I am about to do something radical. I am going to share something positive about menopause with you.
At the age of thirteen, after my math teacher noticed that my neck appeared swollen and a little green (ick), I was sent to a specialist to test my thyroid level. I learned I was hypothyroid, which means that my thyroid glands are underactive. I learned I would have to take a pill every day for the rest of my life, which was the WORST—young me dreaded swallowing pills of any kind. What I didn’t learn was one of the side effects of hypothyroidism can be cold sensitivity. It would take three more decades before I learned that fun factoid. In the meantime, I spent most of my life perpetually chilled.
Fred used to joke that I liked the house thermostat set at “nursing home”. Friendlord Kate learned to come visit us in the winter in flip flops and a light t-shirt because I would have the wood stove blazing so hot that the paint on the walls was practically melting. And long road trips with Fred and me were essentially mini wars of attrition when it came to climate control. Being cold all the time sucks…for everyone.
At the Surrey International Writer’s Conference, several years back, standing in line at the buffet, arms bejazzled with goosebumps as I shivered my way toward the roast beef, I joked to a writer friend that I was looking forward to menopause and hot flashes because maybe I could finally be warm for a change. A silver-haired vixen in front me turned around and gasped, “You’re going to love it!”
Friends, that vixen was right.
There is little about perimenopause, and now menopause, that I haven’t loathed and wanted to hurl into the sun, but…oh, baby…I do love being warm.
Yes, I get the occasional annoying moments of overheating. I have had a few night sweats, which are gross, not because of the heat but because by the time you wake up you are freezing from laying in pools of your own perspiration. But, overall, what I have experienced is the slightest rise in my internal temperature. I am, at last, as warm as an average human being, and it is glorious! This stage of The Change, at least, comes with one perk. I am not undervaluing that perk, either. It is one hell of a perk.
You know how it feels to walk into a cozy, warm house after being outside on a freezing cold day? That first moment of “Aaaaaaah”, when your shoulders relax and your teeth stop shattering? That is how this stage of menopause feels to me. I no longer dash out of bed in the morning, already clad in fleece from head to toe, and rush to put on a housecoat and slippers. No, I saunter. I saunter out of bed, in the lightest of pajamas, no socks, feeling just the tiniest chill. Sometimes I even take my socks off and enjoy the feeling of the cool floor on my bare feet! Oh, happy days! Take that, winter.
There is one other perk, though. And this one is a doozy.
A few years before my thyroid diagnosis, my body surprised me with a lovely early puberty. Guess what? You’re fertile! Here, have a whole ton of hormones that will mess with your mind. Feel like being sad or angry for no reason? Done. Want a face full of zits? Presto! How about some fibroid cysts and endometriosis to make the monthly pain extra, extra painful? All yours, kiddo!
But you know what else those lady hormones do? They envelope you in a serotonin fog. Author and journalist Caitlin Moran compares the feeling of those serotonin-loaded fertile years as being “high on nature’s sexy valium”. Don’t get me wrong, this doesn’t mean women are happy all the time—we are most definitely not—it just means that we more easily put up with low-level bad behaviour and annoyances. (How else would mothers be able to live in the same space as toddlers without running off into the wilderness screaming one day when they’ve heard Baby Shark for the millionth time?).
So, what happens when we stop being fertile and nature’s sexy valium leaves our body? Well, some of us get cranky. We sober up. We see bad behaviour and all the little inequalities that we’ve always shrugged off for exactly the crap sandwich that they are. Suddenly, things we just did because they seemed like the “nice” thing to do feel exhausting.
The moment I read the analogy of menopause as sobriety, I had one of those lightbulb moments. Yes, damn it, I’m done with trying to please, trying to calm, trying to smooth out all of the everyday rough edges for everyone in my orbit. I’m done with softening who I really am to make myself more palatable. I think back on the hours upon hours I spent, in my past, making sure my hair looked just right, my face looked just right, my clothes looked just right, fretting over every nano-particle of my being to ensure that I was “acceptable”. What a waste. I could have been reading good books, or getting my university degree, or learning to speak Mandarin and play the harmonica. Why did I care that much? And why did I ever put up with one tenth of the shit I put up with?
Hormones, baby, hormones.
The fog has lifted. I can see clearly again, and I’m figuring out who I really am and what I really want.
And, unlike the typical mid-life crisis where you toss out your old life like a pair of jeans that no longer fit, leave your spouse, get a tattoo and a convertible or whatever, I’m finding that my sobriety has made my marriage better, more honest, more equal. Every day I grow less afraid to speak up, to say, “I don’t like that” or “I’m not interested in going there” or any number of phrases that boil down to, “Nah, no thanks, that’s just not me.” This doesn’t mean I won’t compromise. You can’t have any kind of satisfying relationship without compromise. It simply means that I recognize the difference between compromise and cowardice.
I have been a coward. I can see that now and I wonder why I ever couldn’t see it? Oh, right, hormones.
I have been more honest lately. Painfully so, at times. But you can’t turn into a beautiful fucking butterfly without dumping the gooey cocoon that’s weighing you down. I’ve spoken my mind this year in a way I never have before. This honesty has cost me friends and I’ve let them go. I have lines now, not just on my face, but also in my heart and mind. There are behaviours that hormonally sober me has no energy to excuse any longer.
My forties started off great but the hormonal hangover was excruciating, messy, and confusing. My fifties will also have their challenges, I’m sure, but I am clear of mind and warm of body and in our topsy turvy, post-truth, mid-pandemic world, that feels like a kind of superpower.
All the rest of menopause can eat nails. The perks make the sleeplessness, hormone-induced depression, anxiety, weight gain, painful sex, and…um…what was that last thing? Oh, yes, short term memory loss. The perks make all those continuing side effects somewhat bearable, buoyed by the knowledge that this too shall pass. And when it does, I have a feeling me and my new warmly-honest self are going to be extremely happy together.