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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.

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