Ugh. I have resisted writing on this topic for so long.
As much as I like to be as open and honest as I can be, there are many limitations to writing what is essentially a public diary – I can’t spill other people’s secrets, I don’t want to stir the pot with that small cadre of foul people who seem to live to watch and comment upon what the rest of us do in the trolliest of fashion, I want to focus on the good stuff, etc. And of course I would prefer not to put myself out there as uncool or unsexy, which this most definitely is.
The “this” I’m talking about is “the big change”. That phenomena that happens to all women when they reach a certain age. That thing that renders us the butt of jokes, unfuckable, no longer valuable or interesting, hardens us into crones to be relegated to one small corner to either never be heard from again or heard from too much as we complain about the price of wine while collecting cats and pretending not to notice the eye-rolls of strangers. Young women make sure to mention that you’re old if young men act too interested, young men look through you instead of at you. All the cliches of the disappeal of aging are upped to the final level once you admit to no longer bleeding.
I too made the old comments regularly. This is me at the 5 minute mark on Morton Downey a few decades ago telling someone they’re too old to rock. So cocky. So fertile. So dumb.
So here I am many moons later, a bit less arrogant and now feeling conflicted but compelled to talk about this dirty secret that’s not so secret. I can’t stay on the downlow anymore because every time I have a conversation about it with a friend we end up telling each other something we didn’t know and then marveling at how confusing it all is. The majority of us are in the dark regardless of how much information is out there because it doesn’t fully make sense unless you’re living it. And most everything you read is so fucking positive and glossy that it only serves to frustrate and isolate if you’re not having that kind of experience. Which so far, no one that I know is.
Men, you need to know this too if you have any women in your life over 40. If you’re gay, kudos to you for side-stepping the whole mess. But even then it can’t hurt to understand why some of your female friends are suddenly acting so weird.
So allow me to be the one to sing the dirge. Periomenopause is armageddon. Full on devastation ARMAGEDDON. It is the zombie apocalypse of the female soul. It is hot, ashen death on a flaming horse, galloping into your life and wiping out everything safe and known in its path with a black scythe forged of confusion and sadness. It is the red wedding, albeit with less blood.
Many years ago I asked my mom what to expect and she said, “Eh, it’s not much. A few hot flashes here and there.” So I danced into my forties thinking, “I got this.” Completely forgetting that my mother is hard as nails and not one for fussy bedside stuff, despite being a registered nurse. When I was a kid we pretty much had to have a limb hanging off before she’d get concerned. Example: Myv sister cut her head open and needed a stitch or two. Mom took two chunks of hair on either side of the cut and tied them together. There, you’re fine, don’t touch it for a while, walk it off.
Which is not to say that she isn’t/wasn’t a loving and nurturing mother. She just had too many kids and didn’t get overly excited very often. This works in my favor in some ways; I’m not easily flustered by illness and don’t need a lot of attention when I’m sick. I’m calm in a crisis. One time, when I was very young, in the epicenter of the HIV crisis, a shitty doctor at a free clinic took a look at my baby starter tattoo and leather gear and told me I probably had AIDS. Instead of panicking like most people would, I told him he was an asshole and walked out. My friends were astounded at my lack of concern. It wasn’t that. I just knew from a young age that my destiny was going to be of the walking it off variety.
So I had a certain pride about my hardiness and entered the thunderdome unconcerned and unprepared. After that conversation (lies!) with my mother, I did read up on it casually, pre-symptom, but only because people kept handing me books about the topic. I guess they assumed it was time to get me thinking about it, maybe they knew something I didn’t. I would flip through the pages and quickly get bored with the science. The gist, it seemed, was that there would be some minor discomfort here and there, but that it would also be this wonderful, special time of change and growth.
Turns out not so much wonderful or special. But the discomfort was present and accounted for. One day I woke up and hot flashes had arrived. I thought, why am I suddenly on fire? Am I dying?
The term hot flash only brushes the surface of the experience. It’s like calling Godzilla a gecko. It’s in the vicinity, but a few miles away. One minute you are a normal, functional, rational human being and the next you are out of your mind with the raging desire to tear off your clothes and run screaming into the street begging someone to throw cold water on you. Why don’t the books describe that?
One time at the start the ex and I were having sex and I had a flash in the middle of it. He said it was like fucking the sun. And then in a “flash” (see how I did that there?) they were happening every hour. At night I would fall asleep only to wake up an hour later burning up, to then throw off all the covers and open the windows in the dead of winter, fall back asleep, then wake up freezing a short time later. Rinse and repeat.
I became chronically exhausted from lack of REM sleep. I couldn’t think straight and was often prickly and weepy. Finally after months of trying every useless, often expensive, black cohosh bullshit product on the shelves, I went to my gyno, an adorable little Chinese lady who thankfully finds me entertaining, and took her by the lapels of her white lab coat, looked into her sweet, warm, brown eyes and snarled, “Fix this!!!!!!!”
Okay, I didn’t actually touch her. I think I probably cried and complained until she got the level of desperation. She put me on hormone replacement therapy, which did help. I still had hot flashes but less frequently so I only woke up once or twice during the night. I read up on it in earnest this time and found numerous reasons to throw books across the room. One woman talked about how she loved how it felt like she was burning off her old self, and she cherished the flashes for ushering her into her new, energetically fresh world. I made a mental note to to find her and smother her to death with a leftover maxipad, once I got a full night’s sleep.
I have read that many women suddenly decide to get divorced when they hit this stage in life. One minute things are fine and the next he’s gotta go. I’m guessing it’s because the nesting urge fades. When you have all those breeding/coupling hormones flowing in your body you will gladly do what it takes to be in a relationship. You will feather that nest with sandwiches and blowjobs to make sure your partner is happy and thinks you’re wonderful. Once that need to breed shifts, you think, “Make your own goddamn sandwich. And bring me a fan and some ice cubes on your way back.”
I’m not saying that the desire to be in a relationship disappears, but it shifts for many. In my case the vase cracked open in all the weak spots and the room was flooded. And because I didn’t fully understand what was happening to me, I couldn’t find my way back in time to repair it and keep from drowning. I needed to take some time off to run wild in the streets and sort out my head and he couldn’t deal with the madness. I hurt him too much. So he grabbed the first non perio-woman he could find and moved her into his apartment immediately, where things could again be safe and warm, never to look back again. It was devastating.
Meanwhile, my brain was so hot it was on constant overload. I picked up a then 24-year old boyfriend who is somehow oddly fearless in the face of lady issues. I drank and partied like I was 24 myself. I wept and wept and wept. I think I cried every night for a solid year. I’ve talked about this a lot already, but in the context of perio-menopause–at its peak I felt I was too damaged and crazy to continue and swallowed a bottle of pills while drunk and weeping. Which of course scared the crap out of my family and friends and didn’t do much to make me seem less crazy. Up until the change I’d always been able to keep a bit of a lid on the madness. Now it was really out there for the world to see. And the ex didn’t even send a text to see if I was okay. That was a big pill to swallow in itself but indicative of how far I had been swept out to the deep, black bottomless part of the sea, by my hormones, by this shift in life.
It was not a healthy or happy time. But is a zombie apocalypse of the body and soul ever healthy and happy? Unless maybe you’re some kind of super evolved uberwoman who has the good nature, healthy upbringing and foresight to view it all as a holy flame burning off the dead branches of our wise tree selves. Which alas, I am not.
But it does turn out that it kind of is exactly that. I did exorcise much stuff that needed to go–pain and shame that had been buried in my cells my whole life. I am infinitely clearer and stronger because of it. I can honestly say I’m happy now. But I would have preferred to get here via the cool breeze of wisdom feathering across my face instead of the hot balls of hormonal chaos teabagging me til I gasped for air.
So here’s what I have for you through my own trial and error. If you’re at a certain age and feel like you’re going crazy, it’s most likely because you are. If it feels like it sucks that’s probably because it does. Talk to other women your age. Try not to destroy your relationships until you can get a hold on what is real and what is hormonally charged. But don’t beat yourself up too much if you do, and if your psyche is screaming at you to take a step backward or forward, be brave and do it. Just know that some people may not want to wait for the dust to settle and losing them is a chance you might have to take. Life has a way of forcing change whether we’re ready for it or not.
Practically – read anything Dr. Christiane Northrup has to say. She’s not annoying and she knows everything about everything. Try all the herbal remedies that people recommend and then when that doesn’t work don’t be afraid to go to your doctor and ask about hormone replacement therapy. Don’t let anyone shame you into thinking you have to do it “naturally” if that option isn’t helping.
And lastly, and most importantly, know that this too shall pass and if you do the inner work you will come out better on the other side. I finally shed 15 lbs that I’ve been trying to lose for a decade. It melted off with very little effort and I know it’s because my hormones are evening out and my body is ready for a new, very much alive chapter. I still feel sexy and vibrant. The idea that it’s a death of all things feminine is a lie, just like these happy women saying it isn’t a death is a lie. It is most definitely a passing of who we were. But like all deaths, it’s also a portal into a new season.
Probably the season of the witch, but I’ll take it, and gladly.
Okay, let’s not talk about this again. If you see me in person, you keep your filthy whore mouth shut unless you’re waving a fan and asking me for ice cubes.