P.O.T. vs P.M.S.

Finding humor in an old wound

This weekend I’m going to meet my new grand-niece, and for a few days jump into the lives of first-time parents. The introductory months of being a parent are generally so traumatic most of us don’t even remember them! Sleep deprivation and worry, the physical pain of tender private parts, and the sudden, absolute realization that your life as you knew it is over. Everyday becomes a blur as soon as another sunrise pops up. There are so many things about being a parent no one tells you about; and now that I’m over fifteen years past that phase of life I know why. Older parents don’t tell you about the daily details because we don’t remember them. And we don’t tell you about the emotional journey because it’s impossible to explain.

our second baby evidently got left on the table sometimes

Hopefully I will be able to do some housework this weekend and give the sleepy couple a little break. What I won’t be able to give them — and what would be really helpful — is perspective. When it comes to children, time and perspective are the only way to definitively answer the millions of questions you have everyday about raising them. Thinking about my sweet young niece and her husband starting this journey into the parenting abyss reminded me of a trip I made to the doctor as a new mom which knocked what little mommy-confidence I had right out of my heart.

The jarring conversation shared with my doctor is funny to me now because of the illusive magic called perspective. Gaining perspective takes a long time, usually. But there is one way to find the humor in a situation a little faster — fire up a joint and inhale some clarity straight into your lungs!

Before we get too far into this dance, let me go ahead and step right on some toes by admitting yes, I’m advocating drug use. If my kids have to sit through beer commercials and watch pop stars they admire singing about flavored vodka and hard seltzers, then I can write about marijuana to you, a bunch of grown adults. You are old enough to know what’s what. You know a few addicts and you are old enough to have seen the pain and suffering alcohol brings to the party. Now think about how much agony and destruction you’ve seen caused by opiods, which are apparently still being prescribed regularly. I know four women in my immediate circle to whom they were prescribed in the past year, one of them was me! Okay, now pull the thought bus over to the side of the road while you think really deep and hard about the lives you’ve personally seen ruined solely by smoking the tiggity.

Can’t think of any? Hmm. Me neither.

Now, assuming you don’t imbibe yourself — because if you did you wouldn’t be trying to judge me for jumping on the weed wagon — let’s think about times you’ve seen people enjoying a smoke, a toke. They are chill and relaxed, probably a bit giggly. And do you remember what happened if they went overboard? They probably fell asleep and woke up well-rested, or they started to laugh uncontrollably. Oh my god! Call the authorities! Sleeping and laughing?! Enjoying music on a cellular level?! Totally unacceptable!

So. If you are still concerned about me backing the bud, you should probably stop reading. Because this is going to be silly-funny and you are obviously a very busy person with no time for frivolity.

Back to my story.

After I had my second baby in the span of sixteen months I was feeling a little frazzled (sarcasm font). Once or twice, when it seemed my ability to reason had been hijacked by aliens, I tried smoking pot to help me not lose my cool so quickly; to regulate my emotions as they say. It’s true, I could’ve achieved the same, peaceful state of mind by meditating or taking a long walk alone in nature. But at the time, it was 100* in Los Angeles and as I mentioned, I was tethered to a newborn in a very physical way. My alone time was limited to about thirty seconds in the backyard trying to take one deep breath with a pipe before my toddler ran out and found me. I did what I could do, and it worked. After one hit of zip I felt sane again, or at least mostly human.

5 months old and 20 months old? Easy peazy!

Postpartum hormones are no joke. They curled a large section of my hair, gave me hot flashes, and something very similar to the mood swings of PMS. I’ve read that premenstrual syndrome exacerbates overlooked grievances and annoyances. If you find yourself picking up other people’s dirty dishes a few times a week, you may be able to shrug it off on a normal day. But when your hormones are preparing for another round of “isn’t it a wonderful miracle to have a uterus” picking up another dirty dish feels more like an insult than a little favor you are doing. By the same token, if you aren’t usually bothered by other drivers’ maneuvering, and then find yourself swearing at a Prius driver because they never learned to merge, you might be suffering from PMS. In other words, it’s not that I am mad about nothing. It’s that I have a lower asshat threshold on those days of the month. No big deal, ladies. We can handle it.

How, you ask? Like Jesus says in the Gospel according to Matthew, “Consider the flowers in the field.” Maybe he was talking about lilies, or maybe! he was talking about the giggle weed, which I, personally, found very fast and effective for righting my Ship of Moods.

These days I can order some smoochy poochy to be delivered to my house in twenty minutes. I know this because I see the ads on billboards everywhere. But, 16 years ago, when I was having these serious mood swings and mild-but-still-troublesome bouts of postpartum depression, the drug was illegal to have or to sell without a prescription. I got my little bit of weed from my husband’s colleagues. He is a jazz musician and although he hates getting high himself, he knows ten different ways from Friday to get some mary jane at work. This is a nice situation to be in, true. But I was a little worried about the different strands and strengths of what I was getting from these unknown sources. For reasons that may have something to do with a control issue, I was interested in having a prescription. But I had no idea how to get one.

As the months went by and my mental state continued to wax and wane with no help from a good night’s sleep or a live-in nanny, I began to feel desperate. I was so embarrassed to ask anyone for help because my main symptom was being extra grumpy. Where I come from this is exactly the sort of medical issue which is not considered medical at all, but more of a lack of pride, or self-control. My own mother was something like Mary Poppins, so I thought this job was going to come naturally and birds were going to sing along with me as I did laundry! In fact, the harder I tried to pretend parenting was easy, the more I resembled Ursula the SeaWitch. I didn’t have words for what was going on in my head. I felt weak and, again, so desperate. I summoned up my courage to ask a doctor about my idea for a natural, if slightly unconventional remedy that had worked for me a few times — an occasional puff of bambalachacha.

When I have a stomach problem I ask the gastroenterologist for help. When I have a toothache, I ask the dentist. My mental stability troubles seemed to be related to lady problems, so I decided to talk to my OB. I went in for a regular check up with the intention to have a real talk with her about my PMS symptoms. When I brought up my anger and frustration she was not empathetic or even very interested. Maybe she was having the same issues and didn’t want to talk about it. Or maybe she was hungry and ready to go to lunch. Whatever her status, she was not taking me seriously. I knew it wasn’t going well, but I didn’t know another option. So I kept going and asked her if she had heard of other women smoking marijuana to ease their symptoms. She tried, but didn’t succeed in hiding her amusement at my questions. In fact, she made me feel very isolated, judged, and stupid. Then, she quickly wrapped up her patronizing diagnosis with something about me trying raspberry leaf tea.

If only I could go back in time to be an advocate for my 30 year-old self. I would look that fledgling Lady Doctor in the eyes and say very sternly,

“This poor woman is suffering and feeling inadequate. She has always wanted to be a mother and now it’s not going at all like she was expecting. Girlfriend needs help! How dare you make her feel stupid and how dare you dismiss her questions like you’ve never seen a new mother with mental health issues before. She is coming to you for assistance, not judgement. You don’t have to give her marijuana, but you do have to give her respect and support! You do have to take her account of her own condition seriously.”

Unfortunately I was alone that day, and I left the office about ten rungs further down the new-mom shame spiral, and I never went to see that doctor again. Smoking the good giggles still had a stigma attached to it in 2005, although it was beginning to relax.

Fast forward to 2021, when I keep a magic vial of CBD oil and a weed pipe right beside the Advil in my bathroom for anyone to see. With CBD I can get the benefits of the sweet lettuce without any goofy side-effects. Or I can buy the real deal at a dispensary down the street on my way to get groceries. Some things have really changed, but taking women’s health issues seriously hasn’t. Not really. Now I talk to friends about perimenopause. We are sweating, we are moody, we are fat and losing blood at truly alarming rates. But when I listed these symptoms to my new, 30 year-old female GP, she didn’t write any of it down. She said, “Huh. Sounds pretty common.”

I’m thinking pain waking me up at night on a regular basis may be normal, but is not acceptable! It’s frustrating to still feel like talking about female hormones is some taboo subject we can only pass notes about in Geometry class. Fifty percent of every doctor’s patients are dealing with some version of these issues.

Next time I go in, I’m taking a written list of my symptoms and I will make sure they are noted on my chart. Because it’s easy for me to dismiss a few really bad moods once I’m feeling better. It’s also easy to feel sheepish wearing a piece of paper while sitting on a nagahide table. It’s easy to let a doctor convince me there’s nothing they can do for me; it’s all just a part of life. But remembering this story of my desperate, younger self has given me new courage. In my self-acceptance I can now see the humor in asking an OB for MJ in the times before Martha Stewart offered it on her website in fruity flavors. Most importantly, now I’m old enough to be my own advocate and to normalize discussions about hormones and cramps with my doctor to hopefully get some relief. Getting older has to come with some benefits!

As a great-aunt, I’ll assist with some chores and offer support if the new parents need it this weekend. I won’t be dispensing advice or judgement, and I can’t give anyone the gift of perspective. But I might accidentally leave behind some righteous bush. Just in case.

Originally published at https://shannondriskill.substack.com.

I make a mean martini; am often reading; and usually thinking about my relationships, my teenagers and how I’m probably messing them up.