Pssst…. You! Yes you!
Can I ask you a question? When was the last time you had an open conversation about your hormones and the changes you are undergoing? Seriously. Did you mention in passing to your doctor that you were struggling with sleep? Or did you and a friend laugh around the fact that if you’re ever on your deathbed, they will pluck that lone chin hair for you before anyone can come say a tearful goodbye? Did your mom shake her head at you when you sat in front of your freezer with the door open, wishing you could dunk your feet in that tub of ice cream to cool yourself off from the hot flashes?
The first time I heard the word “menopause”, I was 14 years old and in the parking lot of a shopping centre with my mom during a particularly icy polar vortex in the middle of February. As she exited the car, she removed her heavy parka, and walked across the parking lot with her bare arms exposed to the elements, as she fanned herself furiously until we reached the inside of the store, where I noticed that she was sweating profusely. This was 1987 and women were thin because of cigarettes and diet Coke, not because of exercise, so I was surprised to see my mom break a sweat. “Menopause”, she breathed heavily.
And we didn’t speak of it again.
All I knew was that the process appeared to be extremely unpleasant and came with yelling and mood swings.
At the peak of it, when I was 19, and my mom was 46 (my current age), I knew I had to move out. My father grabbed my arm as I put the last box in the car and said imploringly, “Take me with you”. And that was that.
I thought back to my friends and I. No one talked about their menstrual cycle, their cramps, their mood swings, or their cravings. It was like Fight Club, where everyone knew about it, but wasn’t allowed to talk about it. We had all these euphemisms to describe our cycle: Aunt Flo, Crimson Tide, That Time of the Month, Ketchup week, Beaujolais Nouveau Season, the British Have Landed, Painters in the Stairway, the Russians are Coming, and my personal favorite: Shark Week.
Even now, women speak about menopause in hushed tones, calling it the “Change of Life”, “Autumn of our Life”, the “Third Age”, as though it is something that needs to be softened to protect the general population’s sensitivities. Unlike the descriptive language surrounding menstruation, menopause is cloaked in mystery.
Well mystery no more! I am here to start the conversation so that you can be as informed as possible about this process. Who’s with me?
I am not a physician and I don’t have all of the medical answers, but I am a woman who is interested in reading her body’s owner’s manual from beginning to end so that I can enjoy myself as much as possible along the twists and turns of life.
Here is what I am suggesting: that we take the shame and embarrassment out of the equation so that we may talk freely to end the stigma that these hormonal changes dictate that our life as women are over, that we are presumably no longer worthy of being fit, vibrant, healthy, sensual and sexual creatures, or that we are literally and figuratively drying up, waiting to die as we turn into weathered, lifeless creatures.
In various cultures, the Goddess is portrayed as having three faces: Virgin, Mother, and Crone. They are portrayed as equals, one just as important as the other. The Virgin represents abundance, possibilities. The Mother represents fertility (of both mind and body), and the Crone represents wisdom.
Take the Hindu Goddess Kali. While she is often associated with death, time, destruction, violence and sexuality, she also embodies shakti: feminine energy, creativity, fertility, and birth. She is both the Devourer and the Mother of All Things. Sound familiar? I can feel the head nods from here.
We are complex, rich, passionate creatures, and we need to be able to talk openly about that which makes us who we are.
In the next few blog posts, I’d like to tackle the elements that contribute to our well-being as we get older to focus on our longevity and quality of life. I hope you’re ready for openness and honesty. We’ve been waiting so long for it.
Written by Genevieve Herzog