Written by Mindy Stern.
I’m not a doctor, a biochemist, a scientific professional of any sort. Just a 54-year-old woman here to tell you a story. This is not a how to and I’m not giving advice. That’s my disclaimer. Take from my words what you want, discard the rest.
The typical woman spends 10 years of her life bleeding. Goopy, sappy, thick, thin, crimson or blush. Blood flows from our bodies, sometimes on to our jeans or gym shorts, our bed sheets, and everyone’s favorite, white pants. We lose countless hours of our lives making sure we have panty liners, tampons, and pads within reach.
In our lifetime, we spend an average of $1,773.33 on tampons, $443.33 on panty liners, $4,752 on pads, $2,280 replacing underwear, and $1,229.83 on painkillers. Even if we have health insurance, none of that is covered. The single most predictable, consistent healthcare cost of a woman’s life is out of pocket. God forbid we call in sick because we’re doubled over with debilitating cramps. Typically, menses is only stopped by disease, medications, surgery, or pregnancy. And menopause. “The End.” Some women lament the end of menstruation and fertility. I am not one of them. Fuck no. I celebrate it!
For most of us, menopause doesn’t arrive predictably like mimosas on a Sunday. Instead, it’s a mind fuck of starts and stops. Of light bleeding, then no bleeding, then heavy as fuck bleeding. That’s called peri-menopause, the under discussed, brutal and unforgiving, roughly 10 years before the show shuts down. When hormones take their wildest ride.
Depressed? Check your hormones. Anxious? Check your hormones. Can’t sleep? Can’t concentrate? Thicker in the middle? Hate your husband, kids, and cat? Check. Check. Check.
In my late 40s, I wrote a mostly autobiographical television comedy about a stressed out anxious mom navigating motherhood in middle age. A female television executive several years older than me read it and loved it. “It’s about time we had something about menopause!”
What? What does menopause have to do with anything? I didn’t think the character’s struggles (mine) had anything to do with hormones. Isn’t everyone just anxious as fuck? Isn’t that just life in the middle?
I didn’t know my experiences were connected to menopause because WE DON’T TALK ABOUT MENOPAUSE!
A few years after writing that script, still in peri-menopause, I had my first major depressive episode. I couldn’t get out of bed. I was drowning in the deep end, unable to reach the side or pull myself out. In retrospect, depression and anxiety had plagued me for years.
For close to ten years, I hiked, ran, walked, spun, pilat-ied, drank, shopped, therapized, and cried. Anything and everything — except anti-depressants — to keep the demon thoughts and electric energy at bay. It worked-ish.
Despite being an outspoken advocate for de-stigmatizing mental illness — for fuck’s sake I have my Master’s in Social Work and spent fifteen years working in psychiatric settings — I couldn’t de-stigmatize my own. I could not admit how bad I felt, that I needed psychiatric medication, that Soul Cycle wasn’t enough.
As the years went on, my dark moods darkened. I envisioned buying a gun, driving out to the Angeles National Forest, and shooting myself in the head. I didn’t tell anyone until I couldn’t get out of bed. Until I couldn’t stop crying.
I called a psychiatrist. He put me on anti-depressants. They helped. They saved my life. I’ve been on them for three years. And yet. I never achieved the sense of well-being I longed for. They made me ‘not depressed’ but they didn’t move me much beyond ‘not wanting to die.’
Last year, after my period had been absent for 13 months, I celebrated. Hallefuckinglujah it’s over! The end has arrived! Dance a jig, sing a song! The cruel joke of womanhood, the deal with the devil made in exchange for breeding, is not menstruation. It’s that as our periods end, a shit ton of evil begins. You haven’t lived until you’re standing at a cocktail party, looking and feeling fabulous, when visible sweat pours off your forehead, into your eyes, down your under-boob, and behind your knees.
That hideous feeling of a furnace being turned on inside your body? What joy. Staying awake from 3 to 5 am thinking about everything and nothing? About hot Harry Styles, Costco toilet paper, and Ivermectin? Fun!
A dry vagina, UTIs after you fuck — assuming you still fuck. Brittle nails, crispy hair, saggy tits, a body so unfamiliar you stare in the full-length mirror wondering what the fuck has happened. Good times.
My gynecologist suggested hormone replacement therapy (HRT), so like many women my age, I rubbed estrogen here, progesterone there, testosterone everywhere. It worked. I felt great!
And then I started bleeding again. ARE YOU FUCKING KIDDING ME? At 53, blood caught me off guard. While wearing white pants! I stopped HRT.
I added multivitamins, ashwagandha, omegas, and subtracted gluten and dairy. I balanced my thyroid and my adrenals. I Goopified my life yet looked and felt nothing like Gwyneth promised I would.
My adoptive grandmother, my adoptive father’s mother, died by suicide. At 49, she jumped off the roof of their Brooklyn apartment building. “Hormones” was the explanation my parents gave. “Hormones” said plainly, as if female middle age misery is a fait accompli.
Women 45–54 have the highest suicide rate of any female age group.
A few months ago, a friend gave me a microdose capsule of psilocybin. A very low, sub-hallucinogenic dose of magic mushrooms. I took it and it changed my life. I shroomed once in my 20s, loved it, had no desire to do it again. But I’d read about microdosing, knew it was not the same as recreational tripping. Still. I like my drugs in a bottle. I’m a Big Pharma girl.
But the more my friend explained, the more curious I became. I did some research. Here. And here. And here. The data is not just anecdotal. The American Psychiatric Association just released a study showing psilocybin is more effective than an anti-depressant for severe depression. “Brain scans showed flourishes of neural activity across large swaths of the brain that persisted for the three weeks.”
So one Sunday, when I had nothing to do, I swallowed the microdose capsule and waited for it to kick in. There was no sudden, distinct “oh shit, I feel good” moment. I took a walk. The weather was beautiful, a perfect Los Angeles sunny and 72. I noticed the beauty of the trees and blooming spring flowers, felt the sun’s warmth on my forearms. I didn’t trip. Nothing melted or slithered or burst. I was just present in a different way, more open.
A miraculous calm infiltrated my body, I had no thoughts in my head. I existed in the moment and it was absolutely stunning. I called my sister; we talked for an hour; I listened undistracted. The day went on and I just felt good.
So I got my own protocol of microdose psilocybin (it’s decriminalized in Los Angeles). A week later, I took another dose.
That day, my daughter was talking about one of our dogs, Noodle. We rescued him when he was 3. She wished we had a picture of him as a puppy and I had a mind-blowing realization.
There are no pictures of me before three months old.
I’m adopted. My mother relinquished me at birth. I spent 3 months in foster care before my parents adopted me. I thought I had turned over every adoption stone, but I had never considered this.
And let me tell you, it was a really fucking painful realization.
I cried. Then the feeling passed. The sadness flowed like a river, gently and naturally. Microdosing didn’t mute or amplify the emotion. It just opened me without ripping me. The feeling drifted away and my lovely day resumed.
That night in a dream, I saw a black-and-white picture of my newborn self, my tiny wrinkled face. I woke up and felt the familiar vibration of anxiety. I decided to go shopping. Buying clothes is my real drug of choice, shopping is how I numb my pain.
My body holds the trauma of relinquishment. Trauma is buried in my marrow, hidden in my bones. If I wasn’t good enough to keep, how will I ever be good enough at all?
I got dressed, replaying my dream, seeing my newborn face when I looked in the mirror at my aging one, and something happened. I listened — really listened — to the words I’ve practiced in therapy, yoga, and walks in nature. I am good enough. I am enough.
So I got undressed, put on sweats, and went to work writing my novel. For one of the first times in my life, I did not give in to compulsive, addictive urges.
Psilocybin microdosing allowed me to go deeper and to let go. There is no high, no euphoria or crashing come down. It’s a low grade incline to a sense of wellbeing with a shift that lasts.
I microdose psilocybin every two or three days. It doesn’t interfere with activities. I can drive, go to the market, see friends. The only change I’ve made is not writing on the days I take it. On those days, I take notes on my thoughts and insights. I stay receptive.
But on my off days, holy shit, writing has changed. Ideas flow, it’s easier to get into the zone. Everything feels possible, life feels manageable.
My social anxiety has disappeared. I’m comfortable with myself more than ever. Insecurities have ebbed, mood swings have evaporated. I’ve been able to lower the dose of my antidepressant with no increase in symptoms.
In his book about psychedelics, “How To Change Your Mind: What New The Science of Psychedelics Teaches Us About Consciousness, Dying, Addiction, Depression, and Transcendence,” the author Michael Pollan writes,
“I’ve begun to wonder if perhaps these remarkable molecules might be wasted on the young, that they may have more to offer us later in life, after the cement of our mental habits and everyday behaviors has set. Carl Jung once wrote that it is not the young but people in middle age who need to have an “experience of the numinous” to help them negotiate the second half of their lives.”
For women, the second half of life is ripe with complexities. Aging parents, bigger kids=bigger problems, career changes, a society that erases us, sends us to pasture. Add the hormone fluctuations that fuck with our moods and transform our bodies. We are at risk and we need help.
Microdosing mushrooms isn’t for everyone, of course not. Nothing is for everyone. Everything comes with side effects and downsides and limitations. But for me, microdosing psilocybin has opened my heart in glorious ways.
Microdosing has moved me beyond existing to enjoying living and my god, I am so grateful to be alive. And not bleeding.
This story was shared by guest author Mindy Stern.
Also featured on Medium https://medium.com/indian-thoughts/microdosing-menopause-and-me-8b12515d9a81