Thursday, March 18, 2010

A Bout of the Crazies

There is a time in a woman’s life when everything she has known (and counted on) is called into question; when the earth opens up and threatens to swallow her whole; when the neatly-drawn perimeters of her sane life are seemingly cast into a mesh of shady intersections, all of which obscure loopy or erratic creatures waiting to emerge at unexpected turns. It’s called Menopause – also known as The Change or, as I think I will name it today, A Bout of the Crazies.

Hormones are freakishly-powerful things. They can make you bawl your heart out for no apparent reason, out of nowhere; they can make you feel chilled and on fire at the same time; they can turn you into a no-holds-barred nymphomaniac one day and an utterly barren entity the next. They can torment your mind with the big What If? ....until you’re absolutely convinced that a) you’re on the verge of a nervous breakdown, or b) some adolescent version of yourself has time traveled back into your 40 or 50-something body. Oh, and I’m just getting started.

At 48, I’ve been aware that on some level, my system has been gearing up for The Change for a number of years now. Mood swings, the occasional night sweat, and skin once baby-soft now impossibly dry in places – nothing too scary. Until recently. Now, I want to start a movement. I want to rally together all the women like me who have been caught off guard by this Bout of the Crazies; this on-again, off-again feeling of cracking up, or becoming unhinged, however fleeting. Of being temporarily possessed or taken over, and then left to recover my level-headed self, wondering what all the fuss was about – over, and over again. Is this when womens husbands tend to leave them, because they no longer recognize the woman they married, or they’re ill-equipped to deal with the swings? And if you’re single like myself, do you resign yourself to another 5 or 10 years of solitary life, until which time the storm has passed?

The medical profession – along with the pharmaceutical industry – has worked tirelessly over recent decades to pathologize (and medicate) this life transition, which makes me sad. Because while it has been quite hellish, I passionately believe it is not an illness, and I would never trade the experience for a more convenient, synthetic way of life, the way some women do when they take those pills to stop menstruating. A life with soul, I think, of real creativity, is often born of that which is messy, beast-like or wretched. I don’t want to be a cardboard cut-out of myself. I want to live my life, and learn to find strength and wisdom in what nature intended. And I want to find a man who is strong and unwavering; who will not bolt in the other direction at the first sign of troubled waters, but who also won’t take on my crazies as if they were his own.

My friend Amy Ferris, whose book on menopause (and on marrying George Clooney) has lightened my load many times over, says that menopause is all about giving birth to yourself. That you go through a lot of the same shit you did when you were a teenager, but on a deeper level, and this time, you are challenged to respond to it in a life-giving way. I keep telling myself that.

But I’d also like to hear from other women who’ve been through it. Is it sort of like being in labor? What’s your story?


Terri said...

I am one of three sisters. I'm the youngest in a bookclub of eleven, a quilting group of twelve and a hiking group of ten - and I'm suddenly smack in the middle of the crazies myself! I've spent years listening to my friends discuss hot flashes, lowered lbido, thinning hair and absentee memory, while I threaded their needles for them and nonchalantly thought "that will never happen to me."

Well, turns out my mind is not stronger than my body's ability to age without my say so. But while my sister complains about sweating through two pairs of pajamas in a night, and my friend Darlene sends me emails at 4:30 a.m., I find myself in that small percentage of women who are afflicted with severe insomnia.

It's not that I wake up two or three times a night to pee - as many of my aforementioned friends do. Or that I fall asleep at 9:00 p.m. only to be wide awake at 4:30 a.m., not able to get back to sleep for another two hours. Me? I can't get to sleep. At all. Night after night after night.

I have tried EVERYTHING. And it's not my mind that doesn't stop - it does. I fall into a slight trance-like state, comfortable but not sleeping. If I take an over the counter sleep aid I sometimes fall asleep within about an hour, only to wake up approximately eleven times for the next eight or nine hours. I counted.

So, now I'm going to the West Coast Women's Health clinic, which is NOT paid by the wonderful Canadian Healthcare system. I'm researching, reading, talking to my doctor, taking a sleeping pill while we sort out what is going on. Right now, it looks like Adrenal Fatigue.....

Anyway....long comment to say that - women's health issues at mid-life are as varied as we women are. It's important to share information, get connected, and take control of our lives. Be your own advocate and listen to your heart and body - you know yourself best.

Oh - and definitely the time to practice good self-care!! Like mediation....massages....manicures....pedicures....:)


Jesse Mendes said...

Terri, how good of you to share this. Your concluding thoughts -- that womens health issues at mid-life are as varied as women are -- is perhaps the most important to remember, for all of us, because coping with The Change can be all that much more difficult if we invalidate or minimize our experience in comparison to that of others. I would look into something called DHEA, which is fantastic for the adrenals and hormonal levels in general (I am on it). Stay in touch, and thanks again for sharing this.


Jo said...

Hi. I'm about to be 47 and just found your blog. UK, not North America but the crazies are just the same. Glad to be here.

Jesse Mendes said...

Well, Jo, welcome -- glad to have you. I'd love to hear anything you have to share, now or in future. Thanks for the note!