Beliefnet
The Queen of My Self

By Sharon Mesmer

For some women, menopause is no big deal. Some say they barely notice it. My mother, long ago, described her menopause this way: “My periods just started gettin’ lighter and lighter, and my harmones settled down, and then one day … pfft! It was over.”

Not me. Not only did menopause change my life, it changed me.

Before I was laid low by hot flashes, panic-inducing adrenaline rushes and the constant oscillation between morbid sadness and killer rage, I’d prided myself on being fearless. I’d screamed obscenities at the masochistic nuns at my Catholic school, kicked undercover cops in the groin and once threw a chair at my abusive fiancé’s head while Allen Ginsberg read poetry in a room below.

And suddenly, I was a person to whom sitting quietly with hands folded, ideally in a dark room with the shades drawn and maybe “The Lawrence Welk Show” playing low on an old TV, seemed like the best plan ever.

I wish I’d been better prepared. I wish I’d properly celebrated the last time I’d canceled plans to spend all morning soaking in a lavender-scented bathtub with a bottle of Advil. I wish I’d noted down the date when I’d dug that last extra tampon out of the bottom of my purse and thrown it away. I should have marked the event in some way, maybe even performed a personal rite-of-passage ritual: taken that tampon out to the woods, placed it upon an altar that I’d fashioned out of ancient glacial rocks, and set it ablaze while I chanted an invocation to whoever the crone-goddess of menopause is.

I am now well acquainted with that goddess.

It’s possible that I have the World’s Worst Menopause. But how to quantify with hard data hot flashes that make me feel like I’m staring into the mouth of an active volcano or the engine of a coal-burning locomotive on the hottest day in history? To what previous record could I compare panic-inducing adrenaline rushes that occur every hour on the hour and, while I’m teaching, inspire concerned students to ask if I’m having a heart attack? When I hear women use cutesy nicknames like “power surges” I want to rip their throats out.

If you are one of those women for whom the transition from periods to no periods was like the transition from walking to sitting down — congratulations. Everybody else: You are my tribe. And I’ve come to believe that our tribe needs a ritual.

I’ve heard menopause described as a second puberty. There are plenty of rites-of-passage for girls as they begin and complete puberty. There’s the bat mitzvah, the quinceañera and the Sweet 16. I’ve read about a beautiful Apache ceremony called Na’ii’ees, which usually takes place the summer after a girl has her first period and commemorates the story of Esdzanadehe, the first woman. It originally lasted a few days, during which a girl, covered with a golden mixture of cornmeal and clay, became imbued with the power of the first woman and received the ability to heal and bring blessings to her community.

I didn’t have a Sweet 16 or a bat mitzvah. But I did have a First Holy Communion, which supposedly marked my ascent to the age of reason, as a 7-year-old. As rituals go, it was a good one.

Coming Wednesday, Part II

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Donna Henes is the author of The Queen of My Self: Stepping into Sovereignty in Midlife. She offers counseling and upbeat, practical and ceremonial guidance for individual women and groups who want to enjoy the fruits of an enriching, influential, purposeful, passionate, and powerful maturity. Consult the MIDLIFE MIDWIFE™

The Queen welcomes questions concerning all issues of interest to women in their mature years. Send your inquiries to thequeenofmyself@aol.com.

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