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Menopause Almost Broke Me, And No One Is Talking About It.
Menopause

Menopause Almost Broke Me, And No One Is Talking About It.


When I was diagnosed with COVID last year, my period arrived unexpectedly during the second week of confinement, when I was seriously ill and unable to breathe, and I had to will myself out of bed to avoid ruining the sheets.

That was my last period.

It is every woman's right, I believe, to complain about our inability to button our favorite pair of jeans during that time of the month, or to use it as an excuse to sit and cry in our cars in the school pickup line.

My first period came on the first day of junior high school, and my mother promptly traumatized me by wrapping a giant maxi pad in tin foil and stuffing it in my backpack as she ushered me out the door; I'm still processing that, and I'll be eternally grateful to the classmate who introduced me to tampons.

I checked the calendar so many times over the years, worried because it was late, only to be irritated when it finally appeared and lasted longer than expected. In my late 30s, when my periods began to diminish and other symptoms began to appear – brain fog, breast pain, mood swings, heightened anxiety, rage – I called my doctor, and the nurse diagnosed me over the phone.

I'd never heard the term before, but now I had a name for this perplexing physical and emotional upheaval, and the nurse confirmed that I wasn't dying.

I started skipping periods without realizing it was related to this perimenopause thing the nurse had mentioned, and I took so many pregnancy tests, filled with hope that I would be blessed with another child, but also gripped with fear that I would be blessed with another child.

There were months when my bathroom looked like a crime scene because I couldn't keep the blood contained fast enough, and other months when my period was so light that I wondered, "Does this even count?"

Then COVID struck. Three months later, my strength returned, but my period didn't. I was 46, and I started checking every day, hoping for it to appear, but my period had vanished.

When I called my doctor, I was told that the next available appointment was six months away, and when I asked for a mammogram script because I was experiencing shooting pains in my left breast, the receptionist told me that I'd have to wait for that as well unless I wanted to pay out of pocket, which irritated me and left me feeling helpless.

I turned to Google and social media, like so many other women looking for answers, and began reading about other women's menopausal experiences, realizing how many of us were going through it and yet feeling completely alone.

As most middle-aged women have discovered, health care professionals frequently dismiss our symptoms and concerns, and we have historically learned about the complex intricacies of our own bodies from each other, if at all.

According to a New York Times article, modern medicine consistently ignores menopause, stating that it is studied for a total of one hour during medical school. This patriarchal attitude leaches into the invisibility we feel as we walk through grocery stores, places of work, and even our own homes like faint apparitions of the soft-skinned, collagen-plump women we once were.

One morning, after my teenager has returned to school and I have the house to myself for the first time in over a year, I catch myself in the bathroom mirror and, counting new wrinkles, reach into the vanity to slather on one of my five moisturizers, none of which will help the papery skin under my eyes.

I part my hair and notice coarse, gray strands; no one warned me it would start falling out in clumps in the shower. I wasn't expecting this new layer of belly fat, and I certainly wasn't expecting the hot flashes that cause me to stomp around the room in the middle of the night like I'm in Dante's seventh circle of hell.

My husband doesn't understand why I keep a basket of varying weight pajamas near my bed and change three times during the night, and why I lie awake in the dark with my sheets soaking wet, repeating Springsteen's lyrics to "I'm on Fire," because a freight train is running through the middle of my head, and what used to be a hot and sultry song is now a secret message about menopause.

I desperately want to sit with my friends on my sofa and talk about sex and the memory pills I bought but keep forgetting to take. I want to hear about the new weed dispensaries that will change our lives because we will try anything to stop the never-ending stream of thoughts in our heads.

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When I call to make plans, we all agree that we are exhausted and haven't had time to laugh or cry about anything, let alone focus on ourselves and our changing bodies.

I'm in deep sorrow.

I stand in solidarity with every single mother, wife, and caregiver who has had to put aside her own needs and ambitions in order to take charge of her children's education, her household, and her deep and grating loneliness, all while putting on makeup and figuring out how to adjust the Zoom filter so she doesn't have to look at her own neck waddle.

My period vanished somewhere along the way, between mourning the deaths of family members, lost job opportunities, and important rites of passage, and I never had a chance to say goodbye. The pandemic took this last vestige of my former self without warning, and it has taken so much.

Aileen Weintraub's next book, "Knocked Down: A High-Risk Memoir," will be published in 2022; follow her on Twitter at @aileenweintraub.

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