Turn and Face the Strain

DespairWhen I was about 10 years old, my great-aunt Maxine, who was in her early-to-mid 50s at the time, came to babysit us for awhile while my mother re-entered the workforce after the birth of my youngest sibling.   As I remember, it was not a very pleasant experience.  She was short-tempered and out-of-sorts all the time.  It was nearly 20 years later when I mentioned this to my mother, who told me, “Yes, well, she was going through The Change.”

To my 28-year-old self that sounded so exotic and frightening, but also remote and fantastic.  Like most young people, the thought that anything like menopause could happen to me was simply absurd, and if it did I would most certainly handle it with dignity and grace.

Sheesh, we can be stupid when we’re young; to say that dignity and grace have been in rather short supply as of late would be a bit of an understatement.   And as I move into my late 40s and perimenopause engulfs me a little more with each passing season (and winter is the worst time for me personally), I find myself thinking about my first exposure to The Change…and wondering how my great-aunt Maxine felt.

I wonder if she was lonely and afraid.  I wonder if her loved ones stood around and stared at her as if she’d sprouted a third arm (or perhaps horns, hooves and a pointy tail).  I wonder if she wished someone would give her permission to just sit down and have a good, long cry – that it was okay to be confused and upset because she felt tired all the time, had no real control over her emotions and couldn’t concentrate on anything for more than a few minutes no matter how hard she tried.  I wonder if she felt like she were losing her mind.  I wonder if she felt horrible, terrible guilt for not being able to “just handle it.”

I wonder what she would have thought about the fact that there are 473 products and “treatments” on the market for “natural male enhancement” and “erectile dysfunction” and not ONE to effectively and safely ease the symptoms of menopause.  Oh, it seems like every “expert” you talk to has their own little pet cure, but if you can find two of them that can agree on what it is (not to mention prove its efficacy), I’d love to hear about it.  Hell, more than half the websites I’ve visited claim that the only “true” symptom of menopause is hot flashes, and that all the rest – the mood swings and fatigue and depression and decreased libido and inability to concentrate – have other, external, causes.

Which is not to say that external forces aren’t taking their toll – in the midst of what was probably the worst menopausal meltdown I’ve experienced to date, I ran across this post by Irish Gumbo, who expressed what it is like to feel alienated yet overwhelmed by the world around us far better than I ever could.  At one point he wrote “(I) feel…lost. Sort of ‘in’ the world but not really ‘of’ the world. Does that make sense?”

Oh, you bet it does.  I read that and just…well, lost it.  Bawled like a baby.  It seems unfair to me that just as we’ve gotten to a point in life where the kids are almost all grown and we’re able to begin to start to finally focus on us, our lives, our plans that I am taken hostage by my own traitorous body, who has become so terribly inconsiderate of my plans, wants and desires and seems determined to make me crazy.

Never one to just give up and give in, though, I’m planning a counter-attack against this Benedict Arnold I call a body.  I’ve bought a light box to help counter the effect that living in such an overcast place has on me.  I’ve bid a not-so-fond farewell to my morning pot of coffee (and attendant half and half; who knows how many calories I’ve just saved myself) and switched to herbal tea in the morning.  I’ve cut back on the amount of alcohol I consume, limiting myself to a glass or two of red wine once or twice a week, instead of 2 or 3 glasses nearly every damn night.  I’ve reacquainted myself with the treadmill in the basement once again.

And I look forward to spring.  I look forward to the world waking up all around me.  I look forward to turning my face up to blue skies and closing my eyes while I let the sun shine down on me, enveloping me in warmth.  I look forward to change of a different sort.

A change for the better.

Posted in particiaption with the Spin Cycle.

21 thoughts on “Turn and Face the Strain”

  1. Thank you! Your words are soothing to my soul. I went and read the post you talked about and it put me in tears too. I am not glad that you are going through this but I am glad that you are sharing it because it makes people like me, not feel so alone. I hope that you have some luck with these things. I have been exercising for 3 weeks now, cut down on coffee and alcohol too…never thought about one of those lights though which is probally a good idea. Might have to look into that. Maybe I am looking for the magic cure but somehow I have to stop feeling like I do right now. Thank you once again for sharing!

    Loris last blog post..Stinkin Thinkin

  2. I’m sorry. And I’m glad you’re writing about it. My sis is 5 years older than me. She just tried bioidentical hormones to ease her menopause symptoms. She got a life threatening blood clot as a result. I wish I knew the answers and I’m hoping some of my friends can figure them out for me. I’m not looking forward to it at all.

    Twenty Four At Hearts last blog post..I’m Such a Bitch, I Can’t Stand Myself

  3. Irish Gumbo’s post is extremely well written. It’s to the point, tremendously visual and biting in its metaphors. I think it speaks to all of us in that we all have felt that way at one time or many. Gawd forbid it ever really stop coming at us, but the question is really why does it melt us down at times while at others it slides off our backs like rain on goose down?

    While I may personally thrive better when the shit piles high, I think everyone will agree that we always get more done and are more productive when we are busy and have a lot to get done. And when we finally catch up enough (or put off enough) to take a long overdue and well deserved “rest” from it we only truly rest if we feel significantly caught up. On a small scale it’s kinda like why I like getting my weekend chores done on Saturday so I can relax on Sunday. Yet, if we rest to the point of “sleeping at the chance to dream”, we become lethargic, more tired, and lazy – when I was younger we called those people “pot heads”. If I can’t keep up the damn thing snowballs and makes me more frantic and more frustrated and less able to keep up with it.

    I guess it’s analogous to how you eat an elephant. We simply can’t keep up with everything – ever. We can only eat one bite at a time, and will still never finish everything on our plates when the bus boy comes to sweep us away. We can only prioritize – we can decide where to start and pick the leanest and tastiest bite. Yes sometimes reality dictates that we have to eat ass and suffer the less desirable parts, but if we balance that right we will have time to get to the ivory. If we are constantly making progress and can see it even the work under the tail is bearable.
    Dear, there’s a hell of a lot more tusk than musk in you. You must know that. Don’t try to control it all. Take time to prioritize it all and make time for Jan! The world will go on interminably with or without us and we certainly can’t control it. The world is a screwed up place, but there are oasis’s in time and space. And we will go happily one day knowing we took good care of our little corner of the world and raised 5 kids who will all contribute much to what’s good and right in the world – and who all will have their elephants and asses to eat.

    Yeah there certainly may be external factors going on but this is certainly a physical and chemical issue no matter what the “Doctors” say (it’s viral, riiight!). I can see it and know the three headed monster isn’t “you” or within your control. I love you and we will get through this. I can only relate to it in a small way (I would be a basket case if I had to go through it) and know this may sound condescending and trivial to you – just like it sounded to me when Jolly had colic and the Doctors said it will only last three to six months while I’m trying to figure out how to get through just one more night without killing her or going stark raving mad!

    One bite at a time!

    Wanna work on some tusk tonight?

  4. Oh Jan, I feel ya, Honey. I’m not really that bad (at this very moment) but I’ve been there and sadly since I’m not off this rollercoaster yet will no doubt be there again. Your honesty and insight are inspirational and I agree with SK that every woman should read this. QUICK, SOMEBODY CALL OPRAH!
    I guess the part that I identify with the most is feeling that it’s not OK to give into it and cry and that you have to face the world with a smile like nothing is wrong. I’m FINE! FINE! FINE! I think that is part of our upbringing. Well that and what employer is going to accept that call that says………”I can’t come in today because I just discovered we are out of peanut butter and I can’t stop crying.” Well, actually my boss might buy that one.

    I’ve got no answers but I think you are on the right track. Exercise, cut the caffeine and alcohol……..who knew? I increased those…..guess I better regroup with a new plan.

    Great spin (((Jan))) Big ole hugs for our girl, today!

    Smart Mouth Broads last blog post..A QUICK AND EASY RECIPE YOU’LL LOVE

  5. So, darlin’, now I know. *sniff* Oh, my god, what you wrote was magnificent. While I can’t claim to feel everything you are going through (being a dude and all), I certainly got the emotion. That was all heart, my dear, and stirring/beautiful/amazing. *sniff*

    Mmm, mmm, don’t sell yourself short: you have some gifts, too 🙂

    Wow. I’m honored for being including in your thoughts. (hand on heart). I have another little room in my heart, in case you need another safe place to go. (hugs)

    Irish Gumbos last blog post..A Friendly Interrogation, cIII Style – Part Deux

  6. I feel exceptionally lucky after reading this post… I have hot flashes and weight gain, but as for the depression, mood swings, etc…. just have had none of that. Hope you get through this in one piece… definitely recommend leaving the alcohol alone. 🙂

    The Blue Ridge Gal

    Dis last blog post..Stranded (On Blue Ridge Island)

  7. Oh God, right when I’m working nights, feeling like total crap and no time to read this, or respond, you go and post a description on ME that is so insightful….I feel like breaking into “Killing Me Softly”.

    THIS is what blogging is all about. You have so totally nailed it. I’ll be back later when I have a day off to fully appreciate this post and all the comments. Thank God we are not alone.

    Gingers last blog post..I Heart Faces

  8. Oh god Jan. I just want to make it better for you, to help make the sun shine and for your soul to endure and be engulfed by love and light. I wish I could give you those things, but instead I’m a bit lost for words and can only think to say how I wish you the very best!

    Tricias last blog post..A Day to Remember

  9. Hmmm….I’m at a loss for words here, which isn’t like me. My menopausal symptoms hit like running into a brick wall at 90 miles per hour after my hysterectomy. It was as if I woke up in a foreign body and had no idea who I was and what I needed to do to fix myself. It’s been like swimming through jello at times but I can tell you that you’ll finally find something that works for you and you won’t lose your mind and drive over that cliff. You’ve made some very positive changes and that’s the first step to survival. muah!

    Midlife Slicess last blog post..Janie Needs…….what??

  10. Well, sorry to say I do know exactly what you mean. I had hysterectomy in ’01 so went through surgical menopause. No fun either, but I didn’t have too much in the way of mood swings. I still have occasional night sweats (and, er, dryness) but the worst of it is heat intolerance. I can’t stay out in the heat long. Summers can be killers and I end up staying inside a lot during the day unless I have a convenient waterhole.

    You’re right, too. There are all kinds of products advertised for men, but what can women do? It is not in our heads! I repeat, it is not in our heads!

    Fragrant Liars last blog post..Pigs in a Blanket

  11. But is the deprivation diet helping at all? No coffee? AND no half and half? I’ve heard that diet can make a difference, but I don’t personally know anyone who can swear by it. This doesn’t mean you’re going to stop making monkey bread, is it?

  12. I remember having sex education at school. In the first lesson we were told about periods, and not til the last were we told about the menopause. I remember being shocked to be told that one day periods end
    I think now that on average we live longer than 40 the menopause shouldnt happen til we’re 70. Or that it would just be like no periods (yes!) but stable hormones, without the other crap. Dammit, I think women have shit time with their bodies. But at least our noses and ears dont grow like mens…

    and like you said, it’s been around long enough you’da think they’da found some effective treatment… look at all the money going into male pattern baldness. more money than going to research into terrible contagious illnesses in the third world. Hello, baldness, it’s not life threatening! It doesn’t make you feel any biologically different cept make your head cold really…

  13. (((((hugs))))) I have not experienced much of this yet- but I live in fear of it starting. YUCK! Poor baby- have a better day today I hope.

  14. I know this is contrary to the current dogma, but I opted to take the risk and take the hormones. It is not an automatic sentence of breast cancer. It increases the risk, that’s all. My husband’s late wife died of breast cancer. She never took hormones. Perhaps I’ll get it, but I’m 77 and presently healthy, and life’s a crap shoot anyhow. Even with the pills, I noticed a decrease in libido, so I have a hormone concoction which includes some female testosterone. That did the trick. Jerry and I have a sedate but satisfying sex life.

    Anne Giberts last blog post..Life’s flotsam

  15. Wonderful post. I’ve been struggling a bit more this last little while too…but am trying to not give in, mostly because that bitch boss of mine has been quoted as saying that we (ie the staff) are all ‘old’ and need to be dumped (she just turned 40 herself i think). So some days when i would just like to stay home and regroup…i have to go in and face the music and it’s not always pleasant for anyone involved. Next week, i’m asking Dougette Howser MD for the progesterone cream i have used in the past. My planned attempts to get thru this gracefully are not working as well as they were last year…time to regroup and change tactics. Crap.

    thistles last blog post..Speechless Part Deux

  16. Hi Jan – I am stopping over from Irish Gumbo. This is a great spin on Change, and my first choice for a topic, were I to write this spin (I am too lazy/busy to join spin cycle – though I love reading them).

    I am right there with you. My body has its own agenda and sometimes I feel like it’s a runaway train. I would so like to be on the other side of this. And would love to have the brain cells to write about it as eloquently as you have.

    Love your blog. Hang in there.

    Erins last blog post..friday fill-ins #113

  17. You have so captured it.
    At times I feel like a blithering idiot because I can’t articulate my thoughts. I really miss the ability to concentrate and my memory.
    There are days when I can’t stand the skin I’m in, the menopause skin. If I could peel it off I would. I don’t like this person. I don’t even KNOW this person!
    Negativity has crept in, turned around 3 times, and settled in.
    At times when I’ve morphed into the Menopause Woman, and my Hubby is staring at me with fear and irritation in his eyes, I just want to rush to him, and tell him that I’m not this person! I don’t know her either but I can’t seem to shake her. But the last thing he wants at that moment is to be closer to me, and sadly, it’s the thing I want the most.
    My hope is that we can be gentle with ourselves and hope we come out the other side of it with something positive.

    shabby girls last blog post..Women in Red

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