Writing about menopause during the Ebola Clusterfuck strikes me as just plain wrong. But menopause is coming up in ordinary conversations, with men even, so now is as good a time as any.
In 1999, at age 42, I started having night sweats. My doctor told me I was too young for it to be menopause.
Maybe that is why the black cohosh, soy and various vitamins didn’t work.
In 2005, I had my last period and the hot flashes started. My doctor prescribed Prempro. Caused all kinds of other problems, because I also have fibroids.
By 2006, we were living in Florida and the hot flashes were coming fast and furious. I found the medical practice of my dreams there: a female gynecologist with no ob attached. Imagine a waiting room with no pregnant women, no pictures of pregnant women, no waits due to emergency deliveries….for an infertile woman it was bliss.
So they did an ultrasound, drew blood and I got the results all in the same visit. Yes, menopause. Yes, still fibroids in there.
They asked me how many hot flashes I was having a day, and I said 8-10. But that got me curious, so I counted. 22.
Hot flashes are not all the same. Some feel like warm flushes, and are gone quickly. Others feel like volcanoes brewing, bubbling up from the chest and threatening to take the head off when it blows. Those are especially fun. Having one of those during a dance lesson, becoming short of breath, and having to sit down made me mad.
Between 1999 and 2006, I was on my own in trying to figure out what was happening to me and how best to respond. So I went to my go-to, never gonna lie to you source – The Boston Women’s Health Collective’s “Our Bodies/Ourselves” and……they lied to me. Told me menopause is no big deal, most women have no trouble, that being liberated from fear of pregnancy makes it a wonderful and sexy time!
Now I feel like an alien. None of my friends are having any difficulty. I really tried to treat menopause as a normal natural process, but I am not a normal natural woman, apparently.
So, sitting in the dreamy medical practice, talking with the nurse practitioner, I told her I didn’t want to stop the process, but I sure did want to take the edge off. Seven years of sleep deprivation and feeling as though a monster had taken control of my body had made me irritable.
We went with the lowest dose estrogen patch on the market. Within 2 days, I got some relief.
I’ve been on it ever since. Four weeks on, one week off. I’ve experimented with longer periods off, but it never goes well. A month is about the longest I can go before the monster stirs.
* * * *
I have not yet introduced a guy I’ll call Handy. He came with the house. Handy didn’t build the house itself, but he built the screened in porch, finished the basement, and has generally helped the previous owner with many things. He has now seen the property change hands. Handy is about our age, a laconic native Missourian. He’s been around for about a month, doing various things. I like him and have been getting to know him a little, so I asked if he was married. Yes, for 30 years, but separated the last six.
“She got mean”, is how Handy put it. “I couldn’t do anything right.”
Oh my, that both resonated and validated me. Yes, other women have felt the menopausal monster! I’m not alone in the universe!
It’s hard to describe the interior feeling that drives the exterior bitchiness, but I think I understand how the oyster feels when the grain of sand comes in. Mostly I felt homicidal rage.
Homicidal rage was new to me. I’ve never felt the urge to kill before and frankly, I don’t like it.
Female training to be sweetness and light and everything nice goes quite deep. So I’ve sought everything I can think of to avoid allowing the menopausal monster to roam free. The patch helps immensely. The other remedy has been marijuana.
But maybe the best remedy of all has been to literally change my life.
Menopause is called the change of life, but for most women, not much actually changes except that you suddenly become invisible. I’ve gone from getting unwelcome attention to none at all.
The other consideration is that it is extremely difficult to parse what is related to menopause and what is just getting older. Am I more forgetful because I’m “post” menopausal? Or because I’m 57? Or am I in the early stages of dementia? Do I really want to know?
Am I pissed off because the world is crashing around us or because my endocrine system is awry? Do I become anxious because Fukushima is pouring rads into the ocean and atmosphere or because the estrogen is low?
In the end, does it matter? Mr. Nobody has to live with the menopausal monster, too, so I owe it to both of us to do what I can to keep the monster at bay.
What I really want to know is, does it ever end?