80's Names| My Name is on the List| Grieving – A Grace Full Life
I’m posting a day early since ANNA GRADUATES COLLEGE THIS WEEKEND!
Three things I’m looking forward to this week:
Getting some time alone
Mother’s Day spent with my mom and family
This week’s chapter is about support of all kinds, but particularly female support, which is timely given what is going on in the world. I’m sharing the chapter in its entirety within the body of the post today, but you can also listen to it in the podcast above. I added background music this week and it sounds SO PROFESSIONAL! Thanks for the help, Matt. 🙂
Repeat after me: Women’s bodies are not a source of shame. Perimenopause and menopause are not taboo topics to talk about with family and friends.
You’re Not Meant to Do this Alone
KNOCK, KNOCK, KNOCK. I think I hear a knock on my garage door.
“Who in the hell is knocking on my garage door in the middle of the day?” I wonder aloud.
KNOCK, KNOCK, KNOCK.
“A serial killer, “I think to myself.
KNOCK, KNOCK, KNOCK.
With snot and tears running down my cheeks, I crawl to my bathtub for help in standing up.
When I look in the mirror, I see my tear-stained face. Before going downstairs, I wipe my tears on my hands and blow my nose on my shirt because who in the hell cares anymore?
I start heading downstairs, peering out the windows to see the driveway.
I notice an unfamiliar car. I get a little worried, so I anxiously text my husband.
KNOCK, KNOCK, KNOCK.
“It’s okay, trust me,” my husband texts back from work.
When I open the door, I see two high school friends standing in front of me.
“SURPRISE!” they yell.
Kari and Vikki, two of my dear friends, traveled from Ohio to Illinois to surprise me that February day. They knew I’d been suffering from debilitating migraines and wanted to support me in any way they could. They teased me for taking so long to answer the door that day. I pretended to be on the toilet, but I wasn’t. I was in the fetal position on the bathroom floor, crying and pleading for help to handle my pain. I was unaware that I was approaching perimenopause. I felt overwhelmed by the symptoms I was experiencing. I didn’t have the confidence to tell my friends how inadequate I felt. Instead, I let both of them think I was taking a poop. It was less humiliating.
Opening our wounds
I encountered more unpleasant situations on a daily basis throughout this phase of my life than I had ever experienced before. Throughout perimenopause, I avoided seeking help due to embarrassment. My steady stream of symptoms made me feel humiliated. Because of my invisibility, expressing my weakness and a slew of symptoms was like revealing to the world how vulnerable I was.
It was much easier to express my embarrassment by writing about it behind the safety of a computer screen. When I let down my guard and shared my feelings with my readers, I realized I wasn’t alone after all. There were a number of other women who were going through the same things I was. We were able to affirm one another’s experiences and pull one another up as a result of that support. Even if our experiences were not comparable, the moments when we opened our wounds were essential for us as females. We go through so much in our lives that it seems paradoxical to keep it all inside of ourselves.
When I started thinking in this way, it transformed how I felt about discussing sensitive topics. It also changed my perspective on help and my willingness to receive it. There is honor in asking for help from others. There is dignity in saying, “I am going through a difficult time and I need help.” I’ve also discovered that I have to tell others exactly what I need from them and that no one can read my mind. Everyone is coping with their own set of problems. Everyone approaches adversity in their own way.
These individuals I surround myself with have a purpose, and vice versa. What good are we to one another if we can’t count on each other when it counts? Every human being requires help at some time in their lives. Every human being needs help at least 10 times throughout their lives. There is no such thing as a limit to the amount of help you should ask for in your lifetime, and imposing one is ludicrous. I wasn’t the first person to ask for support and I won’t be the last. If I need help in the future, I’ll ask for it, and I hope you will as well.
It’s not about you; it’s about what we’re going through
During my perimenopause, my husband has been an incredible support partner by doing three simple things: listening, not attempting to solve my problems, and not taking anything personally. In fact, I want to emphasize the importance of not taking anything personally to everyone in my life. I feel it is critical that perimenopause be normalized so that we can have conversations about it. It’s not about you, it’s about what we’re going through. This isn’t to say that I shouldn’t be held responsible for inappropriate behavior during perimenopause. On the contrary, my body was misbehaving on the inside, and I was simply trying to work through it daily.
When I felt unheard, I confided in my husband. When I didn’t want others to judge me, he was the one I told about my deepest and darkest fears. He lay with me in the middle of the night when I was fearful of everything. When I informed him that I wanted to audition for the stage production Listen to Your Mother out of the blue, he drove me there. When I was cast, he cried and applauded from the audience. He’s been my biggest supporter and hasn’t missed a single blog post in the eleven years I’ve been writing.
My husband offers me time and space I need to deal with what I’m working through emotionally and hormonally. He makes me feel as though what I’m experiencing is precisely what I should be going through at that particular moment. He doesn’t make light of my struggles, nor does he make me feel like this is just hormonal foolishness (and believe me, it IS). He has always treated me with the respect I deserve because he’s witnessed everything I’ve been through firsthand. He is the partner that all of those women in the asylums deserved and needed. Is this to imply that our marriage is perfect? Hell no. But, in the end, I’m grateful I have this human at my side through it all.
If I could give your family and friends some advice to help you through this phase of your life, it would be this: please be patient. Your person is going through some difficult transitions. They deserve to be treated with kindness and respect by those in whom they have the greatest confidence and trust. Instead of attempting to repair them, be empathetic and listen to them. They aren’t broken. They may feel this way at times, but their support system is part of the solution to make the work of keeping them together a bit simpler. Also, try not to take anything personally. It’s not you, it’s what they’re going through.
Who will read the book in the other room for you?
I recall watching a television show in which a woman had fibroids on her uterus and eventually bled so much that she needed bedrest. Because she lived alone, one of her friends paid her a visit while she was recovering. This friend presented her with flowers and food, before pulling a paperback book with a flourish from her huge handbag. “I’ll be reading in your living room if you need me,” she said, “so you won’t be alone.” What a thoughtful gesture, I thought. I would never have considered doing something like that for someone else. But I will now.
If you are going through perimenopause and do not have a partner, perhaps you have someone in the next room who can read a book instead. We don’t always need someone to be right next to us; we just need to know someone is there. It is practically anxiety-inducing for someone who suffers from anxiety to have to entertain someone while they are in your presence to help you.
However, if they are reading in another room while you are sleeping after surgery, recovering from a panic attack, or struggling through a migraine, you are not compelled to entertain them. You are taking care of yourself by knowing that someone is available to you if you need them. This support is far less about them and much more about you.
Aside from my husband and children, I imagine my mother reading a book in the other room if I were recovering from surgery. I can see three of my closest friends doing the same thing. When you need support and don’t know who to turn to, think of the people in your life who would come to your house and read a paperback book in the other room to make you feel less lonely.
Empathy is defined as the ability to comprehend and sympathize with one another in the context of a shared experience. When I initially thought of writing this book, I imagined it to be filled with perimenopausal wisdom gleaned from my own experiences. When I finally got over the perimenopause hump and felt relief throughout the two-year book writing process, I wanted to share the wisdom and information I’d gained from five years “on the inside.”
DON’T DO THAT!
LOOK OUT BELOW!
However, when I reread it, it came off as a gloomy and rage-filled Are You There God, It’s Me Margaret? If Margaret were 50 years old, that is. Then my friend (and editor) Kristen gently reminded me that the world didn’t need my advice, but rather my stories. Around the same time, I came upon this quote:
“Sometimes people will hear you better if you speak from a voice of compassion instead of authority. They long to be understood more than to be lectured.”
It is sometimes preferable to be a ray of sunshine in the midst of a hurricane than to be another storm rolling in. Please don’t interpret this as an endorsement of toxic positivity. My purpose in writing this book was to make other women feel less alone throughout their perimenopause experience. I don’t want the stories in this book to feel like a rant-filled nightmare intended to scare women away. I just want women to feel less deceived than I was when they reach the perimenopausal stage of their lives.
If you’ve gone through perimenopause, help other women by sharing your story. Instead of coming from a place of authority, try to come from a place of compassion. Be the person YOU needed while you were going through perimenopause, and let’s put an end to the silence that surrounds it. Perimenopause and menopause are not taboo topics to talk about with family and friends.
If I had told my friends that I was in the fetal position on the bathroom floor when they arrived on my doorstep on that cold, February day, they would have understood and felt compassion for me. They even drove 400 miles out of their way to help a friend who was suffering from migraines. Six years later, I’m still thinking about that lovely weekend. They demonstrated the extraordinary strength of female friendship, support, and empathy.
Please don’t feel embarrassed to ask for help. In the event that you don’t have anybody else to turn to at this time, try to search for help beyond your immediate bubble. See the appendix at the back of this book for suggestions on where to look for help during this time. Being of service to others is why we were put on this planet.
You’re not meant to do this alone.