I’m driving on the Gardiner Expressway headed to the East end of Toronto. Just me, in charge of a car, going 95km/h on a busy highway. I start to feel this sensation in my chest, a tightness, a banging, “It’s nothing” I say and will it away. I take deep breaths and focus like I do in yoga to slow my heart rate. “I’m not actually dizzy. That is just my anxiety telling me I’m dizzy”. I don’t know, is it?
It’s 7:30pm and I’m uncomfortable in my own skin. My heart is slamming inside me again and my temperature is erratic, or it feels that way. We are going out to dinner with friends. In this second, I’d fail a COVID screen. “Cate, can I have a thermometer?” My temp is 36.5 degrees Celsius on three different thermometers (no, I don’t know why she has three). I look at my pulse on my watch, 65 beats per-minute. I eat an apple. I’m okay. We go to dinner.
I wake up at 3am, heart slamming again. I try square breathing. I slow everything down to one second at a time. I scan myself for other indicators. It’s so mysterious and awful. Is the world ending? I fall asleep.
The next morning, as she makes lists for some huge trip, I’m tapping my chest like my student does in group process when she is freaking out and needs to stay in the room, stay present, not dissociate into some abyss. There is no reason for this. I am safe, I am happy, all is well, I want to cry.
Later that evening, I’m home and still, every 15 minutes or so, my heart pounds. I idly wonder “am I having a heart attack?”. I ask Dr. Google, she isn’t sure but she can’t rule it out. It’s different for women you know, diffuse symptoms, tightness instead of pain, back ache, anxiety, neck pain, cold sweats. . .check check check. . .I’m through the looking glass now. I wake my son with the news “Your peri-menopausal mother needs to make sure she is peri-menopausal and not having a heart attack.” We drive 5 minutes down the road to the hospital.
I enter with this particular shame. What is the nature of this shame? That I am a bother. That I am bonkers. That I have enough education and whiteness to state my case with the expectation I will be taken seriously, while still constantly undermining my symptoms. They are reassuring. “You did the right thing coming to check.” I am treated with care and my kid puts on a brave face. I know that if it’s true, I will get treatment and if it isn’t, we are both taking the day off the next day anyway. Win-win.
The doctor comes in. He is maybe 10 years older than my child. He could be my child. He is handsome and perky and maybe on Aderal? Who knows what these guys do to keep going these days. He explains my blood work, it was good. My heart monitor looks good. “What about those big blips when I feel that slam in my chest?” They were right there on the screen. My son saw them too, sullying the otherwise regular beats of my little heart, a resting rate of 57bpm. Pretty good. The machine beeped at my because my breathing was too slow for it’s liking. It doesn’t understand I do yoga. “Heart palpitations. Totally normal. Hormone changes can cause them”.
I leave with a requisition for a stress test and a monitor, just to be sure. In this moment, there is no heart attack but that doesn’t mean this body belongs to me any more. It is off on its own, engaging in some process without my consent, devoid of any agency belonging to me. It just flips out whenever it wants to, in spite of my mindfulness and my coping and my measured breathing and my telling myself I am fine. I am fine. But I’m changing and there is nothing that can be done about this presently, only 79 days into the latest pause in the meno.
The wave after wave of palpitations has settled down now. Perhaps my sputtering ovaries are giving it a last go, a little respite? Who knows? No one knows. I don’t know. . .Is it?
(If you want to laugh about this more, take a look at this gem from Baroness Von Sketch.)