A Year of Pause
My oldest daughter and I are sitting on my bed, facing each other, crying and talking about the last five months. It’s the summer of 2020, right in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic, and we both feel like we’ve been to war without ever picking up a weapon. Both of us feel violated, ripped open, and defeated.
She missed out on five months of college, friends, and experiences. All the while watching her mother crumble apart at the end of perimenopause.
“I’m sorry that you and your sister have to see how unfortunate I am. You’re pretty much stuck in this house with me, and you have to watch me suffer.”
“It’s okay, mama.”
Even though I know she means it, hearing her say it hurts me so much more.
“Maybe,” she says, “the universe is making room for something better.” Maybe this run of bad luck is making way for good?”
“I believe you,” I told her as I looked her in the eyes.
I began writing this book a week later.
Two months after, I entered menopause.
The timing of the pandemic, which corresponded with the end of my perimenopause, seemed universal. I mean, the world didn’t come to a standstill so that I could get rid of my period.
Or did it?
Do I have that type of power?
I’m laughing if you even think I did.
I believe it was probably for the best that we were enveloped in a pandemic during the last few months of my perimenopause, because it was during that time when I was at my worst. I was able to work through the discomfort and feelings I was having without having to worry about disappointing others or letting myself become sidetracked by things happening in the outside world.
However, I felt bad for my family because they were trapped inside the house with me. They witnessed me in excruciating pain during the final months of perimenopause. I can’t rewrite it; perhaps it was a motivating factor for me to focus on healing in menopause. Not only was I repairing myself for myself, but also for my family. When I began healing myself, I started healing them as well. It is difficult to watch your loved one suffer helplessly and not know what to do. There is trauma for loved ones in that, and it must be repaired.
I would center my healing on positivity, education, and manifestation. During my perimenopause, pessimism and discomfort weren’t doing me any good, so I figured that giving optimism a try wouldn’t hurt. I set aside an hour each morning to read and journal in order to center myself. It’s what I began calling my “soul homework” as my soul was weary and in desperate need of a makeover.
I was challenging my perimenopausal concerns through mindfulness, writing, as well as making a concerted effort to learn (ish) meditation. I was doing an in-depth examination of my own character, coming to terms with failures of the past, and gaining a well-rounded understanding of the world beyond the four walls of my home. I needed to cleanse myself of all that had built up inside of me throughout perimenopause. It felt like taking a bath to clean all the sand off after a long day at the beach
Could I have had a more satisfying perimenopausal experience if I had discovered the optimal combination of supportive doctors, medications, and internal work?
Do I believe that my improvement is related to a decrease in estrogen levels?
My periods have always been a source of discomfort for me, but I’m also aware that it’s a delicate balancing act. I don’t believe it’s due to just one factor. It’s a combination and it is unique to each female.
There is still plenty of time for those of you who are just getting started on this journey. Discuss perimenopause with your primary care physician, as well as your mother, sister, cousin, and aunt. Take care of yourself by making your mental health a priority (however that looks for you) and listening to what you need. Make the appointment. Even though it sounds silly, many women don’t actually do it. You are able to schedule appointments without any problems for your mother, grandmother, and children; yet, you are unable to do the same for yourself. Please do so.
Despite the fact that this stage seems to linger for ten years, it will most likely only last for upwards of five. Make an investment in a good set of ice packs and heating pads to use. You are going to find that Advil and Biofreeze are your greatest allies. If you already struggle with anxiety or depression, you owe it to yourself to get professional help. Keeping a journal, meditating, and being present in the here and now are all extremely important. Getting together in person with friends on a regular basis, whether for lunch or just to chat, may also be very useful. Once a week, or more often if you can manage it, you should do something that is solely for you.
Most importantly, challenge your physicians for more specific knowledge and guidance about perimenopause. Menopausal specialists should be required; the more we demand them, the more will be accessible. Discuss perimenopause and menopause with your friends and family. I believe that future generations will be more bold, and that this is when perimenopause will alter for women. More female gynecologists, and more male gynecologists who were reared by mothers who freely discussed their periods at home.
It’s not shameful. It never was. We’re all here because of menstruation.
A few months into my menopause, I was reading a book by Mari Andrews and within the first few pages of her chronicling her journey through a painful illness, she said something that changed my perspective on my experience:
“After a couple of years of coming up heartbroken or just bored after striving for unsustainable happiness, I looked inside and thought, “Isn’t this all beautiful too?”
It made me reflect on how, even through the most challenging days, there were many beautiful moments. How, if I had allowed myself to feel it more, not given it a name, or simply stopped condemning myself for being a human female going through a human female experience, there wouldn’t have been as much shame. All of it has the potential to be beautiful, and my mess may be the hope that others have been looking for.
I can empathize with how challenging perimenopause is for you who are dealing with symptoms that are not under your control. I was in the same place as you are right now, disoriented, confused, and lonely. I’m there with you at the bookstore, rummaging through the shelves searching for the appropriate book to make you feel better. I’m in the waiting room with you at the doctor’s office, wondering why you weren’t given any advance warning about your symptoms. As you wonder why your best friend isn’t feeling the same symptoms you are, I am holding your hand.
You are not alone. This will not last forever.
Yours will be a story of overcoming adversity and courage, and guess who will be the heroine?
Why am I able to say this?
Because I was standing precisely where you are right now.
Staring at the bookcases. Searching for the perfect book. Never finding it.
That is, until I wrote the book.
One morning while I was reading, I came across a passage about Tonglen, a meditation that places emphasis on compassion, that said something like this: “As you take a breath in, allow yourself to invite the pain of others into your heart and let yourself feel it fully. Take a few slow, deep breaths and try to absorb as much of the other person’s suffering as you can in your own body so that you can help them feel better.”
I had to do some work on myself before I could figure out why I wanted to write this book. I hope that other women will experience less fear and isolation once they reach this stage of their lives. This is my Tonglen for all of you. Allow me to take this breath in so that you may have some relief, even if it’s just for a moment.
How can I better understand the challenges that other women face? How can you? How can humanity?
Apparently it is ungraceful of me
To mention my period in public
‘Cause the actual biology
Of my body is too real.
It is okay to sell what’s
Between a woman’s legs
More than it is okay to
Mention its inner workings.
The recreational use of
This body is seen as
Its nature is
Seen as ugly.