The Wisdom of Menopause
In the year or two before I actually started to skip periods, I began to experience an increasingly common feeling of irritability whenever my work was interrupted or I had to contend with a co-worker or an employee who was not as committed to accomplishing the job as I was. Looking back, I recall that when I was in my thirties and my children were younger, their interruptions when I was in the middle of writing an article or talking on the phone were only mildly irritating to me. My love and concern for their welfare usually overrode any anger or frustration I might have felt.
But as I approached menopause, I found myself unable to tolerate distractions like my eighteen year old daughter asking me, "When is dinner?" when she could clearly see I was busy. Why, I wondered, was it always my responsibility to turn on the stove and begin to think about my family's food needs, even when I wasn't hungry and was deeply engrossed in a project? Why couldn't my husband get the dinner preparations started? Why did my family seem to be almost totally paralyzed when it came to preparing a meal? Why did they all wait in the kitchen, as though unable to set the table or pour a glass of water, until I came into the room and my mere presence announced, "Mom's here. Now we get to eat"?...Still, during my childbearing years I accepted this, mostly good-naturedly, as part and parcel of my role as wife and mother. And in so doing, I unwittingly perpetrated it, partly because it felt so good to be indispensable.
During perimenopause, I lost patience with this behavior on all levels, whether at home or at work. I could feel a fiery volcano within me, ready to burst, and a voice within me roaring, "Enough! You're all able-bodied, capable individuals. Everyone here knows how to drive a car and boil water. Why is my energy still the organizing principle around here?"...
Little did I know that these little bursts of irritability over petty family dynamics were the first faint knocks on the door marked Menopausal Wisdom signaling that I needed to renegotiate some of my habitual relationship patterns. Nor did I know that by the time I began to actually skip periods and experience hot flashes, my life as I had known it for the previous quarter century would be on the threshold of total transformation. As my cyclic nature rewired itself, I put all of my significant relationships under the microscope, began to heal the unfinished business from my past, experienced the first pangs of empty nest, and established an entirely new and exciting relationship with my creativity and vocation.
All of the changes I was about to undergo were spurred, supported and encouraged by the complex and intricate brain and body changes that are an unheralded - but inevitable and often overwhelming - part of the menopausal transition. There is much, much more to this midlife transformation than "raging hormones." Research into the physiological changes taking place in the perimenopausal woman is revealing that, in addition to the hormonal shift that means an end to childbearing, our bodies - and, specifically, our nervous systems -are being, quite literally, rewired. It's as simple as this: Our brains are changing. A woman's thoughts, her ability to focus, and the amount of fuel going to the intuitive centers in the temporal lobes of her brain are all plugged into, and affected by, the circuits being rewired. After working with thousands of women who have gone through this process, as well as experiencing it myself, I can say with a great assurance that menopause is an exciting developmental stage - one that, when participated in consciously, holds enormous promise for transforming and healing our bodies, minds, and spirits at the deepest levels.
As a woman in midlife today, I am part of a growing population that is an unprecedented forty million strong. This group is no longer invisible and silent, but a force to be reckoned with: educated, vocal, sophisticated in our knowledge of medical science, and determined to take control of our own health. Think about it: forty million women, all undergoing the same sort of circuitry update at the same time. By virtue of our sheer numbers, as well as our social and economic influence, we are powerful - and potentially dangerous to any institution build upon the status quo. It's a safe bet the world is going to change for the better.
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From NYT bestselling author Ann Leary
The captivating story of an unconventional New England family.
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