What I expected after 11 years of perimenopause: My cycle would just stop cycling, the hot flashes and night sweats would simply end, I’d dab a nostalgic tear from my eye, and with a bittersweet wave goodbye to fertility, I’d toss my tampons in the trash, and start taking tai chi and watercolor classes, and that would be that.
That is so not how it’s playing out.
Hormonal hell. That’s what this is. And what does it feel like when all the hormones that make you feel lovely and perky and sweet just dry up? A particular YouTube video illustrates it best, and if you truly want to understand my state of mind, you must play along.
Stop right where you’re reading, and google “Burger and Fries cat.”
Go ahead, I’ll wait … just sit here and listen to the smarmy “on hold” muzac …
Yup. “Burger and Fries.” The menopausal maelstrom in-cat-nate.
Hot flashes and night sweats. Pssshhh. Those are the least of my problems. Total psychological upheaval is more like it. I’m scrambling over the rubble of a massive 8.0 biochemical earthquake, trying to locate myself, desperately hoping that when I find me, I’m not just a bloodied and bashed corpse.
Debra’s all gone.
Yes, that’s how it feels. I don’t know who I am right now, but I can tell you that it’s as if all my skin has been peeled away and my entire surface is nothing but raw nerve. Any random comment could be a “ping” of rock salt onto bare flesh. And I react in kind. Apparently estrogen is the filter that keeps you from slicing the random commentator into pieces with one vicious swipe of your claws.
And now my filter’s gone. What I used to shrug off now gets my full, fierce attention. Like my boss. Used to be when he’d get mouthy with me, I’d just tune him out like a radio station that’s turned to static. But lately, when he says something annoying, like “Good morning,” it occurs to me that he’d look simply fabulous with a 12-inch metal pica ruler plunged into his forehead.
And it’s not just the anger filter that’s gone. It’s the weepy filter too. Example: Last weekend, I took my daughter to Target. She needed some bath towels. While she’s picking some out, I realize I’m becoming uncontrollably misty-eyed and quivery-chinned. She notices, and says I look “pathetic.” What’s the matter, she asks. I mumbled something incoherent about a new towel.
“Mom, do you want a towel?”
I nod “yes,” like a snuffling, overtired toddler.
“So, get a towel.”
“I can’t!” I whimper, “I don’t like any of them!”
And as I stand there trying not to burst into tears amid four huge aisles stacked to the roof with towels, not one of which is acceptable to me, I hear a thump-thump-thump: From behind the glass wall where I’m stuck watching “me” melt down, I pound on the glass and manage to get my attention long enough to mouth the words, “This is not normal.”
And I hear me. And I realize I need help.
So, I went home and searched the internet for information, but it’s all about the “symptoms” and “treatments,” as if menopause is a disease. It’s not. It’s a transformation, and there’s precious little to be found about the psychological experience of your hormones shutting off. It’s not just hot flashes and wicked insomnia and depression and despair. Those are symptomatic beads on an experiential string. It’s the string itself I want to understand – the psychological reverse-metamorphosis of going through puberty backwards; the feeling of helplessly plummeting down the rabbit hole into a place where nothing makes sense anymore.
Finding nothing useful on the internet, I turned to the real experts: my friends.
It took two hours on the phone, but Sunny finally convinced me that I was not, in fact, insane. She told me that when her hormones shut down, one day she was screaming at her husband for “killing” an inflatable chair — evidence that he did not love their daughter. He stared at her in wide-eyed horror.
Oh, I said … sort of like when my husband lets water run down the driveway while he’s brewing beer and it means he secretly hates Gaia and wants her dead?
Yes, she said, just like that.
Then I emailed Amy, who wrote “Marrying George Clooney,” the only book I’ve found yet that accurately captures the experience of menopause, and told her I just feel completely wrong. And she “got” it. She offered comfort and reassurance, and said, “Call me. You are not alone. I swear. Pinky swear. I love you.” And then she left a similar voicemail on my cell phone that I can carry with me at all times and replay in case of an emergency, like if I need a washcloth to go with that towel.
And finally, I spent an evening with Jesse, who a couple days earlier, I’d told that I feel like how John William Waterhouse’s Lady of Shallot looks, and was considering heaving myself into traffic to make it stop, and hey, wouldn’t you just love to spend some time with me? And she said yes. Now, that’s a friend.
Thanks to these three angels and megadoses of evening primrose oil that are finally kicking in and insulating my exposed nerves from mouthy bosses and towel tragedies, I seem to be pulling back from the precipice … just enough to breathe a little. It occurs to me that I could, might, maybe, just possibly, survive menopause. With a little help from my friends, that is.
But, just in case, I’m going to put all the pica rulers away.