…Or the reality of life as a menopausal woman.
This is the reality, this is The Menopause 101, this is my truth…
For a start, I have come to the conclusion that it is definitely worse than puberty. I used to think they were similar, what with all the bodily changes and aches and pains, and it being entirely hormone driven. But now I realise that they are completely different rides at the fairground – not swings and roundabouts, more like swings and huge, terrifying rollercoaster, in the dark, with scary props and unpredictable twists and turns. Puberty is straight forward compared to menopause, it is, in fact, a straight forward journey going from one place: the sweet, simple innocence of childhood, straight to another: the steamy, tropical jungle of womanhood. All that happens is that hormones make your breasts grow, your periods start, your emotions go crazy and your libido rocket-charged. It all sounds so simple compared to the years of peri-menopause. During puberty the hormones are focused, they are like The Blues Brothers: On a mission from God…with just one goal, one aim – that rhythm and blues concert known as womanhood. In menopause we are saddled with hormones that are drifting into a sad decline of senile dementia. One minute they are perfectly compos mentis, aware of their surroundings, functioning normally. The next, they are in a confused fog of indecision, not knowing where they are, or which direction they should go.
So how does this all translate into real life? Well, every journey is personal. In my journey it means that one week I feel perfectly ‘normal’. I get up, have breakfast without thinking about it, get dressed, without thinking about it, do my chores, relax a bit…basically have a perfectly normal day without thinking about it. I underlined that because it is the key point. On those weeks my hormones are hidden somewhere, everything is balanced nicely, they are asleep affecting neither my body nor my brain. I can tell you now.. those weeks are rare.
Because then my hormones wake up, in the week leading up to my period, or possibly the 10 days leading up to my period, or shall we make that the 4 days leading up to my period? Who knows? Certainly not my body, nor my hormones, so they just go for the whole shebang of PMS for a fortnight, just to be sure. These hormones – the ones I think of as the bad guys, crawl out of their caves like the grumpiest, grizzliest bears. Bears that have woken up to find that it’s still winter, and they’re hungry, and someone shaved off half their fur as they slept – as a joke.
Every and any one these bears meet run the risk of having their heads bitten off, just for being there. These bears make me look at the world through the lens of cynicism, especially, and actually quite specifically, at the role of women in the world. These bears look at how women are compelled to constantly live up to a culture driven definition of attractiveness; to shave hair from their bodies, to push their breasts up and together, to paint their faces and style their hair, to be a certain shape and a certain size. These bears make me SO angry, when I realise that in every TV program I watch, the men wear comfy clothes and the women are forever in high heels, clingy tight clothes and push-up bras, always with full make-up on, even when they wake up in the morning for god’s sake. The bears make me notice these things, they point them out, constantly. They growl loudly in my head, relentlessly, until I realise that it is me growling out loud, protesting the sexism, the injustices, the double standards and the goddamned unfairness of it all.
So my growl becomes a roar…I will not stand for this, I will not perpetuate the imbalance in our culture. I do not need to be enhanced, smoothed, shaped and moulded into an ideal. And so I let my body hair grow, I pack away my make-up, I ditch my bras and determine to wear only clothes that are baggy and comfortable. I feel cross and angry, I feel confrontational and defensive. I make myself promises and resolutions…I am not happy.
My bear hormones also make me worried, and scared. I feel lost, I don’t know who I am, what my role in life is. I worry about my children, what will their future hold? Have I messed it up? I worry about my husband dying a hundred different horrible deaths, I worry about my parents dying and how I would cope. I worry that I’m more concerned with having to deal with sorting out the practical concerns of the aftermath of people’s deaths rather than actually losing them…I worry that I have no heart, no soul.
I worry that my husband looks at me and sees a hairy, fat, wrinkled old woman rather than a happy, hormonally balanced sensual wife. I know he doesn’t, and so I worry that I’m the worst wife ever who doesn’t appreciate the amazing husband she has.
I worry that I am drifting through life, just surviving, with no discernible direction. Just flitting from one fad to another, wasting my one precious, unique life.
I cry, a lot. I get angry, a lot. I despair about the future of humankind. I wonder why everyone seems to be duped into the whole School, Qualifications, Work, Achievements, Money thing. I feel like the little boy who sees the naked Emperor and wonders why everyone else is blind to it.
I look at my hairy legs and I think that they are ugly, no matter how many times I try and convince myself they are natural and beautiful. I remind myself that smooth, female legs are a cultural imposition – I get angry – again.
My period arrives… early, late, on time, it’s anyone’s guess these days. I descend into a week purely immersed in the physical body. Stomach expands, breasts throb, joints ache, womb muscles cramp and contract. Hair gets a life of its own, greasing its way through the days. My skin wants nothing to touch it. Even the softest, loosest clothes seem to scratch and chafe. My breasts decide they want to hunker down and hide in my armpits, the bags under my eyes develop into the blackest, darkest shade of purple, like theatrical greasepaint. The bear turns into a lost, lonely cub that just wants to crawl into a fur lined nest and be fed the comfiest of comfort food…No loud noises please, or sudden movements, my eyes hurt in my head. The irony of desiring to crawl into a safe womb as I shed the linings of my own is never lost on me. I believe that I will be like this forever, that my body will always hurt, that I will always feel the need to be curled up in a ball, wrapped in velvet. Just as I believed the week before that I would forever be angry at the injustices of woman. But that did not last, and neither does this, because my period ends.
I wake up and I realise that I am not crawling, bent and broken. My body does not feel like a pumped up balloon being trampled by a herd of rhinos. I look at my stomach and it looks, not bloated and tender, but soft, rounded and feminine. My breasts do not shout at me angrily that they should be free to hang where they choose; instead they demand to be clothed in lace and lifted up to peer out seductively at the world, to see and be seen. I look in the mirror and, instead of growling that my natural look is beautiful and should be accepted make-up free, as the norm rather than the anomaly. Nope, instead of that, I cheerfully sit down to enjoy the ancient ritual of applying accents and colour, painting my face as an artist paints her canvas. I run a bath and take my time smoothing and stripping my legs of their winter coat, oiling and moisturising. Not to succumb to some culturally defined ideal, but as a connection, a link, to that long lineage of femininity that knows the ancient ways of the wise woman, the secrets of the seductress, the knowing of the female body.
Yep…I’m feeling horny, and it’s a whole different world. I like it – no I LOVE feeling like this. Like a goldfish, I have instantly forgotten what has gone before, I forget the anger and the outrage, I forget the militant feminism and the frustration with our society, I forget the aches, the discomfort, the worries, the fears, the despair. I feel good, I feel strong, I am ovulating and am horny as hell.
My husband, my poor, long-suffering husband, finally gets to have sex…because his wife’s body wants it. This does not seem fair, it seems very one-sided, but this week I don’t realise that, because right now I believe I am cured, that I will always feel like this and that he is the luckiest man alive because he has a woman who wants him now, and again, and maybe even the next night, or two…
I breathe deeply and sleep happily…I wake, I cough, I groan. I look down at my clingy, black slip and ask “why the hell am I wearing this? I’m freezing, where are my soft, comfy pyjamas?” I get up and groan at my throbbing breasts that don’t want to be touched..like EVER AGAIN. My husband playfully pats my arse and I bat his hand away in irritation, jesus, can I just have some space here please? My goldfish brain has already moved on, swimming to the sound of my bear hormones laughing diabolically from their caves….