Has anyone seen the goalposts?

Four chickens in grey leaf litter, yard infrastructure in midground @careerusinterruptus.com

It is a neurodivergent parenting fact, that the minute you figure something out about what makes your kids tick, or how to help them overcome a particular challenge, they move the goalposts. Not just a few feet left or right, forward or back, but usually into a strange, new, dark dimension populated by angry hammers. An issue that you’ve been contorting yourself, trying to grasp and manage, disappear overnight, to be replaced by a new impossible that has never, ever, been an issue before and the first you know is when it whacks you upside the head.

The joys of asynchronous development. I may have mentioned it.

If you have more than one kid, they psychically coordinate so that every once in a while they all do it at the same time. (The rest of the time, only 7 of the goalposts are doing the time-warp.)

And if you’re really, REALLY lucky, you might find your own goalposts hoiking their skirts and heading for the hills at the same time.

This has been 2021 in our house, so far. Hammer, hammer, hammer.

One of the kids has taken a massive forward leap, gaining about eight years’ maturity in eight weeks. Suddenly issues that had previously produced nothing but screaming, are being calmly clarified and the kid wants both more responsibility and more autonomy for resolving them. That’s great – amazing! Wonderful! – although it does entail a lot of work for me, scrambling for opportunities and resources. (And, of course, figuring out how to manage the gap between their goals and their abilities, without sounding as though I lack faith.)

Simultaneously, anxiety has driven the other kid backwards almost as far. Every last scrap of independence has vanished. I’ve had to take over all decision-making (I mean all of it) and my presence is required every minute of the day and quite a few of the night. I am gritting my teeth and clinging to the knowledge that in the early years, wobbles this big usually often preceded a magnificent leap. Nevertheless, neither of us is enjoying the reprise.

(Coincidentally as I’m writing this I’m overhearing my son’s homeschool class on Wells’ The Time Machine, and I have to say, never mind the Jurassic, try going back to the preschool age.)

And – sigh – apparently, I’m really, REALLY lucky, because just before Christmas I discovered that I have a specific learning difficulty. I’m in the process of recalibrating everything I know about myself and my abilities. In fact I’m at a stage in my (erratic, eclectic) reading where I’m starting to wonder whether all four of us aren’t afflicted by a particular exceptionality—but that’s a story for another day.

This day all my energy’s going into taking care of myself and – between tethering the kid out in future space and holding a lifeline for the one in the past – trying to stay grounded in the now. And oh, man, that involves a lot of adult self-talk: A small cup of tea is okay; the bucket you’re tempted to drink will just burn through all your reserves by lunchtime. Skip it. Drink water. Eat salad. Order the groceries. Talk to that friend. Avocado for afternoon tea instead of cookies. Okay, and *a* cookie. Take some time to watch the chooks. (Chickens are an extremely under-rated therapy. Trust me.) Drink more water. Cook the dinner. Make the extra effort to do grain-free pasta for yourself. Spike the kids’ dinner with sedatives. Wait, not that one. Wash the dishes. Shower. Go to bed. Remind yourself that this too shall pass.

Because it does. It always, eventually, does.

The perfectionism is a @#$*!! post

out-of-focus picture of gum tree branches against sky
©careerusinterruptus

Ho, boy, perfectionism. THAT miserable disease. Too often the term’s bandied around like it belongs to high achievers: Strive for perfection, get straight As! Sure, sometimes they can be a little driven, but hey, on the whole, it’s a good thing, right? That tendency will get them far in life.

Bollocks.

Perfectionism in our house bolted the door and hamstrung the horse before it ever left the stall. Perfectionism is a caltrops, a shackle, a monstrous barrier to progress. Perfectionism is a severe learning difficulty.

Lemme tell you a story.

One day somewhere in his third year, Mr Pixel wrote me a note. I couldn’t read it, of course, because it was unformed pre-school scribbles, but I made valiant efforts to guess at the content.

He wasn’t fooled. He wanted me to READ it. When he realised I couldn’t, a look of pure disgust settled on his face, and that was it. He was done with writing. DONE.

Just how done, I had no idea.

You see, Mr Pixel had decided that since he couldn’t, instantly, write intelligibly, then by god he wouldn’t write at all.

I didn’t know that, of course.

How could I?

He wasn’t even three, for goodness sake; I just figured, it would come.

So we gave him plenty of opportunities. Besides free painting and drawing, there was colouring-in, dot-to-dots, white-boards, and mazes – ways to practice writing-like movements more forgiving than forming letters. Mr Pixel wasn’t interested. (In retrospect, I should have twigged when he’d use his finger to trace a maze, but nothing that left a mark.*) We had fat crayons, markers, pencil grips. He ignored everything.

Perhaps he had fine- or maybe gross motor issues? We swam, we had Lego, play-dough, squeeze-balls, kinetic sand – anything to strengthen his muscles.

We tried an occupational therapist. Lovely young woman, sporty, full of giggles. Mr Pixel adored her – though not enough to do what she asked. “It’s my pencil and my hand, I’ll hold it how I want,” he said, barely five years old. (SAF. It’s frickin’ real.) $900 later we quit flogging that horse, because having refused to play any of the OT’s homework games with me, Mr Pixel had eventually quit engaging with her at all. He’d worked out what was really going on, and he wasn’t having a bar of it.

School didn’t push. They recognised that kids mature at different paces and were confident that he’d write when he was ready.

Which may well be shortly after hell freezes over. Five years later I’m pretty sure you could fit every mark he ever made at school onto one sheet of A4 with a nice wide margin for framing.

Yes, I know. Dysgraphia. But how can you tell? It’s a completely self-reinforcing cycle. Is he refusing to try because it’s difficult, or is it difficult because he refuses to try, or both? How do you help someone who has simply decided they Won’t? Hint: treating it as if it’s dysgraphia – offering to scribe, for instance, typing, or voice-to-text software – doesn’t work. All you get are dirty looks and a zipped lip.

Text-to-voice, on the other hand, worked brilliantly for about a fortnight, during which Mr Pixel typed reams of swear-words into my phone for my car to say while I was driving.** (Cheers, inventors of Bluetooth, bet you didn’t foresee that.) Then the novelty wore off and we were back to No Writing.

Not writing has one major benefit, you see. Most schoolwork requires writing, so a kid who won’t write has pretty effectively shielded themselves from ever have to risk being wrong, or making a mistake that others might see. This principle works right across the board: If there’s any chance an activity won’t be instantly mastered – which is pretty much everything – it’s off the agenda.

THAT is perfectionism, people.

It kills me and it breaks my heart.

I have no answers. It goes without saying that anything Mr Pixel does want to try is greenlit. As parents we talk frequently about our learning efforts in his hearing, emphasising the frequency and usefulness of mistakes. He watches educational videos and we talk ideas. And we keep providing opportunities, not just for writing but other, low-risk, open-ended activities like paint-pours or making fimo beads – our homeschool group is perfect for this, god bless those people.

Minecraft and Lego have both been great for trying and failing, without losing face. He’ll type texts for me if I’m driving and when his server crashed, he asked for help composing support messages to the host.

And after years of that, we are finally starting to see writing, in the sanctuary of our homeschool group, with a teacher who absolutely gets Mr Pixel (and a class full of others like him). With their encouragement – and their very broken-down, structured lessons – he’s begun producing stories and paragraphs that don’t just say ‘poo poo poo poo’. (Even that was only a one-off.) He’s getting there, having a go, learning what success feels like and more importantly, that mistakes are survivable. Which after all, is really the only way to break perfectionism’s paralysing grip.

* = I figured it out when CraftyFish – who owns many untouched workbooks, including The Gifted Kids’ Workbook, Create This Book, and The Big Life Journal – explained that she won’t write in them for fear of “ruining them”. At least she Wrecked This Journal; Mr Pixel wouldn’t even do that.

** = Yes, I let him, because HE WAS MAKING WORDS. Plus, the pair of them giggling their heads off was such a nice change from the screaming.

Progress report 1/21. Or, staying sane when the brown stuff flies

My golly goodness it’s been a shit of a time, hasn’t it?

I am, as always, struggling to keep a lid on the global despair, but instead find I keep having to move it to ever-bigger pots. Happy your state elected its most diverse cabinet ever? Discover they’re allowing hundreds more coal-seam gas wellson the site of our worst environmental disaster – which that same company caused. Coping with the pandemic? Fine, have a coup as well! Thankful the coup failed and we’ve reinstalled a degree of intelligence in the White House? Read about how thoroughly and justifiably unimpressed First Nations folx are. All that before Jan.26, Australia’s annual celebration of racism.

Even just within our house, the brown stuff’s been flying thick and fast and all over the shop. I don’t even want to think about the details. Let’s just say that the month has featured blood-stained pet diarrhoea, pet lice, kid anxiety, back/nerve pain, employment uncertainty, tears, broken sleep, broken appliances, and – as a result of all that – a parade of big, fat, unexpected bills. Most of it, more than twice. That time I got sprayed with baked-bean juice was just another sigh moment in a month full of them. (I’ll let you imagine the circumstances that led to baked-bean juice being sprayed. Whatever you come up with is probably saner than what actually happened, which involved a chicken.)

Rodrigo the bean-juice-spraying chicken

So, I’ve been concentrating (for a given value of ‘concentrate’) on the stuff I can do. I’ve cleaned out the shed so the bikes actually fit inside, I ordered printer cartridges, I painted the bird-bath, I booked the dishwasher repair dude, I paid some of last-term’s overdue bills, I returned a ton of overdue library books, I found a vacuum-cleaner repair dude, we can now escape out the fire door without breaking our necks on ancient ride-on toys and chicken wire. I’ve showered, like, at least twelve times.

And there’s been progress – if not completion – on a few other projects, as well. As of yesterday, I finished putting six months’ worth of expenditures into the spreadsheet, I’ve seen the exercise physiologist twice, I’ve worked out a schedule for doing weekly housework, I’ve, uh, moved some big landscaping rocks, I handed Mr Pixel the crowbar and pointed him at the old pavers…

I mean, sure, I still have to take the vacuum across town to the repairer, and crunch the expenditures data into a budget, and do my damn exercises, and level the soil before we can re-lay pavers, and wade through the inevitable pre-housework tears – every frelling week. And fine, okay, I haven’t even touched on any of the Big Stuff.

But you know, people, VISIBLE PROGRESS. In this month’s avalanche of bad news, I’m taking any minute where I’m not driving, or doing emotional support, to go outside and look at the hacked-up dirt, and breathe. It’s a small patch, maybe only a metre square, but it represents progress. Tiny, visible progress. I’ll take it.

Sensitivity is brutal

When I was about 23, a friend cast me in his university revue – The Four Horsemen of The Apocalypse Go Camping – as War.

It hurt my feelings.

I mean, I was an anxious, dreamy gal, wanting nothing more than to read every book ever printed and, thus informed, bring about world peace. I couldn’t even handle a horror film, let alone—I mean, War? Me?!

Nevertheless, everyone in our circle agreed it was perfect casting.

Hmph.

Fast forward twenty years, and someone gives me Elaine Aron’s The Highly Sensitive Child because she thought it fit my kids.

Sure enough, they ticked some HSC boxes, but damned if I saw us in those pages. Aron writes of mothers so averse to loud noises they commit to never calling their child from another room; she writes about sock-seams; she writes about kids who only eat bland food, who get stress stomach-aches, and who ‘cry easily’ over small injuries, animals, or art.

Who were these delicate beings?! Not us!

So long as they were with me, my kids loved new experiences. (Although they were less keen if the new experience involved other kids.) They tried any new food they were offered, they adored restaurants and Avengers movies and rough-housing, they are hugely, inappropriately, funny, they loathe museums/art galleries, complaining bitterly whenever we go. Wet’n’Wild, though? AWESOME. Outside school, they only ever melted down in public once each.

But at home? The screaming. I may have mentioned it once or twice.

They screamed in frustration, they screamed in disappointment, they screamed in panic, they screamed because it was funny. If I yelled, they screamed back twice as long. They did not scream for any sensory issue, ever, and I never thought of what they were doing as ‘a tantrum’. They just took things badly. So badly that a neighbour – the lavishly tattooed, grey-haired Serb from across the road – once nervously mentioned it. The guy with a kid the same age, that we never ever heard.

Sensitive, my kids? Pfft. They were the Brute Squad, making up in volume what they lacked in size and strength.

Another pointless parenting book. I lent it out.

However.

In my quest for Clues, I had also joined a group for parents of HSCs, and one day a baffled mama asked the magically-worded question that finally tricked my laggard brain into assembling all the pieces. I forget how she phrased it, now. But my answer went something like this:

Stimulus (physical, emotional, or intellectual) slams into our consciousness like a bullet. (If we were off in our thoughts, it’s more like a meteorite.) All the consequences appear instantaneously, like cracks shooting across a windscreen, so we respond, with shock, to a lot of information. As a result, our responses come out fast and hard. BAM! POW!

For instance, if I postpone a trip to the library because we’re all tired, it isn’t ‘just’ disappointment over the missed outing. The missed outing is itself a constellation of disappointments: fun car-ride! Fun place! Adults who enjoy talking to book-loving kids! Fun at the playground afterwards! Fun eating a snack out! Fun using a strange toilet! With strange soap! And strange taps! ALL GONE! Adding insult to injury, this adventure has been curtailed for tiresome old REST, at boring old HOME?! They HATE resting!

And beyond all that, the rich promise of a shelf full of new books, obliterated. And beyond that, what if something happens and we NEVER get to the library?! Can you see the crescendoing crisis, here?

Cue much, loud protest. And then, as Mama remains unmoved, more ramifications unfold: Perhaps I do not understand just how much they want to go to the library and how PROFOUNDLY DISAPPOINTED they are at missing out. Perhaps I – gasp! – do not care. (If I did, I’d change my stance, right, to save them this suffering?) Perhaps they need to express themselves more vehemently.

Ah.

Now that I put it like that, I can see how we might come across as a bit, um, forceful.

Martial, even.

Of course, the kids could never have articulated it like that, and at the time I probably couldn’t have unpacked it like that myself. I would have been too busy dealing with the screaming.

Unfortunately, as a parent with the exact same wiring, I may have dealt with some of it by – yep – screaming. Sometimes literally, sometimes not: it scarcely matters. Their brains and ears are so finely attuned to every nuance of information, so hyper-alert to any perceived threat, that my plain-old, everyday certainty (formed exactly as fast and hard as theirs) sounds like a bomber roaring over their heads. When our brains have raced, laser-fast, to different conclusions? Obviously, it’s war. God help us if anyone digs in.

So the trick turns out to be pulling back from those distant conclusions. Dialling down my conviction, even when (I think) I know exactly what’s going on and what is unequivocally The Right Answer. Nodding thoughtfully buys time to apply a mental fire-extinguisher, creating a gap between the first answer smashing into my brain and the words erupting out of my mouth. I am learning to brake my speech, softening my fast-and-hard reaction with pauses and questions. “I wonder…” is hands-down the best parenting tool ever. I use it about as well a goat with a screwdriver, but eh, I’m learning.

Eventually, the friend returned Aron’s book, and this time, I slowed down enough to recognise us. After all, it’s sensitivity that brings so much information so fast to our brains, even if it’s the gifted that races away and sounds the air-raid siren.

Here we go again

In honour of #HurrahForGin’s classic cartoon (and if you don’t want to marry her, what is WRONG with you?!) I’m dubbing the time between Christmas and New Year’s, “Cheese Week”.

I mean, I’m perpetually confused; I only know what day of the week it is in term and even that’s hardly reliable. And it’s probably fair to say I’m usually more full of cheese than I should be.

But during Cheese Week? Phew.

The house is trashed, full of boxes and packaging and proudly-displayed new Lego builds; we’ve been out too much for me to have time to tidy any of it up and where will the new stuff even go? Everyone’s sleep has gone to shit in various ways. And nobody knows what we’re doing at any given time but it always seems to involve crisps, friends we haven’t seen for ages, and board games, so everyone’s constantly either over-excited, over-tired, bored, elated, hungry, disappointed, or all of them at once.

It’s hard to imagine a worse time to try and get one’s shit together.

And yet, you can’t help it, can you?

I mean, it’s a New Year, and all that crap.

Even I cannot resist. Sure, resolutions are just setting yourself up for failure, and yes, I still come over all snarky around motivational words.

Nevertheless, I’ve spent large chunks of the week unravelling our finances in the hopes of finally figuring out where the reins are and grasping them. In between I was reading “writer’s life” type articles, pondering writing and financial goals. With nothing in the calendar and hubby home to keep on top of the laundry, I determined that *this* year, dammit, I would DEFINITELY start with A Plan.

Needless to say, that didn’t work out.

Instead, a beloved pet became very ill and I spent three solid days finding help, supporting the kids, and then dealing with all the grief once she’d passed away. I forgot we had the pest control guy booked and dear friends we rarely see found an unexpected opening in their diary. The week cost us damn near a thousand bucks.

So we’ve arrived in 2021 our usual way: tired, papers all over the table, my screen open to my novel, dirty dishes in the sink, and I can’t find my glasses.

And yet, I’m okay with that – it’s just life, after all. Of course nothing changes on New Year’s Day.

The trick, as Neil Gaiman put it so beautifully, is to just keep walking towards your mountain.

Gaiman’s genius – unlike SMART goals, five-year plans or any of that protestant-capitalist bullshit – is acknowledging that we don’t have control. Because the universe unfolds according to its own, profoundly unknowable plan, we cannot see the whole road ahead. Bulldozing one will likely end up in the Fire Swamp.

Ditching a set route lets you respond to opportunities as they arise, rather than fighting to stick to the path, despite them.

Ditching the time limit allows you to slow down for fellow travellers, or because it’s dark. It allows you to stop and smell the flowers. It acknowledges that despite the best-laid plans, sometimes the Fire Swamp opens up right there under your feet.

By keeping the mountain centred in your field of vision, you can still find your way.

We may have left 2020 behind, but we are still in the Fire Swamp, and the R.O.U.Ses are still in charge. All we can ask of ourselves is to keep fit – eat salad, exercise, ablute, sleep – and keep walking.

Anything else is a bonus. Be grateful.

Backstory

One TL;DR version of my autobiography could go something like this:

Identified as a gifted kid by two different American school systems, I grew up knowing I was smart and struggling with the expectation of academic excellence. I mean, I could get top marks fairly easily – except at math – and I generally did, although the margin of achievement diminished as I got older.

Besides, after year six, no one ever mentioned my giftedness again. Perhaps it had worn off.

By the time I got to University, studying science, I was miserable and so were my grades. The first thing I ever failed, I was expecting – I’d skipped all the tutorials and most of the lectures, and after trying to cram the whole subject the night before, found on the day I couldn’t answer a single exam question. Fair enough – but what bothered me was, why had I skipped everything in the first place? Venomous and Poisonous Animals should have been an interesting subject, it wasn’t even remotely difficult, and I’d known what the consequences for not attending would be; why couldn’t I make myself go to classes?

Then I failed something I’d kinda enjoyed and worked for, with no idea why. (The lecturer, who’d gone on sabbatical, was unavailable to provide feedback.) And there were some subjects I wasn’t even game to try. Clearly, I was getting stupider with every passing year.

Things improved dramatically when I moved into the Humanities – my grades shot back to the expected level and I found great joy in my field – but I still felt a glass wall between me and my colleagues, a feeling that increased when I went on to further study at a more prestigious institution, and which still exists around my few remaining academic friends. These people are smart, funny, interesting, shared similar politics, interests, and tastes, and yet… there was some difference I just couldn’t put my finger on. They were thriving, but the longer I stayed, the worse I felt.

Eventually I tapped out of academia, exhausted by feeling that I struggled with and resented what everyone around me enjoyed; feeling that the monoculture of it was killing me, without even being able to articulate what I meant by that. I wanted to start a family and that was impossible while putting so much energy into a career which, anyway, still wasn’t meeting some vague, unformed needs. The split was as painful and bewildering as a divorce. Where had the joy gone? Where was the love?

It wasn’t until I started learning about giftedness in my forties that this disconnect began to make sense. My kids’ version of giftedness is all about the emotions, the creativity, and the recalcitrance. Though they are bright, they flat out refuse to achieve academically. And now that I understand why, I understand myself so much better. Achieving well academically was a byproduct of interest; without interest, I had nothing. As Jacob Maslow put it,

“Gifted children…are primarily motivated cognitively. When they achieve excellent grades in a certain subject, it’s because their intellectual curiosity was sufficiently fired by the material provided.”

Maslow, 26/10/2018, retrieved 27/12/20

Ah. Yes. That sentence explains my whole history. I could achieve well, when I had my cognitive hooks into something; without that, a grade, a publication, or a promotion, were never enough to motivate me.

Figuring out that that’s how I am, has been like taking off a too-tight pair of pants I’ve worn my whole life.

So now I let it all hang out. Smart enough, I guess: also creative, empathic, and curious, a dabbler, happy doing a whole lot of things not very well, far more motivated by wonder than by anything else. Trying to figure out if I can do that, then changing tack once I can – this is what gifted looks like.

Silly season

©careerusinterruptus

So, we have barely finished school – in Australia, the academic and calendar years align – and Christmas is upon us.

After 674 weeks of classes, the kids and I are beyond poopered.

I especially am over people. As a social introvert, I find people both irresistible and exhausting, so having happily chatted my way through all our classes, activities, and appointments, I am now DONE. One more interaction will be the after-dinner mint that explodes me. The boys are the same. Even CraftyFish, who normally swears she’ll DIE if she has to spend two consecutive days at home, is ready for a break.

Add to that, it’s summer: stinking hot and 9000% humidity, which not only defies physics but melts the few neurons I have left and saps my will to live.

What we really don’t need at this time of year is a logistical challenge wrapped in a shit-ton of emotional triggers and tied with a big red social bow.

And yet, here we are. Thanks, Romans!

The thing is, we all love this ridiculous, over-blown, pitfall-strewn gelt-fest, so ignoring it isn’t an option. Having started counting down in September, by December 1 the kids are REVVED. That means a month of silly, loud, playful, hyper-creative. Also, sigh, sensitive, sensory, over-thinky, anxious, argumentative, and sleepless. Such a crucible makes for some big developmental leaps, because WHY NOT? Asynchronous highs and lows are coming prestissimo, faster than mama can mix mojitos.

So we do traditional Christmas with some twists to accommodate both the heat and the over-tired, over-socialised, people who come to the party with fingers on the meltdown button.

December is the month of after-dinner swims, the activity burning off some of that noise while the dark and the cool soothe and settle.

Everyone likes the festive look, though some find the process of decorating too chaotic and noisy. That’s okay. No one has to join in anything. They can find other ways to help, same as any other chore.

We have a rule against music, too, since volume is an issue (hearing-impaired mama, bat-eared children) and none of us like the same tunes. Alone in the car I blast Hooked on Christmas, but the rest of the time we stick to the regular soundtrack of wailing and gnashing teeth.

We do bake, which suggests my brain has already gone as soft as the gingerbread will be by morning. Still, it’s lovely to do with Mum, and then CraftyFish goes nuts with the icing.

@careerusinterruptus

I still over-think gifts, having utterly exhausted my ability to put a pin in anything and say “that’ll do”, despite knowing full well there’s no grades for good gift-giving. At least I’ve stopped trying to make stuff for everyone. Baby steps!

I have, however, completely abandoned Christmas dinner, on the grounds that cooking is for people with air-con. Instead we have a picnic: bread and cold meats, lots of veggies, fancy cheese and fruit. Nothing that requires the application of heat.

And then there are the socials: Family, other family, and friends from interstate, who we adore and want to see. Ideally, without tears.

When the kids were younger we crammed it all into one day, which led to a lot of meltdowns. Mostly mine.

Now we spread the load, seeing each group on different days. With slower starts, less stimulation, and less pressure, each day leans a little further from the point where excitement topples into grief. There’s time for reading and building our gifts, time to express all the big emotions, time to decompress on our screens and beds and back in the pool. By spreading Christmas over at least three days, we can refocus from the day itself to the important part: happy time with the people we love.

It wasn’t easy to get to this point. The Skeptic and I both come from places where snow falls, from conservative families who put on the whole Coca-Cola show even when they moved south. Pulling back, a little, so that we could manage genuine smiles for the photographs, took some determination. (And, okay, a few tantrums.) I doubt anyone really gets why we do it this way; they’ve just had to accept it.

The more I read, however, and write, the better I see the reality of who we are and what we need. This is the first year I’ve really embraced the slack approach and the space it gives us, to relax and to enjoy each other. May you find the same peace.

The peri-menopause is a PITA post

One day about a year ago, when my GP asked at the end of a visit if there was anything else she could do for me, I asked for a brain transplant. Exhibit A: the three times I’d been in to see her THAT WEEK, because I kept forgetting stuff, even (sigh) when it was written down.

Instead, she said something unexpected: “Yeahhhh, that might be a bit extreme; I think we’ll try you on some HRT. I reckon you’re in peri-menopause.”

Of course, I argued. (Regular readers may notice a pattern.) Exhibit B: Clockwork periods, no heavier than ever, zero hot flushes.

But my GP raised her eyebrows very high, and said, through curiously tight lips, “Trust me, I am a *bit* of an expert on these matters, these days.” Then she printed me off a list of symptoms.

Ah. Forgetfulness. Tick.

Um. Central adiposity, the fancy medical term for the spare tyre round my middle, as tough and resilient as the ones on my car. Tick.

Oh. Difficulty sleeping. I put my hand up to that one, fast. It was weird, too – not just difficulty getting to sleep, like when I’m anxious, or early waking, like in depression, but the whole bloody trifecta: difficulty getting to sleep, staying asleep, and waking early.

“Yep,” she said. “That’s it.”

WHO THE FUCK KNEW?!

So we tried the HRT, and it was AWESOME.

By around New Year’s, I could sleep and when I woke I didn’t feel dead and some days I even got shit done without crashing the car. (I crashed the car, um, three times in 2019.) I WAS SUPERWOMAN.

But, you know, like all gifties, I’m a giant pain in my own ass, sometimes.

We’d run the blood tests – which is stupid, because as my doctor said, that shows what my hormone levels were like at that hour of that morning, nothing else – but it did also show (surprise, surprise) low iron, which I’ve never had before. So we tried HRT and iron supplements.

That’s right. We adjusted TWO VARIABLES.

What can I say? Apparently neither of us was at our finest, that day.

As soon as I was back to feeling like a human being, I remembered SCIENCE and quit the HRT. Because it might not be that, right?

It was that.

Oh, my god, it was that.

Pretty soon I was back to feeling like a dried-up booger stuck to the bathroom wall.

So I filled another prescription and began religiously taking the HRT.

No, I didn’t.

Get real.

My brain was AWOL, right? That means I was utterly incapable of remembering to rub some gel on my arm in the morning and swallow a capsule at night, let alone take any of the supplements the doctor had also suggested. Good lord.

What kind of idiot cannot remember to take three medicines every day, FFS?

Which is why I’m also on an anti-depressant.

Which I also regularly forgot.

Which is bizarre, since forgetting to take them pretty much instantly makes me feel like there’s a full-size pissed-off grizzly bear perched on my head, clinging with all twenty claws and occasionally teeth as well. You’d think that’d be sufficient negative conditioning to trigger change.

Nope. I’ve spent most of this year fucking it up: forgetting to take, running out, forgetting to fill scripts for days on end, headachey, tired, and miserable, completely unable to sort myself out.

Eventually – after my smarty-pants cousin said, “Oh I just keep mine near my toothbrush,” (thanks, smarty-pants cuz) – I built a routine: Out of bed, wee, water, gel, anti-depressant, hearing aids. THEN move further into the house, where all the distractions live.

Yep. At 51 years old, I needed someone to tell me that. And people think gifted means smart.

So I guess it was September when I finally got on top of it, enough hormone in my system regularly enough to fill some of the holes, and to be honest it has been nothing short of miraculous. I have turned into a weird evangelist trying to share the good news of HRT* with every woman within five years of my age.

And then this week – phew. Following Toemageddon last Saturday, Tuesday saw me smash a hearing aid using the exact same sequence of mis-steps as back in May, and Thursday saw me… prang the fucking car. Also, the exact same way I did earlier this year.

Only this time, I have some connected neurons, so I wondered: does peri-menopause make you clumsy?

Turns out, it does.

WELL FUCK.

And it turns out that all of this – sleep, memory, clumsiness, weight-gain, anxiety, and depression – is hideously inter-connected.

Oestrogen and progesterone are meant to balance each other. When they’re playing nicely, you get nice, regular ups and downs and a nice, regular cycle.

Once you hit this delightful stage in life, though, your desiccating ovaries reduce oestrogen production. Freaking out, your body seeks alternative ways to get its fix, which it does by laying down fat like a bastard – fat can make oestrogen – and this causes your oestrogen levels bounce around like the Cat in the Hat on his ball with his cups, the milk and a cake, the books, and the poor bloody fish on the rake.

Meanwhile, progesterone just slowly slopes off out of the room, completely abandoning its balancing duties.

The resulting wobbles amplify and enhance each other, both physiologically and psychologically:

Not sleeping? Gain weight! Gaining weight? Feel stressed! Feeling stressed? Crash into stuff! Crashing into stuff? Feel anxious! Feeling anxious? Sleep less! Sleeping less? Eat more! Eating more? Gain weight! Gaining weight? Diet! Wait … what was that thing, you were supposed to be doing? LIE AWAKE WONDERING. Lying awake wondering? HAVE A SNACK.

And because it is wobbly, not linear, what was working back in September may not work by January. And, because it’s “just” women, and it’s both highly complicated and highly variable, the whole issue is clouded in medical confusion and non-medical misinformation.

I saw one doctor’s comment that this is nature’s way of trying to “kill us off” once we’re no longer reproducing, and it’s pretty hard not to feel he’s right, especially when you’re waiting in 32-degree heat for roadside assistance because you hit the kerb. (Although he then earned idiot status for going on to wonder whether “we” should just “accept Mother Nature’s design for us”. Fuck off, Dr Dick.)

The shortest average period of this hormonal pandemonium I saw cited, was four years. (My GP said, seven.) Bloody freaking hell.

Can I just say, this is not one of the things they ever cover in those stupidly optimistic news stories about the advantages of late parenthood?

Because, yes, just as my hormones are going on the fritz, the kids are well and truly ramping up theirs. And I thought the pre-school years had been full of yelling, tears, and door-slamming.

Really, the only thing needed to top off this giant endocrine-palooza, is helping care for Mum through her dementia, a condition strongly linked to … yep, you guessed it: The years-long brain fart that is menopause. (Two-thirds of Alzheimer’s sufferers are women, more than can be explained by our longevity relative to men’s.) Something to think about, while lying awake.

There may be an out, of course. It is exercise. (EXACTLY what you feel like doing, when you’ve been awake half the night. Even more, I should imagine, if like a friend of mine, you’re cracking 50+ hot flushes a day. Or, like me, your local climate is exactly like living a hot flush for half the year.)

It must be said, that although it is far and away the most consistent advice given, the evidence that exercise mitigates menopausal symptoms, is far from clear.

I’m gonna do it, though.

If it means I stand any chance of staving off the Alzheimer’s or any of the other heritable diseases I know are risks in my family, then clearly I owe it to myself and to the kids, to pull on my (very) big-girl pants, sort out my back, and get my (rather large) arse into gear.

Who knows? I might even regrow my brain.

* = I know, it’s not called that any more. But these days I’m too dappy to remember what it is called. And since many doctors have not yet cottoned on to the new lingo, I don’t feel too bad about it. Cheers.