Last Sunday, I sat in the fourth row at the Adler, listening to a quartet of women sing about my life. Honestly, I’d hoped the topic would sail over my head, that the theme would be some unfamiliar nether issue waiting for me many years off in the future. Sadly, “Menopause the Musical” hit every stinking note with surprising precision.
Is that “TMI” (too much information), that I’m sitting squarely in the midst of “the Change?” Tough. It has/is/will effect half the people on this planet so why shouldn’t we talk about it? And yet our culture, for as progressive as we may think ourselves (well, maybe not so much after last Tuesday) we continue to dance around the issue.
At least the musical gave good beats with which to do that dancing.
I knew I had a few telltale symptoms, but as each scene passed and the songs built one on top of the other, I was aghast at how strongly I could relate to the four women on stage. No offense, but those four women looked much older than me!
Not that they weren’t attractive, mind you, but they certainly weren’t 35. And neither am I, even though my mind would have me believe I’m still in my early 20s. Where did the last two decades go?!
I guess I can thank the women of the Baby Boomer generation for not going quietly into that dark “Change,” but I don’t know how ready I am to join you.
Once the 1980s gave way to the ‘90s and I no longer required cans of Aqua Net to set my hair skyward, increasing my height a solid 6 inches, I slowly drifted away from worrying about my looks.
Maybe it was the “freshman 15” in college or maybe it was just the style of the times: large, flannel shirts and grunge music, but somewhere along the way I lost the ability to be “girlie.”
Sure I might wear a bit of makeup, but any concept of how to accessorize scarves and beads and earrings and bangles was snuffed out by my penchant for plaid button-downs and KSwiss sneakers.
And my fashion sense hasn’t improved much. Instead of the oxford shirts, it’s race t’s. The KSwiss tennies have been replaced by whichever running shoe currently holds my orthotic inserts.
So what does this have to do with menopause? In spite of my best efforts to shun my gender, I am indeed a woman . . . and boy do my hormones ROAR!
Take the night sweats . . . the heat I emit is similar to that of a self-cleaning oven, as if I might set the bed on fire. I was running with a girlfriend earlier this week who told me that when she suffers night sweats her husband asks if she’s sick, “Do you have a fever?”
There are times I’ll wake up FREEZING and drenched, leggings, long-sleeved t-shirt and my entire side of the bed, soaking wet. Gross? Well, apparently that’s just run-of-the-mill menopause.
During Sunday’s performance, one of the characters made mention of waking up in a puddle and not knowing whether to change the sheets in the middle of the night or simply lay down a towel and go back to sleep.
Are there hidden cameras in my bedroom?! There’s only one way writer Jeanie Linders could’ve known that about me and that’s if it happened to her and a host of other women. And yes, my running buddy admitted it happens to her, as well.
And speaking of sleep, I never realized my lack of continuous shut eye was menopause related, but when the musical hit that note, I was reminded how over the last couple of years, I’m waking more and more often for no reason and struggling to fall back to sleep.
My doctor recommends I take Black Cohosh, morning and night, but I haven’t noticed much of a difference.
The differences I AM noticing are those marching across my body, starting with my face. I remember my skin being younger-looking, more like Play Doh, smooth and healthy. But now? For the first time I’m noticing wrinkles in new places. My forehead is creased with many and varied lines and my dimples no longer seem youthful, but rather sad and weathered.
And that area between my neck and chest, the décolletage? Let’s just say that if it wasn’t for the dang hot flashes, I’d wear turtle necks year round! Where did all those freckles and furrows come from?!
Maybe this is why I abandoned my “girlie” side years ago, maybe I secretly hoped that if I ignored the “girlie” part of me and focused on the “biking, running, sporty-Grrrr” part of me, I wouldn’t be bothered when age came a’knocking.
But guess what, I’m bothered.
While I’m not ready to delve into wrinkle creams, age-fighting serums, Botox and all the other “solutions” the beauty industry is hocking, I am beginning to understand on a very personal level why women pine for such treatments.
This aging business is quite disturbing. For someone like me, who really didn’t care about all that, to suddenly care about all that?! It’s weird.
I can only imagine how freaked out normal women must be, women who actually put an effort into coordinating an outfit and putting on make-up. In my effort to set myself apart from all of you, I find that I’ve been right beside you all along.
Hopefully next time you see me and I’m lathered like a horse, you’ll know I’m just struggling through a hot flash. Misery loves company, so please don’t let me suffer alone, remind me you know how it feels. I like empathy.
Girlfriends, let’s help each other through this! No matter how different we each choose to cope, let’s have each other’s backs on this and just do whatever we must. Me? I think I’ll sign up for another race . . . and slather on extra sunscreen.
Originally published 8/15 November 2014 in The Observer.