My eyes begin to dry. I can feel my heart beating in the space just above my cheeks. My skin begins to tingle and a fast warmth travels from my toes to my ears.
And then I hear myself.
My eyebrow furrows and anything near me is fair game.
It’s not just a hot flash, although, that’s part of the problem. It’s now hormones + stress + anxiety. It all comes together in a mild panic attack.
This isn’t the first one since the surgical removal of my ovaries, a procedure done to reduce my risk of ovarian cancer. I’ve had a few. Today, I actually had to leave a doctoral seminar because my head was consumed with preparing for my upcoming trip, getting my son ready for his first plane ride without me, and my first time coordinating a national awards ceremony. I couldn’t concentrate on conceptual frameworks or drawing diagrams of my literature review.
“Sorry, everyone. I have to get going. I need to pick up my son,” I declared three hours before his school even closed. I made it to my car, drove about two miles, and had to pull over in the parking lot. Conveniently, it was the parking lot of my dad’s favorite Chinese food restaurant. “It’s like a drug,” he always says. “I don’t know what they do, but I crave their beef chau fun. It helps me relax.” Whenever he drives near the city, he stops at that restaurant.
I pulled into the space, squeezing in between a hybrid car with two booster seats in the back and a delivery truck with red, unfamiliar writing on the side.
I tugged at the zipper of my long, black puffy jacket, appropriate for yet another day that has left icicles dangling from my wheel bumper. I rolled down the window, turned my nose towards the chill, and took a deep — yet shallow — breath. I wanted to scream at anything. At something. At nothing. I grabbed the rearview mirror and tilted it downward. My face red and unfamiliar.
The timer on my phone played a soothing chime, signaling me to walk inside and pick up my order. I felt my heart relax. Maybe it was the chau fun.
I used to crave stress. Stress, and busy-ness, made me feel important, needed, wanted. It made me feel useful, strong, and brilliant. Oh, I work full time, am a full time doctoral student, raise 3 kids the majority of the week, shuttle everyone to and from school/ to and from activities, make the lunches, the breakfasts, and the dinners? Yeah, I got this $hit.
But now, with just the bare minimum of estrogen and progesterone to keep me upright, my body has a different idea of success. My stress meter is a fraction of what it used to be. When I hit that mark, my face gets red, my heart rate increases, my eye brow furrows, and my anger returns. My breath shallows. My stomach turns inside out. My mind races. I feel anxious. And, all I have left in me is to fall to the ground and cry.
Tonight was one of the worst yet. I yelled at my son for not jumping rope properly, even though tonight was the first time he had ever held a jump rope. I yelled unkind words at my 7-year old for turning the pages of her 400 page book too loudly. And my 10-year old, when she asked me why I was yelling at everyone, got the worst of it. I felt the heat building up on the inside of my skin. The more I yelled, the more my insides boiled, and the more anxious I grew.
I’ve always known that stress has physiological (and psychological) consequences. Now, after my surgery, I realize how little my body can take. And how quickly my body can take over.
At the end of each day, I snap the silver blister tab that holds the next dose of my hormones. The felt the chalky small yellow pill on my tongue and the coolness of the water on my lips. I looked up in the mirror and began to cry. Who am I now? Who was I an hour ago? Who do my children think I am when my hormones take over?
“I’m sorry,” I whispered as I lay next to their beds. “I’m so sorry that I was yelling. You didn’t do anything wrong, and you certainly didn’t deserve that.”
“Was it your hormones?” asked my 10-year old.
“Maybe,” I replied. “But I can’t blame my hormones or my surgery. It wasn’t kind. It wasn’t nice. It wasn’t what Moms should do.”
And, for the first time that night, we hugged. I was thankful for the warmth of their cheeks against the outside of my skin.
Peace, love, and having my own personal heatwave,