Get That Thighmaster Away From Me: Why I’m Afraid of Menopause

pauseI’m afraid of menopause.

There. I said it.

This is not a baseless fear.   I’ve read a lot of articles about the subject.  All the articles seem to say the same things, and I have no idea which are myth-ish, and which are legit.  If I were to believe everything I read, this is what I’d expect from menopause:

  • I’m going to turn into a ravening harridan, totally irrational, ruled only by my run amok, dying hormones.
  • I will have hot flashes that make me turn bright red and pour flop sweat at the most inconvenient moments, like when I give a presentation to a Board of Directors
  • I will have the sensation of bugs crawling on my skin
  • I’ll get fat and sprout hair where I don’t want it, and lose fat and hair where I do want it
  • I might get a deeper voice and bigger feet
  • I will lose all interest in sex
  • If I do happen to retain an intellectual interest in sex, I will need gallons of lube to attempt the act
  • Whether or not I want sex, men won’t want it from me
  • My skin, already dry, will mummify
  • I will value chocolate and my girlfriends more than sex, which is scary since I don’t care that much for the former and don’t have that many of the latter, so what does that leave me with – wine? Great. I’ll be a dried-up old wino.
  • I will be unable to run as often or as fast as I do now, and furthermore won’t care, because I’ll be too chemically depressed to try. Plus drunk on wine.
  • No one will ever want to see me naked again, and the very idea will become the type of gross-out joke that is just assumed to be funny, as in “Hey Bob, what are you going as for Halloween this year?”  “A sixty year old Hooters waitress!” “Ewww!!” “I know, great, isn’t it?!!!”
  • My menopausal symptoms will trigger a midlife crisis in my husband, who will immediately have an atavistic response to the dried up old wino he sees next to him one morning, and set out to prove to himself that he can still attract nubile young women
  • I can take hormonal supplements to forego some of these symptoms but then I’ll have a heart attack or get breast cancer, or start selling thigh masters

Menopause. I even hate the word – the way it looks, the way it sounds. I’ve always thought it would make more sense if it was called womenopuase, since it seems to be all about my hormonal femininity being put on pause, like a DVD player with an 80’s movie in it that no one ever remembers to resume.

So far I’ve seen aging as not a big deal. I still do all the things I’ve ever done, and I have more and more interesting interests than ever.  Age has brought more good things than bad – perspective, patience, the knack of forgiveness, a letting go of needing to be right, a network of diverse and unexpected friends, confidence in my abilities. Maybe best of all, I am no longer afraid to fail at anything, which makes me more apt to try things I’m going to fail at. I’m less competitive and more experimental, which has lead to all kinds of enriching experiences.

I try not to focus on the way Hollywood refuses to portray women over 40 as the love interests of men over 40.  I try not to be offended by the uncharitable surprise glossy magazines show toward good-looking women over 40. In fact I never read those magazines – they feature girls under 20 in the anti-aging makeup ads, and women’s style advice articles written by gay men (as Oprah Magazine memorably did)  who say that women over 50 should always wear x and never wear y, because no men, not even old-hag-loving gay men, can love a women over 50 who dares to, say, wear shorts or a miniskirt.  “Not *even* if you have the legs for it ladies!” they trill warningly, because while an older woman may presume to be beautiful (for her age), she must never ever presume to be relevantly sexy.  Or want to, you know, not be a sweaty mess in jeans in 100 degree Texas heat.

But I digress.  My fear of menopause is a lot like my fear of illness– my body turning on me, showing me that I am, indubitably, not in control of its secret inner workings, that it is not only not under my jurisdiction but is not even my friend, and may even become my enemy.

For some reason that Nora Ephron book keeps coming to mind as I write this – the one  about hating her neck, or something like that.  I read it standing in the back of the bookstore, the book laid flat on a table so no one could see what I was reading, not unlike the way a teenage boy will embed a porno magazine into a comic and then cast furtive glances over his shoulder.

I know the book wasn’t about menopause – but it was sort of flavored with menopause, talking about all of these things that I found myself wishing she wouldn’t talk about. I found myself resenting her saying that no matter what you do, after menopause you will gain 2-3 inches around your waist and there is NOT A DAMN THING YOU CAN DO ABOUT IT.   (Seriously? I run marathons but that will not be enough to counteract  the meno-monster?)

I resented her not for the possible/probable truth of those inches, but for broadcasting it. Does it have to be stated so baldly – hey ladies, you’re in for all kinds of surprises, none of them good! Let’s put them in print so men can anticipate the horror with you, and cringe away from it!  And isn’t it great to publicly bemoan our necks and the backs of our hands and our dry vaginas together, in our wine-swilling book clubs, while the men are out dating and marrying women fifteen years their junior?

I happen to like wine-swilling book clubs, by the way, and have belonged to a few.

The point I am making isn’t really about Nora, whose writing and outlook I mostly admired. My point is how talking about the aging of women always seems so….I don’t know. Catastrophic.  We don’t seem to have the same *tone* when we as a culture talk about the aging of men.

A month ago I ran a 10K in San Francisco.  More  than 5,000 runners gathered on the waterfront, stamping their feet a bit with the cold.  I was surrounded by many examples of mature potency.  At one point, I came upon a participant who was ‘power walking’ in that amusing way they have (yes, I know it’s great exercise, and I am not making fun nor expressing superiority as a runner – but that pumping elbows, heel-toe walk IS amusing).  She was making good time – I checked the results at the end of the race and she was faster than the mid-pack, which is pretty good for a walker in a runner’s race.

Her long hair was yellow-blonde and as evenly trimmed as the edge of a broom and swayed swished attractively with each deliberate step.  Her figure was slim and pretty, her butt switching back and forth in a way that can only be described as cutely provocative. By these cues I assumed she was in her mid-to-late 20s, and, and was surprised to note, as I passed her, that her face was clearly that of a woman in her  mid-to-late 50s, possibly older.  I was not the only one –  I watched men’s faces turn automatically towards her as they passed, and each did a tiny, almost imperceptible double take.  It was almost funny to see their expressions go from hopeful lechery to a brisk “nothing to see here, let’s move along now” indifference.

Almost.

So there I was, surrounded by many examples of mature beauty, mature fitness, mature determination and effort and collegial bonding over shared interests. So I repeat, mostly to myself: what am I so afraid of when I fear menopause?

Perhaps it’s just the fear of aging, the inevitability of death? My friend Steven wrote (in a beautiful essay, you should read it here)  that the problem of growing old isn’t death, but the death of romance. “We lose the romance in our lives long before life itself, or rather, we misplace it,”  he writes. “It’s easy to do, a careless mistake with devastating consequences because romance is essential to living a life of urgency and joy at any age.”   Maybe I’m afraid that menopause will act like a piece of felt wrapped around the clapper of a bell, dulling the ringing, turning a joyous sound into a doleful tolling.

I’d like to hear from women who are going through it, have gone through it. I’d like to hear from men who’ve been with women as they go through it.  I’m afraid that what I hear will just make me *more* afraid, but I guess it’s better that I start facing those fears now. Or maybe I should continue fretting quietly to myself – maybe it will provide some interesting material for my writing, which, as most people who have been reading me know, tends toward the horrific.

27 responses to “Get That Thighmaster Away From Me: Why I’m Afraid of Menopause

  1. I had ALL of the fears you’ve listed above about 9 months ago..Pre-full hysterectomy..Which of course meant I was going to be thrown into immediate menopause..I’d taken a survey of over 50 women to get their input and account of their past experiences..99% of the women who went through either normal/surgery induced menopause went on chemical hormones..My own family doc(a male..) felt I’d need a prescription for hormones prior to surgery! Even my jitters had jitters about surgery..But I was tired of cancer concerns..I went forward with surgery and haven’t regretted it for one moment..The facts are= All women will go through DIFFERENT symptoms due to menopause..It is however doable sans chemical hormones..I have not taken any chemical hormones..And I really don’t want to! I really DO work harder on my figure..but I was already working hard to maintain my figure..I’ve NO interest in becoming fat whether I was menopausal or just 50…My sex drive? Mayhaps because I’ve been celibate too long! (omg I honestly don’t know if I’m going to make it to marriage; which was my first plan) but I am just as highly sexed minded as my genetic structure, thankfully!, has always been…No wild mood swings at all..Nor has depression been an issue..The worst is the hot flashes OMG..I can’t lie I went from not having them; to all of a sudden wishing I could carry my own personal a/c around..The flashes don’t last long; nor do they come often..And they’re totally unpredictable..BUT when they come they are HOT..Other than that I don’t miss having periods so heavy I hated my time of the month…Menopause is something that doesn’t have to stop an active life; which I have..Remember, our fear of things is usually far worst than the actual experience. With anything…Enjoyed reading your write and I can’t resist sharing it. Happy New Year to you/your readers!

      • You can do it! I think hormone replacement has SO long been ‘the answer’ for women menopausing; that doctors(especially male doctors) immediately see it as the only option..My advice? Seek a female GYN..Mine is an expert in the field; and a Godsend..I’m 4 months post-surgery and she says I’m doing fabulous! A positive frame of mind(and a strong will..) helps to transition..Btw , hormone replacement chemicals? Is thought to pack pounds on women…I refuse! Or least at this point I am..For anyone reading this who is menopausing naturally or surgery induced..Drinking raw kale smoothies helps; alot. ALOT. Great meal substitute for weight watching also…Good luck in facing fear head ON

  2. Reblogged this on Berna's Vibe~The Way I See IT and commented:
    This write hits SO close to home..I just went through all of these feelings about 9 months ago post-surgery..Pleased to say though that my fears were far worse than actually experiencing , Menopause. And isn’t that the case with just about anything? >> Re-blogged by Berna from the Reliablyuncomfortable blog

  3. When I started taking Tamoxifen, I read all of the menopause articles, too. I flush and sweat (mostly at night) and know for certain that I’d be five pounds lighter if I stopped taking this make-cancer-stay-away anti-estrogen. I still have the delightful option of removing my ovaries for the one-two blammy of preventing pregnancy and cancer. But apparently, THAT can be the crap shoot Berna up there describes. I’m still on the fence about the mild simmer of chemical pseudo-menopause versus throwing in the towel on these endogenous hormones that may or may not be trying to kill me anyway.

    What I did learn from my internet searching, is that any advice regarding staving off menopausal symptoms read like suggestions from a gaggle of warty hags surrounding a bubbling pot. Oil supplements? Blech. And I’m not giving up coffee. Or wine. Or feeling sexy as hell.

  4. I think I’m in menopause. How’s that for a traumatic experience? I think I am. At my age I would think so. I’ve never been on hormones of any kind, and I’ve been losing weight this year, which I could certainly stand to do. I’m grumpy with mood swings and depression, but I’ve ALWAYS been grumpy with mood swings and depression, so I don’t think it’s menopause, it’s just me being me.

    I have recently started having hot flashes, if that’s what those are. They show up quickly, and leave quickly, though for a few minutes I’m trying to get all my clothes off or whatever.

    Which really helps with the sex thing.

    But I digress.

    Men will always want sex. Some of them will want it from younger women, but that’s because some of them are stupid. We don’t want to have sex with them anyway. Then again, my husband is 20 years younger, so what do I know? He doesn’t care about the menopause or the fact that I am aging or the fact that some days I hate myself. (That last isn’t because of menopause, it’s because I’m a horrible person.)

    Oh. My feet are bigger than they used to be, so I had to buy all new shoes. Such a hardship.

    • Thanks Monique. I feel better. Except the feet thing. My feet are already too big. After menopause I will look like I am wearing skis. Good thing I love alpine skiing, I guess.

      • My feet were too big to start with. When they got bigger over a year ago I couldn’t figure out why my feet hurt all the time. Or whenever I had shoes on. I’m a slow learner.

  5. I enjoyed this, I had my menopause melt down blog right before New years eve and I think it helped me tremendously ..lol AND WOW about the 10K. Impressive….

  6. Thank you! What an enjoyable read…because I know it comes from the heart. Most of us 40-somethings can relate. At dead-smack in the middle of my 40’s right now, I can honestly say that the big M doesn’t scare me like it probably should. My internal thermostat has been higher than usual the last year or so. Time is marching on, and doing so across my face…but it’s not so horrible. My middle may be a little thicker, but with the right classic fashions, it’s not too big of a concern. After all…this is the age of the cougar! Life experience has its value! They say that youth is wasted on the young! I couldn’t agree more! Society seems to be (starting) to appreciate the wisdom, perspective and experience of the older woman. I know that I am more financially secure than I was in my 20’s. I’m a better cook. I’m fairly well-read. I’ve traveled…well…almost extensively. I appreciate, and often have a a nice evening out with a good glass of wine and great friends. I have girlfriends that I have known for 20 and 30 years. We get together frequently. And the wine swilling book club? I’m the youngest of this group of mine, and they are so fashionable and fabulous that I feel frumpy! There are ways to deal with the unfortunate side effects of menopause. I’m a big believer in using diet and supplements to enhance the quality of life. Eating well, and incorporating omegas, greens, berries, grains and antioxidants into your diet will go far in terms of feeling well. Gluten free bread and pasta products help me to keep my rheumatoid arthritis manageable (and they also help manage a whole host of other chronic issues). I eat edamame and soy products routinely. They help alleviate menopausal issues, as do Black Cohash and Evening Primrose Oil supplements! Oh…and my daily glass (or two) of wine each night helps me to not to worry about things that I can’t control…and it helps to keep my blood pressure and cholesterol levels in-check. My thoughts on being pre-menopausal??? It’s a mixed bag, but one I am (now) equipped to deal with. I wouldn’t go back to my 20’s for all of the tea in China!

  7. I had my last period when I was 45 — about 4 months before I met the man who would eventually become my husband. Yes, I had a few hot flashes, but they were more an inconvenience than anything else. The sex was better and no artificial lube has been required since then. I didn’t notice a problem with mood swings and no one complained of them. I can’t run fast now, but then I never could, even as a child. No bugs on me, not even imaginary ones. I do have one blond hair that occasionally sprouts under my chin, but it’s pluckable and an infrequent visitor. I don’t take chemical hormones.

    I think my mother went crazy when she “went through the change,” but then she was just crazy and it was probably a convenient excuse.

    I won’t tell you not to be concerned because that’s just silly on my part, but I will tell you that I don’t believe menopause is any more debilitating or dramatic than your menses. And there are no tampons or pads involved. Lots less messy.

  8. A lot of the fearful stats I believe are hereditary. And exercise and good diet helps. I’ve had hot flashes since my thirties so perhaps my weirdness has minimized the drama for me, post 50. I’m thinner now and love the way I look…for an old broad. Oh and the ‘magic menopause pill’ helps my headaches and mood swings: Estroven or the generic version: Estroblend, which I buy by the cartload. It’s an herbal supplement containing black cohosh. Chocolate and wine (preferably red), help also!

  9. wow thank you for this
    as someone in my early 40s
    (i’m pretty sure i’m in perimenopause and btw i’m right there with you not liking that word…)
    it’s been interesting simply watching the changes beginning to happen…

  10. I started menopause about 20 years ago. At that time estrogen was the thing to do. The continuous headache and hot flashes were keeping me from having more than 2 hours sleep so I was not functioning well. Estrogen/progesterone was a miracle! I remember the morning I woke up (there’s a commercial just like it) and thinking; I slept all night! I felt better than I had ever felt; which made me wonder if I was always lacking in estrogen. I’d had endometriosis so bad I couldn’t have children due to scarred fallopian tubes and ovaries.
    Anther great thing was that I had always been thin and flat chested but I grew boobs. They were awesome. My husband (now ex) was so happy. I was 42 with the breasts of a 20 year old. I jiggled for the first time and loved it. (Now I jiggle all over.)
    But sadly the news came out that no one should take it more than six years, especially if there is breast cancer in your family, which there was. I’d been on it for 9 years so I had to face menopause.
    I’ve experienced all the of those things on your list; every one. My marriage broke up when I was 55. You need a good man who really loves you to get through this. He wasn’t.
    The only good thing is that sex isn’t on your mind all the time (that’s a relief!) and you’re not taken in by good looking assholes.
    The best advice was from my mother; don’t try to be good looking by looking young; be good looking FOR YOUR AGE. That’s what our society needs to appreciate more; good looking older people. Not puffed up frankensteins. Those women always look like The Joker.
    But more importantly; Make sure you have more going on in your life other than your looks. I used ‘get’ a guy just by making eye contact; now I’m invisible. So make sure you have other things that make you feel good about yourself.
    Really enjoyed your article; I’m re-blogging it as it’s sort of my theme.

    • thanks for the reblog! I agree with your mom. I want only to look good for my age. I’ve never had a looks-centered life – I’m a pretty hard core athlete actually, even went to college on an athletic scholarship. Exercise has become more vs. less important to me. One thing I notice about being 50 – I”m invisible to younger men, but older men are paying all kinds of attention to me. I’m a hot young thing, if you’re over 70!

  11. Reblogged this on sixty, single and surviving and commented:
    re-blogging a good article today. I have to say I experienced everything that’s on this very eloquent list. Menopause used to be called “The Change in Life”. It certainly was for me. Thankfully the worst is over; I made out to the other side.

  12. I don’t think it’s so bad. I have the dryness issue, insomnia sometimes, gained some weight, dry hair, sagging skin (around laugh lines), fatigue, muscle aches. The worst symptoms are insomnia, sagging skin and weight. I also stopped exercising which contributed to the weight gain. Also because of my fatigue, I have less patience for jerks, so I don’t put up with the same bs like I did. I still feel attractive, and work mostly with people in their 30s. I’m 50. You cannot stay young forever, and you will mourn that. However, if you’re not extremely looks oriented, and are a well rounded person, you’ll be fine. Also, I’ve had depression since I was a teen, and I am not a raving lunatic. You are a very good writer, by the way.

    • Yeah, I was mostly wrong about it. I’m 52 now, and I still feel great and feel that I look great and also sort of don’t really give a shit if anyone agrees with me or not. 🙂

  13. A few years ago, I had not even begun to think about menopause – I just figured it wouldn’t be so bad. I was standing next to a much younger man who had a soldering iron on his workbench. All of a sudden I felt a flush of heat. I figured his soldering iron must have been left on, and said so. I joked: “Or maybe I’m having a hot flash.” My assumption was that my youthful (hah!) appearance would make it obvious that I was joking. He looked up at me in horror and said “The soldering iron is off.” Not only had I had my very first hot flash, but I had advertised it to a male millennial! PS Like you, I’m in my 50’s now, feel great, look great, don’t care whether anyone agrees with me or not.

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