So I crack open this month’s issue of Family Circle, the latest installment from the gift subscription my mother-in-law gave me for Christmas, and see an article on menopause. Ok, think it’s safe to skip that one. But oddly compelled to read all printed matter that comes across my radar regardless of whether it pertains to or interests me, I scan the first page. In speech bubbles strewn about the page are various questions, worries, and anecdotes from peri- and post-menopausal women. More than half the bubbles could have been direct quotes from me! And I am not very peri at all!
The article invites me to “read on to find out how to outwit, outplay and outlast the next chapter in your life.” Thus begins a decade-by-decade breakdown on how to outwit this personified beast that threatens to overtake all women all over the world. “In [my] 30s,” I can expect my fertility to decline. Yes, knew that and no, that does not bother me in the least. I should become my healthiest self as “what [I] do now impacts how early menopause starts, how intense the symptoms are and how they affect my body.” Right about now, my dander is starting to get up – and it’s not just the lack of the third comma in the lists of three things that is doing it. I need to “bust stress” as “mini-meltdowns will be happening.” I should try tai chi or yoga or a “peaceful play list on [my] iPod” to “help alleviate menopausal related anxiety.”
It’s about now that I realize I’m fucked (and, no, I don’t mean the uncomfortable sex that I can look forward to in my 50s).
Either I’ve been perimenopausal since my prenatal visits for my third bambino or it’s gonna get a whole lot worse. How does one who seems to be suffering from post-partum post-trauma prepare for a whole lot more of the same?
There is a sidebar by my decade entitled, “Get the #1 Test You Need Now.” Apparently a baseline hormone panel (“an easy blood, saliva or urine test that determines [my] optimal hormone levels”) will assist my doctor in prescribing hormones “specific to [my] ideal range instead of the range of an average woman” when the time comes. I actually laughed out loud when I read this, eliciting strange looks from my daughters. My oldest asked what I was laughing at; how would I even begin to explain? That, when it comes to Mommy, there is no such thing as ‘optimal hormone levels’? That if the doctor prescribed me hormones based on the ‘range of an average woman’, the cocktail would be akin to a stiff drink of water?
While discussing “the (formerly) ‘silent passage’ is no longer taboo,” many women are still petrified by the thought of it. Except maybe for my friend – who has such irregular periods, she was almost wishing for it. But when I mentioned this to my mother-in-law, joking about it, she responded very seriously, “No, she doesn’t want it.”
So where does that leave me? No, I don’t have hot flashes. I haven’t gained mysterious pounds regardless of what I do or eat. But mood swings, irritability, anxiety – all de rigueur already – and I’m only in my first decade, according to this handy little guide.
I’m starting to view women’s susceptibility to hormones as this insidious little secret that was only hinted at as my mother described my body’s cycles to me as I sat on the bathroom floor over two decades ago. By no means was my mother light on the details; I understood my body’s workings in what, to a twelve year-old, was a revoltingly clear manner. But I didn’t know how pervasive those pesky little hormones were.
Yes, I knew there’d be a few days of PMS. Yes, I knew I’d be overly emotional during pregnancy. Yes, I knew there’d be a few days of baby blues. Then I noticed extra irritability that seemed to coincide with ovulation. Then those damn hormones ganged up on me with crazy, heart-wrenching situations in my life to send me into a swirling storm of anxiety and depression. Thankfully, my head broke water a while ago, but only with medication and therapy. And I still struggle.
I’d like to say that an awareness helps me prepare for and deal with the effect hormones have on my life – just as the article touts the “18 Things Every Woman Should Know About Menopause.” To a certain point, it does. But when you know the beast is coming no matter what – and you can’t run and hide because life won’t allow it – what do you do? Grin and bear it? Pray to the gods that in your next life you come back with a penis? I love yoga, but unless I take my strap and choke the hell out of the beast, it’s not gonna make it go away. Maybe I can drown it out with the soothing sounds of my peaceful play list while I try to achieve optimal hormone levels. Maybe instead of ‘silent passage’, it should be ‘silent scream’.
UPDATE May 2014: I spoke too soon on the hot flashes! My past three menstrual cycles have been ushered in by a week of night sweats. Good, clammy times!