Notes from aboveground | Lowdown on Menopause
I used to be able to trust my body.
It could me tell the difference between real hunger and the need for comfort. It knew when to stop, when to go ahead and indulge, when to rein in the overindulgence. It knew when my Sadie Hawkins date was just a little too rough with me, just enough to let me know he didn’t really care about me, nor was he likely to. I trusted my body.
These days I’m not so sure. The flux of hormones giving me hot flashes for the last five years also seems to be creating punishing mood swings, food cravings, unpleasant throbbing in my hands and feet. After years of being comfortable in my own own body, it now feels like my enemy.
Years of eating healthy are out the window in a moment. I want cheesecake, pancakes, whipped cream, foie gras. At five PM each evening a wave of cumulative despair laps at me, one probably borne of the continuing feeling of responsibility while my sense of having any kind of control wanes; and if I have a glass of wine, I’ll end up having three or four, with bread and cheese, dried apricots or figs, dark chocolate. I feel like I’m going crazy. This is so much worse than my adolescence.
Sometimes even in the morning as I head out for my daily walk (if I can manage it, that is), I can barely contain my tears. Tears for no reason. Tears because I need to buy coffee beans. Tears because I’m bored by the housewife gig that seems so never-ending and so thankless. Tears because my spongey brain forgot to do something simple like call the landlord. This is so unlike my usual cheery self that I feel possessed by some evil demon. And I don’t even believe in demons.
Long ago I used to wonder whether PMS was a real thing or if it was some mental construct certain women used to wiggle out of taking responsibility for their own feelings of sadness or anger. Now I’m not so sure.
Now that my nest is semi-empty, am I grieving on some kind of installment plan because I was too busy to fit it on my to-do list before?
I asked my mother about her experience of menopause and though she usually can talk freely about body issues, she seemed so demure and mentioned only a bout with vaginal dryness. Sure, I’ve got that too. But that’s the least of my problems; it’s so easily addressed with a little strategically placed K-Y. I didn’t press her. Our family system thrives on good news and positive spin and birthday celebrations.
Are the mood swings merely hormonal or could they be due to the typical situations that can lower anyone’s mood in my age group—those sandwiched between the needs of their children and their aging parents and in-laws? Now that my nest is semi-empty, am I grieving on some kind of installment plan because I was too busy to fit it on my to-do list before? I don’t know. I don’t know how to separate these elements and compartmentalize them.
I can still remember my other self—the me who found it annoyingly easy to get exercise worked into my day, who didn’t dread going grocery shopping or doing the meal planning, who looked forward to social engagements. The self I thought I would continue to be until I died. That self was a little dismissive of people who said: “I can’t change the way I eat,” or “ I just can’t find the time to exercise.” That self thought it was just a matter of deciding to do things. This new moody, weepy, ravenous self can’t find the time to care whether I exercise, if I eat right. This new self hopes to make it through the next twenty-four hours. This new self hopes menopause is over soon. This self has heard tell of renewed energy after menopause. This self hopes she lives long enough to feel that.
Then some days, like today, it’s not so bad. I begin to believe I can see the light at the end of the tampon tube and why was I such a blanc mange of useless emotions? I shouldn’t take biology so personally. I just wish there were a menopause sell-by date: a marker in time so I could know how much longer I have to put up with this ridiculous roller coaster ride.
Originally from Minnesota, Julie Hart has lived in London, Zurich and Tokyo and now in Brooklyn Heights. Her work can be found in Five Quarterly, Denim Skin, PANK Magazine, The Rumpus, Vol. 1 Brooklyn, Floor Plan Journal, Blue Lyra Review, Yellow Chair Review and at juliehartwrites.com.