If you can’t find your menopause humor at home, try looking under the rug—you probably swept it there. If you do leave home without it, you’ll find yourself grinding your teeth at every stop light, freaking out in the dairy aisle because they don’t have the brand of milk you want, or seriously considering tripping the 20-something, infinitely perky secretary—with her clip-clapping high heels on the tile floor of the workplace cafeteria—and gleefully watching her cottage cheese and tomato salad go flying. What a great image. Except that I could never do this because it would be tripping up the last faint image of my former self oh so many years ago. I have to hang on to a tiny part of my past, of the vibrant young woman who was ready to take on the world. And who did in so many ways. Before this. Before menopause.
It’s National Menopause Awareness Day. Leave it to us baby boomers to create an awareness day of something that’s been happening to women since the dawn of people. Gosh how we love to talk about everything that’s happening to us, as if it’s the first time this has happened to anyone! But okay. It really is a good thing to raise awareness of this phase of a woman’s life. Especially if it helps women (and men) seek advice and get their hands on as much information as possible. More important, awareness programs let us know we’re not alone with horrible symptoms that are driving us and our loved ones stark raving mad.
When I went through the worst parts of menopause (and I’m still going through some rough patches of post-menopause), there were times when I truly thought I was going crazy. Confusion, anxiety, crying spells at the drop of a hat, and unbelievable anger dominated my life. I kept telling myself that all of this was normal, and I read everything I could get my hands on. I have an older sister who listened to me and described her symptoms, so I knew what to expect. I knew there would be hot flashes and night sweats, I knew I’d crave anything salted and vodka, I knew my sex drive would go down, I knew my memory might start failing. I was totally prepared to experience all these symptoms.
What I didn’t know was how strong the force and profundity of emotions, especially the anger, would be. This storm of rage took me completely by surprise. I’m no stranger to rage; as a child and teenager, I watched my mother’s generation spawn a lot of angry women fighting for equal rights. And there were the angry outbursts at family gatherings, which truly puzzled me at the time. I remember wondering why everybody was so mad. As Dee Adams says, “If you don’t get it, you ain’t there yet.” Well, now I get it.
So there I am, having had a fairly calm character most of my life, and all of a sudden, everything is pissing me off. Royally. You name it, I was getting mad. I started to understand why so many women around 50 have nervous breakdowns or give up on life. Even my sister, who inherited our dad’s humor genes, went through a couple of years of not laughing much; she was just pissed off at everyone and everything. Well, I said to myself, this won’t happen to me. Uh-uh. I’m calm, I’m a nice person, I’m trained as a psychologist—I can handle any emotion that comes up. Yeah, right. None of that mattered. I didn’t want to analyze my feelings, look at my motives, or talk anything through. I wanted to throw dishes. Lots of them.
One night when things got particularly bad between my husband and me, the delicious thought of a two-year old’s tantrums came to mind. I’d had enough of hot flashes, night sweats, confusion, a new-found clumsiness (I’m an ex-ballerina, for god’s sake, and I was bumping into walls). I’d also gotten scared to death when I realized I didn’t feel anything. I didn’t care about my husband’s feelings, I didn’t care about trying to have a good life, I didn’t give a damn. This was worse than anger, this was how suicides happen. I decided I’d better sit down and write about what I was going through.
I fantasized that I was doing family therapy again. I listened to the menopausal woman’s anger, frustration, lack of self-esteem, and depression. I listened to her husband wondering why he was doing everything wrong. I listened to the kids wondering where their loving mother had gone. I concentrated on the family members first for my fantasy advice. To help them with coping strategies, I started coming out with statements like learn to disappear, learn to cook, humor her–listen to ’70s rock, think of menopause as your houseguest who has stayed way too long, and think of a two-year old’s tantrums.
Then suddenly, it all seemed so funny. A two-year old’s tantrums. Yes! That was me! So, before I killed my husband or he killed me, I found humor in this crazy situation and had to write a humorous book on menopause. It developed into a “guide” for the husbands, kids, and animals of the menopausal woman. My father always told us that his humor got him through the roughest times of his life. I listened to that nutty little voice inside of me and transformed a lot of insane thoughts and angry feelings into a 10-step guide for the family members to survive HER menopause.
Believe me, I know that menopause is serious. It’s bigger than most of us and proves that the Body Snatchers do exist. It’s important for everyone to be informed, to seek help, to stay healthy, exercise, meditate, to do whatever it takes to get through it. And once you’ve done all that, it’s even more important to find your inner menopause humor, and don’t leave home without it!