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PMS and the woman lawyer. Impossible combination? Not necessarily. Let's challenge that.
First we should talk about the worst day of my life, second only to the death of my mother.
It's early March, 2006. I'm sitting in an office with my supervisor and boss and one other person in the office. They are grilling me about performance concerns. At this time, I'm a brand new attorney, admitted less than a year. And, I have severe PMS, the kind that, for about ten days every month, makes me dizzy, sleepy, fatigued, anxious, easily overwhelmed, depressed, experience physically painful food cravings that make it difficult to get through an hour of court (those of you who have had this know what it is like), and suffer embarrassing acne scabs on my face that might break open and start bleeding if I accidentally touch my face wrong.
I am earnestly trying to fix "the curse" while trying to learn how to be a lawyer. It is doubly challenging to do this as a harshly self-critical perfectionist. It is too much.
In my defense, I get my nurse practitioner on the speakerphone to try to explain "hormone imbalance" to the higher ups. They don't laugh audibly, but their tone is...mocking.
I leave that job, determined to fix this problem that threatened my career, and not be one of those people with some poorly-explained health problem that caused her job performance to suffer. I can't shake a deep shame, shame that a physical problem gets the best of me. I do not want to be one of "those" women walking around giving some lame-ass excuse.
I had been dealing with bad PMS since my late teens, and as soon as I was an adult making my own decisions, I spent quite a bit of time and money (that I didn't have much of at the time) trying to solve the problem.
Yes, as you either know yourself or can imagine, it was difficult to deal with during law school.
And, I entered the profession worried that it would remain a challenge, but hoped that the distraction of work would somehow alchemically transform me into an invincible superwoman who never had "female problems."
Much to my disappointment, it just intensified when I started working, and could no longer control my own schedule and take care of myself when I needed to.
In the several years that followed, I tried a variety of mainstream and complementary treatments and lifestyle changes to manage the condition such to where I could function, and function pretty darn well. It took years, and more money than I want to count up, but I figured it out.
PMS is a card that I was dealt in life, but my ability to deal with it today is light years better than it was in 2006. And today, I'm going to share with you how I got here.
First, the obligatory disclaimer: I am not a doctor, nutritionist, or any other kind of health professional or mental health professional. You should talk to a qualified health practitioner before trying any of this out on yourself. I provide this for informational purposes only, and hope that it empowers you to have better conversations with your health care providers.
With that out of the way, here is the Ultimate Guide.
I'm sure all of you reading this know that good nutrition is the foundation for health. Some have said that it is 80% of body composition (or maybe it was Woody Allen who said 80% of life is showing up?). But, the advice for what you should do when you have PMS varies widely: "never eat carbs!" vs. "never eat animal products!" and "never eat dairy!" vs. "eat lots of yogurt...and put it places other than your mouth..."
To make matters worse, what works for your best friend or sister might not work for you. And then you are back to demonic food cravings at that time of the month and you just dropped another $20 or whatever on some stupid diet book with lots of pretty food pictures and more bullshit. I had one nurse practitioner ask me, "what kinds of things are you craving? chocolate?" And I was like, "yeah, and other proteins, fats and carbohydrates." I was just fucking hungry and it was specific to that time of the month.
I personally tried, at different times, trying being gluten free, vegetarian, paleo, low carb, the Zone, all with promises that it would be the holy grail that would magically balance my hormones. I would feel better for a short while mostly from the placebo effect of the hope of trying something new. And then it would start to suck again.
And then I found it. I can't remember what led me there, but the nutrition protocol that works for me is Dr. Peter D'Adamo's GenoType Diet, featured in his book Change Your Genetic Destiny. The GenoType Diet can be personalized to you further with the SWAMI Xpress diet software, which is what I use. I'm really surprised more people don't know about this; it's outstanding. The premise of the GenoType Diet seems quite obvious -- our genes determine what kind of fuel burns best in our bodies, and certain markers like jaw angle, body style, and blood type (yes, blood type, stay with me) will tell you. Some humans run well on meat, some humans do better with grains, and depending on various factors, different cheeses work for different people. (Everyone should eat vegetables. No way around that, folks.)
Once I ran my SWAMI Xpress, I was astounded at the information. It was immensely validating, because it was giving me permission to eat things that I knew made me feel good and experience much milder PMS symptoms even though the CrossFit gym might disapprove. (If you hadn't caught the hint, I'm one of the types who has rice with dinner instead of steak.) And, it gave me some surprising information, like which specific cheeses to eat and which to avoid, and that turkey is better for me than chicken. My health has continued to improve over the almost six years I have been eating according to this protocol.
And the craziest part of it is that over time, I lost my taste for chocolate -- even at that time of the month. (It's not a recommended food for my type.) I can literally take it or leave it now. No willpower required. By eating what I should be eating, my desire for things that aren't great for me just gradually disappeared on their own.
My total life expenditures on supplement experimenting probably is equivalent to the GNP of a small nation somewhere. Ok, maybe that is an exaggeration, but I've tried them all. Here's what is money well spent for me:
Evening Primrose Oil or Borage Oil. I don't even take fish oil because I don't notice anything from taking it, and I eat plenty of fish. But if I go for more than a few days without my EPO or Borage Oil, my skin punishes me. These oils contain GLA, gamma linolenic acid, an anti-inflammatory compound that has a beneficial effect on the skin and helps reduce cramping in some women. I alternate between these two, depending on what is on sale. Typically, I purchase this Borage Oil from NOW foods because it is a good value. My dose is 7 to 10 capsules per day. That is how much I need for no cramps and clear skin.
Margarite Acne Pills. "Margarite," not margaritas. (I don't think anyone recommends margaritas when you have PMS.) Margarite Acne Pills are a Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) formula I take during certain times of year, Fall and Spring, when I find acne is more challenging. An acupuncturist who does TCM can explain to you why seasonal changes and your liver and spleen chi can cause seemingly-unrelated conditions like acne, shedding too much hair, being pissed off all the time, and feeling fatigued to flare up when seasons change. Sounds weird? TCM is a different paradigm, and I just roll with it.
"Zinc Cream for Problem Skin" by Margarite Cosmetics out of West Palm Beach, FL. And if you forget to buy your supplements (hmm...this never happens) and need to topically treat a pimple, this Zinc Cream for Problem Skin cream dries it up fast.
IPL Laser Treatments. An IPL (intense pulsed light) laser treatment for acne is basically getting out the big guns. Sites like realself.com can help you search for a provider in your area. This has helped me quite a bit off and on through the years.
Free and Easy Wanderer. On the topic of being pissed off....This was another miracle TCM discovery for me. The wonderful acupuncturist who first told me about this supplement called them "happy pills." According to TCM, it works by balancing the liver chi. Whatever -- I take it when everyone else is a moron. Oh wait, that's PMS talking. These provide welcome assistance during that time.
Quinton Hypertonic Elixir. Their website. I first heard about this on the Ben Greenfield podcast. I add it to my water after running it through a Berkey Filter. I'm not a chemist, so you can just read their website. I'll say that I notice a difference from it and no longer need to figure out all these different minerals to buy and have a dozen different supplement bottles in the cabinet. This one supplement just takes care of minerals for me. And, it makes the water taste really good, like the expensive bottled water brands that I feel guilty for buying on the rare occasion I -- gasp -- purchase a bottle of water.
Filter the damn shower water! On the topic of water quality, lots of folks' tap water contains chemicals that can disrupt the endocrine system. It isn't just bad to drink them; it's horrible to breathe them in via shower steam, absorb them through the skin, and soak one's tresses in them. I use this shower filter to remove chloramines from the shower water. It was easy to install with some teflon tape and hand tightening. This is especially good for people who rent, or for other reasons don't want to install a whole house water filter.
Progesterone USP Cream. Again, I'm not a doctor and bioidentical hormones are hormones just the same, so talk to a qualified healthcare professional. For me, any synthetic hormones (like those found in birth control, even at the low doses that are supposed to be "ok" or make you better and have a life full of fun shit like they always do in pharmaceutical ads) are like throwing gasoline on a fire....they make everything far worse....some of you know exactly what I mean. I like the lavender fragrance. If lavender isn't your jam, there is an unscented version. I use it at night -- used during the day can make one very sleepy.
Magnesium Oil. Applied to the feet, it helps me get a good night sleep.
Whew! So, that is Part One. In subsequent parts, I will cover Flower Essences that address the mind-spirit aspect of PMS, the specific mindfulness practice that I think actually does something, and the thought work process that isn't just a lame affirmation (that you give up after one day because you hate trying to kid yourself. We've all been there, haven't we?)
Together, all of these strategies have made me many times healthier and happier. I look forward to posting the rest!