Lisa Hartman generously allowed me to reprint her fabulous, funny essay about the Big M. It reads like she was at our first Menopause Goddess gathering. Enjoy!
Open Letter to Women
A Change is Gonna Come
by Lisa Hartman
You are not, or were not, prepared. It is likely that your body, without your knowledge or consent, will, or already has begun to, upend your perception of yourself and the universe. It will, or already does, suck.
They prepare you for your driver’s test, your SAT. There is a plethora of relationship and sex advice. How to cook, garden, use your computer, parent. Classes and books, whole sections of libraries and bookstores devoted to unraveling the mysteries of life. Why, then, the dearth of guidance and information when it comes to mid-life – the “change” – that more than half the population will face? Oh, sure, it’s out there – books, articles, even talk shows will address peri/menopause – but the event, rather, the slow unfolding process, is a sneak attack in our youth-obsessed culture. You don’t seek information or educate yourself before the fact, when it could help you. No, you seek it at 3 am, in a panic, and devour it in the hope that something, anything, can save you now. No one will prepare you, and on the eve of your commitment, your mother will say, “Now that you mention it, it was difficult at times. I do remember crying for days on end.” Thanks for the heads up, Ma.
The female body is an amazing piece of work. It has ferried you this far, with its cycles, its ebb and flow. Perhaps it has given you children, the miracle of life, and nourished them. You have nurtured and loved, children or not, and built a life on the foundation of this body. A brilliant machine – I get it. But what is all this noise about “intelligent” design? Really? There is intelligence in these screaming, chaotic hormonal fluctuations? Intelligence in the crippling of my sanity? Sometimes, it seems more like a freshman design project. At a party school.
Here is what will happen:
Your teen daughter will look at you, hand on cocked hip, head in that “Girlfriend?!” tilt. Eye rolling will increase, as will stomping and slamming. You can’t blame her, of course – she is having her own design issues at the moment and you are useless.
Your young adult sons will also look at you, as if you have sprouted a third eye. Then they will leave. You will weep and gnash your teeth, like a madwoman, in spite of the fact that their departure makes your life much easier. All reason has fled.
Your husband will be a rock. He will shop and cook and still love you. You will catch him, however, muttering, rolling his own eyes and blowing air. It will really piss you off.
You will wake in the wee hours, drenched in sweat. You’ll strip, towel off and sleep again. In the morning you’ll recall this and think, “Hmm… must’ve been hot last night.” In February — in the northern latitudes.
There will be nights when you don’t sleep at all and you feel madness creeping in. Or maybe rushing in. You will drink Rescue Remedy and chamomile tea and toddies and you will somehow survive, but you will never forget just how close you were to the abyss. It will temporarily cripple you.
You will make appointments and say “yes” to parties and dinners, calm and lovely, but you won’t make it to half of them. 11:00 Friday morning? We don’t know what that looks like yet.
You will weep over everything and nothing. You will feel sad and silly, hopeless and giddy all at once. It will make not a lick of sense.
Your doctor will look at you, a 45-year-old woman with night sweats, insomnia, anxiety and crazy eyes, and say, “No, it can’t be perimenopause if your cycle is still regular.” She will be wrong. You will hate her.
You will see the world, by turns, as a glorious Eden full of unlimited possibility and a dark dead-end hell full of worst-case scenarios. You’ll be right on both counts.
You may find previously mundane tasks, like driving and waiting in checkout lines, maddening and nearly impossible. And you must not venture, too often, into the depths of brightly lit, big-box stores. I am noticing now, when I dare to peek, that these places are filled with young parents, retirees, and men. Where are my sisters?
You will look at the people in your family and wonder, “Who are they? Why are they here? What do they want from me?” Keep this to yourself.
You will want to be alone and you will want to do nothing. Chase it. You will also want to turn the world upside down with the creative storm in your head. Chase that too.
You will reconnect with old friends and you will overshare. It will be a relief and a delight when they do the same.
You will see another doctor who, after an hour wait and a 10-minute visit, will hand you a prescription for an antidepressant. You will hate him.
You will find sex alternately mind-blowing and non-existent, emphasis probably on the latter. This is because your brain vacillates between two messages – “Take me immediately,” or “Touch me and die.” – emphasis probably, unfortunately, on the latter. Your body may scream, “Take me immediately!” when, and if, you ovulate because biology wants you to propagate the species. Clearly, there is no real link between biology and common sense – I have propagated the species four times now and am currently just trying to keep everyone alive, myself included.
Your joints will be like those of a crone. Your hips, thumbs, knees will all complain. You will Google this and read entirely too much.
You will begin reading obituaries, which will remind you of the great sport you had, years ago, ribbing your Grandmother about this same activity. You will feel guilt and remorse.
Your good dog will sense your new vulnerability. She will place a gentle paw on your lap and gaze into your eyes. Your bad dog will crank up the stress with his incessant barking and toxic stench. Note the genders.
You may, for a time, ignore the messages from your body. You will cook, clean, chauffeur, cater large events, stay up too late, and nurture everyone’s happiness. And then you will fall down. Your body will stop asking, suggesting. It will keep you down until you tend it.
You will sniff rose oil and tape dried beans to the acupressure points on your wrists. You will drink foul Chinese concoctions and slather wild yam cream everywhere.
You will, at times, hear the voices around you as a cacophony and you will want everyone to shut up. Don’t tell them.
You will become unhinged. You will suddenly, bizarrely, love all romantic comedies.
You will want to drink. A lot.
Here is what you do:
Read Susun Weed. She’s odd, but she’s right.
Go easy on the caffeine and the alcohol. Drink tea and a glass of wine with dinner, if you must. Leave the espresso and the tequila to the grad students.
Find a fabulous acupuncturist with supplementary degrees in nursing and nutrition who happens to be married to a guy who does cranio-sacral massage. Do everything they tell you.
Eat fish pills. My acupuncturist said so.
Walk. Don’t stop. Everyday. I have recently noticed, now that I am one, the hordes of middle-aged women walking, everywhere. Mostly alone. This isn’t the chatty stroll with friends and strollers of days gone by. This is a purposeful, “walk to save my sanity”. You can see it in the eyes, the set of the jaw. It works, better than anything else.
Have your Vitamin D levels checked, especially if you live north of the 40 degree latitude line. Supplement accordingly, immediately.
Keep a journal of the madness. You’ll see how it tracks with your cycle, somehow, and at least be able to anticipate the worst.
Eat really well. You know how. Just do it.
To those of you on the early side of this ride, those in your 20’s and 30’s, take heed. This train is runaway and headed straight for you. If I knew now what they should have told me then, I would’ve armed myself. If the body is in great shape when this design flaw kicks in, it will be a much easier wave to ride.
I have spent almost three decades building, birthing, nursing, and nurturing four children –and I’m still not done. I’ve earned my crazy pants and deserve a break, some respect, and some space. Our culture doesn’t know what to do with us. We need a mid-life version of the “Red Tent”, perhaps a year or so of escape, where the women who have made this journey can lend a guiding hand, maybe a lantern – or a drink. I’m told that there are great things on the other side of this bridge. Until then, keep in mind the positives:
Menstruation will eventually stop. Looking forward to that.
Your family may remain a bit wary of you. This can be useful.
You will, hopefully, prepare the young girls and women for the ride. If we don’t, who will?
I hear that there is a calm, present power that comes after menopause. We learn new things about ourselves, and our priorities shift, supposedly. It is a rich, complicated thing, this mid-life journey. Meet it with a smile and drink it up – or just kick its ass.
For more of Lisa’s writing, click here for the essay and she assures me that it will be easy to navigate to more from there.