September 20, 2002
Second Chance

miles to go: 607.48

"You do remember how to change the back-up tape, right?" JoAnne asks me again, an unmistakeable wobble of doubt in her voice.

It's late Friday afternoon, and the two of us are standing in front of a towering bank of network servers and computer-related gizmos, going over a list of basic office administration duties. Part of me -- the part of me that hates to be criticized, even if the criticism is oblique and constructive and utterly non-threatening -- the part of me that chafes at authority, even really really nice authority -- the part of me that resents being treated like a four-year-old, except in the endodontist's office maybe (and then only if he gives me a Vicodin lollipop afterwards) -- that's the part of me that wants to snap "Yes of COURSE I remember how to change the back-up tape."  A bivalve could change the back-up tape, forcryingoutloud.  It's not exactly rocket science. 

But the other part of me -- the new/improved/super-calm/hormonally-regulated part of me -- is able to reign in her snottier emotional impulses these days.

Especially in front of her really really nice boss.

"Why don't you show me one more time?" I say to JoAnne sweetly. "Just to make sure I've got it."

You can't exactly blame her for being worried. The last time she went off on vacation and left me in charge, it turned out to be a disaster of Ishtarian proportions. (Around The Dirt Company they still whisper about the afternoon they found me on the floor of the supply closet, huddled in a fetal position, whimpering "Benzene, toluene, methyl tertiary butyl ether.") No wonder she's nervous about going out of town again next week.

*I* would be nervous about leaving *me* in charge, too.

Just to be on the safe side, we're reviewing the entire Administrative Department Procedures Manual from beginning to end. Do I remember how to assign a P.O. Number? Do I have any questions about boring logs?  (Yes!  When they grow up, do they become interesting logs?) Do I understand the difference between an invoice and a statement? She shows me where to find the company credit card, the company checkbook, the critically-important emergency phone numbers (building management, the local police, Kinko's, Four-Star Pizza). She drills me on sieve analysis forms, accelerated blast valve forms, parallel flange indicator forms, fax toner cartridges.

"Everything is going to be just fine," I say to her, in my most soothing, most efficient Super-Ass tone of voice. "Just go and have fun in Las Vegas."

But she still looks doubtful. What if Armand drops into town, unexpectedly? What if the air conditioning breaks down again? What if we run out of Moisture Barrier Intrusion Handbooks, or the ancient Minolta copier blows another gasket, or somebody breaks into the lunchroom and steals all of the little fruity sponge snack things?

(What if her incredibly efficient, incredibly reliable Super Assistant has another major hormonal meltdown?)

What JoAnne doesn't realize, of course, is that this time around I have a new secret weapon in my arsenal.

It's been like night and day.

I've been taking the new meds for three months now -- long enough to officially quit calling them "the new meds," I suppose -- and it feels like someone has thrown open the curtains, somewhere deep inside of my brain. All of a sudden I can see sunlight filtering through the windows again.

Every single day of the month.

We're not talking about a miracle drug here. The "meds" are simply your basic, garden-variety birth-control pills: a nice, manageably-low dose of estrogen and progestin, taken every night at bedtime. It's not the first time in my life that I've been on The Pill, but it is the first time that I've taken it for reasons other than birth control. At this point in my evolution, I'm a lot less interested in the Pill's prophylactic qualities than I am in the cycle- and mood-regulating benefits: that's the reason I finally started taking it again, after a couple of years of resisting the idea. Using artificial hormones to regulate my wacky non-artificial hormones seemed ... I don't know ... counterintuitive, somehow. Unhealthy. Slightly perverse. Plus it seemed as though for every five articles I read, touting the benefits of oral contraceptives to treat perimenopausal symptoms, there was another article screaming about risks! risks! risks! ... especially for Women Of A Certain Age. All can tell you is that by last spring things had spun completely out of control. I was regularly losing five or six days a month to hormonal horror ... and that was during the good months. I was at the end of my rope. I needed help. I'd tried everything else, and nothing worked.

This was my last resort.

It took a couple of months, once I got the prescription filled and started taking the meds, for everything to kick in and settle down and start working the way it's supposed to work -- break-through bleeding was a problem the first month, erratic moods the second month -- but now that I'm on my fourth little plastic container of pills, I can tell you that I absolutely feel the difference. This isn't placebospeak. This isn't the 'do-I-feel-it-or-don't-I?' uncertainty of the herbal remedies. We're talking about actual, verifiable results. I'm more 'regular' now, for one thing: that's the most noticeable and dramatic difference. No more waiting ten weeks (or ten minutes) between periods ...  and never knowing which it was going to be, from month to month. I know exactly when stuff is going to happen, now. (And then when it does happen, it's about as offensive and disruptive as a hiccup.)  I've got some of my natural energy back. I'm free of killer cramps and chronic headaches. The weird mid-cycle food cravings are gone, along with the bloating and the edema and the muscle aches. My skin is starting to clear up -- for a while there, my face was beginning to resemble the surface of Mars -- and I'm losing that bruised-and-battered look, under my eyes, mainly because I'm actually getting some sleep at night.

I'm interested in ... uhhhhhh ... playing Yahtzee again. David was getting tired of rolling those dice all by himself, I think.

Best of all, I finally seem to be getting a grip on my runaway emotions again. I'm not doing handsprings, exactly: I still have my share of blue moods and cranky spells and stoopid unprovoked *Boo Hoo* Moments. (Tensions between The New Girl and I, for instance, seem unavoidably headed toward fullscale war.)  But overall I just feel markedly less overwhelmed ... especially during the fourth week of the month. No more sitting at my desk, weeping into my Italian Dark Roast. No more telling the Good Morning People to go to hell. No more stoopid one-sided fights with David. Just this past week, I found myself being nice to a telemarketer ... graciously accepting a grammatical correction [damn! damn! I KNEW it was 'laid'] ... politely asking a group of children to to stop screaming outside my kitchen window ... all without yelling or crying or using the sort of language that used to make my Grandma blush. I feel calm and centered and more emotionally stable than I've felt in a couple of years. I don't even remember what The 72 Hours From Hell felt like.

(OK. That's a lie. I remember EXACTLY what they felt like ... which is why I'm so damn thrilled NOT to be feeling that way anymore.)

By the time we've finished reviewing and quizzing and double-checking for accuracy, I'm feeling pretty confident. In fact, I'm feeling as though I could do my job AND JoAnne's job at the same time. Blindfolded. In the middle of a hurricane. Wearing hideously uncomfortable shoes. Surrounded by howling lunatics.

Which is good, since that's pretty much exactly what next week is going to be like. (Except for the part about being blindfolded, maybe.)

"Is there anything we've forgotten to go over?" JoAnne asks again. 

I remind her that in an emergency I've always got the Administrative Department Procedures Manual to rely on. Plus I've got her cell phone number, her hotel information, her personal e-mail address and her ICQ number.

"Everything is going to be OK," I say to her gently. "Put a quarter in the slots for me."

Eventually she seems to relax a little -- Maybe Secra won't burn the office down, after all -- and she goes back to her office to take care of a few last-minute/pre-vacation odds and ends. I sit at my desk with a rare mid-afternoon cup of coffee and reflect on next week. I have no illusions that it's going to be easy. "Prepared" or not -- fortified by groovy meds or not -- I know that next week is still going to be about as much fun as an eighth-grade Spanish Class Christmas party. (Minus the soggy bean dip and the José Feliciano records, maybe. But still.)  Without JoAnne around to yell at people and manage crises and run interference, I'm going to be a sitting duck for every bit of Dirt Company folderol and nonsense.

And folderol and nonsense are Dirt Company specialties ... along with mold remediation and eight kinds of boring logs.

Still, I'm glad that last June's hormonal fiasco hasn't permanently eroded my supervisor's trust in me as a back-up. She could have hired a temp (or a babysitter) to look after the office in her absence. But she didn't. She's trusting me to do it. I'm being given a second chance here -- a shot at a little Dirt Company redemption -- and I'm not going to screw it up this time.

Not on purpose, anyway.

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comments/questions/spelling corrections HERE
~ nil bastardum carborundum ~

i don't know how long i'll stay on the meds:
i still have some lingering concerns about long-term health risks,
which i'll probably continue to research
and discuss with my physician
and bore the living crap out of YOU with.
and i absolutely am NOT advocating that everybody
run out and get a prescription for oral contraceptives to treat their PMS or
their perimenopause or their Pongo-Pongo Syndrome.
this is definitely one of those
talk-to-your-doctor situations.
so no lawsuits, please.
[i AM, on the other hand, advocating that everybody run right out
and buy a BICYCLE. but that's
another story for another day.]