If you had asked me ten years ago where I would be this certainly isn’t it. I didn’t think I would be volunteering to spend weekends working on nature preserves. I didn’t think I would be a college professor. I certainly didn’t imagine I would be going through medically induced radical menopause.
It’s been a hard two or three years. Being chronically ill sapped all my creative energy, patience, and spirit. I felt entirely alone, isolated to my fears, pain, and sorrow. I don’t think I would have lived through it without my cat. (She features strongly in my life, being of a mind to sit by or on me at ALL times.) My children were amazing, but I couldn’t ask small people to understand what I was going through. My husband did his best, but I learned that some times your partner can’t understand, chronic pain can kill a once strong marriage. I learned that as the terrified and chronically ill person you can’t always forgive your partner when they can’t meet your needs. I learned anger and hurt are vast and seemingly limitless aquifers bubbling up underneath your heart. Many of my friends were wonderful sources of patience, love, and support during this hard time, but many others were absent, dealing with their own lives (and rightfully so.) In the end it was a small handful of people and one furry animal that helped me climb out of the darkness to see the light again. I learned a lot during the journey.
For example, suicidal tendencies are a side effect of opiate use. I went from being a person who couldn’t fathom suicide to someone who thought about ways to do it all the time. I couldn’t stop thinking about ways to do it. Every possible sharp object in the house became a potential mechanism of destruction. I went to therapy, got on anti-depressants, but it wasn’t until I weaned myself off the opiates that the desire to swan dive off my rooftop balcony disappeared.
I learned to ask for help. I learned pretending you can get through it on your own is a stupid, egotistical way to torture yourself and those who love you. I learned to accept help, which is the harder lesson, with grace and thankfulness. I learned to stop keeping score and tallying up how much I owed people for lending me a hand.
I learned that I can’t do everything I set out to do. My once indomitable spirit is now aware that I can be beaten. There is a new timidity to my life as a result.
I learned that no matter how done you think you are having children, having that choice taken away from you will break your heart. Further, it will eat at the very core of who you think you are and what you think you are worth. I went from super fertile to menopause in a single day. I am still, nine months later, trying not to cry when I stop and actually think that I will never have another child. Each step my children take away from babyhood pricks my heart and makes me wish, just for a moment, that I could do it all again. I cling to them and their waning childhood, desperate to catch as much of this time as I can, more aware than ever before of how fleeting it truly is.
I learned about menopause. I began to understand why women wore moo-moos and why there can never be enough air-conditioning. I watched my kids shiver under blankets in mid summer and wondered why on earth I was sweating. I learned to stop wearing make-up because eyeliner and mascara sting like a bitch when sweat drips them into your eyes. I understood how a person could indulge in one of those Hollywood laughing fits that quickly turns into a complete sobbing breakdown. I learned puberty hormones have nothing on menopause.
I learned that I miss my damn period. I get ready to leave the house sometimes and look around for what I have forgotten, only to figure out it is my bloody annoying menstrual cycle. I even get nostalgic when I see tampons.
I learned this is all too much to talk about when you are in the middle of it. That in order to survive it, you have to hide away, pull inward, and nurse yourself. I was a wounded animal hiding in my cave, waiting to heal. I wanted very little to do with most people. The thought of talking about how I felt was crushingly impossible. I think my distance was off-putting to many, I believe it may have been hurtful, I had no control over it, at all.
Finally, I learned that there comes a time when all that you didn’t want to say starts to choke you. You start to feel like this huge experience in your life is something no one else understands and then you realize it’s because you failed to tell them. So here I am, telling them.
In the past 14 months I have had two abdominal surgeries. I lost both ovaries and my uterus. I am in menopause and dealing with killer migraines. I am starting over, it seems from scratch. I have to rebuild my body, my spirit, my career, my friendships, and my heart. In the past nine months I have gone from a woman who couldn’t consider getting out of bed most days to one who gets up and about daily. I walk, I swim, I bike. I play with the kids, get them to school, do their homework. I work. I am picking up the threads of my former life and weaving a new one. I am still worn from my ordeal, but I am hopeful for the first time in years.
I feel I have finally come through the darkest hour and into the dawn.