Since arriving to my 50s I feel wise in many areas of my life. Most days I walk around with a fairly solid sense of self. This is a very different feeling from how I felt in my younger years. I attribute this grounded feeling to the wisdom that comes with menopause. In addition to our years of lived experience, hormonal changes help us to cut out the bullshit and see a little more clearly.
I’ve embraced menopause. I’ve learned a lot about how my body is changing in both good and not-so-good ways. I’ve learned to pay attention to how my attitude and approach to life have changed for the better as I’ve aged.
By the time women reach our 50s there is so much we know. I, for example, am aware of so much more than I was in my thirties or forties. I know what kind of people I like to hang out with. I know what really bugs me. I know that I need to exercise and what kind of exercise I need. I know that a size bigger usually fits better. I know that I can’t drink red wine or eat dairy. For me, menopause has been mostly positive, a period of great emotional awareness and understanding.
But last week I had a spontaneous existential crisis. As cliche as this is, my crisis happened on New Year’s Eve day. It started with a small disagreement with my partner Nancy and then another one with my daughter. I fell apart. I completely lost my emotional center of gravity. That menopausal sense of knowing I’d grown accustomed to living with was suddenly gone. My sense of psychic grounding was out to sea, bobbing across the waves like a buoy who’s anchor has been clipped.
In just a few short moments I went from feeling like a sage elder to an insecure, acne-afflicted middle schooler with sweaty palms and body odor. I felt completely out of place in my own body. Like the split-second switch of the mom and daughter in Freaky Friday, I instantly lost all sense of certainty. All I knew was how much I didn’t know. “Was this hormones?,” I wondered to myself. Was this the dark side of menopause my friends have been telling me about?
My cortisol soaked brain rattled question after question: Where will I be in ten years? Will I have the same job? Will I have any job? Will I have dementia or bad knees? Will I still be able to do yoga? Will my mother be okay? Nancy? My daughter? What will happen when she goes to college next year? Will she be happy? Will she feel lost? Will she find a partner and be happy? Did my divorce ruin her chances to have a happy marriage one day? The questions went on and on. I was drowning in a sea of insecurity. I could only see myself as a failure — as a mother, a partner, a human.
I remember a friend telling me once that at the start of her menopause she’d almost abandoned her entire family in Sweden thinking they’d be better off without her. I suddenly understood this feeling. Where did this crisis of confidence come from? And why now? I tried to distract myself with an art project, then with errands. I picked fight after fight with Nancy.
I wandered the house praying for peace of mind. I prayed in the bathroom. I prayed in the kitchen. I went to my office and lit a candle and wrote in my journal. Then I did yoga. I prayed again. I asked the universe to give me some light, to clear some kind of path for me so I could see clearly again.
As the hours ticked on and it got time to get ready to go out for New Year’s Eve, I felt beaten down. I found Nancy on the couch and collapsed next to her. “I’m lost,” I said. And then the tears came. I cried and cried and cried about how lost and scared I felt. I cried about all of the things I don’t have control over, things in the future I don’t know, would never know before they happen. Nancy just listened and let me cry and then it was time to get dressed to go to our party.
I managed to put on a fancy outfit and my grandmother’s special jewelry that I rarely wear. I felt exhausted but strangely more myself than I had all day. Crying had made it better. Acknowledging my lostness made me feel less lost. Saying out loud all the things I was scared and worried about shrunk them down to a manageable size.
Maybe my New Year’s Eve crisis was a lesson from menopause. Maybe my hormones were telling me not to get too cocky; that this journey isn’t over yet. “You know a lot,” those frisky hormones whispered to me as my momentary madness subsided and my sanity slowly returned, “but you don’t know everything.”