One of the lessons that has been pounded into my head is there is no perfect time to start anything.
Looking for that golden moment is futile. Muster up equal measures of belief and gumption and go for it.
With that in mind, I not only made a commitment to get back the body I’d worked so hard for and lost, I made it very public. Days after that article was published, after I’d restarted my practice, Mother Nature kicked me squarely in the, uh, tender bits.
The embarrassing part? Not having to buy over the counter remedies for the symptoms or having to dress like a member of a simple religious order. Oh, no. I wish I could say those were the low points. It was the fact that I didn’t have a clue what was going on.
In the interest of clarification, I should add I have not had what Red Dwarf’s Arnold Rimmer would call, “A woman’s period” for almost a year. Aside from that and the occasional hot flash that left me with the appearance that I’d just taken a shower and neglected to dry my hair, I honestly thought I was done with the whole “Magic of being a woman” tip. I could go merrily into the rest of my life being a happy crone.
No so fast there, little lady!
I woke up one morning with a fever, a migraine, and the feeling that my genitalia had been worked over with a kitchen scrubbing pad.
Oh please, not now.
Nobody has time for this, especially me. There was my yoga DVD. There were deadlines to meet. I had a magazine to edit. And yet I was consumed with a desire to sleep, eat all the things, and try different home remedies to stop a relatively small portion of my anatomy from driving me to certification of a decidedly different sort.
What happened to that happy glow from doing good things for my body? I didn’t feel exactly sick, just faded. The headaches were no fun, but the worst part was dealing with a part of my body that I’d treated with benign neglect. The internet remedies failed and I wondered if I’d ever be able to leave the house again.
After three days of misery, I’d reconciled to feeling awful and got back to work. As I logged online and checked my email, a chat request popped up. I opened up the video screen.
“You look awful!” she said. “What’s going on?”
I told her.
“Oh honey, that’s menopause. My mother just went through that!”
And then she called her husband into the room.
And I contemplated grabbing the dog and putting him in front of the webcam and slinking away.
You see, her husband is part of my former life as a fulltime sportswriter who covered hockey. It just felt, I don’t know, wrong?
He sat down and grinned and waved.
I waved back. Oh, God.
“Okay,” he said, “the way her mother used to describe it, it was like the worst case of jock itch ever, only you shouldn’t use what I’d use for jock itch because, you know, that’s for different equipment. Get you some stuff for women’s itching and start sitting on cold packs. If you don’t have a cold pack, just get a bag of frozen peas. It works just as well. I promise you’ll feel better.”
I recovered just enough to thank Mister Former Hockey Guy and then took a moment to count the ways that last couple of minutes had shattered so many assumptions I’d held for so long.
Here’s the thing: I have held this odd theory that men participate in dangerous sports because they’re trying to prove they are as strong as women. Menstruation is not exactly happy fun time and men with their machismo see regular bloodletting and pain in odd places as an equalizer. Or so I’d thought. I’d never considered how much jock itch must hurt. If it’s anything like menopause, it’s a mutha.
And the cold pack thing. It works. But I am now left with the mental image of many a hockey family’s meal soothing Daddy’s nads before making its way to the table.
Let’s take a look at what’s wrong and what’s right with this picture. A former professional athlete turned out to be the person who was most comfortable talking to me about post-menopausal vaginal care than the majority of the women I know.
I brought the whole sad, funny situation up with my nutritionist. She wasn’t surprised.
“People joke about hot flashes and aging bodies. Other issues, like vaginal dryness, changes in appetite, libido—they’re alluded to but you hardly ever hear or read an honest discussion about what it’s really like or how to eat or exercise. As a general rule, women get more information from advertising than they do from clinicians or each other. It’s a shame.”
It is a shame. Unlike menarche, which usually starts between the ages of eleven and fourteen, pre- (or peri-) menopause can start as early as thirty while other women continue to have periods into their sixties. For the majority of girls in western countries, adolescence is institutionalized. This superficial uniformity of experience provides an educational platform for teaching self-care at the onset of fertility.
At the other end of the experience, things get more complicated. Access to information and care gets very uneven and the diversity of experience can vary. Culture and sexual politics can play a role as well. Women may or may not know when their mothers and grandmothers experienced “The Change” and thus have no idea what to expect or when to expect it.
So what did I do?
After getting over the shock of talking about my situation with friends, I started asking questions. I’m lucky enough to have female relatives around and they were a great source of information. A chat with whatever medical professionals are available is a good idea. It might take a few verbal running starts to broach the subject of vaginal care and hot flashes, but it beats feeling wretched because you haven’t addressed the situation at all and aren’t sure what to do.
What I didn’t do was give up.
Upon hearing what was happening, a few people offered odd congratulatory sentiments about not having to worry weight or exercise or anything else. To their thinking, I am officially old, therefore those things no longer matter.
Actually, they do matter. I realize that in my culture, especially in the southeastern US, where beauty queens are bred on farms in Belzoni, Mississippi (or maybe I’m thinking about catfish) prettiness, fertility, and suitability to marriage are still the primary markers of value for most women.
Regardless of my age, I am not ready fade away. As long as I can stay upright on skates, do a sun salutation, or knock around a soccer ball, there is no reason for me to let go of the goals I set.
After getting the hang of pain management at both ends, I started paying attention to my skin, which is no longer as elastic, and my hair, which I kind of dig because it is now coarse, curly and falls in tighter curls. Looking in the mirror, I did something I never, ever did during my twenties and thirties: I liked what I saw.
Being a crone might be more fun than I’ve been led to believe. If so, it’s time that it became less of a well-kept secret.
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Asst. Ed.: Linda Jockers/Ed: Bryonie Wise