Today I am 59 and I have to ask…when does menopause end?
I told my Dear Hubby yesterday that I have just one year left now, that I am capable of the kind of sleight-of-mind necessary to stretch the definition of “middle age” to cover the fifties, but nobody, not even me, can call 60 “middle aged.” In 365 days, I will be officially old.
Funny, but I don’t feel old. I don’t even feel old approaching. According to most people who know me, I’m not looking particularly old, either…but you know friends and family…they probably wouldn’t tell me my age was showing even if I was down to no teeth and wrinkles so profound I was tripping over them. While having my roots touched up last month (yes, I am a natural blonde, just not this naturally blonde) I asked my hairdresser how much grey has sprinkled itself into my tresses and she said about a dozen…I have to believe her because the reason I asked is that I didn’t see any when I checked and Hubby, a wise man who knows when to keep his own counsel, wouldn’t admit to having found any!
While I am postponing the admission of being old, I cannot escape the fact that I am aging. Of course we are all aging…we begin doing that the day we are born…but there is a certain point in life when we look at ourselves in the mirror and realize that some things in our lives are not only gone, they are gone forever…like perky boobs or an unlined brow…and some things are here to stay…like crinkly skin and sagging jowls. Time and gravity take their toll and at that certain age…if you aren’t one of those pathetic people showing your wrinkled belly to the world in obscenely low-cut jeans and your pre-teen granddaughter’s cropped top…you simply cannot deny it any more.
I don’t know if men have a biological rite of passage out of youth, but women do. It’s called “menopause.” We can hand over our pension savings to the cosmetic surgeon, with his scalpels and lasers, suctions and injections, and come away with a temporarily updated version of ourselves, but we can’t fool Mother Nature and our ovaries. At some point in life the oestrogen factories start shutting down and middle age comes firmly upon us, like it or not.
Menopause has been likened to a latter-day menarche, just in reverse. Girls’ bodies gradually prepare themselves for the onset of womanhood and, once the ovaries kick into gear, there are a few years in which the hormones have to get settled down into a predictable flow: adolescence. We know, however, that this “adjustment period” will eventually end…at least physically…and once it is over and our bodies are acclimated to the new chemical brew, life goes on. One would expect menopause to work much the same way, but in reverse: a period of time in which the body reverts to its previous low-oestrogen state, followed by an expanse of years in which we are no longer tormented by cramps, PMS, monthly indispositions, or rabid curiosity about the latest and greatest advances in contraception and feminine hygiene products. And, indeed, that is our eventual destination but just how long is this journey and just how rocky is this road?
Fully twelve years ago I remember getting up from my desk and heading for the copy machine and nearly fainting half way there. Now, this is wholly unlike me…I am one of those indomitable types who would be at the very bottom of your list of “women most likely to faint for any reason whatsoever.” I’ve administered first aid to auto accident victims with gruesome injuries, I’ve endured a robbery in which I was assaulted with fists, feet, and knives, I’ve suffered the sudden and unexpected death of my dearest husband, and sat vigil at the bedside of a comatose infant. If that which does not kill us makes us strong, then I’m among the tougher of my sisters…so what is this nearly fainting half way to the copy machine crap?
So, I figured I was just standing up a bit too fast…blood rushing out of the head sort of thing…so I tried rising from my chair more slowly and, instead of rushing to the copier, being more measured in my approach…to no avail. Half way to the copier, I was feeling faint again. After a few more episodes, one in which I actually saw stars and swirling black clouds, I made it a point to visit my doctor. She gave me a prescription for female hormones and when I objected, she said “just try it for a couple of weeks…trust me on this…” Amazingly, my near-fainting spells cleared up in less than 48 hours and, thankfully, did not return when I stopped the hormones.
A dozen years have passed and, frankly, I have no idea why I am still experiencing symptoms. Oh, the fainting spells are gone and I am finding the odd stray dark hair in places more appropriate to my husband that to me (I’m beginning to think that the Bearded Lady of circus lore was simply any post-menopausal female who has lost her tweezers!), but the classic symptoms don’t seem to want to give up their hold on my physiognomy and retreat into the mists of history: I am still getting random hot flashes, especially at night. I am convinced that the sleep disturbances that are a legendary part of the “change” are really nothing more than nocturnal hot flashes that require the sufferer to awaken to some degree in order to alleviate the discomfort…remove the blanket…remove the sheet…remove the nightgown…remove the husband…point the fan directly at the body…and now you’re awake!
Unlike some women I have known, the hot flashes haven’t been such a problem for me. Some women have told me about trembling spells of rushes of body heat, sweat pouring down their brows, and noticeably reddened faces…I’ve never experienced anything like that, just a mild, uncomfortable overheating, easily remedied by a small fan directed at the face for several hours at a time. My doctor tells me that this is due to my excess weight, that fat tissue produces oestrogen and helps to mitigate my symptoms…who knew?? A positive side to being a pudgy! But that fat tissue must be sleeping at night, right along with my consciousness, because at two in the morning, with a fan trained on the bed, I find myself awake and rearranging the bedclothes and rolling Dear Hubby to the far side of the, thankfully, king-sized bed!
So, maybe the difference between being old and being middle-aged is less one of a number of years achieved and more of development. My body seems to be stuck firmly in the middle ages, and my husband (who is considerably younger than I am) tells me that I will never be old because I don’t know how to be (such a sweeeeet man!).
I dunno…I guess I’ll have to check next birthday and see how I feel then…
Tuesday, March 14, 2006
Today I am 59 and I have to ask…when does menopause end?