Menopause - not too shabby

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So far, it’s better than I’d feared it might be. Whew.

Fear number one: I’m going to miss having a monthly cycle. I’d liked the rise and fall of emotions. I enjoyed having those few days of easy tears before the bleeding began. I liked knowing where I was in life. Of course, once peri-menopause messed with my regularity, I didn’t enjoy the process as much. 

What I’ve found is that it’s freaking amazing not wondering whether I’m going to bleed. It’s a pain in the ass to be bleeding on a vacation. I hated being at work and, oops, gotta run get my supplies. It’s a delight to know I will always not be bleeding. Really, like, tra la la, I’m free! I hadn’t anticipated that I would enjoy that part so much. 

I’m also still as sentimental and easily emotional as ever, and I love that. When a young student told me about his sister nearing death, tears came to my eyes. That empathy is right there at the surface for me. A few months ago, I’d invited the Agnews for lunch. To prepare, Siobhan was in the kitchen making her wonderful vegan, gluten-free pizza and oh-my-god-amazing chocolate cake. Hugh was helping clean up the kitchen. There is something immensely satisfying for me when we’re together as a family, working on a project, getting ready for guests, whatever we’re doing that’s mundane and joyful. Hugh stopped to put on some music - tapes! he got out some cassette tapes! — and played an old Bruce Hornsby tune, a sad sad song, “Lost Soul.” I began to cry.  I walked to my husband and clung to him, crying. He knows the drill. We’ve done this before. He doesn’t have to ask what’s wrong. He knows he’s just supposed to hold me. I finally came up for air and explained, “That’s a very sad song.” Then we laughed. 

This is what I might expect when my hormones are galloping. But they don’t gallop any more. They don’t thunder through my life. I thought without their strong steady pulse that I wouldn’t be so easily moved. It’s a great joy to be moved to tears by my family being with me. That song is as old as my daughter is, and the passage of time felt sweet and satisfying, not scary at all.

On that beautiful fall day, Hugh and Pete went off with the twins while Diane and I talked. The guys took the twins outside to draw with chalk. Later, back inside, they climbed with the children up the stairs, down the stairs, up the stairs pushing the exercise ball that’s bigger than a 17th month old, down the stairs again. I’m so glad those twins aren’t mine. I’m so glad I’m not in my 30s. I’m so glad I get to be a part of their lives in this way. And how perfect is this timing? That just as my own children have become adults, I have a set of tiny humans to watch grow and help nurture. I get to help nurture the tiny humans’ parents as well. I can no longer create tiny humans and the loss of that is offset by something so perfectly right and perfectly timed: being a part of someone else’s new family. Joy is brighter than loss, and the passing of time acquires sweetness when I focus on the joy.

Fear number two: I’m going to miss my testosterone and estrogen, in that order.

In perimenopause, I already experienced that it seems so much easier to become injured and that I heal less quickly. I’ve already found that I just don’t build muscle the way I used to. 

As I gained weight and my running times slowed, a lot, I began to resign myself to a less athletic future. I knew some people were rocking the weights and still running fast in their 50s and 60s but I didn’t seem able to keep up. 

Then I changed my diet (see this post) and I got young again. Not young young, just actually my real age young. As I lost weight, my running times improved. I ran a faster 5K race at 52 and in menopause than I’d ever run before in my life. Ha ha! That’s a win for the power of our minds to fuel our performance. As I trained, I came up with a new motto: no ovaries, all heart. I run faster now because I push myself more. 

I wonder sometimes if I could be even stronger and faster with the hormones my ovaries would have provided. That’s a really fruitless wondering.

My husband remembers a time, a perfect afternoon when the kids were much younger and the four of us went for a hike in the Sandias. It was both mundane and spectacular, and my husband had a sense that if he’d died right then, it would be okay. He was that full. He had his wife and kids, and he was walking in nature, and everything was right. There was nothing more important than that to accomplish. His life had meaning. 

I had that moment one day this fall. It wasn’t a perfect day or even a particularly special one. I just woke up and knew: I’ve done what I needed to do. This has been a really good ride.

This doesn’t mean I’m not looking forward to the next forty years. I really am. In fact, I’m probably more excited and positive about aging and my future than I’ve ever been. Those first 50 years are hard work. Being a kid can be overwhelming. Then we’re figuring out careers, love, the whole family thing. It’s great, for sure, and constant work. I don’t have the energy I had when I was younger and here’s the secret sauce: I don’t need it. I don’t have so much I need to get done.

I sense opportunity. I sense I can make thoughtful choices about how I want to grow older. I can choose how I want to live in my body. I can choose to be kind. I can choose to be fierce.