Sunday, January 16, 2011

Authenticity and Menopause

A dearly beloved friend said to me last night, "I'm at war with myself!" as she described her conflicting feelings and responsibilities. Like so many of us, she has reached that critical point of her life when her own needs are coming to the surface and overriding her previous programing of protecting home and hearth at all costs. Especially the cost of the female self.

We live in the south, where ignoring one's own needs for the benefit of others is positively a path to sainthood. Women who put themselves first, according to scripture and society, are headed to hell. Yet Northrup argues that sublimation of needs creates a kind of "debt account" which fills with the issues we ignore. Then perimenopause comes along and the authentic self, the part of self that wanted a career, needs to nurture relationships outside the home, the part of self that holds need, want and desire rises like the phoenix. And instead of embracing this opportunity of growth, women are told they are selfish...

Makes me want to scream! The good dr says, "This is likely to turn into a period of great emotional turmoil, as each woman struggles to make a new life, one that can accommodate her emerging self." Of course, that lovely statement doesn't account for the divorce, career or identity changes. It's commonly acknowledged in the lesbian community its a time when many women come out of the closet. Northrup herself went through a divorce. Northrup continues: "Externally and internally, this period is a mirror image of adolescence, a time when our bodies and brains were also going through major hormonal shifts that gave us the energy to attempt to individuate from our families and become the person we were meant to be. At menopause we pick up where we left off in adolescence. It is now time to the finish the job."

As my friend spoke, I was reminded of my own determination to gain authenticity in my life. I love that word: authenticity. It roles off my tongue as a taste, a desire, a need. I began my own journey toward authenticity, as many do, as a need unnamed. I just knew I could not continue in the life I had. I didn't know then that I was perimenopausal, a time Dr Christine Northup describes in her book WOMEN'S BODIES, WOMEN'S WISDOM, as the "mother of all wake-up calls." Northup argues that our periods create a cyclical opportunity to  examine our lives and to be contact with ourselves instead of blocking out our needs altogether in order to please others, especially but not exclusively, husbands and children.

Northrup describes women's energies during her early years as being focused on caring for others. The  hormones that drive the menstrual cycle "foster her instincts for nurturing, her devotion to cohesion, and harmony within her world. But for two or three days each month, just before or during our periods, there is a hormonal interlude when the veil between our conscious and unconscious selves is thinner and the voice of our souls beckons to us, subtly reminding us of our own passions, our own needs, which cannot and should not always be subsumed to the needs of those we love." Given that I had periods every 20 days, and my periods often last ten days, I always felt I was at the mercy of my own body. I also wasn't feeling this 12 times a year but 18...and I can say that this conflicting war road my adult years straight into the hell of my own making. I tried to be married, I tried to raise children, I was angry, depressed, betrayed by my inability to fit the world my family and society demanded I occupy.

Blessedly, I hit the perimenopausal years early. I didn't know it at the time, but when I followed Cameron into South Carolina, I was well into perimenopause. By forty-five I was in full menopause. And yes, I absolutely believe that I think differently, view the world differently and judge the world differently as a result.  As Northrup says, "We go from an alternating current of inner wisdom to a direct current that remains on all the time after meneopause is complete. During perimenopause, our brains make the change from one way of being to the other." We are biologically driven, she says, to withdraw from the outside world for a time and revisit the past. It's the time when I reentered therapy. Instead of mothering others, I began mothering myself.

So I watch my friend, who is at war with herself, without judgement. She struggles with the ethics of her needs and desires, and I see the bigger picture of her becoming. She walks a sacred path on a sacred journey of becoming. I am privileged to share her journey, and recognize her pain as it reflects my own freshly healed wounds. Blessed be, Earth Child, as you find your way.


  1. Things get real authentic at menopause, that's for sure. Real authentic! Menopause kicked my ass. Glad I'm through the other side now. Still waiting for the promised "post-menopausal zest" to kick in, though!

  2. I'm in the middle of that shit storm. Yeah, it feels a lot like adolescence. Adolescence sucked. I'm older and wiser now, but some days it doesn't feel any better.

    Thanks for some perspective.