This life thing, it’s a head-scratcher.
We are all just trying to figure it out, aren’t we?
But at the core of it all, we just want to be understood. Constantly trying to convince others and even ourselves of what we are feeling, thinking, going through, dealing with.
Sometimes the words come to us easily, other times they don’t.
Two weeks ago, a friend texted me a link to an article by Mary Ruefle written in 2015 about her experience with menopause.
The very year I began my slow climb into the abyss that is menopause.
This article was like nothing I had read before, almost like poetry for those who are hormonally challenged.
I had never felt so understood, so “seen”, because for the past five years I have felt like an alien from outer space.
I read it four or five times to myself before then reading it aloud to my husband early one morning while making coffee.
He has been alongside me on this most unenjoyable journey for the past five years. Oh sure, he hasn’t actually felt the symptoms but there are times that I would venture it is almost harder being in his position, feeling helpless.
I know that feeling all too well.
Being held hostage by my body.
I’ve written about menopause 31 times since 2015. In some ways, you could say it has been my silent writing partner.
Documenting the time I needed to paint a door blue for no apparent reason or the day I found out I was officially in the throes of menopause, then needing therapy because menopause was sending my anxiety to levels beyond my ability to cope with them. Keeping most of my posts light and sprinkled with humor so that you wouldn’t worry about me or feel sorry for me or decide to call the authorities.
When I was reading Mary’s piece, I felt like I had written it. Although I know I didn’t because her words are much more poetic. You don’t have to convince me that my writing is just as good as hers, I am not reaching for a pat on the back. She is simply better at conveying what I have not been able to and for me, that was a huge gift.
Because I finally feel less alone? Or maybe I feel validated in some way?
See? I’m not making it up. It really is a thing.
“Reading this, or any other thing ever written about menopause, will not help you in any way, for how you respond to menopause is not up to you, it is up to your body, and though you believe now that you can control your body (such is your strength after all that yoga) you cannot.” -Mary Ruefle
Therapy has been such a gift during the past five years. It is the only place I can talk about what is going on inside my head and not be judged. Because even the most supportive people can’t understand it unless they are going through it themselves.
I have felt like I am free-falling on most days. Like I am just making it up as I go along. There have been days where I laugh and shrug about the newest thing I am feeling and there have been days where I have been brought to my knees.
I have never in my life felt so out of control. Of myself, my abilities, my emotions, my bodily functions, my pain.
This isn’t at all about me. I wish the hell I could do something about it.
“Of course, you may be lucky: I know a woman who experienced menopause in no way whatsoever except that one day she realized it had been a couple of years since her last period, which was indeed her last.”- Mary Ruefle
I don’t have anyone close to me who is experiencing menopause as much as I am which has made me feel like it’s all in my head, like I am overdramatic, that there is something wrong with me.
There is something wrong with me. I am going through changes and my body isn’t cooperating.
I once had someone tell me that, ‘women have been going through this for years” as if I am wrong in suffering. As if I should maybe suffer in silence. As if I am not as strong as all the women before me.
It has made me look inside myself and judge myself harder than at any other point in my life.
“You hear a lot about hot flashes, but hot flashes are the least of it, totally inconsequential in every way: you get as hot as a steam iron at odd moments – so what? The media would have you believe that hot flashes are the single most significant symptom toward which you should direct your attention and businesses their products, but when I think of menopause I don’t think of hot flashes; I am not here to talk about hot flashes.” – Mary Ruefle
Recently, when Googling “songs that can relate to menopause”, this result came up:
Like fucking Nelly can at all relate to how I am feeling.
Listen, hot flashes suck. But is it all that menopause is about? Hardly by a long shot.
It’s stopping to think when your daughter’s birthday is.
It’s a deep sadness that comes out of nowhere at some of the happiest moments of your life.
It’s vertigo that hits you at the dentist while sitting up in the chair and you teeter out of the office like you’re drunk.
It’s getting Invisalign at the age of 48 on a whim.
It’s migraines so horrible that you pray to die.
It’s wanting to ram your car into the guy who cut you off in traffic. No, not ram him. Get out of the car and punch him in the face.
It’s ending friendships because they can’t understand why you are so insanely butthurt about the smallest of things (and you can’t either) but you also can’t face it any longer, so you simply walk away.
It’s excusing yourself to go into the bathroom and sob, then walk out of the bathroom like nothing happened.
It’s the loss of critical hormones that your body relied on for over 30 years and then one day, they are just gone. Not tapered off, but gone. And you can’t get them back because the medications that replicate them give you migraines. Or blood clots. Or a stroke.
It’s not being able to talk to even your closest friends and family because if they heard all of this, they would think you’re crazy.
Then you start to think you are crazy.
And the cycle begins. Over and over again. And again. And again.
So yes, menopause is way more than a hot flash.
“If you take the time to peruse the annals of any nineteenth-century asylum, as I have, you will discover that the ‘cause of admittance’ for all women over forty is listed as ‘change of life’.” – Mary Ruefle
For the past five years, it has felt like 20 years.
“Am I going crazy?”, I once asked my husband while sitting on the couch at three in the morning with heart palpitations while worrying I am going to die right here on our couch at three in the morning.
“Am I going crazy?“, I have asked the compassionate nurse while sitting in the emergency room being admitted for a massive panic attack.
“Am I going crazy?“, I have asked my neurologist while explaining why yet another preventative isn’t working for migraines.
“Am I going crazy?” , I have whispered to myself while laying in bed in the dark.
“You may decide to take up an insane and hopeless cause. You may decide to walk to Canada, or that it is high time you begin to collect old blue china, three thousand pieces of which will leave you bankrupt. Suddenly the solution to all problems lies in selling your grandmother’s gold watch or drinking your body weight in cider vinegar. A kind of wild forest blood runs in your veins.” – Mary Ruefle
I think we all know what my “insane and hopeless cause“ is.
Etcetera. etcetera, etcetera.
In the past five years alone, I have written an entire screenplay based on nonsense, painted six rooms in my home, painted my front door four different colors, migrated my blog a total of three times.
I wanted to learn to play guitar after listening to a Grammy performance by H.E.R..
I wanted to shave the side of my head and dye the rest of my hair purple. No, silver. Or maybe pink?
I wanted to get a full sleeve tattoo.
I wanted to be a home stager. When I didn’t want to be a professional organizer. When I didn’t want to go back to school and finish my bachelor’s degree.
I’d say there is definitely “wild forest blood” that’s been running in my veins.
Some call it a mid-life crisis but mine is more than likely menopause which in some ways really is a mid-life crisis.
I am more than halfway done with my life and it’s making me sad.
We should be allowed to be sad, to grieve, to mourn the loss of the ability to carry children whether you wanted more or not, the loss of what separates man and woman physically.
Do I miss my period? God, no. Do I miss my period? Sometimes, yes.
“The one thing no one will tell you is that these feelings and this behavior will last ten years. That is a decade of your life. Ask your doctor if this is true and she will deny it.” – Mary Ruefle
During the last visit to my gynecologist, I looked her dead in the eyes and said, “you aren’t doing any woman any favors by downplaying menopause“.
There needs to be a best-selling book about the reality of menopause. Not the medical part of it, not the big pharma part of it, not the psychological banter part of it, the gritty reality of it. The Mary Ruefle version.
Be honest with our daughters and granddaughters, our sisters, and our friends. Stop making it a taboo subject, only to be discussed sitting on a sterile table in an office while wearing a paper gown on or in hushed tones around a kitchen table with another female so that the men and children don’t hear.
Tell your stories publicly, demand more information and awareness from your doctor, and if they say there isn’t anything they can do, find a new doctor.
And share Mary’s piece with every woman you know who is struggling with menopause and beyond. Hell, share this piece with every woman you know who is struggling with menopause and beyond.
It would kill me to know that when my daughters inevitably go through this, that they should feel alone. That they should feel like they have no one with whom they could relate to what they are going through. Maybe they won’t have as bad an experience with menopause as their mom did. I hope to God they don’t. But if they do, I will offer these words:
You aren’t alone. You aren’t going crazy. It’s not just in your head. It’s okay to bitch and moan about it. It is so fucking hard, but you will get through it.
Why can I say this? Because I understood what you are going through. I was right there.