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Wednesday, October 14, 2015

A Mental Pause

If you're a woman, you have probably already figured out what this post is about. If you're a man, you may also have figured it out but think it doesn't pertain to you. Let me simply say this: if you are a man with any female friends, family members, co-workers, or significant others, stick around. You might learn something. It might be something that will help keep you alive. I exaggerate, of course, but it never hurts to be educated and aware.

When I was a mere slip of a girl and had long legs with skinned knees (and was so skinny I had to turn around twice to make a shadow, according to my Gram), my female schoolmates went through two phases of asking questions. The first was usually some variation of, "Are you wearing one?" This question had to do with most girls' first steps toward growing up - wearing a bra. 

It was a great source of fascination and gossip, and even the boys were curious. It was pretty common for the bolder boys to run their fingers briskly down your back or even pat you down to find out if you were one of the bra-wearing girls yet. It occurs to me as I am writing this that a boy caught doing something like this nowadays would receive punishment for unwanted touching or harassing. It would become a National News Story replete with comments that ranged from "boys will be boys" to "if that kid did that to my daughter, I'd make sure he never did it to another girl again!" We were too embarrassed to talk to our parents about it. We just told the boys that they were jerks, to keep their hands to themselves, and to leave us alone. Sometimes it even worked.

In my case, I needed a brassiere at least a year before I had one, and it was a source of great embarrassment to me. Gram got tired of waiting for Alice to get into gear and provide them and simply got me the bras herself, for which I was eternally grateful. I felt like I was growing up and cool. Luckily for me, I had a cousin two years older than me from whom I got some hand-me-downs as well. Carole, if you're reading this, I thank you for those bras that you no longer needed. I especially liked the one with the thin stripes of red and blue. It felt so daring compared to the basic white ones I otherwise wore. Although nobody could see it, it made me feel confident and brave and fashionable.

After just about everyone was wearing a bra, the question changed. "Did you get it?" The playground talk was first about whose mom had told her about what would be happening to her body in the near future, the miracle of menses. Then, of course, we talked about who had reached that milestone. There were also those times of shared sisterhood when we all took care of one another, times when we worked together for the common good of young womanhood. I have never forgotten the day when Donna, the girl who hit all of the womanly milestones long before the rest of us girls, had an accident during class in sixth grade. What was she to do? If she got up from her desk, all of the boys would know that she was (whispered) on her period.  Luckily, we had a female teacher, and the girls quietly let her know what was happening. At lunchtime, she dismissed all of the boys and instructed them to leave the classroom. She also gave Donna her beautiful white sweater to wrap around her waist while she walked the block home from school to get cleaned up and change her clothes. On that day, of all days, I think all of the girls in that class loved and respected our teacher in a way that we never had before. The shared bond of womanhood and protection had brought all of us to a new level together.

When most of the girls I knew finally got IT, we were seriously let down. It was not as much fun as we expected, and it was hard on our bodies. Now that we had it, we sort of dreaded it. No one had told us that in the early years, menstruation was often more painful and energy-sapping than it would probably be in later years. Of course if they had, we'd have been in complete terror of it. Our new monthly visitor sometimes made us feel sick and unable to do things. Some girls felt dirty or smelly or disgusting. The hormonal autobahn on which we were now traveling made all of these wonderful things possible. And there was always the fear that what happened to Donna might happen to us.

As the years pass by, women feel different things about their monthly cycles. There is the terrible fear or the overwhelming joy associated with "being late." There is the frustration of dealing with a male boss who can't understand that sometimes women really are in unbearable pain once every month. There's also the female boss who has never had a cramp or twinge in her life who says her employee should grow up and get to work, it's no big deal, for heaven's sake!

After months, years, and then decades of going through this monthly ritual, whether or not it has been a difficult thing for our bodies to handle, we tend to grow weary of it. We are tired of toting around emergency supplies just in case of a surprise. We are tired of having our clothes ruined by said surprises. We are tired of spending dollars upon dollars for those supplies. We are tired of all of the possible monthly symptoms, from bloat to cramps to wanting to eat everything in the world. We yearn for menopause, or as I have long called it, mental pause.

Well, it appears that I might be entering this unknown country. I call it such because I have no mother figure to guide and escort me. Both of my sisters had to have hysterectomies before reaching this milestone, so I had no way to know the age at which I might take my final bow and leave the cast of this monthly show. But as I said, it seems that the time has finally arrived for me. There are some things that are surprising when you have no woman guide in this territory. The delightful symptoms you never expected or imagined. 

The one symptom I had always heard about was the dreaded Hot Flash. Mmm, not so much for me. When I told my doctor I suspected the beginning of menopause, he asked me if I had hot flashes or night sweats. I informed him that because of my lupus, I had been sweating every night since before I turned thirty. Cross that off the list of indicators! I have noticed, though, that every evening at bedtime it feels as though the temperature in the room is too high. If that's as bad as it gets, no problem.

But there are other symptoms that I had never heard of before. Headaches, nausea, cramping just like you're having PMS or a period, dizziness, and the list goes on. The hormonal autobahn is slowing down and the whole body feels the effects. That includes the brain, my dears, the source of emotional mayhem everywhere. Here's an example of the mental pause madness. I find out that the pharmacy is convinced that they don't cover X. I call them, furious but polite, and tell them that they do indeed cover X. They think that our other insurance is responsible, but that company has told us on no uncertain terms that this is not their responsibilty. I relate this to Pharmacy Person, and start becoming testy. I am put on hold again and told once more that they don't cover it. I start to cry while I ask who is going to pay for this. I am put on hold again and it is determined that they do indeed cover X. I apologize profusely for being mean, even though I wasn't. I search the house for chocolate and salty snacks while saying that if this is what freaking menopause is like, they can keep it.

Some women can and do take advantage of HRT - Hormone Replacement Therapy. This is not an option for me because an influx of hormones could cause a major flare of my lupus. I'd rather be cranky, to be honest. I also remember that when Gram was about eighty years olda doctor asked her if she'd had HRT (she had not) and offered her hormones if she would like them. There was the possibility, the doctor said, that it would make her start to menstruate again. Gram laughed hysterically and asked the doctor why the H--- she thought she'd want that to happen at her age. I tend to agree. 

So I am going to just float along and try not to lose it completely while this pause progresses. I figure if I don't get too stressed out and if I completely quit watching videos featuring any humans or dogs or creatures of any description, or even pretty trees and flowers, I might not have daily weepy meltdowns. And if Trent doesn't point out my emotional state, he might survive it relatively unscathed as well. As long as there's salty snacks. And chocolate. Lots and lots of chocolate.




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