Mentalpause Misery in the Parking Lot

In a fight in the parking lot, the pole won.

In a fight in the parking lot, I can see that the pole won.

You know misery loves company, right?

As my husband and I came out of a store today, this is the first thing we saw. He was very polite and didn’t gawk at it or say anything, thinking the owner might be close by. But I’m a woman of certain years and my oral sphincter is looser than it used to be. Before thinking, I said I’d bet a hundred dollars that this car belongs to a woman driver battling mentalpause.

Women have long gotten a bad rap for our driving and, if you think about it, we probably deserve it. I don’t know of any really good women drivers although there have to be some out there. Most women do the yap-yap as they drive, gesturing like an Italian, and doing these indecisive brake-taps that are only cute when you’re a kid. “That car came out of nowhere!” they wail, when reality hits.

I’ve seen women’s cars with so much greenery stuck in the front grill that they could hunt deer out of it. “How’d THAT get there?” they ask, mystified. I myself backed over a white thing with a bunch of wires coming out of it at a construction site one time. And another time when I tried my hand at back-hoeing, I accidentally uprooted a small tree and was happily driving around with foliage. “What tree?” I asked, looking around.

Add the brain fog of menopause (my husband calls it “mental-pause”) and we can stop talking and pay attention with every viable brain cell in our head– and it’s still not enough!

So…

I have this confession. Months ago, my mother-in-law decided to splurge on a new car and, in the spirit of generosity, decided that I could have her old car. When I say old, it’s not really THAT old; in fact, I’d say it was about my age. Anyway, she took care of it all the years she had it and it I was happy to have something besides the rattler I drove, in case Rattler broke down one day and I had to get somewhere. For clarification, Rattler is an automatic transmission with the gear changer between the seats and– I’ll call the new car Matilda– Matilda is also automatic, with the controls up near the steering wheel like a legitimate old-lady car.

We had just gotten brand new tires for it and I had some errands to run, which included a visit to WalMart. I didn’t get quite enough sleep the night before and felt a little bit addled. To battle the addleds, I wrote out a complete list of errands and locations, numbered in order of sequence. As I finished each errand, I scratched it off my list, something that I have to do now in order to remember anything!

Let’s back up just a little.

A few days before this fateful day, I had gone somewhere with my mother and had driven her car. I am a die-hard emergency brake person and always crank up the brake out of habit, which I did in my mother’s car. She has memory issues of her own and doesn’t put the brake on because 1. either it’s too hard to un-brake when she’s ready to drive or 2. she forgets all about it and drives with the emergency brake engaged. The next time I spoke with her, she told me to please not put her emergency brake up, that it made things difficult for her, and that it wasn’t even necessary. “All you have to do is put it in Park,” she said. In an effort to listen to the wisdom of my elders, I thought…. Hmmm…. okay.

So there I was in the WalMart parking lot with my list and jumble of stuff in the seat next to me. I sifted through the jumble for everything I might need. Keys are in my pocket. Get your list. And a pen. Do I have my keys? (tap tap) Yes, they’re in my pocket.

Welcome to MentalPause

Welcome to MentalPause. It’s fun here.

For those who might be reading who have not yet encountered the joys of the menopausal brain fog, when I’m in the middle of it, it feels like those lottery ping pong balls. I’m trying to keep all my balls in the air and some simple little something sends them crashing down. Once they hit the floor they roll willy-nilly and I can’t find them anywhere amidst the proverbial dust bunnies and wizened french fries and I’m about to cry because leaning over makes me dizzy and I just cracked my head on the steering wheel (metaphorically, we ARE still in the setting of my car, right?). This day was a day like that.

The environment of the “new” car was so different but I thought everything out. I moved slowly to prevent mistakes. I distinctly remember trying to remember if I had put the car in Park and then decided that I must have; the key came out of the ignition. Keys don’t come out of the ignition unless it’s in Park, right? At least it doesn’t in the Rattler.

I was inside the store shopping for a baby gift for my niece’s new baby, excited about the upcoming baby shower and getting to see everyone. I moved more slowly than usual because, like I said before, I hadn’t gotten quite enough sleep. I was drifting along on fumes when I heard the over the intercom, “Ranf Anf, please return to your car. Ranf Anf, please return to your car.” I didn’t pay much attention except to think, “Hmm… wonder why they’re calling Ranf Anf to go to her car?” I pushed  my buggy about 30 more yards before it hit me. Ranf Anf?!  Oh, no! that’s ME!

So I push the buggy to a place that I can find it when I return (IF I return) and walk out to the parking lot. I search the horizon for four entire minutes. No Rattler anywhere. But wait a minute. I drove Matilda today. But Matilda is nowhere to be seen either. I’m getting a little desperate now and I pick up my pace. I stand in the middle of the immense parking lot, a little speck from an arial view. I span the entire parking lot until I see something. I see a sheriff’s deputy parked beside an electrical pole with a concrete base. Holding up the pole is my burgundy Matilda!

Sometimes I wish men understood women.

“Is this your car, ma’am?” said he.

“Nah. I’m just walking past all these cars to the hinterland of this parking lot so I can get to those trees over there,” the cartoon in my head says.

I say, “Yeeeessss…”

“Where’d you park it?” barked he.

“Park it?” I said. The head cartoon speaks again, “Where’d I park it? Can I get another question, please? Give me another question!”

I disregard the cartoon and say, flustered, “Park it? I don’t know. I never know where I park my car.” Which is why I usually park my vehicle two miles from the store entrance, way out by itself where I can easily spot it. “I think I parked it up that way,” I said, pointing vaguely. If I knew where I parked my car on any given day, I probably wouldn’t have menopause.

The deputy rattles me with questions I can’t even remember now and at one point I had to  bend over to get my breath. I had a mental picture of my car helplessly rolling backward, straight for a toddler or an old person. In addition to having to live with the fact that I had killed some innocent person, would I also go to jail? What is the penalty for– was it negligent homicide? Did I really have the car in Park? And would I feel as bad if it had been a person older than toddler and younger than old? Could Matilda really have been in Park?

The back of the car had a perfect pleat smack-dab in the center of it. “Well, you’re lucky it didn’t hit anybody,” the deputy said. I babble for a while in that stream-of-conscious fashion addled women do. The deputy squirmed a little bit and then said, “Do you want me to report it to the police?”

Even when I have the dum-dums, I’m no dummy. I partially lifted my head and asked rhetorically, “How will that help me?” Cartoon voice said, “Are you crazy? Why would I want to report this? So my insurance company can know I’m an addled woman driver who can’t keep her car from rolling in a highly populated parking lot? My insurance would go sky high and–it’s a wonder I didn’t KILL somebody!”

“Well, no, it won’t help,” said deputy dum-dum.

Long story long, I was soon released to finish my shopping. Which I did. I bought a beautiful plush pillow to match (perfectly!) the handmade quilt I already had. I got some booties and some disposable diapers—-well, you know the stuff you get for new babies. As I finished up my purchases, a man walked up to me and said, “Are you Ralph Ann?”

“ME?!” I say, frightful. “Yeeeessss. Why do you ask?”

“Have you been to your car lately?” he asked.

“DID IT ROLL AGAIN?” I say, as calmly as I can muster.

“I was just wondering if you’d been to it and if you knew it had rolled.”

“Who are you and how do you know about my car?” said I.

“I ‘m So-And-So with Asset Management and on the video the lady who got out of that car looked a lot like you.”

VIDEO?!” said I.

I’ve been afraid that any day now one of my friends will re-post a People of WalMart video that shows my slow-walking self crawl out of a car that starts rolling almost immediately, soundlessly behind me and then out of the frame.

Needless to say, today’s photo op made me happy. I am not happy Other Crazy Lady didn’t look where she was going. I certainly don’t feel superior, even though my car has a lot less damage. Oh, no. I don’t have any of those uncharitable thoughts. I’m just thrilled to be able to prove that I am not alone. There’s comfort in that. And you know menopausal misery sure does love company.

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Reducing Collateral Damage on the Road to Menopause

Old Crow

Old Crow

“Please take your medicine,” said Allen, my friend Robette’s husband. He said this gently, with his body ready to bolt. When she looked at him with one eyebrow cocked, he said, in parentheses, “I’m nicer when you take your medicine.”

I laughed like a hyena when I first heard this story. It was several years ago and my friend had recently discovered that she was peri-menopausal and had started hormone replacement therapy. Now that I am the person who “likes people better when I take my meds,” I find that this anecdote belongs less in a joke book and more in an instruction manual.

When you are the person with the low-this-or-that in the hormone department, it is very hard, in that moment, to separate the real you from the Secret Dragon Lady that (to innocent bystanders) can rear her head and spit fire 1. at no provocation at all and 2. without your even realizing that you toggled in and out of dragon mode.

dragon

Being “hormonal” is nothing new for most of us. Anybody who’s ever had an uncomfortable period knows that. But menopause is different. In addition to what I call Instant Rage Syndrome (IRS, ironically), we also battle other things that go along with the changing levels of hormones. Thinning skin, thinning hair, movement of hair (big black hairs fall off our eyebrow and plant themselves attractively onto our chin), inner-tube weight gain, fatigue, apathy, depression, decreased energy and will to thrive–plus what I call the dum-dums (named after the cute little drumstick lollipops that always seem to promise more than they can possibly deliver).

Add to the discomforts of menopause the adjustments of middle age (crow ostrich’s feet, neck wattle, boobie drag) and the social uncertainties that come with gravity (people don’t necessarily respect you in your older age) –and anybody with one eye and half-sense can see that there’s a lot of angst that come with the angst that comes with the symptoms of menopause. If that sentence confuses you, now you know something of what menopause feels like!

Photo Dry Vine in Flower Pot

i am dry
i am as dry
as the next morning mouth
of a dissipated desert
as dry as the hoofs
of the camels of timbuctoo.
– From “Archy Interviews a Pharoah”
– Don Marquis 

For those of us who have had hysterectomies (and have no cramps to herald the monthly sputtering of the ovaries), it’s even more difficult to navigate the hormonal Slough of Despond (SOD). Unlike our uterus-bound sisters, we lack the visible biological reminders each month of just where we might be, hormonally speaking. With no reference point, we are like those diagnosed with “walking” pneumonia; often–especially in the beginning–we don’t even know we suffer from hormonal imbalance! It doesn’t occur to us at first that we might be entering the SOD because 1.  it is a shock that we could be this old and 2. we always thought if we ever got this old, that we’d find a clever way around it!

It takes a while for some of us to connect some of our new maladies with hormone imbalance. Until now, most of us have diddied along just fine, with only a spider vein to damage our calm. Now, we have episodes in which we feel our brains are made of spider web, and stuff is happening to our bodies that we never imagined. It’s a bit like having a gall bladder attack: if you’ve ever had one you know what it is but if you haven’t, you are shocked and confused about what you might be dying from.

Once we get official word (blood test, folks, to test all the lady hormones) that we are not at this moment actually dying and that our craziness is explainable and episodic, it’s a bit of a relief. Now it’s just a matter of clenching a rope between our teeth, like old-time accounts of childbirth—and living through it. In the meantime, even if we don’t know we’re hormonally imbalanced, everybody else does!

We have to recognize that if Mama get on the Menopause Mobile, er’body get on the Menopause Mobile.

ImSorry

Understanding the cause of all the crotchetiness doesn’t mean that all is well at home. “I’m hormonal” or “I’m having menopause” do not bring automatic forgiveness after repeated episodes of Dragon Lady. Unfortunately when a dragon roars, she always catches something afire: curtains, pretty little towel on the oven handle, or innocent husband. On the road to menopause (menopause, by the way, only happens AFTER you get through all the hormone fluctuations), it is important to set up a plan to reduce collateral damage. Our families (mostly husbands), share in our distress and it is important to protect them so that they will like us enough to stay with us.

Here are a few suggestions for having/getting/maintaining peace on the home front.

Agree in advance that on a given day if the sensitivity cup is not only half-full but is verging on running over, you will have enough charity for all involved that you will stay home with a fuzzy blanket instead of venturing outside. This is not self-pity; it is loving your neighbor.
 
cannon
Agree in advance to keep all children, pets, and other innocent creatures away from the firing range when the big guns are in use.
 
Agree in advance that Husband has the right to protect himself by disappearing—without explanation, which will only escalate the situation anyway.
 
In advance, come up with safe words (preferably one syllable, for when you have the dum-dums) for both of you to remember in high-stress situations. I will list some that work in our house:
  • When the intro on the DVD repeats itself over and over like the forward-reverse pacing of a zoo-chotic bear and the repetitive noise traps all the smarts in my brain so that I can’t figure out how to work the remote, I say, “OFF!” and my husband knows to turn it off in a hurry.
  • When we are in a crowd and all day long I’ve battled (without crying!)  insensitive comments such as, “You look great today” and then somebody gives me a hug and I feel like I’m going to explode, I say, “OUT!” and my husband grabs our coats.

manRunning

  • When my husband does everything in his power to get on my nerves (example: he leaves three stray crystals of salt on the counter after making dinner) and I need a break from all his insensitive ways but-I-can’t-keep-myself-from tracking him down, this is when I shout, “RUN!” And he runs!

fireEscape

It is best to figure out in advance what is best for your situation and get a plan in place. Make sure to involve your husband in the strategy. It’s only fair for what he has to live through. Have fire drills. Map out a situational escape route.

Above all, don’t stop taking your meds mid-stream. If you have been taking  hormone replacement or something homeopathic, yet feel one day that it has done its job and that you don’t need it any more, don’t be a dum-dum: you are not better until you’re better and you won’t be the one to know these things anyway.

Just take the pill.