Yesterday, I felt like reality ground my face into the mud.
It has been over two years since I had cervical cancer and the hysterectomy that got rid of it once and for all, and yet it was only just yesterday that I started doing a bit of research into the long-term effects of having one's uterus removed. I honestly didn't want to know before. I wanted that whole chapter to simply be closed and left behind, but when I read through list after list of symptoms, each list nearly identical to the other and each one pretty much describing me, I knew that it wasn't in the past. I felt reduced and exhausted and lost.
I have seen several doctors since my diagnosis — three general practitioners, three gynecologists, three therapists, and two psychiatrists — and not one person ever mentioned at any point that my estrogen and progesterone levels would change post-hysterectomy and that the change might have some lasting effects both physically and mentally. I feel like an idiot for not assuming that my hormone levels would change, but I truly had no idea that the uterus was responsible for hormone production at all. Because I still have my ovaries, I thought that my hysterectomy meant, at most, that I would be blissfully period-free and could expect menopause a couple of years earlier, which, coming from a family of women who go through it really late, seemed like a bonus.
I was so naïve.
The side effects that are on nearly every list I've read include (and I've put the ones that I presently experience in bold) anxiety, depression, mood swings, dizziness and nervousness, fatigue, hair loss, headaches, heart palpitations, insomnia, irritability, joint pain, low sex drive, painful sexual intercourse, memory lapses, unexplained weight gain, urinary incontinence, and vaginal dryness. Luckily, I am glad to have missed out on the insomnia, joint pain, sexual side effects, weight gain, urinary incontinence, and vaginal dryness, because that collection of symptoms just sounds so delightful, but the rest of them are no joy ride, either.
I am exhausted most of the time. When I am out in public and someone asks me how I am, my first thought is usually "I could really use a nap". In fact, I'm fighting my ever present urge to nap right now. I've been fighting it ever since I woke up. Pair that with the near-constant headache I've had since sometime last year, depression interspersed with paroxysms of fear, and an inability to remember people's names, what I did last week, and why it is I find myself standing in the living room with a lint brush and no pants — where are my freaking pants?! — and I feel like a winner.
A couple of days ago, a friend was telling me about her mother's experience with having had the same type of hysterectomy at the the same age as me, and things started to click into place. Okay, well, her mother is more of an angry and hateful bitch than I am — my irritability only pushes me to swear at the cats and break down when I can't find the onion dip — but otherwise she was talking about me, and I decided that I should research the topic.
For the last two years, I have been blaming myself for feeling lacklustre. My fatigue? An obvious sign of my lack of commitment to the tasks at hand. My depression and anxiety? A sign of ungratefulness. Being that I don't have cancer anymore, I should be full of vim and vigor! Issues with short term memory? Lack of due attention with a side of ineptitude. In short, and quite without realizing it was happening, I came to believe that my all-too-common strings of terrible, no good, very bad days were the result of me being a terrible, no good, very bad person.
When I started to figure out last night that I may not be as sucktastic as I have come to believe, I was overwhelmed with grief, which I poured in snot, tears, and mascara all over the Palinode's t-shirt. I might not be an ungrateful and depressed bitch. I might just be kind of broken with a higher risk of cardiovascular disease, arthritis, and osteoporosis. The news was both saddening and freeing: saddening, because this is my body now, lump or leave it, and freeing, because it means that I can do something about it.
At 36, this makes me feel prematurely old, but there are things I can do to combat my possibly low hormone levels and the effect that they are having on my health and well-being. I am going to make an appointment to have my hormone levels checked out, and if they are lower than I'd like them to be, then I am not the uncommitted, ungrateful bitch I feared I was. If it turns out that my hormone levels aren't off, though, then I guess I've got some personality issues to deal with.
Now, if you'll excuse me, I really do have to go find some pants and locate the onion dip. These chips won't dip themselves.