Part I: What to Know About Menopause – A Roadmap

Midlife and What We’ve Come to Expect of Menopause

Strolling into midlife can feel a lot like running back towards puberty. Our teen years are long gone, but the transition through midlife can be just as unsettling. Many middle-aged women begin caring for aging parents or letting them go. Mothers may be staring – bewildered – at the vagaries of our teens’ hormonal surges. In which case, empty-nesting is likely on the horizon, bringing more transition. Some of us are stirred into a career change or teasing apart the fabric of a marriage or partnership. Added to these life changes is our own hormonal tide-shift going on inside, the likes of which we can hardly ignore.

If you’re like me, you long ago surrendered to the idea that hot flashes and night sweats are routine after 45. You told yourself a larger pant size is a normal part of getting older. You tried to get used to the idea of a few lines around the corners of your eyes and mouth – grin lines, we like to call them. But behind that grin-and-bear-it façade, you’re ready to fight menopause and this aging thing every step of the way. 

Fighting won’t help. It only makes war with the body and at a time when our lives call us home to our whole selves. We can’t stop the clock from turning. We can’t keep ourselves from growing older. But we can soften the hard edges we’ve come to expect of midlife and menopause. 

Making Midlife Our Own

Our middle years can feel challenging in part because there’s no useful roadmap. The old ones won’t do. For too long, women have lived with a not-so-promising story about menopause and getting older. That story says as soon as we start the menopause transition, we’re running downhill – a withering rose, they say. Those ‘rough road ahead’ and ‘past your prime’ messages don’t align with the majority of women’s experiences. But they sure do muddle them. 

There’s a sense of dread. We’re not quite sure what to expect. Are we in for the wild ride we’ve been told it’s going to be? Do we need to hide out for a handful of years to let the storm pass? Is this really the beginning of the end of being a vibrant woman? 

Who do women turn to for a useful roadmap? 

Our mothers and their mothers didn’t talk much about this transition, if at all. There was too much stigma. There still is, although thankfully, that’s starting to change. Your healthcare provider is an obvious choice for support since the body is heading into new territory. Even so, many women walk away from a doctor visit frustrated, facing the menopause transition and midlife feeling alone and confused. 

My own experience and that of many women I’ve talked with tell me that menopause and the years that follow can be a time of rich self-exploration and meaning-making. The body does change, but these changes are as natural as the mid-day sun, and they don’t signal decline. They signal, simply, change.  

Carl Jung once wrote . . . .

The afternoon of life is just as full of meaning as the morning;

 only, its meaning and purpose are different . . . .

I find these words comforting. There’s a whole new landscape of body and self to discover in our middle and later years. Midlife becomes our own story, not the one we’ve inherited. The menopause transition can be a homecoming to deepening self-acceptance and trust in our body as she ushers in a new phase. 

Cultivating overall health and wellbeing can support this transition and open the way for healthy aging and a meaningful second half of life. We explore that in this series.

Gateway to Vibrant Wellbeing

  1. What life transitions, if any, are you in the midst of or do you see on your horizon? What sensations, images, words, or reflections stir as you reflect on them?
  1. What changes, if any, do you notice in your body, and what sensations, images, words, or reflections come to mind about them? 

Next Up:

Part II: I Waltzed into Midlife in a Health Crisis

Explore More

For further reading, please check out the studies below.

References

  1. Arrien, A. The Second Half of Life: Opening the Eight Gates of Wisdom. Sounds True, Boulder: Co, 2005. 
  2. Barry, EC. Putting it down to experience: Ageing and the subject in Sartre, Munro, Coetzee. Eur J Eng. 2018;22(1):13-27. https://doi.org/10.1080/13825577.2018.1427197 
  3. Open access: https://core.ac.uk/download/pdf/151393681.pdf
  4. Bateson, MC. Composing a Life. Atlantic Monthly Press, New York: NY, 1989. 
  5. Hvas, L, Gannik, DE. Discourses on menopause part 1: Menopause described in texts addressed to Danish women 1996-2004. Health. 2008;12:157. https://doi.org/10.1177/1363459307086842 Open access: http://lottehvas.dk/wp-content/uploads/2015/07/healthdiscourse1.pdf
  6. Lawrence-Lightfoot, S. The Third Chapter: Passion, Risk, and Adventure in the 25 Years after 50. Sarah Crichton Books, New York: NY, 2009. 
  7. Jung, CG. Collected Works. Vol VII, ¶114.  
  8. Mitteness, LS. Historical changes in public information about the menopause. Urban Antropol. 1983;12(2):161-179. http://www.jstor.org/stable/40553005.Thomas, AJ, Mitchell, ES, Wood, NF. The challenges of midlife women: Themes from the Seattle midlife women’s health study. J Womens Health. 2018;4(8). https://doi.org/10.1186/s40695-018-0039-9

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