backHaving spinal fusion surgery has turned out to be one of the most grueling things I’ve ever done. Despite all the research I did beforehand, I don’t think I was fully prepared for the amount of pain and immobility I would experience. It’s been nearly a month since my surgery–and based on feedback from friends who’ve had this surgery and posts I’ve read on messageboards from other folks who’ve had it, I have two more months of recovery ahead of me before I will start to feel close to normal.

The silver lining is that this difficult experience has helped me see my monthly cycle in a sharper way. And I think what I’ve learned can help you, too. Here’s how:

I knew going in to this surgery that during the first half of my cycle–my Week 1 and Week 2–I would probably feel more optimistic about my recovery and have less pain due to rising estrogen, which triggers the production of more mood-lifting, pain-masking brain chemicals.

And I suspected that during the second half of my cycle–my Week 3 and Week 4–I would probably feel more pessimistic about my recovery and have more pain due to estrogen dipping twice (taking those mood-lifting and pain-masking brain chemicals down with it) and because of progesterone, which is a sedating hormone that can trigger the blues.

Turns out, I was right about my hormones. But, I didn’t realize how being right wouldn’t actually help me.

See, when I came home from the hospital after surgery, it was the start of the second half of my cycle–the pessimistic, painful phase. And, my hormones did not disappoint! I was whiny, miserable and absolutely certain I’d never have a normal life again. But, here’s the thing: No matter how many times I told myself that it was just my hormones accentuating the negative aspects and downplaying the positive aspects of my recovery, it didn’t make me feel any better. Even when I had successes–like managing to walk a few steps without Douglas’s help or finally being able to sleep for a few hours at a time–I was still clinging to that negative state of mind.

Then, when my Week 1 rolled around–signaling the start of the more positive, less painful half of my cycle–things turned around. I focused more frequently on little successes, like making it all the way to the kitchen or out to the backyard, and relished the slight reduction in pain. But, no matter how many times I told myself that it was just my hormones accentuating the positive aspects and downplaying the negative aspects of my recovery, it didn’t stop me from pushing myself harder than I should have. As a result, I’d end up walking too far or too fast or forgetting not to twist or bend–and I’d end up hurting myself and slowing down the very recovery I’ve been trying to speed through.

Now, I’ve gone full circle and am back in the second half of my cycle. And, right on schedule, I woke up in more pain and feeling more pessimistic about my progress, convinced that I’ll never be “normal” again. But, no matter how many times I’ve been telling myself it’s just my hormones accentuating the negative aspects and downplaying the positive aspects of my recovery, it hasn’t reduced the negativity. (Just ask poor Douglas who’s had to listen to my whining. He’s making me a plate of “cheer-up cinnamon toast” as I write this right now.)

Stepping back and looking at this objectively, though, I find this whole experience fascinating. It’s a bit surprising that I can be aware that my hormones will be making me more pessimistic–but knowing this doesn’t help me see my recovery in a more realistic light. And it’s equally surprising that I can be aware that my hormones will be making me more optimistic–yet, it still doesn’t stop me from pushing my back further than I safely should.

So, now I’ve learned something about myself: While there are times in my life when knowing how my hormones will be affecting me can help me change my behavior–for instance, I’ll stop myself from feeling bad about my appearance on low-confidence cycle days or losing my temper when someone ticks me off on angry cycle days–I have to accept that there will be times when I won’t be able to change my behavior to overcome hormonal influences.

Yet, despite this, there is still some comfort in simply knowing that it’s my hormones that are behind my mood or behavior. It helps me be just a bit more accepting and forgiving of myself and the situation.

I’m sharing this experience with you today so that if you find yourself in a similar position where you’re feeling a certain way or doing a certain thing–and you know it’s at least partly due to where you are in your monthly cycle–but, you still can’t stop yourself, perhaps you, too, can find some comfort in simply acknowledging that it’s your hormones at work. And, this can help you be more accepting and forgiving of yourself and the situation, too.

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