We’re approaching the end of our regular Wednesday night weight session in my home gym and after some bench pressing madness and some heavy sets of 5 on the Pendlay Rows, Greeny heads home and there’s only friend and Psychologist Nige and I left, finishing off the workout with a few accessories.
It’s as we’re coaching each other through sets of Seated Cleans to the tune of Lionel Richie's All Night Long that I attempt to delve into Nige’s expertise with a theory I’ve been working on.
‘You might have come across this in your… pychologising,’ I say, as I take the dumbbells from Nige and grunt through some Seated Cleans. ‘I’ve noticed recently… that I have this semi-predictable cycle of moods that always seems to culminate in a period of… oh my god this burns… about three of four days… of a low mood that I just can’t seem to shake.’
‘Depression?’ Nige asks.
I’ve banged out nine reps and wait until I’ve completed the tenth before dropping the dumbbells and groaning out the pain. ‘Not depression. Just like a general negativity or… lethargy,’ I say, as Nige starts another set. ‘And it follows a period of… well… general wellbeing and happiness where nothing seems to bother me. And I’ve been getting better at picking when the moods are approaching. I’ve got a theory that it’s just a normal mood cycle… to do with hormones or biorhythms or something… have you heard of anything like that?’
‘These seem much harder than last week,’ Nige says, dropping the dumbbells and rolling his shoulders.
‘They’re heavier dumbbells,’ I say.
‘Oh,’ he says. ‘Well, I’ve noticed recently that I can predict mood around my wife’s menstrual cycle.’
‘Right,’ I say, laughing. ‘So, you’re comparing me to a menstrual cycle.’
‘No,’ Nige laughs. ‘I’m saying I can predict my mood based on my wife’s menstrual cycle.’
‘Oh,’ I say. ‘You’ve synchronised?’
‘Yeah, well… I’ve started to notice that I’m getting this pre-menstrual stress…I’m less tolerant and a little angrier than usual and then I realise Sharon’s getting her period.’
‘Let’s finish off with some leg raises with chains off the Swiss ball. I really want to make my abs more… um… visible,’ I say. ‘So you’ve only picked up on this recently?’
‘Probably only the last six months. You know how you get an inkling… and then pay more attention? We tend to fight more around that time.’
I’m lying belly-up with my hips on the Swiss Ball; my hands clinging to the power rack behind me; lifting my feet from the floor and lowering them back down again with three four-kilogram chains around my ankles. Talking is difficult right now but I manage to get a sentence out during the final reps. ‘But have you heard anything about what might be the normal ups and downs of mood?’
‘Well, by and large we’ve all got the same hormones,’ Nige says, as he takes his turn on the ball and waits for me to drape the chains over his ankles. ‘Women also have testosterone and men have oestrogen, just at different levels… in general… and all sorts of things can affect our hormonal balance.’ He pauses to lift his knees for the first rep and swears under his breath with his eyes closed, like he’s having a nightmare. ‘…and if you drink alcohol at any level it plays with mood.’
‘Oh,’ I say. ‘Right then. So first you call me a menstrual cycle. Now you call me a drunken menstrual cycle.’
‘Ha… oww… shit,’ Nige says. ‘Haha!’
‘You know, I can trace this mood cycle back years,’ I say. ‘I can even look back on my blog and pick the ups and downs in the way I’m writing. I think it’s a cycle of about three months where… I’m just happy and motivated and nothing really bothers me, sleep is easier, I’m listening to uplifting tunes like 100% Pure Love, Smooth Criminal and… I’m Every Woman by Chaka Kahn. I’m always horny and watching the clock for Tania to get home and I’m in tune with the boys, thinking about them all the time and asking them about school and their friends and playing with them and cracking jokes.’
‘But then it shifts into a much shorter period of about three or four days,’ I continue. Where I’m listening to slower songs like Linger, Nikita, and Running Up That Hill by Kate Bush. I’ll smile and function perfectly well but I’m less tolerant with the kids. RM will get home and I’m still happy to see her but just without the usual kick. I still want sex but not quite as much.’
‘RM has to twist your arm?’ Nige grunts.
‘It’s hard to explain. I’m doing all the same things day to day – getting kids to school, cleaning the house, weights, writing, and all my successes and failures are the same, but my self-talk is a little more negative,’ I say, as Nige drops the chains to the floor and I sit on the ball and prepare for my last set. ‘Anyway, I used to look outside myself to find reasons for the shift into a lower mood – was it because I was training too hard and needed recovery? Because I was getting older? Was it because I was reading too much about disaster and terror in the news? Was I consumed by worry for Tyson or… I don’t… I would attach the negativity to whatever was going on around me at the time. But then I started to see that the negativity would just lift. Once I was driving with Maki to the supermarket and I’ been feeling dull for a few days and I was waiting at the traffic lights listening to Flesh for Fantasy and reaching back playing a ‘grab the foot’ game with Maki and I realised I was back to normal. The negativity had just lifted like a fog.
‘About a month ago I was making breakfast for the boys and I was pretending to do the elevator behind the kitchen bench and we were all laughing and the boys where screaming ‘again Dad again!’ and I got out my iPhone and started playing Move Your Feet while I was making school lunches and I just stopped and thought, ‘Wow, I’m feeling great’ and I realised that this could mean that another dull three or four days was coming at some stage in the near future, and that maybe it had nothing to do with what was going on around me, that it was just like the seasons; Summer leads to Autumn into the low of Winter, but Winter leads to Spring.
‘That’s when I first thought this is probably a common thing experienced by most people and not something to be controlled and that there was nothing I could do to stop it, that when the dullness came I shouldn’t try to hide from it or find a cause, I should just slow down for a few days and give it time to pass by on its own.’
‘Yeah, you’re not describing depression there,’ Nige says. ‘Depressions much more constant and debilitating. Normal ups and downs make for a healthy human. Most of us are taught that down periods are a sign that something’s wrong and head for treatment but no one can be happy and energetic and positive all the time. As long as the down periods aren’t the norm… impacting on your day to day life and your ability to function something… then it’s perfectly normal. ’
‘Thanks Dr Nige,’ I say.
‘You’ve still got a set left,’ Nige says. ‘If you want to get more visible abs.’
‘Oh shit yeah,’ I say, reaching out to grab the power rack, realising I’ve been sitting on the ball with chains around my ankles for a few minutes. ‘I might be over-explaining to make sense. It’s not really that bad. I’m not bipolar or anything…’
‘No, you’re not bipolar,’ Nige says. ‘I definitely had a hyper-manic episode once where I thought I might be bipolar. Not long after my daughter was born.’
‘Well,’ I say, grunting, chains raising and then crashing to the floor, ‘Studies have… ungh… shown that there’s a… oh yeah… definite hormonal change in new fathers… jesus…’
‘Yeah, I’ve heard that. I was just disorganised all the time, emotional, full of ideas, not sleeping, stressed…’
‘There’s even been studies showing that there’s a shift in a man’s hormonal profile if he holds a newborn baby….’
‘Must be pheromones…’ Nige says.
‘Well it makes sense doesn’t it, evolutionarily, if we’re moving in small tribes and all required to be responsible for the safety and survival of an infant… that we’d be adaptable in our emotional… nurturing response.’
I’ve finished my last set and the workout is over and I’m feeling good and it’s not just because I’ve iced my pecs and buffed my biceps and added another layer to my shoulder caps. I’ve been training in my home gym with Nige and several other mates for over ten years now and while we’ve allowed for personal good-natured digs and insults, we’ve also allowed for a lot more.
Nige has collected his iPhone and keys and as he’s heading to the door he stops and says. ‘You sure you just haven’t synchronised with RM?’
I laugh and switch off the radio. ‘I’ll pay closer attention next time,’ I say. ‘But if I find we’re a week or so out, next time I’m entering the Winter part of my cycle I’ll just go smell a baby. See what happens.’