Sunday, August 5, 2007

Menopause Chronicles--The Weight is Depressing

I’m now 44. What will this year bring? The boys are doing well. They will be graduating from high school this year. We are looking at colleges for them. My husband is making good gains in his career at the University and he has branched out into consulting. All is going well. My body however is experiencing other changes. I’m gaining weight. It’s depressing.

I’ve never gained weight in my life (except for pregnancy and that went away when the twins came). What’s going on? I drink a glass of water and gain a pound. I eat nothing for a day, and gain a pound. I breathe air and gain a pound. I don’t know how it happened or when it happened, but soon I weighed 140 pounds, then 150 pounds. My waist is wasted. Overblouses are good things. This is outrageous. It’s not fair! WHY ME?

My carefully designed DARK garments are fitting a little tighter. Maybe I should buy longer jackets to cover up more of me. Why am I gaining weight?

A trip to my GYN is in order anyway, so I ask about weight gain. She and I are about the same age and she commiserates with me. “Yep” she says, “that’s part of what is going on with your body.” I ask “Is there anything that can be done for it?” and this time she does not have a good answer. She asks me to look at my mother. Is she slim? To be truthful, my mother is not slim. She’s not fat either…let’s say she’s sturdy. But I say “My older sister is slim. We have the same parents, she’s going through the same thing that I’m going through. Why is she not gaining weight and I am?” Alas, there was not a good answer. She came back with “genetics.” While we share the same parents, we do not share the same genes. Boy is that the truth. We have never looked alike and we have never done the same things, but up till now, we’ve been about the same size. Why me!?

Weight gain can be the result of decreased physical activity. I felt that my physical activity had not decreased. I was still chauffering kids; teaching a full load at school, as well as running around the University; and doing all the stuff that is needed to maintain a household. In fact, I was thinking that it was time to hire a “wife” to take care of the kids and clean the house as I was too busy to do that as well as everything that my life demanded to be done. Since hiring a wife was out of the question, I thought that maybe walking needed to be added to my regimen.

That’s when the MSG was formed. What an addition to my life. MSG is short for “Menopause Support Group.” We are a group of about 10 women, all of “an age” who are experiencing the same thing. With the MSG I find a walking partner. Each morning at 6 AM, my partner and I walk two miles a day. Funny thing, it became enjoyable! Neither of us had time to do it, but we made the time. One day I would drive to her house and the next day she would drive to my house and we would do our warm ups then start on our walk. We were usually back at our houses by 6:30 and ready to start the day. We had two mile courses marked out and walked them religiously rain or shine. We talked about everything and had a good time. Sometimes our cats would follow us. Since it’s hard to think of cats following anyone, it was cute to see the 3 felines walking in a line behind us! Once we saw mountain lion tracks, (they have a big foot.) She started bringing a hand gun in her fanny pack but after discussing what we would do if we actually saw the cat, we decided the gun was not a good idea. Neither of us knew what we would do if we saw the lion. We might be able to shoot toward the cat…and if we did, would either of us be able to aim a gun. That’s when we found out that we could not kill a lion and we decided that an air horn was a better thing. So she stopped wearing the gun and starting to bring a small portable air horn instead.

The weight did not pile on as much and it was fun to walk with my friend from down the block in the morning. In fact, after the walk, I felt invigorated to do more than I did before. It is something that I still do, but the weight has still continued.

But this leads to the best discovery of my 44th year. The creation of the MSG. The ten of us meet every once in awhile, have lunch or dinner or snacks and complain, bitch, moan, laugh, cry and talk. We try to solve problems that each of us are having. We commiserate. We are important to each other. We compare menopausal symptoms. When someone else has the same problem, we know that we at least inhabit the same planet. When something out of the ordinary happens, we call an MSG meeting. We study the situation and come up with solutions.

The MSG came to the rescue when it was discovered that I had high blood pressure. Did the weight cause the high blood pressure or did the high blood pressure cause the increase in weight? No one knows the answer to that conundrum. With exercise and diet high blood pressure can be reduced, but it needs to be watched all the time.

I asked the MSG if they had gained weight, and the answer was almost unanimous. They had all gained weight too. No one felt like they were lazier than before, but they did feel the change. The waist had gone to waste. The sagging bottom. The chins. Oh, what to do with all these unwelcome changes. Laine Bryant exists for large women, but I’m not a large woman. I’m 130 pounds on the inside with 150 on the outside. This is wrong. This is bad.

Get real Lee, this is the way it is. I would give myself pep talks. The MSG propped me up too. We all realized we are no longer going to be 130 pounds. We’re not 30 anymore either. Wake up and smell the roses. You are no longer going to be skinny like you used to be. You have a line on your forehead. You have fibroid tumors that are masses 3 inches by 3 inches. Then the ugly reality strikes…you are no longer going to be able to have children. That’s the scary thought. While I don’t want any more children, I know that it’s going to be impossible to have any more. Before, it had been a choice not to have more children, but now my body is making the choice for me. I’m not in control of the situation. One more reason to say “it sucks!”

What does it feel to be out of control of the situation. I’m two years into menopause, and I’m feeling out of control. There are so many things that I cannot count on any more. I cannot count on being slim. I cannot count on a regular period. I cannot count on wearing a size 10. I cannot count on a face without wrinkles. What else is going to slip? Are there other things that I can look forward to and dread?

I start to wonder what my mother did when she was 44. I ask her questions, but she says “things” happen. My mother-in-law is even older than my mother and I know she will not say anything. My sister tells me a few things to look forward to, but she lives far away and we have not discovered the uses of email for everyday purposes when I was 44. One more reason why MSG is important to me. Our mothers did not have the background experience to help us with these problems. They just lived with them. We were going to make a difference.

The rest of that year was more or less uneventful, body-wise. It’s hard to tell a houseful of men that you don’t feel like doing everything that you used to feel like doing. It’s hard to tell them that you are just a bit sad as they just don’t understand.

They do learn to realize that there are mood swings. I guess that’s the worst part of the depression. Some days I’m happy and nothing bothers me. Some days, look at me with just a smirk, and I’ll fly off the handle.

Pepper, she’s an MSGer calls it an evil demon waiting to boil up from the pit of her stomach. She will wake up in the morning and she can feel that demon just waiting to get out. She wants to yell. She wants to scream. She wants to throw the clothes out of the hamper and all over the bathroom floor. She wants to destroy something. She also doesn’t want to clean up the mess…and she wonder’s “What’s with me?”

One day when I get this same “demonic” feeling, I told the twins to eat their breakfast quickly and then before they even get started I put the dishes in the dishwasher. I hurry them out the door forgetting that I need to have my stuff ready. Now everything in an all male household goes into the dishwasher, sometimes even cats make it into the dishwasher. But knives do not get put in the dishwasher. They have to be washed by hand so they will stay sharp. The boys know this. I tell them to wash the knives before I get home.

Well, you know what happens. The knives are not washed when I get home. Nor is the front yard mowed and there are things all over the place. That evil demon that resides in the pit of my stomach starts screaming and makes an ugly appearance. I pick up the knives and put them on the back deck and exclaim that they might as well rust out there as well as in the kitchen. The boys know that something is wrong…I wonder what gave them that idea?…My husband takes me by the hand and says “let’s go out to dinner.” Someone needs to remain calm as it’s not me. Do I need to remember this ploy if I don’t want to supervise dinner fixings?

Not all mood swings happen at home. Some happen as work. I had just stepped down from being Chair of the department. I thought the title “chairman” was not appropriate and chairperson sounded a bit too impersonal, so I changed the name to “chair.” After being chair for a couple of years, I was excited about the change of routine and the less busy schedule of being full time faculty instead of double time administrator. The new chairman in his wisdom thought it would be fun to send me “up the road” to our branch campus 90 miles away because I was a good trouble-shooter. I don’t think so. I saw the assignment and that evil demon started splashing around in my stomach again. I stomped to his office and pulled rank. “As a tenured full professor,” I said, “I WILL NOT TEACH 90 MILES FROM CAMPUS UNTIL ALL OF THE PART TIME FACULTY ARE TEACHING 90 MILES FROM CAMPUS.” The poor guy did not even have a chance to argue. I walked out of his office and went back to my cubby hole that the university so gleefully calls a “one person office” and played games on my computer. I was steamed. The next day I had an on campus assignment. Don’t argue with a menopausal woman.

Weight gain and depression! Go figure…live with it. I can make adjustments. I start to look at the little things that are important. The twins are a miracle. Here were two tiny babies weighing less that 5 pounds each and now they are grown up. When did that happen? There are flowers and seasons. The redbud only blooms for 2 weeks a year, yet it grows all year long. I rejoice at the hearty magenta-red blooms and sadden when they start to fade and fall. A robins nest is a sign of hope and spring. I’m part of the cycle. My reproductive part is ending, but something better must be starting. At least that is my hope. At least I have to convince myself that that is the case. The MSG and I ponder what will get better.

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