When we lived in Germany, we watched the AFRTS (Armed Forces Radio and TV Services) network which broadcast US TV shows and had no commercial content. They did, however, screen all sorts of public service announcements, and among them was a series of ads about prejudice. In them they asked children questions about prejudice. In one, they asked a little girl what she thinks of prejudice and she answered, “I don’t like to talk about what I don’t like to talk about.”
That line has stuck with me all this time and seems particularly apt for this blog post.
I was talking to one of my daughters about thoughts I have been having lately about getting older and what that means to me, how it changes how I view the world. I told her that no one ever writes about this because it’s too depressing. She said to me that she noticed that no one ever writes about menopause because that too remains a subject that women don’t want to talk about.
So here it is.
Menopause seems like a walk in the park compared to issues of growing older, so I will tackle that one first.
The information I had when I was in my late 30s was limited and frankly frightening. There was a long list of symptoms that one may have including heavy bleeding, night sweats, depression, rage– all sorts of mood issues and possible vulnerability to psychosis. From my point of view, it seemed a lot like a mini-death. After all, it seemed as if everything was going to go haywire.
Now I have never done a survey and since most women don’t talk about their experience, I cannot tell you what other people report, but for me, aside from a couple of years of heavy and unpredictable periods (which by the way, could have been made much less unpleasant had there been yoatzot at that time who could have told me that much of what I was concerned about was not relevant) and hot flashes, I had no symptoms.
The heavy bleeding was not fun. Once when I was giving a workshop on “The Uses of Humor and Metaphor in Therapy” in San Antonio, I was forced to sit behind a desk rather than stand while speaking as a veritable tidal wave hit. Experiences at work when I bled through onto my chair were less than pleasant. Finally, the doctor insisted on an endometrial biopsy which was a real experience. I was lying in that most unflattering position on his examination table as he stuck what felt like a hot poker into my uterus. It was so hot and shocking that I all of a sudden started to panic. I was blind!! I couldn’t see anything. And then I realized that my eyes were closed. When I opened them my vision returned. It turned out the pain was only momentary. When later he gave me pills to induce what he called “a chemical D&C” he told me to be prepared for a flood. In fact, that was not an understatement. The one good thing that came out of it (yes, indeed, something good resulted) was that at the time I was working full time and also trying to rewrite my dissertation, adding charts and case material that didn’t appear in what had been my final draft. I had to remain 5 steps from the bathroom for 3 days and I was able to stay home and finish my dissertation. After that there was still heavy bleeding from time to time, but I wasn’t worried about it enough to go through all of that again. And then, finally, the bleeding stopped and never returned. I don’t miss it.
Oh, the hot flashes. Well, they bothered me a lot less once I thought of them as power surges and I began to find them mildly amusing. All of a sudden I was like one of those space heaters who sit there innocently quiet and sedate until suddenly the coils turn bright orange and everyone nearby begins to feel flushed. Except, this time, it was only I who was feeling flushed. And just as there is no control over when that coil becomes orange, there is no control over when the surges come. Sometimes it was several times an hour, sometimes, only a few times a day. Over the years, they are farther and farther apart.
Of course it did make for some interesting experiences like when I would be teaching and would say to the room full of Orthodox women studying family therapy, “Is it hot in the room, or is it me?” Most of the time, it was me.
But even more interesting was when I taught a group of Orthodox and Ultra-Orthodox men, most of whom were rabbis, family therapy. Since they take only single gender classes, they usually have male instructors, but because of my qualifications, a special exception was made for me to teach them. Now informality between men and women is not something one is likely to find when you have a group of dark-suited, bearded, Ultra-Orthodox Jewish men, so there were situations that were unusual. As we would sit behind the two way mirror and watch one of the men work with clients, we were sitting in the dark, a bunch of men and I, most likely making them far more uncomfortable than it was making me. When issues related to counseling women came up, I was able to teach them a lot about women that they had never known. Unfortunately, strict gender separation leaves men pretty clueless about women.
So, when I asked them one day, “Is it warm in here or am I having a hot flash?” I was pleased to note that none of them fainted and happy that I had added to their store of knowledge about women. I guess I got a bit of a kick out of the looks of shock on their faces.
In short, my experience with menopause was not nearly as bad as I had feared. I lived through it and life on the other side is pretty terrific. I would love to hear other women’s experiences.