By Cheryl Oreglia
Preparation Is Key
I knew this chrysalis stage was going to be rough, as if tackling pubescence in your fifties, but I have to admit the unrelenting joy was a total surprise.
The caterpillar chooses the food the butterfly will need, chooses the exact space to later spread its wings, without the space, the wings would never fly writes Marion Woodman. She goes on to say the chrysalis is essential. It is the twilight zone, a precarious world between past and future, like living in a gap, it naturally defines all that is to be.
I’ve come to believe aging well is all about preparation. Did I sufficiently feed myself with rich experiences, capacitate deeply rooted relationships, situate myself in a space that not only allowed for failure but a graceful recovery? If so, am I prepared to rid myself of this interim shelter, spread my wings, and live without the encumbrances of youth?
This is my journey through menopause, the untarnished truth, the reality of aging in a modern world, and how this redefined my perception of beauty.
When the tsunami hit, it was powerful and unexpected. I found myself sweating profusely in front of my students, I couldn’t sleep for more than a two-hour stretch, or decide on a particular mood, and never mind the unwarranted belly fat. My hair, skin, muscles, and bones staged a coup and I’m afraid I was not dealing with it well.
I took walks, ate kale, drank lots of water, and like Jesus there was never enough wine.
It’s noteworthy to mention that aging female whales also experience a hormone imbalance during their twilight years. The interesting thing is whales become leaders in their pods, whereas humans go on hormone replacement, and start searching the yellow pages for a good therapist.
We have an odd response to aging in our society—tackle the symptoms, hide the evidence. It’s as if we’re disposable, past our expiration date, left unrefrigerated, fermenting on the counter, our essence soured, spoiled, and yet some would say cultured.
It must be said, I miss my waist. The part of my anatomy designed to clarify the top half of my body from the bottom. It not only defined my shoulders, but scaled beautifully with my derrière, allowed me to bend gracefully, wear fashionable belts, offer a place to rest a baby or my hands when angry. It’s no longer there, as if a soft-serve ice cream cone, I’m suddenly layered. This could be for practical purposes, such as stability because otherwise, my boobs would totally throw me off balance.
People age. It’s not a design flaw or cruel and unusual punishment for surviving our youth. It’s a reward. We are finally unburdened by cycling hormones, the demands of fertility, and our homemade fledglings. I’m what you call a recovering enabler, I used to spend my day running amuck, delivering late papers, forgotten lunches, art projects, and gym clothes to three different schools, acting as a buffer during conflicts, generously (at times begrudgingly) accommodating the demands of family and clan, bending like a pretzel to make life easier for anyone caught in the vortex of my life.
I don’t miss all the noise and confusion, the chaotic pace, picky eaters, or monthly menses.
Today, I’m graced with quiet, unmitigated time, and the leisure to pursue all those dreams I stuck on that vision board in my thirties but somehow ended up in the back of a disorganized closet. I have arrived, it’s time to dust off that old bulletin board, and start pinning new goals.
My husband and I are revving up the romance. He’s taken to courting his bride. We bought a tandem bike, joined a gourmet cooking club, and added wine tasting to our extracurricular activities. He’s improving his golf game; I’m developing my writing and together we are decluttering the garage. Our travel plans have been hampered by the restrictions of an unexpected pandemic but like all things in life, this too shall pass. My schedule is malleable, I wrap it around my needs. Now I consider it a good day when I find my car keys, a parking space, and remember why I landed in the Target parking lot.
Survival of the Fittest
But wait for it … in the middle of all this menopausal unrest, I stumbled on a fabulous theory! The most prevalent premise behind menopause is called the grandmother hypothesis. In short, it suggests females may stop breeding to help their children and grandchildren survive and reproduce.
Do you understand the implications here?
I didn’t either.
In a world where my value was based on the productivity of my womb, no wonder I had a meltdown when my ovaries died. As my temperature rose, and the perky parts fell, I became a mother again.
Yes, it’s true. With the birth of my daughter’s daughter, I’m no longer a detriment to the ecosystem, like reusable containers I’ve been repurposed, restored, and revitalized.
I can’t say it enough, motherhood the second time around is pretty damn sweet, nothing falls out of your honeypot, and no stretch marks.
The afternoon knows what the morning never suspected, says Robert Frost.
My granddaughter asked me the other day, “Do those hurt, Grammie?” She was referring to the wrinkles around my eyes. I said, “No sweetheart, not at all.” I’m relishing the freedom from those confining roles of parent, caregiver, volunteer extraordinaire, to newly winged senior citizen, glorious, light, wrinkled, and free.
I still hate kale.
Naomi Wolf says, a consequence of female self-love is that the woman grows convinced of social worth. Her love for her body will be unqualified, which is the basis of female identification. If a woman loves her own body, she doesn’t grudge what other women do with theirs; if she loves femaleness, she champions its rights.
“Aging is an extraordinary process where you become the person you should have always been,” says David Bowie. Writing has given me a place to spread my wings. I could not have anticipated the enormous endowment of this work. My concept of beauty has shifted over time. I believe there is nothing more beautiful than a confident, unencumbered woman, who understands not only her immeasurable worth, but her influence on the perpetuation of society. I appreciate the brevity of our existence, the precarious space between past and future in which we exist, and I’m ever so grateful for our latent ability to break through the chrysalis, take to the skies, endowed with wrinkles, and resplendent joy.
Cheryl Oreglia hosts a lifestyle blog called Living in the Gap, she claims the space between past and future, where one's potential is created or destroyed. With arresting humor Oreglia draws you into her cantankerous life, forty-year marriage, empty nest, and evolving faith. By cleaning out the things that clutter her life she illuminates our own in her popular memoir-style blog. Oreglia surrounds herself with a gaggle of intriguing friends who challenge her to live authentically in a rapidly changing world. Oreglia uses her experience to explore what matters most in life...the degree to which we love and are loved.
3/26/2022 1 Comment
Anxiety is one of the most pernicious and surprising symptoms of perimenopause. In fact, though it is well-documented as one of the most common symptoms of this hormonal transition, many women are shocked by it or undergo treatment for a false diagnosis of clinical anxiety or depression before it is properly recognized as part of perimenopause.
In fact, anxiety and depression are also known as menopausal “side effects.”
This doesn’t mean that women who experience this symptom aren’t displaying anxious or depressive behavior, but it does mean that the cascade of symptoms are tied to this hormonal stage of change, not the prototypical clinically psychiatric variety. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM) is the “Bible” of psychiatry.
It classifies anxiety as a “disorder class” that also includes several different anxiety disorders, some of which may include obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) and panic attacks. Some features of anxiety, per the DSM, include:
Herein lies the fine print. Hormonal changes are a medical condition. And that’s what perimenopause is. Therefore, perimenopause and menopause could be considered as a “medical condition,” even though it is as much a natural biological transition or life stage. Hence, this makes it stand apart from how clinical anxiety is defined or labeled by psychiatry. In fact, it is treated as a medical condition by the gynecologists, endocrinologists and women’s health physicians who specialize in treating such women with various modalities, like HRT and non-hormone medications.
This delineation may bring some women experiencing anxiety a measure of comfort, especially as they may face the prospect of being offered or prescribed antidepressants for the very first time in their lives.
The problem is that perimenopausal women are often misdiagnosed as being clinically depressed or anxious by mental health therapists and psychiatrists who have not taken into account the probability of perimenopause and, therefore, miss the ball on getting the full spectrum of care and treatments that will really help address the underlying root cause. Consideration of perimenopause should certainly be on the table for any woman presenting with first-time anxiousness between their late-30s to early 50s.
In fact, many don’t realize they were really perimenopausal until much later – sometimes years down the line. This also means they may be under-treated in ways that would optimize their current quality of life and future-state health.
As the same time, the experience of perimenopausal anxiety often dredges up yet another symptom, and that symptom is called denial. If we’re feeling nervous, flying off the handle for no reason, have a mind busy and thinking of random topics for no purpose, many of us flinch to think of labeling it as anxiety. We don’t want to be medically mislabeled or, worse, written off as “crazy.” Furthermore, many women are loathe to take antidepressants based on the stigma of the drug class, even though these medicines are used to treat conditions from nerve pain to migraine headaches, irritable bowel syndrome, smoking cessation and appetite stimulation for cancer patients.
So what came first – the chicken or the egg? Is this a matter of the cup being half empty or half full? Are we working with 12 eggs or a full dozen? And, if a woman is truly seeking help and trying to live her best life, does it even matter?
According to psychiatrist Dr. Swapna Vaidya, MD, definitions and distinctions DO matter. At the recent WisePause Wellness Global Experience conference in March 2022, her presentation was titled “Got Menopause Brain? Managing Brain Fog, Anxiety and Mood Swings.”
She said: “Mental health changes during menopause and the type of symptoms you may see in perimenopause and menopause might not be the same as you might see when you diagnose mental illness with the Diagnostic Statistical Manual (DSM). For instance, women’s brains actually age differently than men’s brains. This is because the brain and ovaries are part of a neuroendocrine system. So the health of our brain is related to the health of our ovaries.”
Dr. Vaidya also offers an explanation of what, exactly, mental health is according to a global definition: “Mental health, according to the World Health Organization (WHO), is a state of well-being in which the individual realizes her own abilities and can cope with the normal stressors of life and can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to her community.”
What helps to strike this balance during perimenopause?
Yes, medications. Dr. Vaidya plainly stated that 50 percent of perimenopausal women will seek treatment for their symptoms and “will need go on an antidepressant at some point in their lives.”
“Our job is to destigmatize mental health. Menopause itself, being a life-changing event, can induce anxiety and can induce symptoms of depression in women. Mental health problems are very common during menopause.”
By Claudette Labriola
My 40s was a time of young children, lack of sleep, youth sports and constant renovations. It felt like I was on a perpetual sprint toward an infinitely out of reach finish line.
Then I entered peri-menopause with its hormonal fluctuations, heightened anxiety, irrational mood swings and rage.
But that wasn't all.
Every month or so I was treated to a fortnight of periods resembling murder scenes straight out of the Walking Dead. I literally and figuratively almost bled to death every couple of weeks.
At the risk of sounding like a drama queen I'll stop now. The point, however, is that I was less concerned about my so-called physical beauty during my 40s than I ever was before because of all these distractions.
My course of action at the time was to just ignore my body altogether. I needed it to function so I fed it nutritionally and tried to sleep when I could. To pamper myself with coiffed dos, flawless make-up and flattering clothes was beyond my capabilities; a ponytail was so much easier, and sunglasses hid my eyes anyway, so why bother with mascara? And yoga pants were much more comfortable to chase children in than pretty dresses. Besides, I didn't care what anyone thought if me.
One day in my late 40s I took a closer look at myself in the bathroom mirror while naked after a shower.
Typically, my instinct was to look away. I wasn't a fan of how I looked naked. I felt uncomfortable in my birthday suit and had, for this very reason, given up my love for swimming long ago. I didn't like how I looked and didn't want to subject others to my body. Covering up my self-perceived flaws was more important than participating in activities requiring a bathing suit, no matter how much I used to love them.
Acting this way bothered me. I knew it was wrong to be so dismissive about myself. I was raising a daughter who was inching closer to the tween, then teen years; what kind of role model was I becoming if I couldn't accept, and appreciate my own body?
As I approached my 50th birthday, I started to spend more time in the bathroom staring at my naked form.
I especially hated my side profile. The scar tissue from the two c-sections formed a slight bulge on my lower abdomen that I zoomed in on whenever I turned sideways. I was also hyper-aware of my weak abdominal muscles which made my stomach area look less than flat. My butt and upper thighs showed those little dimples called cellulite which were amplified in the brightly lit bathroom mirror. And my breasts, of average size and shape for my body type, certainly wouldn't be called perky anymore.
The longer I stared at my body the more elaborate my negative self-talk became. I was on a roll.
One day, I felt something flip in my brain. It was as if I woke up suddenly. I thought back to my own role models, I wondered if I picked up their discomforts with their own bodies over the years and projected those same negative vibes onto myself.
"It's ridiculous to desire perky breasts or a flat stomach in midlife," I scolded myself.
Besides, if I truly wanted to improve my body to appease primarily my own self-esteem, I could do something about my general lack of fitness.
My fitness routine during my 40s included chasing kids and pets, and picking up toys...
On my 50th birthday, I made a pivotal decision. My daughter was growing older, and I was sick of my doom and gloom attitude which I was afraid she would copy if I didn't stop right now.
I decided to change my mental perspective of my physical body and learn to project self-love to my reflection in the mirror and those around me.
If not now, when? This was my line of thinking and became my midlife mantra.
But how does one do this?
Elaborate self-talk wasn't effective since I had trouble listening to myself, and media all around me wasn't particularly helpful either what with the celebrity-induced artificial beauty standards most regular folk were unable to strive for anyway.
So, I made a list:
Become comfortable with my nudity.
Accept my body in its natural, nude state.
Love what I see and project it onto others.
Nudity in October was tricky given my geographical region of Toronto, Canada. We were in fall with winter weather just around the corner. I tended to be cold even when dressed during those long and dark winter months; how was I going to get comfortable with being naked?
The solution proved simple. I owned an electric blanket and a warm housecoat. Instead of wearing bulky pjs to bed, I would take a quick hot shower at night to warm up. While in the steamy bathroom, I applied lotion all over and cherished the touch of my hands on my body. Each curve, each dimple, and yes, even the bulgy bits deserved some attention. This was an act of self-love, which in turn fine-tuned my mind into accepting my body in its natural state.
After I was well moisturized, I donned my housecoat over top of my naked body. My bed looked inviting and warm with the electric blanket giving off heat and comfort. I dropped my housecoat onto the dog crate on the floor next to my side and entered the bed naked.
Over the months and years, I learned to feel comfortable in my skin because of this simple exercise of sleeping naked regularly. It wasn't always easy, and I still zoomed in on parts of me which I desired to look or feel different. But mostly, I learned to love sleeping naked.
Shortly after sleeping naked became the normal go-to, I joined a local mom-group's boot camp in a church basement, and later, after the pandemic began, I continued with a yoga-inspired exercise routine delivered from an app in my phone.
I knew that health was more than just excellent nutrition; it included a painless body, good posture, flexibility and strength. Never having been a fan of cardio, I applied a few gentle cardio exercises, but most of my attention went to my core, especially that tricky c-section part of my body.
It worked. As I became more comfortable with my physical self, I gained mental and emotional clarity which I hoped translated positively to my teens, especially my daughter.
It may be noteworthy to mention that the journey isn't finished, nor is it smooth sailing. I still have moments of insecurity or a drop in self-esteem... sure, a good haircut or some makeup might help, as will a short stint of retail therapy, but all in all, the overall effect has been progressive and beneficial. In addition, my posture improved which reduced the aches and pains in my neck, back and arms.
Do I still sleep nude today, three years later? The answer is not always. But that has more to do with room temperature than the desire to be naked in bed.
Claudette Labriola is a self-described "write of words, active blogger, self-published author, Beagle wrangler and hockey mom to two sporty teenagers." Her website is writerofwordsetc.ca.
The Real Peri Meno is devoted to all things perimenopause - the science, treatments, care, understanding, personal experiences, relationships, culture and more. The brain child of Keisha D. Edwards, The Real Peri Meno developed out of her own shock-and-awe experience with perimenopause and navigating the disjointed U.S. medical system in search of answers, support and relief.
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