by Lynn Chandler
One night, about 7 years ago, I went to bed expecting that when I awoke the next morning everything would be the same as it had always been. Little did I know that as I slept, changes were taking place in my body, mind and spirit that I wasn’t prepared for. No one asked me if I wanted these changes, they just came. In my cocoon of sleep I could never imagine how my life would shift, how my body would no longer feel like it belonged to me. I went to sleep a vibrant woman and woke up smack dab in the beginning throws of menopause. The most surprising part of this involuntary transformation is that it didn’t come with an instruction manual.
At 43, I supposed I was too young for menopause to sneak up behind me and turn my world into a spinning downward spiral. It entered my existence in silence, never revealing itself for what it really was, or what it would become. It disguised itself as general malaise, fatigue that never quite went away. I began questioning myself at every turn. Where were the thoughts coming from that were suddenly bombarding my mind and dreams? I felt a deep rumbling somewhere where my soul resides that slowly started spinning in a different direction. Something had changed but it wasn’t until years later that I realized it had a name.
Never being close enough to the women in my family to have ever discussed it when it would have been easier to understand (perhaps), I only knew that menopause crept up on my mother around the same age as I. Still, I ignored it, since the way my body felt and the way I looked at life, I didn’t think for a second that I would follow in my mother’s footsteps and begin this transformation so young.
Now that I know what has happened, I’m pissed off about it. (As the author, I can use words like “pissed off”!). I’m angry that I have no control over it. I’m angry that I didn’t see it coming. I’m angry that the society I live in tries its best to hide it, to ignore it, or to over-medicate it. Yes, I’m angry. The anger I feel is very deep inside, like a silent thunder storm that no one hears but me. It invades my waking and sleep states. It rules over my ability to make decisions or logical choices. It has robbed me of strength; both physical, emotional and spiritual. It has attached itself to the very best parts of who I am now and once was.
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So, I’m a fifty year old woman who is filled with a shopping cart full of emotions. I feel angry, disappointed in my own body, sorrowful of the things about myself that I have lost, regretful that my body no longer will create life, mourning daily for the last attempt I made at bringing another child into this world, only to lose her. I feel lost. I feel abandoned by my own existence. Who do I blame? No one. Time. I guess I could blame time, but it doesn’t erase what is happening in the secret spaces of my mind and body.
The only thing that makes sense to me is to look at the new journey as the Native American Indian women do. It is a time of respect. It is a time of reflection. It is a time of honoring all that has been accomplished before. Maybe there is no need any longer for the “me” I was, only the “me” that is now developing. Maybe everything else in my fifty years of life has prepared me for this new creature that I am evolving into. I have done all the things that were right and noble and causes of the heart. I have raised an outstanding son, I have been a good wife. I have been a hard worker. I have outlived my parents and made sure I didn’t take the turns in life that they did that eventually cost them their lives. I have done all that.....what do I do now?
Well, I suppose listening to myself for the first time would be as good a place as any to begin. Meeting with other women who are walking this same twisted path isn’t the answer. It only reinforces the fact that all of the players in this menopausal game are wearing the same uniforms. I don’t want their support. I don’t want to hear their stories because they are the same as mine. It only serves to remind me that instead of just myself feeling trapped in this uncontrollable situation alone, that they are millions of women flailing around, feeling as inside-out as I do. No, I don’t want a support group. That may have worked in the sixties, but it doesn’t fit me well in the year 2001.
The answer I have chosen may not be the answer for anyone else. What I have decided is to allow myself to feel the feelings I am feeling. I allow myself to feel angry on those days that I feel anger. I allow myself to feel depressed on those days when I feel deflated. I allow myself to feel lost on those days when I seem to have no direction whatsoever. I allow myself to question why all this is happening to me because if the day were to come that I ever stopped asking why and how I can make it better, will be my last day in this life. I allow myself to be selfish and let those around me know when I must be alone. I allow myself to be honest with those around me and instead of making excuses for the silly, mindless things I say and do, I tell them it’s just a “menopausal moment” and I have chosen to wear that as a badge of courage instead of an excuse for doing something wrong.
I am still hopeful that there will be a time when I look back at all of this and laugh out loud..you know, one of those laughs that comes from the soles of your feet straight up through the rest of your body. I am still hopeful that the “me” that I am becoming will be as vital, bright and shiny, needed, respected as I ever was. I will continue to find the aid I need from plants and minerals and vitamins. The earth has everything we need to survive and what’s even better, survive better than any assistance we could get from Western medicine who tells us to “take these pills (oh, didn’t we tell you...for the rest of your life?) and “get used to it” because this is what happens when you “get older”. Those statements appall me and thank God they do. Otherwise, I would give in to the “instant solutions” and walk around feeling smug that all I have to do on rough days is take more valium or prozax or increase my dosage of hormones that my body refuses to produce on its own.
I resent Western medicine for neglecting to tell women collectively, all the facts. It’s supposed to suffice having a beautiful actress invade my television and tell me that she’s been taking HRT’s for years now and never felt better. What we as women forget all too easily is that SHE IS PAID TO SAY THAT! Her skin is flawless and youthful because she spent 30 minutes with a makeup artist before she ever stepped in front of the cameras. I resent my FEMALE DOCTOR who has not even reached the age of 30 telling me that she “understands how I feel”. The hell she does. Just wait. Her turn will come. I resent the fact that menopause is the unspoken ailment. The world as a whole could care less. Well, women have gone through it for years, and they will continue to go through it. Yes, unmistakingly that is true. But, it doesn’t mean we have to like it.
The truth that seldom reveals itself and stays hidden in the shadows, is something I didn’t learn from my doctor. They were things I learned by taking control of my own destiny and reading about. How about this for a basic medically proven fact....no woman should remain on HRT medications for more than 13 months because after that amount of time the risk of getting a number of different types of cancer increases at an alarming rate. after that 13 month period. Another little known fact is that after 13 months of exposure to these “miracles of modern medicine” they not only lose their effectiveness, but they begin to reverse the effects and actually CAUSE the symptoms you took them for in the first place to come back even stronger, with an even tougher vengeance. But, you see, once your doctor writes the prescriptions for you, that’s as far as their personal responsibility goes.
The remedy for the rage that women feel inside during menopause is our old “best friend” and “trusty female companion”...valium or prozac. Sure, it will make the days all melt one into the other, and you won’t care so much that you have lost all control over your body and most of your mind, but is being a zombie the answer? I think not. Why doesn’t the medical world give woman more credit than that? We don’t want to be “quieted down”, we want to understand. We don’t want to be silenced by drugs, we want answers. Real answers. What can we expect? How long is this going to last? What do I do about it that won’t cause me to grow long thick black hair on the bottoms of my feet and cause me to want to become a wrestler in my spare time? What about my feelings...tell me which ones are real and which ones are caused from the lack of the hormones that are no longer produced in my body. Are all of these feelings I’m having going to be with me for the rest of my life? Is there anyway to regain my sexuality without being in a drug-induced state?
So many questions, so few answers. The best giver of answers seems to be the experience itself. Time. Time to think, time to examine, time to go inward and ask all of the hard questions...the ones we are too busy to answer most of our life. Now we have to face them. What are the qualities that are true and withstand the test of time and age? Is it the fact that I once could “multi-task” and make others rich from my hard work and long hours? It is fact that by body could be used to house another human being? Is it that for over 20 years I have proven to myself and my husband that I can be faithful, flexible and stable? If this is the “me” I once was, who is the “new me” going to be and probably the biggest question of all, will I like her?
I am grateful for the experiences I have had this first half of my life. I felt honored to have another spirit (my son) reside within my hidden walls and bring him to life. I am proud that he looks to me now for insight and comparison of thought. I know that his existence was the single most important think I have ever done in this lifetime. I am glad to know him. I am proud to say that he came from me.
I am grateful for the man who I call my husband for the past 20 years is still with me. Waiting for the metamorphosis, standing by me and lovingly being patient. I am grateful for the years of experience we have shared and how we have watched each other grow and develop. I am proud that I am a good wife, contrary to every example I was shown as I grew up.
I cannot honestly say I am grateful for this portion of my journey because it leaves me feeling confused and resentful for things and times past. However, the hope that I will get to other side of these transformations a better woman, a stronger woman, a woman with more understanding of herself than ever before, keeps me walking forward, searching, examining, questioning, wide-eyed with expectations for answers that I know will not all come from books or doctors or outsiders, but from within myself. Maybe menopause is the most solitary journey any woman takes. But maybe, just maybe, it will be the most rewarding because the answers, the true answers, lie deep in the heart of spirit of us all individually and patience with ourselves will encourage those answers to surface.
I will come out the other side of menopause...I know I will. All women before me have. It never tore down successfully the inner will and strength of a woman. It challenged it, sometimes daily, but I don’t think it ever stayed the victor for long. I will continue to fight against my unseen enemy one question at a time, one different path at a time, one remedy at a time, one day at a time, until I can stand in front of menopause and yell back at it......I WON, YOU LOST. I WAS STRONGER THAN ANYTHING YOU THREW AT ME. I AM, ONCE AGAIN, AS I HAVE ALWAYS BEEN....THE VICTOR!
P.S. Anyone who would like the name of an excellent book about herbal subsitutions to the “traditional HRT drugs” or the name of the Chinese Herbalist that has helped me through this, please feel free to email me. I would be glad to share this information with you. I know it will help.