Just like any woman…we weave our stories out of our BODIES. Some of us through our children, or our ART; some do it just by LIVING. It’s all the same. – Francesca Lia Bloc
I dictated these words to my 50-ish self who now has a habit of waking at 3 am many nights. The whole essay was in my head by the time I got up, giving up on sleep, two hours later.
Why the 3am habit? Perimenopause, I am told. Sorry for the TMI, but this essay is about the body, the women’s body in particular and even more precisely, my body, because I can’t speak to every women’s body, obviously.
I am going to cut right to the chase here. I have a theory that menopausal symptoms could be our bodies urging us to finally pay very careful attention to how we are treating them. I am not saying that changes in women’s bodies don’t have biological and medical explanations. I get that they do. I am saying that perhaps the antidote to the unpleasant changes that many women experience – weight gain, hot flashes, lethargy, insomnia, loss of libido- may be to get a little obsessive with self-care.
A couple of years ago I started having “spells”. Seemingly out of the blue, I would feel faint, my heart would race, or else it felt like it was stopping for a second and I would come close to passing out. I didn’t know what to call this because I had no idea what the cause was. A heart condition? A caffeine sensitivity?
I saw my doctor and he ordered an EKG and then a heart monitor and had me write down every time I felt my heart falling out of beat. When he determined that indeed I noticed each little flip that my heart had done, he said, “You are very in tune to your body”. There was nothing to worry about, he thought. Just some common, harmless arrhythmia that many people don’t even notice. So my abnormalities were normal.
The scary thing though, was that the near-fainting spells would sometimes happen while driving. The summer before my youngest daughter began medical school, I had a spell while driving us home from somewhere. I pulled over and my daughter calmly waited it out, talking to me until I was ready to switch places so she could drive us home. I guess I gave her a crash course in hypochondria. Or was it a panic attack? I’d read somewhere that menopause can increase or even cause anxiety.
Great. I’ve been having menopausal symptoms while still getting my period like clockwork every month. How can I be fertile and menopausal? Oh yeah, perimenopause- that period (no pun intended) that can last years before menopause, when estrogen levels begin to fluctuate; it’s as if the ovaries can’t decide whether to produce or not, those fickle bitches.
Another day I nearly passed out while at the Loft outlet. I was in line to pay when a sales associate asked me if I was okay, because I had suddenly turned pale. She got me water and a piece of candy while I sat on a bench. She told me that this happens all the time, women dropping like flies in there, when it’s too warm or too crowded. Really? What a cliché I am! a Loft-shopping middle- aged fainting woman.
I figured that what I had going for me in this whole set-of-new-symptoms time of life was what the doctor had confirmed: that I was very in tune with my body. This was the intuitive tool that would help me figure out what I had to accept and what I had control over. I started to really pay attention to what I was thinking, eating, drinking or doing when these symptoms emerged. I tuned in more than ever.
We live in a cerebral society, over thinking and rather obsessed with the mind. In the meantime, so much that we need to tune into, our memories, fears, desires, creativity, are stored in the body. The body tells us things before the mind has even caught on. It is the vessel for our nervous system, our creativity, and our energy. Taking care of our whole selves is critical to our wellbeing and ultimately our happiness.
Quality of life is directly related to the quality of the care we give ourselves. I think that “women of a certain age” are being urged to honor this. Don’t hate me for saying this, but our symptoms are gifts. They’re here to tell us to do better, to find a way to bring our self-care to a new level. For some, this may require drastic changes, but what is life if we are not changing?
Dana Laquidara is a writer of a certain age living in Massachusetts.