It’s 4 a.m. I’m sitting at the dining room table next to an open window, watching a waxing gibbous moon, pondering the complexities of the new phase of my life. As you all know, I’m newly transplanted to the West Coast, and have been processing that massive life change on this page.
But that’s not the change that I’m talking about.
The life change that’s got me up at 4 a.m. is The Change. The period (ha!) of life when women become womyn, when our reason for existence morphs from childbearing to knitting sweaters for distantly imagined grandchildren, when — according to some men — we shrivel up and turn into dustballs, never again to be the subject of any man’s fancy.
I’m talking, of course, about the dreaded menopause.
I’ll stop for a moment so Those Men can leave the room. You know the ones: the guys who get grossed out by tampon commercials, who whine and moan every time a woman mentions even having a period, who wouldn’t be caught dead buying/carrying/looking at sanitary supplies, even in an emergency.
We’ll wait here while they leave the room. Maybe they can watch a movie like Saw or Hostel, or that human centipede one! Or catch some soothing TV show like Bizarre Foods while they sit on the couch farting and scratching, eating old Cheetos out of their navel lint. I certainly don’t want to offend their delicate sensibilities.
Now that we’ve separated the womyn from the boyz, let’s talk brass tacks.
This menopause thing ain’t for sissies. First, those reliable periods around which you could predict the orderly procession of mood swings — and thus contain them to the padded cell stocked with peanut butter cups and Cheeze-Ums Pringles — those reliable sign posts have gone. The best you can hope for is a period once every three months, with guerrilla mood swings attacking in the middle of a yoga studio chi-alignment deep-breathing exercise.
“Why the f*ck am I lying on a sweaty mat? Where does that idiot instructor get off telling me where to put my navel? What sh*t-for-brains invented these sausage-casing pants?”
Soon your chi is a snarling beast who will devour the next hyper-flexible Lululemon-clad TriDelt who breathes in your direction.
And then there are the ineptly named Hot Flashes. My sister calls them Power Surges, which sounds so Warrior Princess I’d like to adopt it into regular use. In my experience, these superheated moments are relegated to nighttime, which is traditionally when my temp drops to about 86F, and I fall into hibernation for eight hours. But here I sit, 36F wind blowing on me, a cup of raspberry leaf tea in one hand and a tumbler of ice water in the other, trying diligently to stop my lower back from melting.
The best part about these uninvited heat exchanges is that my Hot Husband (and I mean that in both senses of the word) and I can finally agree on how many blankets to use and whether the fan should blow on us all night in the dead of winter. Of course it should — because now it’s necessary to have some method of lifting the layer of 150F haze off the surface of my skin at 4 a.m. Windows open in 35F temps? Yes, please! Sleeping naked to avoid having to rip off the offending pajamas that trap excess heat? Absolutely!
The last time I was this persistently warm, I was pregnant with my daughter. I was hot all the time. At least now it’s only for about an hour a day.
There are other menopause symptoms too, though because I’m only in “peri-menopause,” I have only gotten a sample pack. I have been experiencing more migraines, but on the whole, my peri-‘pausal world has limited to hastily discarded sweaters and blankets and the addition to my diet of uterus-soothing tea. I’ve always had it easy in the female-business department, so I’d like to think this won’t get much worse. But if it does get worse, I’m okay with that too.
Because this whole nasty thing of being alive is one long (if you’re lucky) adaptation to changes. Not a day goes by when something doesn’t change for every one of us, and at least with menopause, we women know it’s coming and can mentally prepare for it. My sister, the wise woman that she is, recently pointed out that women handle change better than men because it’s in our faces all the time; when we’re kids, we “change” into women at a certain age, and are forced to ponder the meaning of adulthood much more tangibly than boys are. In our early adulthood, we’re either having babies or thinking about having babies or thinking about not having babies, and the mental process for all of those experiences pushes us farther along the change continuum. And if we have kids, we’re watching that change happen every minute, from the soft babies we held to the rough-and-tumble kids who break our hearts by pushing away from us.
Beyond just motherhood, we’re also faced with the changes our bodies make, without our knowledge or consent, and the constant pressure to remain young (or young looking) in the face of those changes. Gray hair. Wrinkles. Sagging bodies. We see airbrushed models and wonder how we could make ourselves look that good, while our reflections tell us “that good” is well behind us. Time marches on.
And when we’re done being everyday Mom, we move into the next stage, empty-nesters. The change involved in being newly unparented is, in my circumstances, less being left behind and more being pushed off the edge of that nest into an ocean of possibilities. No longer protected by the duties of focusing on the kids, Tim and I are left to consider our individual selves as we relate to the world at large, and that is taking some adjustment. It’s affecting each of us differently, and we’re helping each other figure out the pieces of our new selves.
It’s not lost on me that the confluence of perimenopause and being an empty nester occurs at this stage in life. I’m shedding a skin, making room for what comes next, whatever that may be. My kids have moved to a different segment of my life, and my ME has moved into the spotlight. While I search for a job and explore my new environment, I restructure my perception of the world, tweaking it as these daily changes require me to refocus.
So if you chose to read all of this instead of watching Human Centipede for the fourth time, I thank you. You’ll probably hear more from me at 4 a.m., as I embrace my transmogrification from solid-sleeper to pre-dawn-hyper-alertness. I like working in the middle of the night, no interruptions to my thoughts.
The change is going to happen, and the more willing I am to embrace it, the easier it will be.