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.


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.


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.
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.


  • 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!


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.


Hormone Stew

potOstewWhen one morning I rolled over on my belly– which I have done my entire life–and felt strange stabbings in my boobies, I knew that something was wrong. My first reaction was WHA’? My second reaction was panic. But there was no clear origin to the pain and no localized lump, bump, or swelling. It was such an odd sensation that I didn’t have words for it. It happened to me several times before I could even describe it. It felt like miniature archers were precariously perched in the loofah fibers of my breasts. The whirrlygig arrows they shot at each other took spiral paths, like corkscrew confetti with barbs. I could tell that some of the little archers were a bit overweight because I could feel their fat little feet dig into me, like the feet of a cat who is leaning on one foot.

When I held a pillow to my chest or picked up my cat, 1. I knew the archers were there and 2. I discovered that I have the undisputed gift of instant rage.

This happened several times before I had the courage to describe it to anyone. “It sounds like hormone stew!” said my sister. Surprise!

Ever the ponderer, I picture my hormones in a big pot with vegetables. There are too many cooks in my kitchen and no chief. Somebody comes in and turns up the heat. Then somebody else comes in and moves the pot to a smaller burner. Then somebody else turns everything off. Then it’s back on again. Then some nut job comes in and adds cabbage and the whole house stinks. Yes, I have a very clear picture of what is happening in my retirement-age ovaries, which are as wrinkled and dry as lima beans.

When my sister says, “hormone stew,” it starts an argument in my head. I think, Why stew? Why not soup? Meanwhile, I have my hormone levels tested and sure enough, my FSH and LH have evaporated while everything simmered with the lid off. Progesterone did the same and so did my testosterone! I had such stabbings of rage every time the Little Archers did their business that I was convinced that my testosterone had topped the charts. But no. It evaporated into thin air through the exhaust fan.

Meanwhile I’ve decided that my sister is right. It IS stew. Soup is simply ingredients cooked in a liquid base, served hot. But “stew” means to “simmer or to slow boil.” It also means to “fret,” “worry,” or “fuss.”  My favorite definition is “to feel uncomfortable due to a hot, humid, stuffy atmosphere; to swelter.” My next favorite is “a state of agitation, uneasiness, or worry.” The only definition I don’t agree with is “a brothel.”

I know for a fact that the meaning of “stew” in my particular case has nothing to do with any “House-of-Ill-Repute” because the testosterone leaching out of my system would make that virtually impossible. First of all, I got days that ain’t nobody touching me and if they did, I’m  a mean, Mean Madame.

On the other hand, I have to admit that it seems possible that the word, “brothel” comes from the stew-related word, “broth.” Some very early historian must have made a typo. Or there was a misunderstanding. Something like that.