Recently, I opened a notebook from a few months ago and found lovely drawings and stories that I didn’t remember doing. I had intended to write on the leftover blank pages but started viewing the work. It felt like I was looking at someone else’s work.
I often put aside writings or paintings for at least a month or more after finishing them, before editing them or making the final touches. When I come back to the work, I have enough perspective to edit words severely, add an extra line of paint, or eliminate a too busy portion. Sometimes I just note what I liked and what I didn’t like about the piece, tuck the piece away, and use that information to inform future work. Then, I move on. I figure that good work will emerge about 1 out of 10 times, if I’m lucky that day. This doesn’t bother me. My artwork is done for my own entertainment, catharsis, and meditation. The final product is merely a by-product of the process. But occasionally, when I look back, there is a lovely sensation of satisfaction of having done something well.
Peri-menopause, the time in our lives from regular menstrual periods to one year after the cessation of periods, is a trip, in all senses of the word. For some of my friends, it is a time that they hardly take note of, nothing much changes. For me, however, it is a time with wildly fluctuating moods, changes in temperature regulation, and bizarre effects. As my friend Barbara put it, peri-menopause is something that no one talks about. Certainly, it was not discussed when we were growing up. Only recently, among certain women, is it now considered an okay topic for discussion, albeit, a little risqué.
Firstly, the good effects. I have always been a slender woman prone to feeling cold. I go out in a down coat when other people are in their shirt sleeves. I think I was meant to live in the tropics. At the onset of perimenopause, I’d get hot flashes and find them extremely pleasant. Finally, at least for the short time of the hot flash, I felt the temperature the same as everyone else. I could take off my coat or jacket or whatever extra layers of clothing I was wearing at the time. In later peri-menopause, I found I had trained myself to regulate my temperature somewhat by increasing the heat in my hands and toes. I also found I’d learned to relax my body somewhat, even when I was tense. For both of these, I used techniques learned from martial arts and yoga. This relaxation of muscles and temperature regulation is somewhat related, which is why they are sitting together in my paragraph.
Somewhere around the first few years of peri-menopause, I got tired of dyeing my hair and let it go gray. It was a relief, since dyeing was both an expense and time-consuming. Then, I found that I could be invisible whenever I wanted. It was like having a magic cloak that would make one disappear. People pass me on the street without looking at me, or even giving any thought to my presence. They will continue their conversation, their thoughts, whatever gait and posture they had without interruption. I could observe them carefully without their ever noticing me. I could listen in to conversations. (Yes, as a writer, I am perpetually nosy.) If I wanted to be visible, all I have to do is walk/stand purposefully and speak up. Like taking off the magic cloak.
The gray hair also allows me to call others “dear,” to speak at will to strangers and get them talking, and to immediately create an authoritative presence at work meetings. I can coo and make faces at babies and parents would smile, understand and tolerate me. People trust me. What a mistake..haha. This is particularly fun when practicing martial arts with those who don’t know me. What do they see? A tiny, old lady. She’s probably fragile. Then suddenly they are on the floor and I am giggling.
Another effect of peri-menopause was wildly swinging moods. One minute I’m crying and the next I’m laughing hysterically, or singing at the top of my lungs (in my car). It also brought some of the worst depressions I’ve had. These might have been partially due to the fact that peri-menopause coincided with a move from NYC to Baltimore, along with a change of jobs. I found myself with a new roommate (my new husband), a different job, and a city where I had some strong acquaintances, but no friends as yet. I also found I couldn’t paint as I had been doing, due to space considerations. That worked out okay though. I decided to join a writer’s group that met regularly to help each other with writing. After that, I started pottery with a marvelous teacher, who became a good friend. But then, I had another devastating depression. This was followed by nearly two years of feeling okay, but numb. I wasn’t creating and cared little about the things that had formerly seemed important. I sat in a comfortable chair and read, mostly escape literature like mystery novels. I felt little energy for martial arts or exercising. I forced myself to keep up somewhat with the martial arts and also, to walk. I couldn’t seem to do the simple domestic tasks, such as cooking, cleaning, and gardening that had given me pleasure. (Actually, I did add to my notebooks some poems, stories and drawings, but I didn’t realize I did it at the time, and the output was much less than usual.) This was the scary part of peri-menopause; I thought I’d be like that for the rest of my life, that aging meant that I wouldn’t have the energy or passion of previous times.
Now, I think I may be at the tail end of peri-menopause. In any event, I feel like a butterfly emerging from a cocoon, or Sleeping Beauty finally awakened by passion into life again. In retrospect, I think the time of calm numbness may have actually been a time of contemplation of my values, an evaluation of where I had been, and an assessment of where I wanted to go with the remainder of my life. I feel more committed to this world and more dedicated to acting on my own ethics. I am going through a period of great creativity. At some point, I may experience a time of less energy or creativity, as my creativity naturally waxes and wanes over time, but I’m merrily riding this wave while it lasts.