Surviving the Hormonal Jungle

There is a savage beast raging through our home that’s at times as stealthy as a panther, other times as loud as a howling monkey, and always the elephant in the room.

While I’ve heard a zillion firsthand tales of how I have to brace myself for the onslaught of the teen years when the cords begin to be cut, the heartstrings torn and even broken, and the torrents of adolescent psychosis induced by the confluence of brain and body development become every day occurrences, I didn’t realize that my own physiology would be behind the worst of it.

“Your hormones are a jungle,” my homeopathic doc cautioned me recently. “A mess! So many estrogens!”

At the moment, I think her analogy is a wee bit off. “Jungle” sounds almost too tame. Lately I feel more like the rainforest — what was once lush, moist, and abundantly fertile is now being cleared for new construction. The mother-person that hormones built is going through a metamorphosis, and honey, it ain’t always pretty.

In fact, it often feels pretty devastating.

Of course this over-exaggerated take on the whole thing is EXACTLY the vibe of the jungle. It’s all a big fight-or-flight mess of my two selves: the person that existed BC (before children) and now AB (after breeding).

Here’s a perfect example of how the new laws of the hormonal jungle works: last Saturday I had a daylong seminar to attend for work. Before I left in the morning, I politely asked that the clean dishes be removed from the dishwasher, and the dirty dishes be put in their place. As I was running out the door, I also accidentally knocked over a cup full of pens and paper clips, and so I added cleaning up that mess to part of the day’s chores. I used the words, “do me a favor…” and said very clearly, “I really appreciate your help.”

As I left, I felt a little prickly heat rise on my neck (which happens a lot these days) as I thought about how I didn’t want to have to ask for others to pitch in anymore. This wasn’t the gig I signed up for when I had kids — if I wanted a waitressing job again in this lifetime, I would’ve gone to work at a bar where the drinks were free and I stood a chance at scoring some tips.

By the way, this feeling of resentment is something brand new and happening for a couple of big reasons. First off, the soft, fuzzy buzz of homemaking and caretaking that’s fueled by estrogen is beginning to wear off. That, combined with the knowledge that the people I live with now can pretty much take care of themselves, makes the whole deal totally incendiary.

Forget flashes; this hot bitch is on the verge of going up in flames at any minute.

And so, when I got home to the same mess I’d left nine hours earlier, the inevitable explosion was huge, uncontrollable, and pretty damaging. When I finished my rampage, my husband pulled me aside and quietly told me I had scared the kids. From the look on his face, I could tell he was a little shaken up, too.

The shit I say to my kids is not always refined, but in the hormonal jungle, it’s down right wild.

Lucky for me (and them), my kids are running on their own hormonal push as well — and theirs is hell bent on exploring jungles of their own making. This creates an interesting shift in our ecosystem as the more I insist they contribute to our home, the more they find comfort outside of the confines with friends and activities that take them away from it all.

From me.

This is a heavy trip on ye olde mommy brain, which launched with a big rush of oxytocin — the hormone responsible for mother-child bonding — and made it possible all these years for big time nesting to occur. Dr. Louann Brizendine, the pioneering neuropsychiatrist who wrote The Female Brain, explains that perimenopause is the time where “the mommy brain unplugs.” She goes on to say, “Menopause means the end of the hormones that have boosted communication circuits, emotion circuits, the drive to tend and care, and the urge to avoid conflict at all costs.”

In other words, the Law of the Jungle really is the perfect analogy, as it ultimately means every person for him/herself. Dog eat dog, anything goes, and only the fittest will survive.

That kind of thought when it applies to say, business, sounds powerful and also empowering. In the home, however, not so much. The shift in the family structure as we all go native can be extremely painful. And there are plenty of screaming matches, doors slamming, and then, eerie silences to prove it.

So what’s a scared/scary, freaked out/freaky perimenopausal bitch to do?

Teenagers aren’t the only ones who can let off steam and go hang out with their friends. Hours later after my out-of-control spin over spilled pens and dirty dishes (“Spilled Pens + Dirty Dishes” is, by the way, the new name of my punk band), I found myself at my BBF’s house, sitting at her kitchen table and comparing notes.

Lest the children and significant others panic, this had nothing really to do with them. Or maybe it had everything to do with them — my BBF and I both recently had some blood work done, and for fun, we were doing a compare and contrast. A few months ago my holistic doc called me a “hot toxic box,”(the name of my original punk band) and gave me a giant wake-up call. Now the numbers for things like blood sugar and triglycerides (diabetes), thyroid, and adrenal glands are trending in the right direction.

On the other hand, looking like freakin’ basketball scores when they should look more like a low scoring soccer game are my hormone levels.

Still, my BBF and I had a good laugh about what a goddamn frenemy our periods are: when you first meet, she overwhelms you with PMS and cramps so you’re not at all happy to see her; later as you become sexually active, she’s your best friend because she tells you that you’re not pregnant; after you have kids she goes back to being a monthly nuisance; and finally, as your hormones dwindle, you have these bittersweet reunions that become farther and farther apart, which on a bad day makes you weep, and on a good day makes you happy that you are heading into the no muss, no fuss phase of life.

By the time I left, my BBF had tamed my savage beast with love, comfort, and understanding. After all, sometimes the best guide is someone who’s going there, doing that alongside you.

So if you hear a crash here or a smash there,  just know that the hormonal jungle is dark and dense and you are not alone in trying to navigate it. Eye of the tiger, my bitches — the more we’re able to see ourselves not just as moms, but also as a human beings with our own needs, emotions, ambitions, and yes, hormones, the more likely it is our families will, too. And that’s the key to not just surviving, but thriving in the next phase of life.