Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Continuation, Part II (Menopause)

Oh, but we’re not done yet. After your child-bearing years comes menopause. I remember when I first started my period, menopause seemed like a wonderful vision that would never be realized. Of course, when you’re twelve, being in your fifties or sixties seems impossible anyway, but I truly longed for the day when I would no longer have to anticipate my mood swings and the mess of having a period. Ha! Be careful what you wish for…

It just so happens that the women in my family hit menopause earlier than most. My grandmother was 35 when she started menopause and two of my maternal aunts were in their late thirties. I was 33! My doctor’s first reaction was dismissal – there was no way I was in menopause at 33 years old. Oh yeah? Then why am I getting hot flashes that make me want to strip naked and jump in a tub of ice in the middle of winter? Why is it that I wake up two or three nights a week and have to change the sheets on my bed because I have sweat-soaked my pajamas and the bedcovers? Why am I having these depressive episodes that make me want to jump off the edge of the Grand Canyon and why, oh, why did my last period come to stay for 12 days?

Menopause introduced me to the world of antidepressants and psychotherapy. It also turned me into someone who is forced to carry tampons in my purse at all times (I don’t even like to carry a purse, for God’s sake, and now I have to have one just for my feminine protection items !?) because you never know when Aunt M might show up. Could be 20 days from your last period, could be four days later – it’s like playing Russian Roulette with my emotions and my underwear.

Fortunately for the human race, I was finished having children. Unfortunately for my children, I have been reduced to a lunatic whose brain is intermittently and unpredictably bathed in chemicals that tell me I am no longer necessary to the human race. You see, strictly evolutionarily speaking, I have done my part and now I can go. That doesn’t necessarily mean I have to die – it just means that my existence is no longer vital, so the species won’t mourn my loss. Thanks for the hostess gift, you can stay to party a little, but don’t let the door hit you on the ass on the way out.

I was truly freaked out by the strength of the effects menopause had on my brain. I am a self-described control freak who tends to be very emotionally sensitive, but I counter that with a strong dose of critical thinking and manage to see the world in a fairly realistic light most of the time. Menopause tossed that all down the garbage chute. Despite having an incredibly supportive prince of a husband and two fabulous children who showed me in many different ways that I was wanted and needed, I had an overwhelming sense that I was weak and pathetic and unworthy of them. I was sure I had made all the wrong decisions in raising my children and was doomed to continue to do so. I occasionally questioned whether they would all be better off without me, although the control freak side of me won out there – “ain’t nobody else gonna raise MY kids”. Then, almost like magic, when my period would subside, I was back to feeling competent and optimistic and sure of myself. What the hell? I was truly blindsided by this every time my hormones would surge and frightened by my inability to either predict or prevent this. I beat myself up for months trying to give little pep talks (“suck it up”, “you can do this”, “just ignore it and get through it”), but when I finally pictured my poor little wrinkled brain trapped in this vat full of chemicals telling it that I SUCK, I realized that this was more powerful than the boot camp instructor yelling at me to get over it.

Being a control freak, I am also big on personal responsibility and so it was difficult for me to let go and ask for help. I was resistant to taking medications to control this, but after my first bout with a severe depression that made me want to kill myself I decided that countering the evil chemical soup in my brain with some more chemicals didn’t seem quite so dramatic.

My husband, on the other hand, had hormones that informed him it was his biological imperative to spread his seed starting at about fourteen. He was to look for the prettiest, fittest girls and sow away. Because he can continue to make sperm for decades, his usefulness to the human race will not be in question for a long time to come. Fortunately for him, Mother Nature hasn’t yet figured out how to discern which men have had vasectomies, so his hormones will just keep on telling him to get laid. How nice for him!

My husband will dispute the size of the discrepancy in genetic justice, purporting that the men have to exist with the women throughout their lives, and I do respect that. There is just nothing quite so powerful as your own body telling you that it knows how you ought to live your life and judging you for your choices. Thankfully, I have come to terms with the fact that life is more than a series of biologically-driven events and that helps give me perspective. I have also acknowledged and come to accept the fact that, as a woman, I have been given the short straw and have chosen to reward myself for my struggles accordingly. Belgian chocolates, lots of rest, long, hot baths and pedicures tend to help soothe my injured psyche and are fairly simple to indulge in as I see fit. Until my genetic lines somehow manages to evolve past its current state into a more socially defined realm of women and men, there will be women in my family who will be forced to indulge as well. My daughters will always know where to get the best chocolates and foot soaks. At least I can give them that….

6 comments:

Jerri said...

You can and will give them much, much more than that, Kari. You can't begin to imagine all you're giving your daughters.

Carrie Wilson Link said...

Thanks for reminding me it's time to take my meds!

Scott from Oregon said...

No doubt, women have a rougher second half than men...

But you get to statistically live longer.

Prema said...

It's no nice to hear this from another women, instead of turning it in my own mind. Makes me wonder about menopause arrival. Some cultures really knew how to honor all these cycles that women hold....imagine how differently it might be perceived if there were positive support all around.

Sue said...

Thanks for some insight into my future, where I see myself with in the midst of menopause with three teenagers .... (I am now almost forty-four, and didn't have children until I was in my thirties).

I wish there were a comparable "male menopause" -- although I have heard from my surgeon friend that this does indeed occur, including "erectile dysfunction" -- my husband assures me that this would be worse, but I don't know!

Kim said...

You give your daughters SO much, every day. And the courage and strength it took to ask for help when you needed it, no matter how difficult it was, are amazing.

You are a terrific role model, who did not let her hormones get the best of her!

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