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Note: This piece will make more sense if you’ve already read these two articles:
Hoping Big And Still Holding On To My Dessert Plate: My Encounter with Cancer
The Faltering 40’s: A Commentary on Ageing
Last week, on the day that an estrogen test confirmed that I was officially in menopause, I promptly bought an embarrassing amount of Oreos, Cream-O’s, and Presto Peanut Butter Creams (my fave), and sat at my dining room table having a grand old time. My 14 year old daughter, Boo, surveyed my frenzied chewing and the heaps of wrappers surrounding me, and remarked, “Gosh mom, you look like you’re on a PMS binge.” “Nah,” I replied in between chomps. “This is a menopause binge.”
Sarcastic me likes to say that menopause is a “pause from men,” but it’s actually from the Greek words menos (month) and pausis (cease). A developmental milestone in the health of a woman occurring usually between the ages of 51-60, menstruation stops, and estrogen levels decline. In short, menopause is like puberty, but in reverse.
It’s been over two years since I had my last period so I more than suspected that I was already in menopause, chemo-induced or medical menopause that is, due to the chemotherapy I underwent when I had cancer. I’m also on Tamoxifen, a medicine used primarily to prevent a reoccurrence of breast cancer. Earlier this year, I also had mood swings so monstrous that I could swear I was growing fangs and sprouting claws. As for those infamous hot flashes, when my female friends ask me what it feels like, they recoil in horror when I reply, “It feels like I’ve swallowed the sun.”
So the confirmation that I’m in menopause isn’t surprising but my reaction to seeing it spelled out on paper, is. Strangely enough, I am more upset that I’m in menopause than I am about losing a breast. As Whoopi Goldberg famously said, “All those years bitching about my period and when it stopped, I was stunned to realize how much my womanhood was tied into it. It hits you hard.” Reading my estrogen test’s numbers and the corresponding interpretations, all I could feel was sadness: I grieve for the younger woman I used to be.
“But doesn’t it feel great to be free of periods?” I’ve been asked. Frankly, I don’t know because there’s so much of an emotional whirlwind that replaces it. Allow me a minute of self pity when I say that I also feel cheated; cheated that I had cancer that forced me to go through menopause so early. Look at me, I’m Lopsided Lori. I feel a shift in my sense of identity, a loss of control, and somehow I feel older than my age. Could my best years be behind me?
Accepting, Adapting, Staying Active
My more pronounced smile lines and streaks of white hair are not the only bittersweet reminders of how time is passing. There was that time that a kid made me feel ancient when she laughingly refused to tell me what dabbing was, saying, “you’re too old to know.” Conversely, I’m grateful to that younger, nicer kid who gamely demonstrated it to me.
I suppose getting older is the price to pay for being able to stick around in this life. Studies have shown that women who go through menopause before age 46 are twice as likely to suffer from heart disease and brittle bones. So I’m taking care of myself through good eating and exercise and enough cheat days to feel sane.
To address my hormonal imbalances, I’ve started seeing a psychiatrist and taking anti-depressants. I can’t tell you how hopeful and positive I’ve become now that I have a professional watching over my emotional health; it has made all the difference in my my quality of life. My Bin says even my fangs and claws have receded. To avoid feeling weighed down by daily realities, I often ask myself what I want my days to look like, because as writer Annie Dillard once said, ““How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.”
So I spend my days trying to be as productive as I can, honing my skills and making good art, be it writing, photography, or cooking. And when I can’t work, I rest. Because it is in periods of peace that the flames of my creativity are stoked.
As I get to know this newer me, I’m starting to see that the true gifts of menopause are twofold: finally being comfortable in my own skin and having little tolerance for BS. I’ve earned this, and knowing it may be the secret to sparkling in midlife. I’m starting to understand that I am gracious but also (deliciously) bitchy and accepting that it’s okay to be so. If people can’t deal, then carry on.
Now that I’m truly in menopause, I grieve for the younger woman I once was and prepare to be worthy of the older, wiser woman I’m becoming. To celebrate, I got my cartilage pierced, something I’ve wanted to do for a long time. Today, I remember to laugh always and relish distinct pleasures, large and small. Above all, I remember this:
I have come home to myself.