|BWS Stories - "I Will Survive"...Menopause|
"I Will Survive"...Menopause - A Permanent State of ?Boo?
A Permanent State of ?Boo?
Don’t give me that crap about crones, wisdom and respect. Does anyone respect a wrinkled, pear-shaped old witch with warts and white chin whiskers? And what’s wise about not being able to remember anything? When did dithering become a fine art? Does menopause serve any useful purpose other than to destroy our mental health, compromise our self respect and nudge us a little closer to the end?
Probably not, but once it’s over, and it can last a long time, many of my older friends tell me we can look forward to the gift of “Post Menopausal Zest” or P.M.Z., the clarity of mind, energy revival and creative renaissance characteristic to post-menopausal women. But until then, we’re stuck with the rest of it.
Remember the adrenaline rush we experienced as kids when someone jumped out from behind a door and yelled BOO? For menopausal women, life is a permanent state of “BOO!”
Every night I fall into bed aching all over and collapse into a coma. For about three hours. Then I flap around like a beached walrus trying to find a cool spot until the shivers set in and I struggle to warm up again. The mysteries of the universe stretch out into the night waiting for me to solve them. That mole on my elbow, is it cancer? How much time have I got? Before long I’m picking out fabric for my casket lining. Will my children fight over my Beatles records and hippie jewellery? I lie there trying to hear my heartbeat.
By morning, I’m exhausted. Those aren’t bags under my eyes; they’re matching luggage. I struggle through the morning rituals. I can’t decide what to wear. My closet is a dismal place. Who bought all this garbage and why do they expect me to wear it? Clothes that fit last year are tight in some places and loose in others. Nothing looks good on me anymore. I’ve turned into someone else. Someone old. Someone with grey hair.
My hair had always been thick and curly – my best feature. Then it went grey and started thinning out - at the front of course, the part everyone sees. I coloured it a few times but it turned an electric shade of orange not found in nature. There’s a rumour that like everything else, the chemicals in hair dye cause cancer. Being both lazy and terrified of cancer, I gave up colouring it. My hair will never turn completely white. There’s a big patch at the back that refuses to let go of its original colour. As if I need more reminders of the past.
Menopause makes time go faster. It’s a well-documented fact. If I’m relaxed and having fun, it’s because I was supposed to be somewhere else ten minutes ago. If I’m reading a book and enjoying a cup of tea, I’ve forgotten to meet someone or cook dinner.
All this rushing around generates anxiety which, combined with nearly everything else, causes the dreaded hot flashes. You’d think that winter would ease hot flashes but it makes them worse. Outside, the cold, bone-probing dampness cuts through my thick layers of clothing. Inside, the hot, dry air cranks up my faulty internal thermostat so I’m never comfortable anywhere for long. Meteorologically speaking, every day is a sneak preview of hell.
Halfway to work, gripping the overhead rail in the bus, I panic. Did I put on deodorant? Judging by the waterfall cascading from my armpits I didn’t, but it’s hard to tell these days. On my morning break I sneak off to buy some but by then it doesn’t matter. There’s a tide line around my middle and my blouse is soaked to the waist. Why does Mother Nature do this to women? Is it just one more way to keep us in second place? First we’re stuck with the task of reproduction which pretty much wipes out our youth with cramps and P.M.S. Then to make sure the middle years are ruined, the old bat sticks us with menopause. She must be holding back a lot of rage or suffer from P.M.S. big time herself to load us with such a monsoon of illogical body functions.
My worst hot flash experience was at our neighbourhood pub where my husband and I were having lunch while discussing our imminent move from a big house to a tiny apartment. As the reality of what we were facing sunk in, a heat wave washed over me. Thinking it would be okay if I could only cool off a small part of my body, I discreetly peeled off my purple socks and for a few minutes felt better. But what should I do with them? My purse was too small and my jacket had no pockets. People don’t sit in pubs clutching purple socks. I panicked. Heat and anxiety built up like pressure in a steam engine. My clothes got too tight. Suffocating, I started to take off my sweater but discovered I wasn’t wearing anything under it. I was dizzy and felt like throwing up. My heart was exploding out my ears so I took deep breaths and willed myself not to faint. If only I could lie down for a few minutes until this feeling passed - but people were looking at us. My beer sat neglected on the table. My husband kept asking me if something was wrong and could he drink my beer. Are you sick? Are you going to throw up? Do you want to go outside? Yes, yes and yes but I was too shaky to make it that far. Was I having a heart attack? A stroke? What if someone called an ambulance? The fire department always responds to 911 calls. In my mind I could already hear the sirens as those gorgeous men in navy blue uniforms raced to my rescue - with all those ladders. Would they notice the purple socks? Sweat poured off my face and body leaving me weak and clammy. Departing a pub feet-first is bad form. Of all places to have any kind of an attack, a pub is probably the worst. Pub managers don’t like their patrons to lie down. It gives the wrong impression. Our waitress brought me a damp cloth and a bowl of ice. Instant relief. Over as suddenly as it had started. My husband rolled his eyes. One of those “women’s things” we don’t talk about. I slipped my purple socks back on. Crisis averted.
Bussing home from a day of irrelevant paper shuffling, I wonder if anyone has ever suffocated and died from a hot flash? Probably not. I make a mental note to research that but know I’ll probably forget about it. Too many things to remember. Too much to do.
Menopause itself is stressful enough, but it comes at a time of life when everything else gangs up on us: ageing parents, adult children with financial problems, grandchildren to babysit, huge family dinners to prepare and buy groceries for. Everyone thinks “let’s have Christmas, Thanksgiving, Easter etc. at Mom and Dad’s, they’ve got nothing else to do.” Well, here’s a news flash - more than four dinner guests at once triggers my flight or fight response and grocery shopping makes me claustrophobic - like I’m struggling uphill through a fog with my lights off.
Why does life demand all this from me when Mother Nature designed my body to self-destruct halfway through it?
Indecision, a close companion these days, is my ruling force. In restaurants when waiters ask, “Do you want soup or salad? What kind of dressing would you like? Do you want fries with that?” I give them a blank stare and say, “Who the hell cares? It’s lunch, not a summit conference. Surprise me.”
As I collapse into bed for another replay of life’s mysteries, I wonder about the meaning of it all. Menopause is like puberty with intense emotions and mood swings similar to those we suffered as teenagers. But teenagers, once through their hormone explosion have their entire lives ahead of them to be sensible and productive. We have cancer, heart disease, and osteoporosis ahead of us after we stop sweating, crying and panicking. And we shouldn’t forget those rest homes.
But we can’t let it depress us. Menopause won’t last forever. Our grandmothers didn’t whisper about the “Change of Life” for nothing. We must get busy and change our lives. Family dinners don’t have to be at Mom and Dad’s. That’s why God invented restaurants. We’ve got stories to write, songs to sing and pictures to paint. Now is our time. We can’t let anything stop us. We don’t have to work at those boring jobs any more. We’ve learned housework causes brain fog. We know that an apple and a piece of cheese is a healthy, nutritious dinner. We’ve still got thirty years before we shuffle off to those rest homes, so let’s make the most of that P.M.Z. (for anyone with memory trouble that’s Post Menopausal Zest). I’ve got some stories to write. Then I might get a tattoo.