I come before you, to stand behind you, to tell you something I know nothing about. ← Okay, I totally stole that line. It is something I heard in childhood – no idea who wrote it – but since I admit to stealing it and hyper-linked it then I guess it really isn’t plagiarism. In any case, the sentiment stands.
I write this letter to you, my dear nieces, to tell you a little secret about something nobody ever wants to discuss and which I actually know (nearly) nothing about: menopause. Here is the secret truth…it turns out that nobody else actually has a f*&@ing clue either about what exactly is going to happen to you as an individual or when it will begin. Except that it will, eventually. Once it is done, all will be revealed, apparently, but until then it is all crickets and whispers. There, now you know.
People will suggest books and websites and blogs and all sorts of things but the reality is that somewhere between the ages of 40 and 60 your hormones will go haywire and it cannot be predicted. This sucks. I know. I’m there and even as I am going through the stages leading up to “the change” I still do not have a clue.
Apparently 50 is the average age that most women begin menopause – and that, technically, means when your periods actually stop once and for all. [See Key Phrases below] Clearly, we, my dear nieces, are yet again, above average because I’m 51 and I’m still not there.
Well-intended souls will tell you to eat more yams, but cut down on coffee. Avoid alcohol altogether. Reduce your chocolate intake. In fact, you should only have one itsy-bitsy teeny-tiny chocolate chip per day and only the semi-sweet or bittersweet kind, never that milk chocolate nonsense. And forget about smoked/cured/salted/spicy things unless it is a special occasion in which case you may have one sliver of said item on the third Thursday of even-numbered months. You catch my drift.
Recently my doctor ran a hormone level test only to report that my “hormone levels were not consistent with peri-menopause, but neither does it rule it out.” Another clinician specialized in our lady parts told me these tests are always a crap-shoot and rarely tell a woman anything helpful.
A female friend who is just a few weeks older than me light-heatedly told me her periods just got lighter and lighter and eventually stopped. She said this using the past tense, implying that it was a thing she’d been through, finished and was done with. I have had a period nearly non-stop for over two months, very much in the present tense.
What I can tell you is that hormones, although invisible to the naked eye and more mysterious than the statues on Easter Island, are very much real. I recently had a blissful five days – five whole entire 24-hour days – without bleeding and I felt like a different person. I was not exhausted, I felt happy, silly and my old self again. Or, rather, my younger self.
And then, on day six, just before the day that God allegedly rested after creating the world, I felt the cloud of hormonal doom descend. The six million rubber bands were again strapped around my lower abdomen, cramps and backache ensued and I spent my following day – Sunday, the day of supposed rest and relaxation – curled up in a ball craving frosting and ice cream.
Not together, of course. That is to say, I wanted the frosting on its own and then also the ice cream, on its own. I would never put frosting on ice cream, because that would just be silly. Whipped cream, maybe, but not frosting. But I digress.
What I’m saying is that just when I thought perhaps it was all over – that at the ripe age of 51 years, one month and a week, and that my body had finally purged the last dregs – it started up again. The universe plays cruel jokes. I can, however, say that because I’d had that five-day break, I witnessed first-hand how dramatic the hormonal shift really is.
And so this next bit is really for those of you out there who love middle-aged women, as in luurvve love them. If you sense a shift in your woman’s mood, it is real. She knows that you suffer the consequences of this, as well, but please be gentle with her. It is for your own safety. Do not be condescending, do not blame her, do not get mad at her or fuel her inexplicable rage. Do not emit the words, “what the hell is wrong with you?” even though she is probably saying to herself “what the hell is wrong with me?”
Instead, try asking her if she would like some frosting or offer to rub her back or simply back away and say, “I think I’m going to read a book quietly in the other room, if you need anything, I’m here for you.” Choose a very long book. War and Peace or Ulysses might be good choices. Maybe both. And buy stock in Ben & Jerry’s.
half baked is my favorite, in case anyone close by is reading this. Frosting should be cream cheese flavor and, no, actual cream cheese is not the same thing. Donuts are also acceptable. If cake is also procured, it should be red velvet – and yes, I see the irony there – but don’t push your luck by making jokes about it. Cake is not a laughing matter. No, really, I’m fine. Deep Breaths. Om. Really. Okay, I’m calm again.
Seriously though, the months/years leading up to menopause are unpredictable and it sucks. If I ever truly figure it out, I’ll let you know. Until then, my sweet nieces (and everyone else), just embrace the weirdness of life and trust that all will be well. Now, pass the ice cream, please.
Pre-menopause = before the really nasty symptoms hit when you’re probably still in your 40s (possibly made up to distract you from having left your 30s)
Peri-menopause = when the actual symptoms hit probably when you’re in your late 40s or early 50s meaning that the end is near. Apparently, this is actually the worst part. Who knows? (possibly made up to distract you from your late 40s and rapidly approaching 50s)
Menopause = that time when the periods finally stop for more than one year. (possibly made up but I can’t figure out why, I’ll keep you posted)
Post-menopause = the time in a woman’s life after the periods and symptoms have all stopped. I gather this happens around 97. (most certainly made up to keep us hoping for something better)
Pray-menopause = the time between pre-menopause and post-menopause when you pray hourly that the whole bloody mess will just be end. Pun intended. (completely made up just because it made me giggle)