Growing pains seem never to end

“Wow, you look warm,” someone comments. This is a frequent occurrence for me. Neither dewy nor glowing, I simply appear uncomfortably hot. Which, in fact, I am. But there’s a lot more than sweat going on; allow me to discuss it.

Menopause is, of course, a natural phenomenon, and it’s hardly life-threatening. It can be awful, though, and frankly becomes worse because no one wants to talk about it. We often perceive menopause as embarrassing, a painful acknowledgment of aging, which is anathema in this town, where women who no longer spend money to dye their hair are labeled “brave.” To admit you’re menopausal is to admit you are slightly ridiculous, an anomaly of sorts. No longer blissfully reproductive, but not yet an elegant, austere matriarch.

When you are menopausal, you have entered the limbo world relegated to cartoons that depict red-faced women who melt the snow off driveways.

Sweating at inopportune moments is mortifying, but the feeling of occupying someone else’s body is far worse, both undignified and baffling. Hormone fluctuations are cute if you an expectant mother, but when your estrogen is literally ebbing away, the funny is gone. You’re just old and unwomanly.

There are not very many things I take seriously: books, Shakespeare, my family, the virtues of crusty bread and a nice Bordeaux. I can laugh at myself most of the time. But I cannot laugh (yet) at my menopause. It forced me to reconstruct myself at the time in my life when I crave the status quo, and that’s just not fair. Menopause is embarrassing and comical and scary — all those things that a mature woman should not be, but sometimes is.

So here, let me unmask menopause for the women out there who very likely feel like they are losing their minds: don’t wait to seek help. It is out there. Don’t be ashamed of who you are becoming. There are a lot of us out here. We know we have pit stains. We know our red noses are unsexy.

We know that most women in town look more put-together than we do. We have not “let ourselves go” — we are in the process of trying to find ourselves again.

It took me far too long to talk to my doctor about the strange creature I was becoming. After I did, and found the help my body craved, it seemed absurd that I hadn’t gone sooner. But that’s what shame does; it makes you feel powerless.

I will look back on these parlous times and smile. But that frightens me — because it will mean I am even older, with all the implications packed therein. I am not, in fact, crazy. I am merely a slightly overweight, sweaty caterpillar, waiting to emerge looking like Maggie Smith or Helen Mirren. Wish me luck in my metamorphosis.

— Susan O’Byrne of Hinsdale is a contributing columnist. Readers can email her at [email protected].