A person’s perception of their world can change instantly based on their point of view. I felt an immediate shift in mine after making the decision to change the direction my midlife was headed. That looming sense of impending misfortune was fading quickly. The seeds for a celebration of midlife were being planted. Every bad feeling was not because of “The Change”. I took responsibility for the choices I was making and how I was feeling. Taking inventory, I became quite curious about what was happening in my body in a different way than before.
It was at this time that I underwent a span lasting two weeks where I experienced a concentrated increase in menopausal symptoms. I had 5-10 hot flashes during the day, every day and hot-cold sweats 2-3 times each night that woke me up soaked. This was accompanied by my heart pounding and fluttering at random times during the day and night. I had also gone two full months without having a period. I felt strangely elated that all this solidly confirmed to me that I was actually in the transition, not just the faint beginnings.
At the same time, I knew it could get much more intense. I decided to start talking. Choosing who to talk with was not difficult given that I live with my friends, people who want me to be happy and care about me. However, I was not sure what I wanted to say or how to say it. The tumult in my mind had settled down so recently, and I didn’t think anyone had really noticed anything too unusual. Bringing up the topic might seem like it was coming from left field. I wondered is there a graceful way to broach the subject of menopause?
From experience, I know the power of saying what is without embellishment or diminishment. Drawing upon that, when we were all together, I simply started by saying “I am definitely going into menopause.” Abrupt or not, it didn’t matter. I had the intention to open the door for communication and intimacy. Talking with them was the best thing I did to improve the quality of my life. They listened with approval, knowing there was nothing wrong, nothing to fix.
I communicated specifics about what I’d been experiencing over the past nine months, the anxiety, changes in my period, the hot flashes and night sweats. I filled in the blanks, clearing up any mystery about what was going on when I had been so silent and down. I told them about the embarrassing, fearful, mixed up thoughts behind the emotions I had stifled. I related the realization that I had come to when I made the turnaround from being a victim of nature. As I spoke it was the truth. I felt known and happy. I came to a new perspective.
I view menopause as a natural part of a woman’s life. What I experience is not inherently negative or indicative of my declining value as a human being. What I experience is an indicator of changes happening in my body. There are things to pay attention to, things to adapt to just as there have been in other parts of my life. It is my choice to have it as bad or have it as good. Through communication, I experienced the perfection of menopause, the perfection of being a woman.
By telling my friends what I’d been experiencing in this first part of menopause I felt closer to them. In the afterglow of telling the truth, I felt like having a celebration. On the spot I said it. Susan without hesitation and with a gleam in her eye suggests we all toast with Bloody Mary drinks. All were an enthusiastic “Yes” and before dinner that night we made it happen.
In small groups of two’s and three’s we arrive in the kitchen as cocktail glasses are being brought out and lined up along the dining room side of the island counter. We women are in heels and dresses, the men are neatly groomed. There is a buzz in the room. Conversations combine with anticipation and good feelings build.
Different people get ingredients from the various places – pantry, cupboards, drawers, refrigerator, freezer. Juice, seasonings, vodka, lemons, olives, dilly beans, ice are brought together with the utensils, cutting board, knife, spoon, shaker. These Bloody Mary drinks are being made using a recipe developed over our years together with real-time adjustments that make them the best each time. Everyone is a part of the creation.
I count the people, count the glasses and count up the drinks to be made virgin. I get the toothpicks for the garnish. I watch the assembly, enjoying the process. The seasonings go in first…a shake, spoonful, and pinch of this and that, which infuses our home canned tomato juice with complex flavor. Each is shaken and poured back into the original glass. Attention is paid to the details; the cut of the lemon wedge, placement of the dilly beans and olives that dress it up. The enjoyment of making the drinks an experience in itself, a ritual of ours. And so the drinks are done and glasses handed out.
When Susan raises hers I raise my glass and our eyes meet. Unwavering she holds my gaze and toasts — Cheers! We smile in celebration. I shift my gaze looking around at all the faces, acknowledging each of the dozen gathered at the kitchen island. In an instant my chest flushes and pounds. The heat races up my neck and throat, extending the blush hot over my cheeks. My skin turns dewy.
Whew! Another menopause hot flash? No. It is the attention and approval of my tribe, the intensity of our celebration of woman moving through me. It is a moment I will never forget.