes. Then after my daughter was settled in bed and my mom was in her room, I took a few deep breaths and slowly sat down on the edge of the bed. And with the weight of the past year on my shoulders, I put my face in my hands and silently wept.

Since day one of this pandemic, I have feared for my parents’ lives. I have spent countless nights lying awake, wondering if they will be okay. Constantly questioning if I was doing enough to help keep them and others safe, and feeling unavoidably angry at the thousands of people arguing against masks and quarantining.

Every allergy attack that my Mom experienced would throw me into a fit of worry. Anytime my Dad wasn’t “feeling well”, I would plan in my head what I would pack and how quickly I could run out the door.

However each time, it turned out to be nothing. The seasonal sneezing and coughing would clear up with Claritin the next day, and every stomach ache was cured with a little bit of ginger ale and a lot of sleep.

I know how this virus has torn down families and continues to still today. Each time my parents were feeling unwell over the past year, I couldn’t help but jump to worst case scenario of them dying.

Because in the US over the past year, almost 550,000 families have experienced devastating losses at the hands of this virus. It is simply the reality we are living in today.

So last year to compensate for being stuck in our houses, my parents and I started FaceTiming often. Most times it’s just to see each other’s faces for a few minutes, but it also was an important time to fill each other in on any quarantine updates. Then a couple months back, out of the blue, my Mom goes, “We have our appointment next week.”

I immediately panicked and thought, what appointment? Was my mom having kidney issues again? Did my Dad have to have his breathing checked? Was there something going on I didn’t know about?

Then just as fast as those thoughts spun through my head, my mom casually said, “For our vaccine.”

The shock rushed over me, and I was stunned into momentary silence. Had I heard her correctly? After months and months of worry, I could barely breathe over the thought of them actually getting vaccinated.

Yet when I finally composed myself enough to speak, my mom didn’t exactly share my enthusiasm. And if I’m being honest, I don’t blame her.

You see, my parents had been scared into isolation for almost a year because they were told they were vulnerable. They had thought too often about their own deaths and the deaths of their entire generation. They listened to anti-maskers and people make comments like “it won’t kill me”which basically was the same thing as saying it was okay for them to die.

Now the vaccine was something they knew they needed, but still, they couldn’t help but have doubts. For god’s sake, just going to the appointment felt like a risk to contract the virus.

Yet even with all that baggage, they both received their shots and came through just fine. We waited the three weeks that their doctors had recommended, and we planned the highly anticipated visit.

The weight of that road trip was not lost on me. It was the first time in a year that I could hug my parents without fearing that my touch or my children’s touch could kill them. I knew that things were not normal yet (whatever that means), and that there are still a lot of my family left to be vaccinated. Yet, eliminating my parent’s immediate health danger was a game changer for me and my family.

My heart breaks for the people who have lost loved ones to COVID. You hear the stories of so many doing everything “right” and still getting sick. These losses always feel so close to home, and that’s because it’s not just “a friend of a friend of a friend”. It is our neighbors, our college friend’s parents, our old high school teacher, our child’s soccer coach, or in many cases, our own grandparents, parents, siblings or friends.

So saying goodnight to my mom was not only emotional but monumental. I feel so incredibly lucky to be able to be around my parents again. I feel blessed to get to hug them, talk to them and simply love them in person. Their vaccination gave that back to me and my family.

This virus is not over yet, I know this. However it is these small pandemic victories that we need to embrace in order make it through this. So today I celebrate the simple act of getting to say goodnight to my mom.

I am both thankful and truly hopeful that there will be many many more of those special moments with her to come.

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How Understanding ‘Psychological Reactance’ Can Help You Understand Yourself — And Your Kids

Humans are not as complicated as we think we are. Yet, without self-awareness and some baseline understanding about why we do the things we do and think the things we think, humans are really good at making life more complicated than it needs to be. For example, when your boss tells you to rework part of an assignment and you instantly become defensive and refuse to get to work on it — even though you know they are right — you have created a self-sabotaging mindset that often wastes time and energy.

Perhaps you have been on the other side of this type of situation when you ask your child to do something, and instead of just doing the simple ask, they immediately resist and argue with you. Why are we like this? Because we all have a psychological reflex called reactance.

Psychological reactance is that knee-jerk reaction to not do something when we are told to do it. It’s the voice inside of us that digs in our heels, turns our back, crosses our arms in protest and says, Nope. Not doing it. Even if it’s something we want to do, need to do, and will eventually do anyway.

This is different from Oppositional Defiant Disorder, where kids and teenagers lash out against and actively refuse to respect and obey authority figures and rules. Reactance is a reaction to feeling like our freedom and choices are being taken away. This can be a great tool to protect us and our autonomy because we get a rush of adrenaline that encourages us to fight or flee.

When someone tells us what to do, our brains freak out and demand that we do something about the threat to our personal safety. We become cornered prey; we need to fight. We need to find a way out! Reactance is like an overprotective friend who is always on the lookout for danger. Our brains plan an exit strategy and our behavior becomes defiant, rude, self-sabotaging, and/or violent because we need to regain the sense of control we think we lost.

This response is useful for actual threatening situations. If someone demands you go into a weird, dark room, drink an unknown liquid, or send your bank account number to an offshore account, that fuck no instinct is great. But often the danger isn’t real, and we need to thank our primitive instincts for trying to keep us safe and then reframe our thinking and actions.

Let’s look at the way we do this to ourselves. We schedule a walk with a friend, plan several hours to finally organize a room in our house that has been driving us bonkers, or sign up for time at the gym. We want to do these activities. We even took the time to take the steps to make them happen. And yet when we “force” ourselves to do said activities, we have to convince ourselves that past us knew what was best for future us while present us makes excuses and rather do anything else than following the plan that we set up.

Author Nir Eyal says we do this because “In that moment, it doesn’t feel as though you’re deciding what to do. Rather, it’s you from the past giving orders to your present self. Ugh, who does that guy think he is? Psychologists tell us this paradox is why we can often be hypocrites — we say we’ll do something, but when the time comes, we don’t.”

In his book “Indistractable,” Eyal writes about the importance of reframing these thoughts. Instead of bristling over the idea that we have to do something, it’s better to think about the task as something we get to do. When we tell ourselves this, it gives us a sense of control even though we were in control the whole time. See? We’re really pretty simple creatures. We want control or at least the sense of having it.

This is one reason why the pandemic has been so difficult: the uncertainty of what we are experiencing makes us feel threatened and out of control. This bleeds into the reluctance of folks wearing masks. Just the suggestion of wearing a mask made many people refuse to do it. When masks became mandated, the resistance grew stronger. Masks become political and a perceived threat to people’s freedom.

Many people turned the narrative into one that celebrated our ability to protect ourselves and others. Masks give us more freedom to live our lives safely. They are a gift to get us through this scary and uncertain time. Of course they’re uncomfortable and inconvenient at times and a reminder that we are still fighting a very serious virus, but when we reframe the idea of having to wear a mask into getting to take care of others, the choice becomes easier — for some of us — and one that feels like ours, especially when we take the time to pick out fun designs or styles.

Our kids also show reactance. We ask them to brush their teeth, get ready for school, or wear a jacket when it’s 20 degrees outside. Few children are instantly compliant to our requests. I pick my battles and sometimes don’t have time for negotiations, but I have learned that by giving my children choices, it helps to get them to do what’s necessary to move the day along. They are choices I pick, but asking my kids to pick up their toys now or before dinner or asking which chore they want to do to help around the house gives them some say in the matter and a feeling of autonomy.

We don’t like being told what to do, even when it’s good for us or the right thing to do — and neither do our kids. But there is a legitimate, cognitive reason for this bristling. It’s important to acknowledge this reactance in ourselves and then let go of our defenses before they become too big to prevent us from taking advice, suggestions, or directions from others. If we struggle too much with input that really isn’t a threat to anything but our ego, we will often have to deal with karma, if not the humbling experience of natural consequences.

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It’s Time To Get Familiar With Your Vulva

I never looked at my vulva until I had a reason to, like when I was trying to get pregnant or when I thought I had a yeast infection. By no means do I make it a “regular thing” to spend loads of time feeling or looking at my vulva — at least not in the light.

Too much information? I am a lesbian; I’ve seen enough vulvas to know that no two are alike. I have an appreciation for how different they are and have grown to value mine in ways I never expected. We all should — we only get one, and why not appreciate the one we have?

It’s taken me a while to get to this point of appreciation, to see my vulva for what it is and appreciate it in all of its glory, but I am here. I understand my vulva today more than I did when I was in my twenties, and I appreciate it more too. 

So, let’s talk about our vulvas. It’s time to get to know them, show them some love — and be aware of any health issues that might arise along our journeys as proud vulva-owners.

First, let’s get the terminology out of the way. There are many women or people who use the word “vagina” to refer to their vulva. But that’s not quite right. As Anna Medaris Miller, a writer for Women’s Health Magazine, explains: “A vulva, by the way, is the name for the visible part of what most people just dub ‘vagina.’ It encompasses all the external parts of the female nether regions including the mons pubis (fatty patch perched atop your pubic bone), the labia (inner and outer lips framing the vaginal opening), the clitoris, and its protective hood, and more.”

Got it? Most importantly, have you looked at yours recently? No? You should. Here’s why.

Recently, I had a cancer scare, but not the common ones, like breast cancer or thyroid cancer, or ovarian cancer. No, I had a vulvar cancer scare. (Tell me about it — I didn’t even know such a thing existed.) I’ll spare you the details, but I underwent a vulva biopsy, and oh, was it painful. Honestly, I was embarrassed to tell anyone last fall, as I went through this scare, that I was going through such a thing. I felt like some weird anomaly, with this growth down there. I mean, who wants to talk about that?

But it’s important that we do. If we don’t, we can’t help others. I came out of the ordeal cancer-free, and with a newfound appreciation not only for my body, but for my vulva.

So, look at your vulva often: it could save your life. And, when you do, you’ll realize that yours is uniquely yours and it needs to be treated with love and care, just like the rest of your body.

If I did not look at my vulva from time to time, I would have never known to check for changes in it. Like all parts of our body, our vulva also changes during our lifespan. I highly recommend getting a mirror and spending a little time (in the daylight) looking at your own vulva.

If you need some inspiration, look no further than “In The Goop Lab,” with Gwyneth Paltrow (I know, I know, but hear me out). In episode 3, called “The Pleasure Is Ours,” we hear from some women who have never looked at their own genitalia. In this episode, women, with the help of sex educator Betty Dodson, are encouraged to build a relationship with their vulvas — in an effort to make them more comfortable with their own vulvas and own their own sexual experiences. There is even a workshop hosted by Betty, to help women get comfortable with their vulvas and with being fully present in their own bodies.

On the first day, there is a “genital show and tell,” in which a group of women sit together naked, looking at one another’s vulvas. In another scene, women are sitting with a mirror in front of their body, their bare vulvas, exploring what it looks like. If you don’t believe me, go check out the episode on Netflix. It’s a jaw-dropping episode; it’s also kind of sad to know that as women, so many of us are so out of touch with our own bodies for so many different reasons. Some of us compare ourselves and our intimate parts to the ones we see in porn, or the textbook image of what we think a vulva is supposed to look like. These are unfair comparisons to make given how different our bodies are from one another.

What I reaffirmed in the only show I’ve ever watched about vulvas is that there is a wide range of vulvas and that they all look different. I learned to appreciate pubic hair just as it is, my own and others, and that no two bushes are alike. Every vulva is different: some are larger, some are smaller, some have protruding labia and others do not.

Let’s restore vulva confidence by appreciating what you have, by taking a look at yours. Familiarizing yourself with your own anatomy will help you, if you’re struggling, to get to a place where you can understand your body in a deeper way.

Writer Clár McWeeney notes, “Positive genital self-image correlates with greater sexual self-esteem. And feeling sexually attractive is surely a good thing for your overall self-esteem and intimate relationships. There is still a long way to go in portraying female, intersex, and trans genitalia, as well as dismantling the narrow and damaging vulval archetype.”

What your vulva does (or does not) look like does not determine your value as a person, and does not make something wrong with you. It is perfect just the way it is. It will not look like anyone else’s. While there may be similarities between yours and a friend’s say, your vulva is uniquely yours — own it. 

Oh, and make sure you get to know your vulva well enough so that you will notice if anything is amiss. It might just save your life.

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If The Pandemic Has Impacted Your PMS, You Aren’t Alone

Since the summer, I’ve gotten my period every two to three weeks. I feel it coming in hot and I know it’s not going to be pretty, and it feels as though I have zero control over my body and mind. 

It starts with a sharp pain running through my head (something new), I get incredibly constipated, then the next morning I’ll have cramps; something I haven’t had for almost three years because I’ve had an IUD.

But that’s not the worst part of it. I can deal with the physical pain. It’s the mental pain that is unbearable some days. I feel like I’m underwater and everything is going down the shitter and I lose it, then can’t seem to get my composure back.

Walking through the grocery store to see everything has gotten so expensive set me off during my last shopping trip when I had roaring PMS. I got home and my kids asked why I didn’t get everything on the list. I told them there was no way I could spend that kind of money on a bag of cookies or “the good kind of steak” they wanted. Instead, I’d gotten a cheaper cut and thought I’d marinate it to make it taste a little better. I lost it while I was carrying in the bags from the car, and my kids scattered across the house like a school of fish that’s had a rock thrown in the middle of it.

But my kids aren’t the only ones feeling the effects. My boyfriend told me I take all my stress out on him, and he’s beginning to feel like a punching bag. 

I have a friend my age who said she’s been out of sorts since last fall and has lost all her motivation to do anything. Oh and also, her periods and mood swings have been the worst ever. “I bled for over a week last month,” she told me the other day when she called me in tears.

If you are feeling the wave of worsening pandemic PMS, you aren’t alone — and no, it’s not your imagination. 

First of all, women have been affected by this crisis. We are worrying about money and our families getting sick more than men are, according to KFF.

The article also reports,”Nearly four in ten women (36%) and three in ten men (27%) feel that worry or stress related to coronavirus has had some impact on their mental health. Women, in general, are more likely to be diagnosed with anxiety and depression compared to men. For both men and women, social distancing could also add another level of social isolation, depression, and anxiety on top of worrying about the negative consequences of the coronavirus.”

Not only have our moods become more fragile since the pandemic, but our lives have changed more than men’s.

NPR writes, “In September, an eye-popping 865,000 women left the U.S. workforce — four times more than men.”

That means women are staying home with their kids trying to homeschool, and women are the ones responsible for everything happening in those four walls with very few ways to escape and deal since almost all of our outlets are gone. Most of the burden, and most of the changes, have fallen on us. 

The stress is heavy, and it’s going to have a huge impact on our hormones, making our periods and PMS symptoms more intense. 

NBC News reports thatPMS stress can manifest itself as heightened emotional swings, psychological distress and physical pain.” And the more stress you are experiencing, the more havoc it can wreak on your hormones. In a nutshell, greater stress levels = worse PMS. 

Hello, pandemic PMS.

“PMS is influenced by stress hormones and insulin, including your estrogen and progesterone,” NBC News explains. “When anxiety levels rise, your body releases more of those stress hormones, cortisol and epinephrine, which leads to increased appetite and sugar cravings.”

And yes, this is happening to women everywhere, it seems.

“The constant barrage of fear about this virus and the uncertainty of a global pandemic is, in itself, enough to cause an increase in stress hormones,” Dr. Christiane Northrup, tells NBC News. “[I]t is no wonder that women are suffering from increased PMS.”

No amount of Midol or Lindt chocolate has been able to soothe the PMS I’ve been having this past year, that’s for damn sure. 

It’s hard not to reach for the salty snacks and eat Nutella out of the jar when we feel the raging effects of our hormones — we all want, and need, some kind of comfort now.

However, Los Angeles-based holistic nutritionist and women’s health coach Katie Bressack tells NBC grabbing foods high in healthy fats protein may help. “[S]almon, olive oil, avocado — they are really good for brain function, so the more you eat, the more you can think clearly,” she advises.

If you are struggling and wondering why your menstrual cycle feels like it’s trying to kill you, it’s perfectly normal due to the new amount of stress we are under.

I realize that doesn’t help much, but at least you know the culprit. Even if you can do small things each day to manage stress, and try to get some of those stress-busting foods into your body, it can make a difference.

I’m all for trying that, but I’m not giving up french fries or KitKats anytime soon. 

I need something more indulgent than an avocado to get me through this mess.

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Virginity Is A Social Construct — But What Does That Mean?

Labeling something as a social construct, in a way, is weird. It can sound as though we’re trying to invalidate, or even erase the existence of, the thing we claim is a social construct. That’s not the case though. Gender, for example, is a social construct, but it’s still real in the sense that many people consider their gender identity and gender expression important parts of how they present themselves to the world and how they see themselves.

Money is also a social construct, but identifying it as such is not to claim it doesn’t exist or is a lie. It does exist. It’s a social contract we all agree to in order to facilitate the exchange of goods and services.

Social constructs are ideas that shape our understanding of the world. They also influence our thinking and behavior.

Virginity As A Social Construct

Virginity is a social construct. It is not something you can hold in your hand or see, but it’s something we as a culture have decided exists. It’s a tool we use to mark “before” and “after.” More ominously, it’s a tool we use to rate the chastity of girls and the experience of boys. A pre-intercourse girl is pure. A pre-intercourse boy is inexperienced. A post-intercourse girl is defiled, impure, loose, immoral. A post-intercourse boy is experienced.

Some cultures and communities place so much importance in the idea of virginity that they conduct “virginity testing.” This practice is condemned by the World Health Organization as a violation of a person’s human rights. It is sometimes done using the “two finger” method of testing a woman’s vaginal opening to determine if her hymen is still “intact.” It is also common to check for blood on the sheets after intercourse — blood means she was a virgin before intercourse. No blood means she was not a virgin. In some places, it may be seen as evidence she has defrauded her husband and may be subjected to punishment or even death.

It’s obviously wrong to assess a person’s value as a human being based on whether or not they’ve had previous sexual partners. But there also isn’t actually any scientifically reliable way to test a person’s virginity. Despite the persistence of the myth of the hymen being a sexual snitch, it just … isn’t. And science has known this for decades.

Popping Some Hymen Myths

Many people still think of the hymen as a membrane that stretches completely across the vaginal opening, covering it like a drum. But the hymens is simply remnant tissue left over from prenatal development, and it is far more likely to be crescent- or ring-shaped than to cover the entire vaginal opening. Some vaginas have almost no hymen at all. (Don’t people who believe the “drum” concept wonder how period blood exits the body prior to intercourse?) The hymen may tear during first intercourse; it may not. If properly lubricated, odds are higher the hymen will not tear.

The myth about the hymen being an indicator of virginity is bad enough; the myth that it must be broken or “popped” in order to “take” virginity only adds to the problem. It implies violence. The truth is, the hymen can lubricate and stretch. It does not have to tear the first time, or any time. Also true is that all sorts of non-sexual activities can contribute to the tearing of the hymen, from exercise to the inserting of a tampon to using one’s own fingers during masturbation.

Misunderstanding about what the hymen actually is has prompted some people to adapt their language about it. For example, the Swedish Association for Sexuality Education (RFSU) has been using the term “vaginal corona” in place of “hymen.”

The Concept Of Virginity As A Tool Of The Patriarchy

Virginity is a tool used to dominate and control female behavior. It’s a tool used to shame, and to promote the idea that women are responsible for the behavior of men. If a woman is not a virgin at marriage, surely it’s because she “tempted” a man. Her “impurity” is a result of her immorality. And we frame virginity differently for boys and for girls. The virginity of men often isn’t even addressed unless it’s in terms of his experience, which is viewed as either a neutral or a positive.

In a world where men are generally given a free pass and women are locked down and oppressed, the onus of respectability somehow continues to fall on women. The cultural idea of virginity has the paradoxical effect of turning women into priceless jewels to be cherished while also threatening them with the idea that one wrong move can turn them into worthless trash. The “priceless jewel” bit is conditional. Cherishability is conditional.

Like the rose that gets passed around the room of teenagers in conservative Christian “True Love Waits” abstinence campaigns, girls are viewed as wilted and damaged once they’ve had “too many” hands on them.

The Concept Of Virginity Is Heteronormative And Harms Survivors Of Sexual Abuse

Generally, we frame virginity in a heteronormative, penis-penetrates vagina kind of way. This leaves queer folks out of the construct altogether. (Actually, as a queer person, I’m not sure I mind being left out of heteronormative social constructs. Ew.)

But the truth is, sex is many different acts, some penetrative and some not. Framing “virginity” around the act of penetration — specifically vaginal penetration — doesn’t work. It simply isn’t accurate.

For those who have been sexually abused, the concept of virginity literally adds insult to injury. Sexual abuse often involves penetrative sex. I was sexually abused at age seven but did not have consensual sexual intercourse until quite a few years later. At which point was my virginity “lost”? Was I robbed of it at seven?

Having Sex For The First Time Is Not A “Loss”

Virginity is a social construct, but that doesn’t make it less real. It’s real because we believe it’s real, in the same way we make money real by buying into the notion that it has value. But with virginity, we have the power collectively and as individuals to define it for ourselves.

One thing consensual sex is not is a loss. The language around first-time sex is inherently negative and shame-inducing. But people with vaginas do not “give” someone their virginity. We do not “lose” our virginity, and it cannot be “taken.” We do not lose any part of us by consensually engaging in one of the most natural human experiences, and no one can take any piece of us by force or coercion.

A person’s consensual first time sexual experience can be momentous and special, or it can be blah and forgettable. It can be gross, or it can be awkward and embarrassing. Society does not get to dictate how a person should feel about their first time. Society does not get to imbue that experience with a predetermined meaning. Our virginity is ours and ours alone to define, to interpret, or even to reject altogether.

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