Menopause Brain Strikes Again

For the past three days, I planned to write a humorous and helpful blog entry about……..I forget. Menopause brain has warped my ability to think, remember and carry out simple tasks. So the only thing to do is write about the FOG.

Perhaps the most prevalent of the menopausal mental changes is also the most disconcerting. Virtually overnight, a bank of fog seeps into our minds. It fuzzes and blurs our cognitive functioning. It’s as if our synapses, which previously struck with the sharp accuracy of lightning bolts have morphed into heat lightning, flickering from brain cell to brain cell randomly, without completing the intended circuit. Eventually, impulses seem to trickle down to a usable thought, but the overall thinking seems to be fuzzy, slow, and thick.

This mental torpor makes it difficult to focus on tasks requiring mental clarity and concentration. Even simple things we’ve done for years such as balancing our checkbooks or paying bills seem like Herculean efforts. Tasks we used to do easily and quickly turn laborious. We make more mistakes. None of it is easy. Every menopausal woman we’ve talked with has said "I just hope my brain comes back."

I’m off to drink my gingko biloba tea…..if I can just remember where I put it!

(adapted from our upcoming book "Venus Comes of Age")

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Oh Libido Where Art Thou?

Some women actually experience increased libido during menopause. If this describes you, skip this part. (And know that the rest of us are so envious of you! Victoria-Venus is an exception, since she is one of you.) Decreased libido is a much more common function of menopause than the converse. It’s not that we don’t want to have sex, it’s that we just don’t think about it. At all. The hormones that stoked the fires have diminished to the point that we’re lucky if we have a pitiful little ember of lascivious desire glowing somewhere deep inside us. Our mates may worry that we no longer care for them or find them attractive. All the Venuses were clear that this was not the case; we still loved our spouses and thought they were empirically attractive. We just didn’t have any drive to act physically on that attraction.

If sex was once 50% mental (or emotional), it seems that now lovemaking is at least 98% governed by our head and heart, rather than our physical sexual organs (at least until things get rolling.) So the Venuses were in agreement that they needed to find ways to stimulate mind and emotions to remind them how much they enjoy intimate physical closeness.
Rae-Venus reads romantic books or watches chick-flicks to get "in the mood." Then she ‘remembers’ her own passion and is able to fully engage sexually with her husband.

One of our honorary Venuses likes to make sensuality ‘dates’ with her husband to make sure that physical intimacy is shared. It seems to be working well for them in maintaining their sexual connection. Sensual lingerie, candlelit dinners, music, and dancing are all great ways to get in the mood for sexual pleasure. It’s been the experience of each Venus that once physical contact is initiated, the tiny ember of lust she carries within soon blooms into a full blown romantic fire. But you may have to mark it on your calendar, because if you wait for your hormones to signal that it is time for sexual intimacy, it may never happen.
(excerpted from our upcoming book "Venus Comes of Age: The Wit and Wisdom of Menopausal Goddesses")

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Menopause – Good Grief!

Nora Ephron’s new book of essays entitled "I Feel Bad About My Neck And Other Thoughts on Being a Woman" underscores the need for real wisdom from real women when going through the the transitions of menopause, midlife, and aging. "There are all sorts of books written for older women," she writes. "They are, as far as I can tell, uniformly upbeat and full of bromides and homilies about how pleasant life can be once one is free from all the nagging obligations of children, monthly periods, and in some cases, full-time jobs. I find these books utterly useless, just as I found all the books I once read about menopause utterly useless."

The goddesses would have loved her and welcomed her into our group like a sister. Because that is how we feel about the changes thrust upon us. Perky and upbeat doesn’t work unless and until we can go through the appropriate stages of grieving. Losses are occurring each and every day for us. We’d be crazy to be happy and excited by them in the beginning, maybe ever.

The stages of grief that we goddesses have gone through in the time we have been meeting are pretty much the same as the stages of any loss. Denial was broken through as soon as we found ourselves sweating like pigs, crying for no reason, and unable to sleep through the night. Depression, anger, and bargaining are continual themes in our lives just now as we help one another move toward some semblance of acceptance. Small wonder we can’t face either optimistic, cheerful tomes or dry medical renderings of physiology, symptoms, and treatment.

While these may have value, they do not speak to our experience. The upbeat, "menopause is such a great opportunity" books may be useful once we are accepting what is happening to us, but initially, we feel like we are ‘doing’ menopause wrong, because we don’t feel like it is a great opportunity. Yet. We just want to be understood and to understand, first. And honestly exploring these changes in a community of supportive women is the first step.

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A Pause Felt ‘Round the World

Menopause is a singularly unifying experience for all women. It transcends social, cultural, economic, language, and other barriers to bring us together in a flash. Literally. Case in point: I climb aboard the Budget van at LAX to ride to the rental car lot. Our driver is a gorgeous fiftyish African-American woman with heroically long fingernails and beaded tresses. She looks really good (for her age.) As I embark, she asks me if the van’s temperature is too cold. In fact, it is nearly arctic – and feels just fabulous to me. Before I can voice my opinion, however, she eyes me critically. "Oh, I don’t need to ask you." she told me in full voice. "I know you understand how it is. I’m hot all the time these days, so I have to check to see if I’m freezing my poor passengers with the A/C cranked up so high."

We bond emotionally, instantly, recognizing each other as fellow changelings. My husband follows me to the front, content to observe our cameraderie. He doesn’t mind the cold; he’s had to live with the human furnace lately. Three other passengers in their 70’s mumble that they are fine and sit in the rear of the bus. She shares immediately, "I could not figure out what was wrong with me! I was hot, sweating all night. It was awful. My mom told me ‘honey, you’re just goin’ through the Change.’ Well, I never expected this! What do you do for it? And how long is it going to go on?" HRT wasn’t an option she wanted to consider, at least not yet. I tell her about natural progesterone cream. "It will save your sanity by letting you sleep." She writes down the recommendation while continuing to drive down Sepulveda Boulevard, seemingly steering with her knees. She roars with laughter when my husband chimed in "It saved MY sanity! I have to live with her." She shows me a cute little fan that she wore on a string around her neck, and I have to get out my pen and notepad. Horror stories are swapped. We discuss clothing and herbs and trade tricks (eg. sticking one’s head in the freezer for a few minutes, during the worst of a flash). Bras? "Can’t wear ’em no more. Just can’t stand ’em" she says. I lifted my shirt up high to show my pink cami top, proclaiming "You have to get these – to wear as your bottom layer, so you can strip down and still be decent." "Got ’em! In every color!", she rejoined.

We are menopausal goddess sisters. Are we different? Sure. She’s a city girl. I live rurally. She works with the public and I am a solitary entrepreneur. She’s African-American and I’m Caucasian. But we are both women going through the biggest life transition we’ve ever encountered. And we can’t help talking to each other about it. We embrace like family at the rental lot admonishing one another to ‘Stay cool’. As we step off the van, the lone woman in the trio at the back smiles and nods at both of us. Her male companions simply look shell-shocked.

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A Case of The Menoblahs

Menopause is not a disease, but it sure feels like one sometimes. One with no end in sight. Today, I have the "menoblahs", a sort of undefinable lethargy that has struck all of us goddesses at one time or another. We joke about taking short personal vacations in the tropics (hot flashes), however it’s less humorous when you actually live in the tropics! And working on this book, it seems that my life revolves around the Change and the changes it has wrought. But I know that this is NORMAL and I know that this too shall pass. Most important, I know that I’m not alone; that my sister goddesses offer support, understanding, and chocolate when they are most needed.
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The Heat is On – And We Can?t Turn It Off

PMS. The bloating, the cramping, headaches and irritability – who could have known that it was the barest hint of what was to come?? Who imagined that we could and would feel so so so much worse? Hot flashes may be the most intense of physical changes symptomatic of the Change. When your body temperature goes from 98.6 to 3098.6 in the space of a heartbeat, your attention becomes solely fixated on that HEAT! No matter what clever euphemism is chosen to describe these incendiary bursts: power surge, short personal trip to the tropics and the like, the fact remains that they peg the discomfort needle well into the red zone.

The word "Flash" is actually a misnomer except in relating the intensity and speed of onset. It can be likened to a strike of a lightning bolt. Flash conjures up images of "short", "burst", "over with quickly". But alas, that is rarely the case. A flash can last 5-15 minutes, or more for some of us. A menopausal theory of relativity applies here. (As so much with womanly experience, this is scientifically unproven, but anecdotally FACT. Just ask a group of midlife women.) As we approach the heat of light, time slows down and that five minute hot flash seems like a blazing eternity. Telling us to go to hell is an empty threat. Been there, done that.

Our Goddess group ultimately have agreed that the next person who tells us that they think of hot flashes as wonderful ‘power surges’ gets the full brunt of our fury. Power surges are a serious hazard. Ask any electrician. We need industrial strengh surge protectors – we are frying our circuits!

(excerpted from the upcoming book by and about the Goddesses.)

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Hitting the Pause Button (Menopause Button, That Is)

Just about the time that ‘miss’ became ‘ma’am’ and compliments took a backhanded turn, (gee, you look good…….for your age), Menopause burst through the door like an unwanted guest. As it turned out, big M had come for an extended stay.

She is not a low maintenance, easy-to-be-with visitor. On the contrary, she has been intrusive as hell. She fully disrupted my life and that of my spouse. The only good news? Her sisters were moving in with my girlfriends.

So a group of us would-be goddess girlfriends have bonded together, trying to find a way to deal with the new guest taking up residence in every facet of our lives. Meeting for the last 3+ years, we’ve laughed, cried, cursed, and celebrated. We needed sanctuary from the profusion and confusion of information flooding bookshelves, media, and the web. Wisdom is what we sought. Real women sharing experience, sister to trusted sister, has helped us make some sense of the changes, and allowed for an uneasy truce with Big M. And now we are reaching out to expand our community of midlife goddesses through this blog, because the most important thing we’ve learned is that WE CANNOT DO THIS ALONE! (Soon to come: a book of our adventures confronting not only menopause, but midlife and beyond. Stay tuned.)

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A New Kind of Goddess

Why Menopausal Goddesses? Well, our core group of midlife "sisters" decided that we were certainly becoming ‘something’ with all the changes besieging us at this time of life. Werewoman felt like a possibility; some of the changes so altered our physical, mental, and emotional makeup. In the long run though, that image didn’t appeal to us, so we decided with our tongues stuck to the inner lining of our cheeks that we were becoming a new kind of goddess. Not fertile, not lissome and youthful, certainly not a siren for the male species. We were Menopausal Goddesses.

Since there didn’t appear to be a model for this new goddess, it seemed we’d have to make up our own rendering. As official Scribe for the Goddesses, I was assigned the task of honing in on the description of who we were becoming.

I found the word goddess in the dictionary situated between goblin and godsend, pretty much how I feel about myself these days. There were three definitions to ponder:

1. female deity or god – that certainly didn’t fit.
2. A woman of extraordinary beauty and charm – well maybe…….
3. A greatly admired or adored woman – hmmmmmmm

My desire is to be goddess # 3 – admired and adored, primarily by the one person whose affections I haven’t sought: ME. This may be the one of the biggest changes of menopause and midlife: a switch from a primarily external focus on others to one which begins to create a new and significant relationship – with ourselves. Embarking on this new relationship will likely be equal parts exciting, challenging, and scary. But like the rest of this journey, it probably won’t be dull!

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Shades of Gray – Aging Gracefully

"I’d just like to age gracefully," so many women I know have said. What exactly do we mean by that? Does it mean being completely ‘natural’, leaving our hair uncolored when it loses its pigment? The Menopausal Goddesses discussed ‘shades of gray’ hair in one of our meetings. We realized that while most women we knew (including ourselves) waxed rhapsodic about the beauty of allowing our hair to go gray as a sign of graceful aging, these same women all colored their hair. When queried why, they responded that silvery, moonlight hair is beautiful, yet so many of them/us ended up with a muddy or yellowish gray. And that’s a color that we just don’t want to see in the mirror looking back at us!

Does aging gracefully mean celebrating our wrinkles, without intervention? Well, hardly. We run the gamut from merely tolerating them to trying to smooth them out with creams, emollients, injections, or lifts.

Upon reflection, maybe aging gracefully simply means being comfortable in our own skin, whether wrinkled or smooth. Perhaps aging is graceful when you like yourself enough that you’d enjoy having yourself as a friend.

Unafraid, unashamed, unapologetic – most of the time anyway. For the other times, we have our girlfriends to help us through.

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