When I was just a kid I couldn’t wait to “become a woman” and that meant having my period. For me the idea of being in the same club as my older sister and my mother (who actually was going into menopause as I was eagerly awaiting my first period) seemed like the most wonderful thing ever! Then I had a period and, although I’d been prepared by my mother for the big event, it scared the hell out of me. No one could have readied me for the cramps I experienced! All through high school I’d faint, vomit, and wonder why I ever wanted this horrible curse. And throughout my entire adult life I continued to have horrible cramps.
By the time I was in my thirties I couldn’t wait for menopause.
Then it began to happen. Unlike your first period menopause isn’t a “Hey it’s here” kind of thing. If you’ve begun to experience it or have talked about it with an older woman, you know it creeps up on you like a homicidal stalker. And it takes approximately forever to get through all the stages of menopause. Yep, ladies, menopause drags out so long they had to break it up into sections.
First you should know that there is no calendar to mark for the beginning of menopause. Some women enter into pre-menopause in their 40’s and some don’t have a single symptom until they’re in their 50’s. Since I was decades past being excited about menstruation I really, really wanted a specific date for when I would enter menopause. And I don’t mean a generalized age; I wanted a specific date like “8:47 a.m. October 23rd, 2007.”
Menopause likes to tease. It’s possible to go months without a period then suddenly find yourself clutching your heating pad and cursing womanhood all over again. And sometimes the periods themselves are worthy of some kind of horror show award for the length and volume of the flow. At one point I called my doctor to explain that I had been hemorrhaging for over 9 days and seriously didn’t expect to survive. She laughed and told me her own menopause flood story. If I’d felt better I’d have worked on an ark.
And it’s not just the fact that you may think you’re bleeding out that causes your heart to race. There were times I could literally see my thumping heart bouncing my shirt up and down. It was like an Edgar Allan Poe novel! It turns out that lowered estrogen screws with our bodies’ reaction to danger and excitement. This means that watching a thriller may cause your body to misjudge the threat level and your heart to beat as if you’re being pursued by really fast zombies.
Menopause also messes with our ability to lose weight so, if you are being chased by fast zombies odds are you’re going to end up a zombie snack. You won’t be able to drop the pounds as you once did. The horrible thing is you’re going to have to actually eat really healthy and be active just to maintain your weight. And they call menstruation a curse.
About now you’re probably wishing you could just forget all about menopause. You can’t do that but you will find you’re forgetting a lot of other things. Apparently brain cells go on a sympathy walkout with your estrogen. I found myself hollering things like “YOU! The one who keeps leaving the lights on! Yes, You! And don’t you try to lie to me about who you are because you live here and I WILL find out your name!” My dogs now answer to each other’s names. They also answer to my husband’s name and to several household appliance names as well. “Stand mixer, come!”
Then there are the hot flashes. I lived with my husband and three sons during most of my menopausal sentence. They’d sit there swearing that it wasn’t 135° and sometimes even had the temerity to say it was actually a little chilly in the house when I knew there had to be some kind of super volcano ready to erupt right under my chair. I’d have my own personal tropical summers where I’d want to remove my clothing…and skin. And hot flashes aren’t really flashes at all. They’re more like being engulfed in slow moving lava. Not only do they make you want to fling yourself into the nearest icy body of water but you have time to actually seek out said body of water. And I won’t even get into night sweats. Let’s just say I wasn’t aware that eyelashes could sweat.
So you’d think that all the symptoms of menopause would be enough, right? But menopause can also herald health problems you may not have given a single thought to during your deliriously uneducated youth. Things like heart disease, osteoporosis, breast cancer, and joint degeneration are just a few of the things you start to have to really be aware of now that your body has decided you’re old. It’s as if menopause is saying, “Oh, yeah. You’re sliding toward death at a rate that would scare some people on death row!”
But, with all its challenges, there is one great thing about menopause. It proves you didn’t die young!