AGING, Women

MAN-O-PAUSE

“You definitely need to workout in nature outside, often,” my dear and beloved fitness trainer, Kathy M., said to me after we finished an ass kicking workout yesterday.

We were speaking of menopause. Again. This is the hot, (pun totally intended), topic these days. It seems like every woman I know is talking about menopause. Maybe this is such a hot button issue because we are seeing the benefits of women entering the medical profession over the last twenty years. Finally, we are seeing the results of their influence.

Women are talking about menopause like it is, in fact, something. No kidding. Something indeed. We are actually saying the words, vaginal dryness, out-fucking-loud in daily conversations with other women. Hallelujah!

Nature is my solace for my post menopausal brain. No matter what is happening in my spinning washing machine cycle head, as soon as I go outside and smell the air, I am better. Going through menopause is one thing, but like a mastectomy and reconstruction, it is what happens after the dust settles where the real psycho body and mind shit starts kicking in. This is when we need to be talking and walking. Now.

I don’t mean to keep repeating the obvious, but since my grandmother never said the word, vagina aloud ever, I do so for any woman who lived before me in hot and dry silence. Vaginal dryness, belly bloat, weird crepey, saggy skin that is starting to creep in, cellulite and flab, no matter how many protein shakes and push ups. Seriously, when I smile now, my upper lip seems to stay back before it bounces back. My hair is on speed dial causing a full time date with the morning light and the magnifying mirror I previously vowed complete celibacy to, never mind looking in the rear view car mirror. Wouldn’t matter anyway since I can’t see anymore. I envy when women say, “hair barely grows on my legs anymore.” In my dreams.

Since I now need a magnifying mirror, this comes with its own set of warnings, like the magnification of every brown spot and line that seemed to appear out of nowhere. I just noticed the other day in that unfortunate light that my eye lid is starting to head south, like over my eyeball. Thankfully I have stopped wearing makeup so at least the mascara won’t land on my cheek. My mother taught me good skin care early on, and I actually listened, since moisturizing regularly has certainly paid off. I have pretty good skin, but since this has been my profession, I suppose it better be good.

Then there is the sitting in my beach chair and looking down at my stomach that belongs to some other woman. Where did the rolls come from? And I am not talking rolls because I am overweight. I am just speaking of my skin that now just rolls. How and when did they arrive? I swear, five minutes ago I was strutting around in a bikini, a real bikini, not a tankini, not a skirt, and now I am here at the beach thinking maybe my two piece life is actually really over for good.

I wake up in the middle of the night sometimes with a foot or a leg cramp that jolts me out of bed reminding me that I need to be more regular with the magnesium. Then there are the conversations about all of this happening like we chicks are the first ones to ever experience any of this, (of course writing about all of this doesn’t warrant talk about flowers and shopping, I get that). Well, we are surely not the first, but we may just be the first to actually say it loud and proud, like it is some badge of honor instead of some hysterical Freudian hallucination.

I look at the young mamas with their babies and fifteen hundred dollar strollers prancing around with their latte in the cup holders that now come with said strollers. They walk with their phone in one hand adorned with their athletic wear like having a baby these days is some type of fashion show. I am so happy I am past that point of no return. Way too much technology these days distracting these parents from the present moment. My friends and I can’t help but live in the present moment of hot flashes and night sweats that came without warning taking over our bodies. And our minds.

Sometimes I don’t even know how my brain works each day. I am thankful for nature, meditation, working out, and connection. Connection is what keeps me sane these days. Connection with myself, my body’s new reality, and my friends and family. (And wine, but more on this later.) This is all we have. And we, in our circle of fifty something chicks, seem to be realizing this wholeheartedly.

This is the good part of menopause, it reminds me with each and every flash to wake up, pay attention, that time is moving along and I might want to start that bucket list or project I have on my endless to do list. (To do lists becoming more necessary because of the memory lapsing that I will add here as another end result of menopause.) Better yet, as Arianna Huffington said in a great interview, “You can also just simply take the to do off of the to do list and call it a day.” Amen. Just saying that feels liberating.

Instead of calling it menopause, maybe we should call it, Man, do I pause. Because if menopause has taught me anything, it is to pause. It is to take notice and realize that these hot flashes, that have finally slowed down, are to remind me that I am ready for the next phase. No more babies, no more adolescents, college graduation looms large this upcoming year for my only child and I am realizing that have my whole life ahead of me.

Man, do I pause, because the only person left standing is me. I get to choose the next part. I have my man, sure, but I am solo by choice in the sense of decision making, life ahead and wonder and creativity abounds. This is a great time to pause. I am done here, but not there. The there is next. Let’s just hope for a little moisture in the there, is that too much to ask?

Lines, greying hair, white hair in my eyebrows, man-do- I-PAUSE.
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EVERYTHING IS CHANGING

EVERYTHING IS CHANGING

“Would you like some hot tea?” I asked a client yesterday. “No thanks, I am already too hot,” she replied and not in a way meaning her cuteness. I knew immediately she was speaking about hot flashes. The heated body blasts had just started for her she told me and her recent blood work proved that she was in fact going through the start of menopause. Not sure what the blood work says to prove or disprove, likely some hormonal measurement. I didn’t get to that because I had zero to sixty surgical menopause so hormone measurement wasn’t an option. For most of us chicks we don’t need the blood work to let us know what the deep sweats followed by intense chills multiple times happening every single night mean for our changing lives and bodies. The hot flashes have never been a negative to me, though. In my twenties, I read somewhere that some positive patty woman, Louise Hay or Christine Northrup likely, referred to them as power surges and that stuck with me.

When I had my first hot flash about three years ago, that is what it felt like and I stuck with its meme in my head. This being said, hot flashes were just the beginning of what menopause companionship has been in my life as I approach the steady incline towards fifty three. Or is it a decline? Decline sounds so dreadful, but decline is also downhill and last I checked, downhill is usually the fun part of the hill. The incline is where the work is; it is the beginning of the ride and the life leading up to my fifties. When you hear the phrase, “It’s all downhill from here,” it is with a negative undertone, but downhill is supposed to be the exciting thrill part, right? Unless you take a digger because you are going too fast, or you whip around a corner and forget to brake properly, or you twist your ankle because you missed the indentation in the road (because you can’t see anymore). But for the most part the downhill can take your breath away as the wind whips through your hair and the splash of breeze on your skin seeps into your pores and gets into the deepest part of your lungs that feels like nothing a kale juice cleanse claims to do for your health.

When I had my son, so many women said things like, “Wait till those terrible twos!” “Wait till he gets to be a teenager!” and so on with all kinds of parental warnings trying to prepare me for what was to come like it was not going to be good. I never really had that outlook as a parent, sure there were trying times, but this is life. I never bought into the notion that a certain age was going to be more or less of something and as a result I really enjoyed every age of my son and I still do. This is a great analogy for my own age. Every decade has had its bells and whistles and its melancholy foghorns. Menopause- a literal pause- an excuse to reconsider, to self analyze and self actualize- a body heat up and shake down to wake us up, to command attention lest we forget to notice in our over scheduled lives. Like the wild west in our bodies, the unknown soon to be very known as every nugget of ourselves gets magnified in the wake of its wild ride, unsaddled, unbridled, rough and tumbling. The hot flashes have become less, but what is left behind is all of the rest, the sprouting hairs, the white ones and the dark ones, the sagging skin, the inability to drop even one pound despite the usually otherwise previous easiness of the loss with just a simple diet change for a few weeks. The bloat, the figure shift that is starting to look just different no matter how many classes I take with Kathy Martin.

The other changes are my skin, the crepy-ness on the surface of my legs and my hands, the strange tweaks and aches that happen when I get out of bed in the morning no matter how much stretching, rolling, meditating or yoga. There is a regular puffiness I find in my face and the width of my upper body, but then when I catch myself noticing it I have to remind myself that I only had my final surgery four and half months ago. Swelling for a year, swelling for a year, How many times do I have to hear those words from Dr. M. or the words, or longer, from Dr. W? It is not that I feel bad, it is just I am noticing the differences and I am aware of them because they simply are. When I look at all of the youth surrounding me, I love to watch them because I know that youth passes and we all go through these stages of our lives if we are fortunate enough to make it through each one of them. I cherish them. I enjoy the lines and the changes because it means I am alive and well and I get the privilege of noticing.

This is the juice, oh yeah I forgot to mention the juice or lack there of too. Another change. Sight, hearing, sense of smell, taste, all of these sensory elements of my body composition also revving up for change and shifts and all of it is completely out of my control. Menopause gives me the excuse again to stand up or lie down and take notice. There is no free ride. Our bodies are our succinct messengers and mine is on a constant communication overload telling me every day that times they are a changing. My friends who are approaching seventy are listening to me with humor in their eyes the same way I look at my friends who are in their late thirties. The past and the future are my steady binoculars staring at the sky and the earth at the past and the future around the corner. Time seems to be accelerating as it seems I was just headed to Italy with my childhood friend, Kathy for our fortieth birthdays and now here we are thirteen years later. My grandfather would say with a chuckle, “how do you think I feel?” No shit, grandpa, I can’t even imagine because if I live to your age, it is almost like an entire second life for me. Life coming at me, this is life and all of a sudden I am seven years away from sixty. That sounds so crazy to write this, but as I think about my high school friend, Keri leaving us way to soon, I consider my good fortune and the changes are a welcome opportunity to live my life simply because I have one to live.

living life with two of my favorite superchicks,


making my friend Janey walk miles to enjoy some fried chicken at her new favorite place, Winner Winner in Newport, #maketimeforfriends
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THE MAGNIFYING MIRROR

THE MAGNIFYING MIRROR

Five diopter magnifying mirrors should be banned from purchase once a woman goes through menopause, especially surgical menopause. Like the speed of light, white eyebrow hairs start appearing, hair starts sprouting from areas on the face that should only be sprouting on a man. This all happens at the same time eyesight starts to disappear so that close up vision of anything is a near Olympic feat. Is it my imagination or is the font size on everything getting smaller? I had to buy a new phone the other day and I dreaded having to read the wifi password on my modem since the print is made for, well I don’t know who it’s made for, but surely “they” didn’t have menopausal women in mind when they were emblazoning the font on the sticker.

Brown spots appear overnight from all of that sun my grandmother told me to stay out of when I was happily baking on my foil blanket loaded up with Johnson’s baby oil, listening to my am radio trying to get burned so it would magically turn into a tan before my five day Florida visit to my grandparents ended.

“Alayne, you are going to get burned, come inside,” my grandmother would mildly yell from her condo situated on the white sands of Siesta Key. She may as well have been a character in Charlie Brown because my 12-year-old head would translate that into blah blah blah. Oh Grandma, you were right. The brown spots, the lines around my upper lip staying in their lined position even after I change my expression are just a few of the post 50 changes occurring on my once smooth lightly freckled complexion.

How about the bloat factor? I long for the good old days where I could eat pizza, drink wine and have no evidence on my midsection to show my indulgences. The evidence of post menopause is apparent like there is air pump that goes off as soon as the first glass of biodynamic pinot goes in. And it doesn’t leave like the old days where I could simply eat a salad the next day and drop the 3 pounds that a night of drinking and carbohydrates added to the scale.

The scale, yes, besides the fact that I have to put on glasses to see the number, I don’t even get on the scale not because I am worried about the number, actually I have made peace with the scale number and I have found the less I pay attention to it, the less it fluctuates. I have a classic vintage scale from my other diet obsessed grandmother. It actually says the word ‘Thinner’ etched into its metal plate under the numbers. I keep it along with her mirror as a reminder to not go down the rabbit hole of fretting and worrying about my looks and my weight like she did for her entire life.

I looked at my calendar this morning to see what the week plan is and I chuckled as I saw 4 doctor appointments. 6 month mammogram, thyroid ultrasound, blood work, teeth cleaning, almost all maintenance appointments from that dreaded diagnosis a week after 50. I remember the good old days when I had a annual pap smear, an eye exam and two teeth cleanings. Now it’s the breast surgeon, the genetic counselor, the endocrinologist, the internist, I am actually laughing aloud as I write this because with menopause comes this lovely self deprecating humor that I wouldn’t trade with the 20 somethings for anything despite a cancer diagnosis.

Don’t get me wrong, this is not a complaining themed essay. I’d like to call it an observation themed one because everyone told me that once 50 enters your world, these things start to happen at a rate of speed that one can only experience when one experiences the reality. There are so many highs of going through menopause. I have managed to successfully (knock on wood) stay out of the clutches of the pharmaceutical industry. Sorry big pharma, you are not sucking me into your evil empire.

With this crazy hair growth, comes oddly not a loss of locks, but a gorgeous full thick head of silvery hair which I am grateful for its bright color.

I am also struck by my level of fitness at this age, seriously the most in shape I have ever been in. I can begin and finish a beach boot camp and not blink an eye. Sometimes I imagine what kind of definition my body would have if I had started these fitness routines about 25 years earlier, but water under the bridge, I have learned that fitness at 52 for me is more about how good it makes my insides feel. There is nothing like the feeling of inner fitness. The strength and beauty it brings to my being is nothing I have ever experienced. Fitness forms alliances with like-minded people. I find myself talking about the specifics of the workout the previous day sharing my battle wounds with my partner and my workout friends like a badge of honor. It has replaced the war stories of previous nights of partying we used to share back in the college years.

Ah the aging process. It is so ironic that as the outward appearances do their shifting and moving about at the same time that the insides are strengthening and making their kickass selves known. Quality relationships, release of negative ones, confidence, truth, honesty, no bullshit, no drama, saying no with no remorse, wisdom, saying yes to the things I really want to say yes to, a still sparkling healthy (knock on wood again) sex drive, delight in small little pleasures, an intuitive sense of daily gratitude, these gorgeous elements of my insides happening at the same speed of light.

I’ll take this anyday.