“The change.” “The time of life.” “Climacteric.” “Menopostal.”
No matter how you spin it, it all boils down to one thing: Menopause.
Menopause signals the end of a woman’s menstrual cycle. Personally, I found this fact liberating and I quietly wondered why menopause wasn’t something to be celebrated with, say, a parade, a Super Bowl sized party or, at the very least, a red velvet cake with the words “Happy Menopause” written in beautiful script icing and adorned with a fist-pumping woman figurine on top. But maybe that’s just me.
The thing is, we can’t not go through menopause if we expect to move forward in life.
Menopause and the Cycle of Shame
Some would argue that the hallmark of menopause revolves around the frustrating symptoms, many of which we wouldn’t wish on our worst enemy. Maybe. For many, this natural transition brings about anxiety, frustration and shame.
Today, menopause is still somewhat of a taboo subject that is discussed in hushed tones in women’s locker rooms, whispered about among mothers and daughters, and spoken of with hesitancy and embarrassment in doctor’s offices. The stigma of menopause has resulted in women being misinformed, miseducated, confused and perturbed.
In my early days of menopause, I was awash in silent shame. Not even my husband knew of my level of humiliation. My reticence was a shield behind which I hid. I couldn’t allow the world to see my distress, to stare at me in wonder as my face flushed in tandem with the flames erupting just under my skin’s surface.
I finally decided to open up to my husband. Since he was on the receiving end of unwarranted moodiness, the recipient of tongue lashings that erupted out of thin air, and the man who almost daily bore witness to my broke down, low-rent strip tease routine (thanks for that, hot flashes), I felt it was time he knew the truth.
“Baby, it’s been 12 months since my last period. I, um er uh,” I stuttered, “I think I’m in menopause.”
There was a moment when his face lit up and the promise of empathy and understanding was so close I could have reached out to pinch it. All too soon, the moment passed, replaced instead by a “I have no idea what you’re talking about” look on his face as he smiled weakly, painfully. He didn’t know whether to cheer me on or flee in terror. Then and there, his look told me all I needed to know: This man who I vowed to love till death do us part is gonna be utterly useless as I embark on this change of life. I was in this alone . . . up to my soon-to-be thinning eyebrows.
At the time, I hadn’t realized the gravity of what had befallen me.
Menopause is a gift of sorts. It means that we are growing, evolving and, yes, still alive. It’s a stretch, I know, but bear with me here. It’s a time of transition and, despite the symptoms we encounter, it opens up opportunities for women as we move forward in life. So why then do we not give this gift the reverence it deserves?
The Shame Ends Now
In Chinese culture, menopause is referred to as “Second Spring.” It is looked upon as a time of renewal, a time to start over, a positive time in life. Women are valued, and the knowledge that they have reached this pinnacle of life is greeted with an appreciation for their life experiences.
We should take a cue from the Chinese – this new season of life should be accepted with open arms, not with the mental stain that we carry around like an overflowing suitcase.
Moodiness. Fatigue. Memory lapses. Incontinence. And the coup de grâce, hot flashes. These are all normal symptoms in menopause . . . and nothing to be ashamed of.
It’s time to erase the stigma of menopause. How do we do this, you ask?
- Talk about it openly with other women. Look, if we can talk about the new shoes we just purchased or the latest episode of Grace and Frankie, surely we can engage in rousing discussions about menopause.
- Those things that you’re embarrassed about? Confront them head on. I suffer from vaginal atrophy. Yes, it’s as ugly as it sounds. And yes, it has affected intimacy with my husband. However, I refused to be held a prisoner of shame because of the natural changes taking place within my body. I’m doing something about it.
- Do your research. Find out all you can about menopause. Google it. Read articles and books on the subject. Check back often here at Pepper & Wits. Resources abound; take advantage of them.
- Have a chat with your GYN or locate a menopause specialist. When you ask questions, you get answers. If your GYN isn’t providing you with the answers you need, try working with a menopause specialist.
- Get help. If you suffer from depression and it’s too much to bear, seek professional help. If something doesn’t feel right, get it checked out.
- Get real. Unfortunately, women and menopause go hand-in-hand, skipping down the road of life in a love/hate (mostly hate) relationship. Accept it. Acknowledge it. Treat it as the rite of passage that it is.
Menopause will be as hard as we make it. It’s time to break the cycle of shame.
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