Hot flashes. Mood swings. No more periods. These were the three pillars of menopause, as far as i was concerned. I remember being in 8th grade and watching one of my best friend’s moms go through this. We would run up to Lizz’s bedroom and laugh after watching Mrs. Gloner stick her head in a freezer to cool down. We would turn our faces away and pretend we couldn’t hear her extensively screaming at one of the children for some minor offense. We would sit beside her and console her silently when she broke down into hysterical sobbing. This is what we knew of menopause; sure the hot flashes and mood swings were enough to turn a relatively stable womyn crazy, but at least there were no more periods.
A LIST OF THINGS I *DIDN’T* REALIZE ABOUT HAVING MENOPAUSE
- Menopause messes with your weight.
Menopause lowers my estrogen level, which affects my lean mass and my bone density. Suddenly, despite exercising 6 days a week (typically for 1.5-2.25 hours each time), i am GAINING weight. So i adjust my diet. Nothing. So i adjust how i use weight lifting machines. Nothing. So i get more sleep. Nothing. So i get less sleep. Nothing. So i use pre-workout mix before the gym. Nothing. It’s been six weeks now of intensively working out, and i am still a good five pounds overweight.
*** I’ve been hesitant to discuss this with anyone. Most of the womyn in my life are bigger than i am, and they probably don’t want to hear some skinny bitch talk about how she can’t fit into her size 4 skirts anymore. So… let me break this down another way. I just spent the last year getting sliced open and surgically implanted and constantly drugged. I lost my hair and breasts and one of my implants – essentially losing my sense of femininity. I lost my energy, strength, and the muscle mass that i had literally spent the last two decades cultivating. Now here i am a year later, all scarred up and weak and squishy and physically deformed … and all i have been wanting to do for the last five months of treatment is start putting my returning energy to good use at the gym so that i could get back to looking and feeling like myself. Except no matter how much i monitor what i eat, how much i eat, and when i eat, and no matter how many days i play racquetball or hike or lift weights or climb 123 flights of stairs on the StairMaster or run 7 miles on the elliptical at a resistance level of 12, I STILL CAN’T GET BACK TO LOOKING LIKE ME.
- Menopause messes with your sex drive.
Sex used to be fun – right? I mean, I’m pretty sure i liked it. I’m pretty sure that there were periods in my life when i associated with some pretty questionable people *because* of it. But now? Now, i don’t think about it. I don’t want it. I don’t miss it. And when i find myself about to engage in it, i dissociate from it. My parts and my drive have both dried up…at 37 years old…seriously, living another 3-6 decades without ongoing sex is going to turn me into the biggest bitch anyone has ever seen. I already know.
- Menopause messes with your ability to watch television like a normal human.
If i cry over a Subaru commercial one more time, i seriously might throw my computer monitor through my bedroom window. And can someone please tell me WHY the plights of vampires and werewolves are so overwhelmingly emotional to me? (Okay, that’s always been true. I’m just trying to figure out why we’re all so obsessed with these types of shows.) Seriously, though. I’m *always* crying about some character, or actress, or plot twist, or commercial break. I get these breakouts on my face whenever i cry, and for the last two months, there has been this permanent trail of whiteheads along the right-side edge of my face, a testament to me lying in bed in fetal position, crying over yet another scenario that isn’t even real.
- Menopause messes with your appetite.
I might be making this one up. I just can’t figure out why all i ever want to do is eat, even when i am not even fucking hungry.
- Menopause messes with your sleep.
I’ve honestly had insomnia since i was an infant. My mother will attest to this. I take comfort in reading articles about how people who sleep less are typically more intelligent than the average person. Still, it’s annoying. I take a lot of drugs (prescribed and otherwise) to get normal amounts of sleep. It used to be that as long as i didn’t drink alcohol that night, and i abstained from coffee after 11am, and i worked out that day, and i took some melatonin an hour before taking 1-2 sleeping meds, i would eventually fall asleep and STAY asleep for 6-7 hours.
Now i still wake up throughout the night to pee or stress or wonder if the latest episode of Scandal is available on the Hulu website yet or think about how many more pets i will have in the course of my lifetime. I wake up, even while drugged on the highest allowed dosages of prescription medications, and i stay up – compelled to stay in bed just in case i do get tired again, but fully aware that this will be yet another night where i’ll be missing out on at least one REM cycle.
I even wake up early now. Automatically. No matter what time i went to sleep the night before. “Sleeping in” used to mean waking up in the P.M. hours. Now, “sleeping in” means not waking up before the sunrise.
- Menopause messes with your finances.
I’m already hungry from extreme exercising, and emotional after watching all this TV drama, and irritable because i stopped giving my body bursts of oxytocin and sex-induced endorphins … and now my sleep is further disrupted because these hot flashes are suffocating me all night? Sleep-deprived Tarah typically uses her insomnia to peruse the Internet … which leads to Internet shopping … which leads to things like a $700 purchase of sheets and a mattress pad that are specifically designed for thermally incompatible couples but seem like they could also work well for a menopausal Party of One. The sheets and pad are pretty damn cooling … but yeah. I’ve noticed a significant increase in my impulsive purchases. (That reminds me: Where the hell is that Himalayan sea salt lamp with the built-in dimmer switch? That should have been delivered by now, and i need that to balance out the ions in my bedroom atmosphere!)
- Menopause messes with ALL OF YOUR BODY PARTS.
It’s not just the weight and the vagina and the hormones. My skin is dry…and dehydrated-looking. It itches. My hair is growing back with a vengeance, but there are still patches on my scalp where it’s barely visible. I sweat in places i never even considered – like at my knees. My bones ache … like, for no actual reason.
- Menopause messes with your memory.
Chemobrain was pretty terrible, but i continually reminded myself that it was only temporary. Little did i know that chemobrain would leave, only to be replaced by memory problems brought on by menopause. I had trouble remembering all the names of my exes even BEFORE my cancer treatment started. Now it’s downright impossible.
I always knew the time would come when my body and mind would start to slow down, affecting my appearance, sex life, feelings, and mind. I really just never considered what it would be like to go through all this before i even hit 40.