After a recent unfortunate social experience, I've decided to start talking about menopause in mixed company and I'm not shutting up.
This weekend my husband and I were at a brunch with a small group of well-educated and funny friends, many of whom are writers and some of whom are former editors of the Harvard Lampoon and National Lampoon, where nothing was considered sacred or taboo if it was funny.
One of the women began talking about the latest trend of women getting their vaginas tightened by laser therapy. No one batted an eye.
So I piped up, "As a woman of a certain age, I can't imagine me or any other woman my age wanting that part of our body any tighter than it already is."
There was an awkward silence. Then one of the men covered his ears and chanted "lalalalala." Another jokingly said, "Men, shall we repair to the library for cigars and cognac?" I finally put my napkin over my head and covered my face.
Why is it perfectly acceptable to mention a detailed vaginal-tightening procedure in mixed company (all the guests were over 50), but bring up menopause and allude to issues of post-menopausal sex, and suddenly you have crossed the line?
My comment caused Emmy-award winning comedy writers to actually turn red with embarrassment.
I mention the writers' accomplishments only to underscore the point that if men whose livelihoods are contingent on irreverence and irony find the subject of menopause taboo, what does that say for the rest of the male population?
Upon entering perimenopause, my life-long OCD kicked into high gear and I had to go on medication to keep from blowing my brains out (which to my way of thinking would have been a rather poetic solution, though my therapist disagreed).
Once the medication kicked in, I discovered to my horror that the OCD had been the glue holding my life together. My perfectionism vanished and I stopped giving a shit about anything. The good news was I no longer wanted to kill myself. The bad news was I became completely nonfunctional.
Rumor has it that once you enter menopause, you get to go through every unresolved issue you've ever experienced all over again, like a bad hormonal version of the movie "Groundhog Day."
After two decades of sobriety, I became dependent on opiates for the unrelenting pain caused by the collapsed disks in my cervical spine. After years of recovery, my eating disorders returned with a vengeance.
I found a reputable eating disorder treatment center and drove the 3 hours to check myself in. When I arrived and the double sets of doors slammed shut behind me, locking automatically, I realized this was not the warm and fuzzy environment I had been expecting.
I was in a locked-down, mental hospital.
And I belonged there. I read the diagnosis and description of my mental illness, written by the head of psychiatry and it hit me like a ton of bricks. I had lost my mind. Officially.
I later learned that it is very common for premenopausal women to revisit their eating disorders. There is very little research available about this specific population and almost no discussion among the women because of the shame attached to it.
Eventually, I made real progress, but I am not cured. It is very rare for a woman who has been battling eating disorders almost her entire life to achieve complete recovery. I do my best, and forgive myself when I stumble. Four years ago I regained my sobriety.
Along with the nightmarish return of my eating disorders and drug dependency, my PTSD, ADD, Crohn's Disease and chronic pain all intensified during menopause, and it has been a long, excruciating road.
To this litany of mental and physical ailments, I got to add brain fog, which in spite of its obvious downfalls occasionally makes for a funny story, usually about my inability to dress like a normal person.
Not long ago I went to the grocery store with my pants on backward. The ass-shaped part of my jeans was clearly sticking out in front, and I felt very strange but couldn't quite identify the problem. In my defense, I hadn't had my morning coffee.
Last week I went for a walk, and when I got home and undressed I discovered I was wearing 2 pairs of jeans! Instead of being horrified, I was actually thrilled that I was able to fit my usually tight jeans over my other pair of pants.
I haven't had my period in 11 years and I still get hot flashes. I live in the mountains, and sometimes even when it is 25 degrees and snowing I have to turn on the ceiling fan, much to my husband's horror.
He pulls the covers up to his chattering teeth and looks at me like I'm an alien. Meanwhile, I'm lying stark naked on top of the covers and reveling in the sensation of the howling wind cooling my body as it blows in through the open window.
Thank God, my husband and I met later in life and he's still blinded by love, or most likely he'd secretly be planning my homicide.
I consider myself exceptionally lucky to have survived menopause with my mind somewhat intact. Great friends, amazing family, my angelic husband and the privilege of good health care have all been integral. It has taken every resource I am blessed with to save my life.
I care less about my appearance than ever before, and yet I feel the prettiest I have ever felt.
I finally realize my value as a human being. All the experiences I've been through, the great and the horrific, have brought me to the place I am in this moment. And this moment is a pretty great place to be.
This first appeared in "The Coffeelicious" in Medium.com