caro thinks

I dream but do not lay me down to sleep
Pray myself my soul to keep
date 2000-12-19:06:18
wildlife A baby seagull on the beach today was crying and holding itself in begging posture. I looked around to see where its mother was, but there were no other birds on the beach or in the air. It looked to be big enough to fe ed itself, and since the lifeguards just pulled the buoy onto shore, there are plenty of free mussles there for it to scavenge. But it wanted to be fed, sweet little dear, afraid to let go of its babyhood and set itself free. This month, I sympathize deep ly.
on being a woman It has been ever so long since I last wrote. I am amused that my last entry has been sitting there all this time, portending great scary revelations about being periodical, while I've been having great scary periodical revelations.

One of the things I had on my mind at the time of that writing was that premenstrual syndrome has its advantages, if only a woman can recognize and take advantage of them. I can't claim to speak for all women; not being a realist, I don't think that there is a woman-essence that means we're all the same in this respect. I only want to share my discoveries with the women who are physically capable of benefitting from them.

Even the psychological pain that sometimes accompani es PMS can be used to good advantage. Two months (i.e., cycles) ago, I decided to do that in earnest, which is why I haven't been writing here. My thoughts have been too important, and too spectacular, to publicize. But I can describe what I thought and h ow I thought it, in general terms.

Everyone is familiar with the irritability, melodrama, or bitchiness that frequently accompanies PMS. But few people seem to know what is really going on, perhaps because it is very likely that most of the data, whether factual or mythical, has been put about by well-meaning and not-so-well-meaning males. And growing up with this mix of fact and fiction, young girls absorb all of it as though it is true. After all, menstruation is a great mystery, and women espe cially are keen to have rational explanations for things. I'd like to contradict some of the most deeply revered myths, as I know how crippling they can be.

Irritability is not itself a direct result of hormonal activity; rather, there is somethi ng else that is going on as a result of hormonal activity, that can come out as irritability.

I think that the something else is energy. In my long experience with strenuous exercise, I can say without hesitation that I am strongest , fastest, and have the most stamina just before and during menstruation.

While you're putting that in your pipe and smoking it, I'll qualify: most of my life, I experienced miserable cramps and headaches and nausea and sometimes terrifyin g dizziness to the point of blacking out. I remember several incidents in college, in which I was sitting in a dormatory bathroom stall when the world started to spin, realizing that I was alone and stuck there but unable to say "help!" above a whisper. A nd one day, I went into partial paralysis and hyperventilated as my boyfriend, even more frightened than I was, held me helplessly as I watched my fingers stretch out by themselves and turn blue.

But then, most of my life, I didn't exericise in a ny concerted way, although I was always naturally active. I can also say without hesitation that the best and fastest "cure" for the symptoms is strenuous exercise. Even if I feel dizzy or weak, I'll go for a run or do some pushups, and it goes away. Just the opposite of what they tell us.

Although I've seen that this is true for a long time, it never really sank in completely until last winter, when I was training the hardest of my life, because I thought I might have to face the biggest extende d physical trial of my life. Some days, the cold misty evening rain suggested that maybe this once I should give in to headachey dizzy periodicality and not ride my bike to the gym; but the trepidation with which I viewed the possible impending disaster p ushed me out the door anyway. Each month, the same thing was true: I was able to make the hilly 4-mile ride faster and more easily than usual, and was able to step up my weights past point that I thought were the farthest I could go, and still have tremen dous stamina for the step aerobics class. My nausea and headache would be gone by the time I got to the gym, and I'd still have plenty of energy left when I got back three hours later.

What this suggests to me is that, while the pain and nausea a nd irritability are real, they are merely side-effects of something extremely precious. Rather than being the time of the month when a woman is her weakest, this is the time when she has the most power--but because the power comes with the more imm ediate (and outwardly observable) symptoms of discomfort and irritability, it is the symptoms that get the attention and create the mystique. Because there is no one to tell girls how they else they might interpret the information their bodies are giving them or how to cope with the symptoms, and because there are plenty of people who don't know what they are talking about who tell them the wrong thing, the mystique is perpetuated, and women just "feel weak" at this point in the cycle.

This is th e physical advantage. There is a psychological advantage, which I've only just discovered recently.

This is a common example of the disadvantage: It's PMS time, and a woman is suddenly finding all her boyfriend's irritating habits to be especiall y irritating, and she complains bitterly, wondering whether she should end the relationship.

My interpretation: There's something wrong. Really wrong, not just wrong in her imagination. The difficulty is, it may not be her boyfriend's irritating habits themselves, but something else; the habits are just the trigger.

The nice thing about the emotional turmoil of PMS is that it is your subconscious, or your memories, or your child-self, ego, conscience, or however else you want to name i t, tapping at the edges of your mind and saying, "Pay attention. This is important."

So two cycles ago, I said, OK, what's so damned important? Tell me. And I listened. And thus was begun the most painful self-examination of my entire life, which has been going on for two months. I'm happy to say that I'm slowly coming out the other end, but I wouldn't have missed this for the world. When the second period rolled around, I was just at the beginning of the long, steep descent into myself, and the knocking was unbearably loud and the exhortations to pay attention were irresistible--all of it fueled and magnified, I'm convinced, by the heightened sensibility of being periodical. The psychological pain was blinding.

My usual technique for de aling with the upsetting thoughts that plague me during those first couple of days, is to remind myself that it's period-time. Knowing that there is a physical cause to all this maudlin rumination usually makes me laugh, and the thoughts recede. But this time, I wanted to experiment with giving in to them, asking whence they came, and what I could learn. The difference between what I did this time, and what I have sometimes done, is that I didn't simply let these thoughts roll randomly through my head. I did a tremendous amount of writing, lots of sentence completions, a lot of pointed day-dreaming, all of it focused on discovering the causes of some long-standing mysteries in my life.

I don't expect to do this every cycle. On the contrary, I hav e remained immersed all this time because I am looking for something specific. I know that there is something very serious that needs examination. When I find it, I know for a fact that it will go away and never return. Knowing how much better this is goi ng to make my life is the only thing that has let me do this to myself. I've churned up a lot of forgotten memories and integrated them into the rest of my life and things are already much better. But now that I know how I can use the hormonal activity to my advantage, I am going to make a regular practice of answering the door at the first knock, and spending some time wandering down forgotten hallways. If I do it regularly, maybe there won't be as huge a pile of unresolved Stuff to hit me so hard unexpe ctedly.

So my new rule and resolution is, when I'm experiencing the psychological turmoil of PMS, the cause is almost certainly not the issue that is on the surface of my mind--but nor is it just an epiphenomenon of hormonal change, and I promise myself that I will dig deeper to find out what it is.

Side note on being a woman: Why do women not take well to being told that they are being irrational, when they are menstruating? Because you are being an ass, and you don't know what y ou're talking about. There is a difference between being irrational, and being highly emotional. Why do women not like being told they must be on the rag, when they are arguing or complaining? Because, whether they can name the fallacy or not, this is jus t bad reasoning: you don't feel like taking out the garbage, so if your woman is arguing that you should do what you promised, you try to divert attention from your error by making a personal attack on her instead of addressing the issue (that's an ad hominem). Fallacious arguments are tremendously irritating, even to people who are not menstruating. What should a man do, when a woman friend is suffering from any of the above effects? There's little you can do in a positive sense. You can't "solve" this "problem" for her, and you can't control the situation. Respond to what she is saying, not to what you think her chemical motivation is. Many women are on the defensive because of a history of attacks on their femalehood, so if you wa nt to talk about how she is when she menstruates, you're better off doing it when she's not menstruating. And remember, we put up with you.

Reason Number Nine To Live in La Jolla

The December Beach

I broke my toe about 6 weeks ago, and have been laid up. The absence from exercise and the beach made me love it all the more when I finally got back. I swam in the ocean today, after a good run on the beach. The water temperature, said the lifeguard building's bulletin board, was 57F, and the air was 72F. After the run, the contrast between the temperatu re of my blood and that of the sea was quite noticeably vast, but I know of no other way to get into the water than to make myself hot first. The first entry is immediately numbing. I went in up to my chest, and scurried back out, then tried again. As I r e-entered, I reminded myself that the conditions in La Jolla in December were really no different than the conditions on a June morning at Assateague Island, MD, about 150 miles from Baltimore where I grew up, and I always got in the water there, as thoug h it were no big deal. I get a little spoiled here. Having been hot-blooded all my life, I find that my years here have encouraged me to behave as though I'm fragile; last night, for example, my hands were cold, because it was only 68F in the house. My ch ild-self just shakes her head, and points out that _she_ was barefooted AND hot in Baltimore in the middle of winter, in the barely-heated row-house basement in which she lived. I told you I'd get you out of there, didn't I, Little Carolyn?

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