We Venuses may not all have suffered daytime panic, but each of us had nocturnal visits from a variety of rest-sucking fears we call the night terrors. Our specters included anxiety and worry, instant replays, and the list of undones. Some of us got all three of these lovelies, occasionally all in the same night. Along with insomnia, these visitations disrupted our sleep profoundly, leaving us more vulnerable to all the other emotional and physical changes that afflict us during the daylight hours.
Initially, I was feeling rather smug during the onset of menopause because I did not find myself bursting into tears or excessively cranky like some of my menopause goddess sisters. However, I made up for this initial blessing in spades during the night time.
In the wee hours of each morning, I would wake to find myself aboard the Fretliner Express, my own personal bullet train to anxiety and worry. While I would have no memory of embarking or even purchasing a ticket, I’d suddenly be speeding straight on to worst-case scenario with no stops at logic, rationality, or probability statistics.
"But this is not me!" I’d cry out silently. "I just don’t worry." I think I’ve mentioned before that this phrase could be the mantra of mid-life women "This is not me." Alas, it is you. And me. Now.
Back to the Fretliner – as always, I am alone and the train is whizzing past stops so fast I can’t tell where we are. Of course it is an underground train – eerie and dark and forbidding. My heart races, and I worry. About everything, it would seem. My kids – where are they right now? Either sound asleep, like I ought to be or partying the night away with their friends or mates. In any case, they are thousands of miles away, living their own lives. But I worry about unseen, amorphous dangers they might encounter. I worry about my health, my husband’s health, the health of my island or the planet. I fret about global warming and whether Friendly Market will have mahi-mahi for tomorrow night’s dinner. I worry about aging in general. I worry that Island Air will be late when we fly to Maui in 2 months, though we have no particular schedule that would be affected if it were late. All these worries are equal somehow. Equal as in HUGE. So I lay awake – worrying and fretting and desperate to get back to sleep. The worst part is that all this worry is aging me further! As much as I lose my train of thought these days, I can’t seem to lose my nocturnal journeys on the Fretliner Express train.
Instant Replays are another hard-to-swallow flavor of the night terrors for us menopausal goddesses. Like a curmudgeonly version of the movie "Groundhog Day", you are forced to relive over and over some insignificant event. The repetition can drive you stark, raving mad. Ordinary moments play over and over in your brain like visual earworms. You re-view the dinner where you had an extra glass of wine and told an overlong albeit amusing story about your cats. You see yourself over and over again saying something stupid to your neighbor. A little episode of mutual crankiness at the dinner table plays ad nauseum. Even a mundane phone conversation with your mother is stuck on repeat.
Yet unlike that uplifting movie where Bill Murray learns the meaning of life and love, you just keep viewing the same loop with no resolution in sight. And in the morning you know it will strike you as inconsequential and meaningless, even silly, but right now in the dark of night, it won’t leave you alone. It drones on like a mosquito, bent on sucking the rest right out of you.
Then there is the dreaded "Night of the Undones", a B-grade subplot of the horror movie that is menopause. The Undones. Those things you forgot to do, should have done, or worry that you might need to do – like thought zombies that parade through your night, jostling you, keeping you awake with silent incessant nagging. Did I pay last month’s phone bill? I can’t remember seeing it. I forgot to call the plumber or clean the catbox. I should have bought computer paper. When did I last check the oil in the car? What am I going to do with all those Christmas cards I bought, now that it is mid-January? Did I buy laundry soap? Did I clean the lint catcher in the dryer? Did I set the Tivo to record Desperate Housewives?
The litany goes on. And on.
If I get up and write these little reminders down, I’m up for a while. Usually, I focus on them, try to commit them to memory, in case they might be important. And this takes long enough that, I’m up. Or should I try to ignore the Undone zombies, they just keep lurching into my consciousness and you guessed it, I’m up.
Undones from the Future come to plague me as well. If they visited me over my morning coffee, I would consider them fodder for a walloping big to-do list. But of course, I’m too exhausted from the previous night’s visitations in the morning, to have a single productive thought in my head. Like their counterparts from "Night of the Living Dead", my middle-of-the -night, synaptic zombies shuffle, lurch, and drag inexorably on through my sleep-deprived brain.
LURCH Order more diet cat food from the vet.
DRAG Check the chemicals in the hot tub.
SHUFFLE Look for the little dual voltage travel water-heating thing so we can take it to Thailand.
LURCH Remind Dewitt to find and put up the motion sensor light outside.
DRAG Trim dead bird-of-paradise blooms in front garden.
And so on. Don’t even suggest one of those little light pens that you can use to write down your list in the middle of the night, guaranteed to keep from waking your spouse and to allow you to fall right back to sleep, safe in the knowledge that you have corralled and organized the zombies. Suffice it to say that I fumble around in the dark, knocking all other implements from my bedside table to the floor, searching for this small item that if I weren’t so irritated would help me so much. But now, I am frustrated and heading toward pissed off, so once again I am AWAKE. and up for a while. The only thing that seems to help dissipate the nighttime anxiety IS anger.
And the one thing that truly makes it all bearable is that I’m not the only one. Even though I don’t see you on the Fretliner, I know you’re there – in some other car, riding along with me, sharing my sweats and terrors. The movie is easier to handle when we know what to expect and when we experience it together.
(material partially adapted from "The Big M" – available in the next 2-3 weeks – stay tuned.)