Surviving Menopause by Lynn Chandler

 
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Surviving Menopause  
by Lynn Chandler 
 

 One night, about 7 years ago, I went to bed expecting that when I awoke the next morning everything would be the same as it had always been.  Little did I know that as I slept, changes were taking place in my body, mind and spirit that I wasn’t prepared for.  No one asked me if I wanted these changes, they just came.  In my cocoon of sleep I could never imagine how my life would shift, how my body would no longer feel like it belonged to me.  I went to sleep a vibrant woman and woke up smack dab in the beginning throws of menopause.  The most surprising part of this involuntary transformation is that it didn’t come with an instruction manual.

 At 43, I supposed I was too young for menopause to sneak up behind me and turn my world into a spinning downward spiral.  It entered my existence in silence, never revealing itself for what it really was, or what it would become.  It disguised itself as general malaise, fatigue that never quite went away.  I began questioning myself at every turn.  Where were the thoughts coming from that were suddenly bombarding my mind and dreams?  I felt a deep rumbling somewhere where my soul resides that slowly started spinning in a different direction.  Something had changed but it wasn’t until years later that I realized it had a name. 

 Never being close enough to the women in my family to have ever discussed it when it would have been easier to understand (perhaps), I only knew that menopause crept up on my mother around the same age as I.  Still, I ignored it, since the way my body felt and the way I looked at life, I didn’t think for a second that I would follow in my mother’s footsteps and begin this transformation so young.

 Now that I know what has happened, I’m pissed off about it.  (As the author, I can use words like “pissed off”!).  I’m angry that I have no control over it.  I’m angry that I didn’t see it coming.  I’m angry that the society I live in tries its best to hide it, to ignore it, or to over-medicate it.  Yes, I’m angry.  The anger I feel is very deep inside, like a silent thunder storm that no one hears but me.  It invades my waking and sleep states.  It rules over my ability to make decisions or logical choices.  It has robbed me of strength; both physical, emotional and spiritual.  It has attached itself to the very best parts of who I am now and once was.

 
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I have lost my ability to want to make love with my husband of 20 years.  He waits, he encourages me, he tries to understand the vagueness that has enveloped me.  I want to feel sexual, I truly miss feeling that way.  But, somehow, it has been taken from me.  I didn’t willingly give it up.  I didn’t decide, on my own, that I no longer needed it to be a part of me.  Sexuality to me now is just a word that describes who I used to me, something that used to course through my veins.  But now, that part of me lies silent and dark.  I hear it will come back.  Then, I hear it won’t.  The most confusing thing is that it’s very difficult to want something back that you no longer have an interest in.  How do you miss something that is no longer a part of the definition of the woman you are now? 

 I have read books that advise me to embrace this new me.  They tell me that it is a personal journey to eventual greatness.  I am told that it will elevate me to my proper place of personal power.  I need to honor it.  I need to embrace it.  I need to accept it.  I need to look deep inside of menopause and out of the smoke and ashes of a body that no longer feels like it belongs to me, be able to see the Great Phoenix rising out of the fire.  I hope that is true.  It seems to ring true.  Almost as if I have been through this before (believing in reincarnation as I do).  It seems to be the only thread of hope I can hold onto some days.  In the meantime, I want to believe in something that makes some sense of the confusion and abandonment I feel.

   Yes, abandonment.  I  feel like the mind, body and spirit I have been working on this entire lifetime have left me.  I have no idea why.  It just did.  And, I know that I shall never again find the original “me” that I used to know and love.  I don’t know this new person I am becoming.  I’m not comfortable with her.  I don’t trust her.  I don’t have any history with her.  I can’t communicate with her.  I have no memories with her.  I can’t depend on her.  I don’t understand her and what’s more, I’m afraid that if I ever do connect with her, I might not like her.  I’m too old to be making new friends, especially with myself.  Why can’t I just be who I was?  Because the “me” I used to me is no longer needed.

 Western medical doctors can explain the physical definition of what’s going on.  It’s really very clinical.  That doesn’t, however, explain why it is happening from a logical standpoint.  The body stops produces regular periods, the hormones that once ruled my life and defined my every waking thought process, are no longer being produced.  So, now I have been transformed into a woman who never knows from one day to next if a period will come or not.  Just when you get your hopes up that it’s finally over and will never rear it’s ugly head again, surprise.....in the middle of the night...you hear off  in the distance in the back of your mind a subtle voice whisper to you and say “Surprise...I was just kidding”!

 I am now a woman who forgets what she was going to do somewhere between the kitchen and the bathroom and what’s worse, I don’t even care.  I can transform myself from an almost giddy demeanor to one of the wicked witch of the west with amazing speed and agility and yet, I find it difficult to gracefully walk across a room without suddenly feeling dizzy and totally spacey.  Long gone are the nights when I can sleep straight through until the alarm blasts me out of bed...now I am up in the middle of the night, taking a cold shower when everyone else in my house is warm inside their dreams while I try to decide if it’s even worth it to go back to bed because even if I get lucky enough to stop having the multitude of hot flashes that seize my body almost nightly, do I really want to fall asleep and have the hideous nightmares I can count on regularly?

 I have tried to take the advice of my doctors and bravely decided to begin taking Hormone Replacement Therapy; a not so comfortable alternative in my case.  I was warned that I would have to take both estrogen and progesterone to prevent breast cancer that “might” occur from taking the HRT medications.  That was a real secure beginning to what, I’m sure my doctor was expecting to be a regular routine of office visits and medical tests.  I felt great on the drugs for about 2 days.  Suddenly, I felt 18 again.  Hey, this could work.  Thank God for modern medicine.  Well, after the false euphoria wore off, so did the 18 year old feelings.  Against my better judgment, but wanting to give it a fair try, I stayed on the HRT meds for 3 months.  All of the old symptoms, hot flashes, night sweats, nightmares, rollercoaster mood swings had all come back, worse than ever.  The answer is “quite simple” said my doctor.  Let’s increase the amount of testosterone you are taking.  That should do it”.  So, I agreed.  Pass it off as faith in the medical profession.  Still there was a small voice inside that warned against this measure.  After taking the new prescription for about 3 weeks, all I was feeling was foolish.  Everytime I took a pill, I knew, that for me anyway, it was wrong.  My symptoms never got better.

 So, the next trail I followed was to leave western medicine in the dust and began a natural approach to HRT.  I found some excellent herbal tinctures that worked fine.  I was beginning to feel hopeful again and my overall health was getting better.  Still, no sex drive.  Well, let’s start reading up on herbs and their qualities and make some bigger decisions.  This is when I discovered Chinese herbs.  I am now taking 3 different formulas and in getting to know my herbalist I have been told more about my body and how it works than all the doctors I have ever seen in my life.  The night sweats and hot flashes are few and far between now and the moodswings are getting much better.  Still, no sex drive, but that is the next obstacle I am going to tackle.

Enough (for now) about the medical part of this journey.  Even bigger for me to overcome than the physical issues, are the emotional ones.  I find myself changing the channel whenever there is a romantic scene...I feel guilty that I can’t act that out with my husband now.  I feel romantic, but I can’t seem to take it any further.  It’s as if that portion of my identity fell away, was whisked off by a cold wind and left an empty space in my body.  How unfair.  He and I have been together for 20 years.  There is still so much love in my heart for him, and yet, I can’t express it in physical terms anymore. There are days when I feel like half a woman.  The half that’s missing seems to be the most important part and I miss it so terribly.  Will it ever come back?  Will it reappear some night in a dream-state and make me whole again?  My husband asks the same questions.  As he puts it...he “wants his wife back”.  I would love to be his wife again...whole and vibrant.  How damned unfair.

 I could turn this story into a lecture of what herbs to take (Western and Chinese) and what each one did.  I think not.  I can suggest a good book on the subject and suggest that you contact the herbalist I have come to know and trust, but the purpose of this story was to connect with other women who have the same feelings of being lost, being empty, being abandoned by our own bodies.  Look at all the things that will never be again...no longer able to have children, my one son is 19 and will be on his own soon and my role as his mother has changed and will never return to my being the most important woman in his life.  That’s natural and I understand it, but it leaves me feeling like I just lost the most important role of my life.  No more Band-Aids and nights of walking the floor knowing that the safety of my arms was more powerful than any croup or fever. 

 I have accomplished 20 years of being dedicated and in love with one man.  I have been blessed to have this same man love me in return.  And now, he has to follow along with me on this, the most difficult journey I have ever been on...the journey to find my identity again.  I know it won’t be the original identity that I carried for most of my life.  This identity has no boundaries, no hints of what the outcome will be.  I am hoping for the best, I am projecting the best, but I am not as patient as I once was.  I know the thief that came in the night and stole my original identity...it goes by the name of menopause.  This thief can not be reasoned with.  It cannot be bargained with.   It cannot be convinced otherwise than being life-changing. 

 Women, most of their lives, spend every waking moment defending themselves against the rest of the world and spend most of their energy defining themselves; to others and to themselves.  During menopause, you find yourself making excuses for your actions (forgetting that you put the dog in the laudryroom instead of outside and the fact that you haven’t seen the cat for days!) and the phrase “I’m sorry” become part of your everyday vocabulary.  I’m sorry for everything.  Sorry for forgetting what I was just about to do, sorry that I had trouble keeping my balance while I walked across that perfectly flat floor, sorry that I actually DON’T want to talk to anyone of the phone, sorry that I have thoughts of getting in my car, driving until I run out of gas and starting a new life...any new life.  Sorry that a whole weekend will flash past me and I haven’t gotten off the couch more than a few necessary times.   Sorry that I feel sorry.  Sorry for having to apologize for the changes that effect me so dramatically and those around me that have always counted on me to “have it together”. 

 I miss “me”.  I was really something.  I could do eleven things all at once and never miss a beat.  I could shine like the brightest star and not even have to work at it. I could create life and bring it to fulfillment.  I could make love all night and not even be tired the next day...so looking forward to the next time my husband and I would entangle ourselves and be lost in lust.  Where did I go?  Will the old me ever meet the new me again?  Have I finished all my previous assignments and now have to find new ones all over again?  Is the rest of this lifetime going to be about me?  Do I get to be selfish and not feel badly for it?  Can I not return phonecalls from my friends and not be held responsible for being uncaring?  Can I spend an entire weekend on the couch and forget that I exist and not be thought of as a “middle-aged woman who is escaping from reality”?  WHAT IS MY NEW REALITY?

 Will I ever again see that beloved “come hither look” in my husband’s eyes and actually want to “come hither” again?  Will those fires ever burn brightly as they used to?  Will intimacy ever return to my life?  With a number of different drug dependencies I could have that spark back today, but at what hideous price? 

 You can conquer an enemy you can see.  You can look that enemy straight in the eyes and fight back.  You can intimidate, frighten, terrify or even ignore that kind of enemy.  But, this...this is an enemy that you cannot see, you cannot look face to face and rebel against.  It has no face.  It has no concept of defeat.  It has all the power.  It has all the time in the world. 

 I have never felt so alone in my life.  Alone with my memories.  Alone with my longings for a whole “me” again.  Alone with my guilt (unfounded, but still very real).  Alone with my fear that it will always be this way.  Alone with the multitude of questions and the horrible reality that there is no one there to ask them.  It just “is”.  That’s all.  It just “is”.

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So, I’m a fifty year old woman who is filled with a shopping cart full of emotions.  I feel angry, disappointed in my own body, sorrowful of the things about myself that I have lost, regretful that my body no longer will create life, mourning daily for the last attempt I made at bringing another child into this world, only to lose her.  I feel lost.  I feel abandoned by my own existence.  Who do I blame?  No one.  Time.  I guess I could blame time, but it doesn’t erase what is happening in the secret spaces of my mind and body.

 The only thing that makes sense to me is to look at the new journey as the Native American Indian women do.  It is a time of respect.  It is a time of reflection.  It is a time of honoring all that has been accomplished before.  Maybe there is no need any longer for the “me” I was, only the “me” that is now developing.  Maybe everything else in my fifty years of life has prepared me for this new creature that I am evolving into.  I have done all the things that were right and noble and causes of the heart.  I have raised an outstanding son, I have been a good wife.  I have been a hard worker.  I have outlived my parents and made sure I didn’t take the turns in life that they did that eventually cost them their lives.  I have done all that.....what do I do now?

Well, I suppose listening to myself for the first time would be as good a place as any to begin.  Meeting with other women who are walking this same twisted path isn’t the answer.  It only reinforces the fact that all of the players in this menopausal game are wearing the same uniforms.  I don’t want their support.  I don’t want to hear their stories because they are the same as mine.  It only serves to remind me that instead of just myself feeling trapped in this uncontrollable situation alone, that they are millions of women flailing around, feeling as inside-out as I do.  No, I don’t want a support group.  That may have worked in the sixties, but it doesn’t fit me well in the year 2001.

 The answer I have chosen may not be the answer for anyone else.  What I have decided is to allow myself to feel the feelings I am feeling.  I allow myself to feel angry on those days that I feel anger.  I allow myself to feel depressed on those days when I feel deflated.  I allow myself to feel lost on those days when I seem to have no direction whatsoever.  I allow myself to question why all this is happening to me because if the day were to come that I ever stopped asking why and how I can make it better, will be my last day in this life.  I allow myself to be selfish and let those around me know when I must be alone.  I allow myself to be honest with those around me and instead of making excuses for the silly, mindless things I say and do, I tell them it’s just a “menopausal moment” and I have chosen to wear that as a badge of courage instead of an excuse for doing something wrong.

I am still hopeful that there will be a time when I look back at all of this and laugh out loud..you know, one of those laughs that comes from the soles of your feet straight up through the rest of your body.  I am still hopeful that the “me” that I am becoming will be as vital, bright and shiny, needed, respected as I ever was.  I will continue to find the aid I need from plants and minerals and vitamins.  The earth has everything we need to survive and what’s even better, survive better than any assistance we could get from Western medicine who tells us to “take these pills (oh, didn’t we tell you...for the rest of your life?) and “get used to it” because this is what happens when you “get older”.  Those statements appall me and thank God they do.  Otherwise, I would give in to the “instant solutions” and walk around feeling smug that all I have to do on rough days is take more valium or prozax or increase my dosage of hormones that my body refuses to produce on its own. 

 I resent Western medicine for neglecting to tell women collectively, all the facts.  It’s supposed to suffice having a beautiful actress invade my television and tell me that she’s been taking HRT’s for years now and never felt better.  What we as women forget all too easily is that SHE IS PAID TO SAY THAT!  Her skin is flawless and youthful because she spent 30 minutes with a makeup artist before she ever stepped in front of the cameras.  I resent my FEMALE DOCTOR who has not even reached the age of 30 telling me that she “understands how I feel”.  The hell she does.  Just wait.  Her turn will come.  I resent the fact that menopause is the unspoken ailment.  The world as a whole could care less.  Well, women have gone through it for years, and they will continue to go through it.  Yes, unmistakingly that is true.  But, it doesn’t mean we have to like it.

 The truth that seldom reveals itself and stays hidden in the shadows, is something I didn’t learn from my doctor.  They were things I learned by taking control of my own destiny and reading about.  How about this for a basic medically proven fact....no woman should remain on HRT medications for more than 13 months because after that amount of time the risk of getting a number of different types of cancer increases at an alarming rate.  after that 13 month period.  Another little known fact is that after 13 months of exposure to these “miracles of modern medicine” they not only lose their effectiveness, but they begin to reverse the effects and actually CAUSE the symptoms you took them for in the first place to come back even stronger, with an even tougher vengeance.  But, you see, once your doctor writes the prescriptions for you, that’s as far as their personal responsibility goes. 

 The remedy for the rage that women feel inside during menopause is our old “best friend” and “trusty female companion”...valium or prozac.  Sure, it will make the days all melt one into the other, and you won’t care so much that you have lost all control over your body and most of your mind, but is being a zombie the answer?  I think not.  Why doesn’t the medical world give woman more credit than that?  We don’t want to be “quieted down”, we want to understand.  We don’t want to be silenced by drugs, we want answers.  Real answers.  What can we expect?  How long is this going to last?  What do I do about it that won’t cause me to grow long thick black hair on the bottoms of my feet and cause me to want to become a wrestler in my spare time?  What about my feelings...tell me which ones are real and which ones are caused from the lack of the hormones that are no longer produced in my body.  Are all of these feelings I’m having going to be with me for the rest of my life?  Is there anyway to regain my sexuality without being in a drug-induced state? 

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So many questions, so few answers.  The best giver of answers seems to be the experience itself.  Time.  Time to think, time to examine, time to go inward and ask all of the hard questions...the ones we are too busy to answer most of our life.  Now we have to face them.  What are the qualities that are true and withstand the test of time and age?  Is it the fact that I once could “multi-task” and make others rich from my hard work and long hours?  It is fact that by body could be used to house another human being?  Is it that for over 20 years I have proven to myself and my husband that I can be faithful, flexible and stable?  If this is the “me” I once was, who is the “new me” going to be and probably the biggest question of all, will I like her?

 I am grateful for the experiences I have had this first half of my life.  I felt honored to have another spirit (my son) reside within my hidden walls and bring him to life.  I am proud that he looks to me now for insight and comparison of thought.  I know that his existence was the single most important think I have ever done in this lifetime.  I am glad to know him.  I am proud to say that he came from me. 

 I am grateful for the man who I call my husband for the past 20 years is still with me.  Waiting for the metamorphosis, standing by me and lovingly being patient.  I am grateful for the years of experience we have shared and how we have watched each other grow and develop.  I am proud that I am a good wife, contrary to every example I was shown as I grew up.

 I cannot honestly say I am grateful for this portion of my journey because it leaves me feeling confused and resentful for things and times past.  However, the hope that I will get to other side of these transformations a better woman, a stronger woman, a woman with more understanding of herself than ever before, keeps me walking forward, searching, examining, questioning, wide-eyed with expectations for answers that I know will not all come from books or doctors or outsiders, but from within myself.  Maybe menopause is the most solitary journey any woman takes.  But maybe, just maybe, it will be the most rewarding because the answers, the true answers, lie deep in the heart of spirit of us all individually and patience with ourselves will encourage those answers to surface.

 I will come out the other side of menopause...I know I will.  All women before me have.  It never tore down successfully the inner will and strength of a woman.  It challenged it, sometimes daily, but I don’t think it ever stayed the victor for long.  I will continue to fight against my unseen enemy one question at a time, one different path at a time, one remedy at a time, one day at a time, until I can stand in front of menopause and yell back at it......I WON, YOU LOST.  I WAS STRONGER THAN ANYTHING YOU THREW AT ME.  I AM, ONCE AGAIN, AS I HAVE ALWAYS BEEN....THE VICTOR!

P.S.  Anyone who would like the name of an excellent book about herbal subsitutions to the “traditional HRT drugs” or the name of the Chinese Herbalist that has helped me through this, please feel free to email me.  I would be glad to share this information with you.  I know it will help. 
Chandler38@msn.com

 


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