Growing old is no joke, especially for us girls. Thinning, frizzy hair, skin that does not bounce back, interrupted sleep and wicked temper are only a few of the gifts bestowed upon us by the dreaded menopause. Mine arrived together with another milestone: the big five-o.
At first, the signs were subtle. A missed period here and there, a heat wave that dissipated after a few seconds, an unexplained sense of doom that disappeared with the sunrise. “I can handle this” I told myself. “I don’t understand what the fuss is all about.”
The next stage was not as subtle. Weight started creeping on to places that it was not meant to be, and what had been an hourglass figure turned to a banana shape. Around that time, my eyesight packed it in, and I could no longer read a restaurant menu without holding it as far away from my eyes as my arms could reach. Waves of hot flushes made me feel like I had my own personal tropical climate, and most days I would wake up in a pool of sweat. No amount of coconut oil would keep my frizzy hair or my fizzy temper in place. I spent my days growling at those around me and a sense of doom dominated my waking hours. Periods came at went at irregular intervals, but they did not provide the usual relief from the hormonal storms I was navigating.
I felt that my life was unfinished, and I was unsettled and sad much of the time. I wanted to regain my youth and do something extraordinary but felt too tired and overwhelmed to even try. I got fatter and sadder and increasingly irrelevant. In the midst of all that my husband buggered off with his secretary who could not even spell the word “menopause”. To this day, I am not sure whether he left because I had become such a grump or because he was having his own menopause. Men get it too you know, except it is called “midlife crisis”.
I now think that the hormonal changes that we go through at midlife are a red herring that only amplifies what should really be called midlife change. Men and women alike reach this pivotal point at the same time as the ability and desire for reproduction die off. As our careers reach their peak and our children fly the nest, we start re-evaluating our lives and everything we have done so far. For many, this process marks the beginning of change, one that is well documented. Men run off with younger women or spend their lives’ savings on a spiffy race cars. For us, women, the changes are more often imposed by the spasmodic actions of the men in our lives. But no matter what dictates the change of life direction, my personal experience is that it can be a good thing.
Menopause comes with a lot of unpleasant physical changes, this is undeniable, but there is more to it that hot flushes. Most women are defined by their families, their children and their husbands. Unfortunately, menopause hits at the same time that families tend to contract; that is when children leave and husbands become distracted by their own midlife changes. With the goal of raising a family achieved, the periods stop, and women become unsettled and morose unless there is a challenging career to divert some of the feelings of worthlessness.
All this gives rise to what has been known as the “roaring 50s” or a last ditch attempt at regaining the excitement of youth. I will not dismiss this fabulous decade of fun and games by saying that it is vacuous and misguided. I, for one, dyed my hair blond, got a boob job and took on a young lover. I found new hobbies, discovered drugs and reinvited myself as a writer. I travelled the world, got drunk and had sex on the back seat of the car on the way to a Buddhist retreat. I saw the sun rise sipping champagne, a far cry from seeing the sun rise with a screaming infant hanging off my sagging boob.
Frivolous you say? Perhaps, but why not? My decade of frivolity left me feeling strong and excited about what comes next instead of sad, defeated and fearful about the future. I am now happier that I have been in decades, perhaps ever. After all these years of taking care of “someone” or “something” my only responsibility at this stage is myself. I can do what I want, when I want it. I don’t need to tiptoe around a husband or spend my evenings making sure that the kids brushed their teeth or did their homework. I can eat when I want, what I want, travel at a moment’s notice and have sex without guilt or expectations.
As for the menopause… let me give you the secret ladies. Unlike the frizzy hair, there is a cure for everything else. It is called HRT and it is available at your local pharmacy.