I met R at one of my painting classes, I noticed that she kept herself apart from the group and when she did join in, was prone to say something caustic, thus causing the others to tense and turn their backs on her.
After class, I walked to the car park with her and encouraged conversation.
At first, she was terse and quite rude but I persisted. I could see the tears well in her eyes. I knew there was more to it, so I mentioned the book and asked if she was suffering menopausal symptoms, as I did.
To stop herself from crying, she lifted her whole body into a proud upright position. She smiled and then began her account with all the gaiety she could muster.
“This menopause stuff is crap,” she said. “I started at 37. All the hot flushes caused profuse sweating, spoiling my relationship with my satin sheets. I was so wet and slippery, I kept sliding out of bed.
On top of that, my poor husband was continually catching cold, since I was always so hot that I kept the windows wide open even in the middle of winter!
There sat I, fanning myself in minus 7- degree temperatures and across the room sat my poor husband, wearing three jumpers and shivering in the corner. I decided it was time to visit the Doctor.
What a waste of time! He put me on tablets, which just made things worse. I knew it was a real problem the night I wore a white pantsuit to a huge celebration dinner. I felt a bit off, so I went to the toilet only to find that I had started to bleed, after months of no bleeding at all. Suddenly there was an almighty rush of blood and my white pantsuit wasn’t white any more. I had to slink out via the back door, praying I wouldn’t run into any one I knew.
After such an embarrassment, it was off to the medical centre and hormones! God can be so cruel; I never had any kind of problems as a young woman. Periods came and went with never a twinge. No labour pains with childbirth…Now I realise menopause is payback time!”
“I know what you mean,” I said.
That’s when she let the tears flow and told me how, in truth, she found the whole process very difficult.
“I don’t seem to be suffering in the same way as other women,” she said. “I can deal with the hot flushes and night sweats, but what I can’t deal with is my feelings. I am just so CRANKY, ALL the time; I am ready to pick a fight with anyone. Someone only needs to look at me and I am ready for a slanging match”.
R had to stop for a moment as she tried to regain control of her tears. Slightly recomposed, but with huge watery droplets still rolling down her cheeks, she continued: “I misinterpret any innocent comment and look for the worst in everyone and everything. Worst of all, I am ready to slap anyone within range”.
By now, we had settled on a bench, in a garden, alongside the parking lot and R realised that I was actually listening to what she had to say. She looked at me and her body slumped forward, her shoulders drooping, as if from extreme exhaustion.
She said, “Inside I feel so different from what you see. I am so lonely and feel so disconnected. I often recall the cowardly lion in the Wizard of Oz, comeonnnn (remember how the lion said it in the film) give it to me, I’ll fight you, ‘comeonnnn, put em up, put emmmmm up’, but when a fight was imminent the lion hid behind Dorothy, cowering and whimpering. Strangely, that is exactly how I feel when I am picking a fight. Weird”.
She looked at me to gauge my reaction. When she understood that I was not going to judge her, she continued: “I discovered an old photo of myself the other day. I was madly searching for a pack of photos I had put ‘somewhere’. Seems these days I spend more time looking for things I have misplaced. I used to know where everything was, what’s happened?” she asked.
I told her how a good friend of mine once commented that our mind is like a filing cabinet. When we are born it’s empty, so we slowly start filling it with information. As we get older, it gets crammed with all sorts of junk but we continue cramming in mindless information. Eventually what’s on the bottom of the filing cabinet is easy to remember, it stays there. But, all the new information, the most recent information, just spills out over the top and the sides of the cabinet as we try to shut the drawer. The drawer of our overfull, overly crammed, full of crap, mind cabinet!
“Yes,” she said, “exactly, the location of the photos was new information and do you think I could remember where I put them? Hell no! Anyway, when I did find the old photo of myself I had to look twice. ‘Is that really me?’ I asked myself, ‘have I changed that much? Where did the young me go?’”
Then she added, “I was not bad looking in the old days, but now when I look in the mirror, all I see is a cranky, crabby old bitch looking back at me. The frown lines are etched in my forehead and there are deep furrows at the corners of my mouth, accentuating the scowl on my face.
I also realise my new catch phrase is ‘don’t upset me’ or ‘do that again and we can just step outside, for a fight. I’ll fight you, you just see if I don’t’. I don’t know what’s wrong with me”.
R looked at her feet and shuffled them back and forth. She said, “I must be hard to put up with. I blurt out comments without censor and wonder why people pussy foot around me. I notice a look of terror creep over their faces on my approach.
God this menopause is hell! I know what I am doing but I don’t seem to be able to stop. The slightest provocation sends me off the deep end. The sad thing in all of this is that I feel utter remorse afterward but there is no turning back”.
She stopped for a minute and took a deep breath.
“I can’t go on,” she said, “I have only said this much because something deep inside me wants to warn other menopausal women not to tread my road. It alienates everyone and leaves you bereft and alone. Feeling sorry after the event is not enough. Run and get help. Don’t go where I go. Being a bitch is very lonely and makes you age much faster. I wish with all my heart my anger would go away.”
R looked at me with pleading eyes, and then she asked, “Why am I so itchy, bitchy, scratchy? Oh and by the way, how come I have curly hair, now? It used to be so straight. Even after having rollers in for hours, overnight in fact. As soon as I took the rollers out it fell flat. Now I don’t even need the rollers! Go figure!”
We both laughed!
R is 62
Tell us, did you ever feel like ‘R’?
Love this extract? It was taken from Rita Wagner’s very funny book ‘Menopause Makes Mummy Mental’ which you can purchase here.