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HORMONE JOURNAL: What I’ve Learned So Far
By Camille Maurine
The Raw Truth
December 3, 2001, 3 a.m.
I think I’m almost getting used to it, the nightsweats, and now some day flushes. Waking up several times drenched inside the sheets. Flannel’s the best, 100 percent cotton – soaks everything up so when you get back in bed, it doesn’t feel like putting on a clammy wet swimsuit. Getting up to pee and to dose myself with black cohosh and motherwort tincture, a remedy I’m told will take a couple of months to kick in.
Tonight I add some Wellness Formula, because on top of all this spritzing, as my friend Ilene calls it, I’m also getting over what I guess is a cold, or was it the flu? Hard to tell who’s who with those viruses, wily, brilliantly adaptive critters that they are. Ugh. Yesterday nevertheless I gave a talk at a fundraiser for a new non-profit organization, V.O.W. – Voices of Women – hilarious timing, in that this woman’s voice was nasal and rheumy. I said to the audience, “I’m feeling loopy, my head is bleary, but hey, my heart is clear!” Don’t get me wrong, I’m not complaining. I’m used to bodily transformations, and this thing called menopause is a mighty and mysterious one, to be sure. Yes, I’m ready for a change.
As it happens, I am right smack at the average age for this business – 51 – and despite some mild lingering shame about revealing that (how irritating!), I’m glad to say that I feel better than ever in just about every way. A youth-worshipping culture are we, but what I’m dedicated to is well being, which for me takes a lot of maintenance: my customized combo of meditation, yoga, dance, and theater to keep my physical and creative energies flowing. So maybe I don’t leap across the stage in grand jetées, but generally I am healthier, emotionally more supple, and able to say no when I need to take care of myself. Someone said, I don’t know who, “What could be mistaken for tiredness is simply maturity – knowing by now what’s really worth your time and energy.” If that was you, thanks, and I wholeheartedly agree.
In all honesty, we’d better factor in the last couple of months. I’ve often found myself moved to tears, hyper-aware of humanity’s fragility, the finiteness of life, and death. For all of us, of course, there is the omnipresent background of September 11, the precarious world situation, and the pathos of the human condition, for want of a better phrase. Many times in the past weeks, the Scorpio month, mind you, when I would get very deep in meditation or subtle movement, core levels of energy would open, welling up from belly and heart in wrenching sobs – over and over again. This profound release seemed not just personal to me but a healing of our collective trauma; we all must be carrying some measure of horror and grief. But I had to wonder: Would the sorrow never cease?
There’s more to the story. I had also just returned from visiting a dear friend whose once-lithe dancer’s body is now ravaged by six rounds of chemo. The breast cancer, though removed and treated, surfaced again in her uterus and won’t let go. We talked, cried, even laughed together. She’s “putting on her parachute,” facing whatever comes next, death or a miracle of healing. Looking into each other’s soft eyes, we slipped into that place beyond words, the silence of unknowing and surrender. An appalling number of other women I know are being diagnosed with breast cancer and I suspect this may be true in your experience, too. I quake with the conundrum every modern woman faces: how to pick our way through the jungle of allopathic and alternative information. I’d been through this recently myself, subjecting my own sweet breast to a traumatic biopsy; thankfully the microcalcification was benign. Immense rage and grief moves through me at the fear these medical situations evoke, when our own bodies, our female organs in particular, become a source of terror and dread rather than of pleasure and feminine power.
Ah, deep breath…These huge and very human feelings are difficult to hold in one little heart. But this I have learned from experience: When faced squarely, even the most painful emotion can provide a portal into new strength and a deep and poignant compassion. In this menopausal metamorphosis, I feel myself being rendered to the essence, cut to the bone. Sometimes there is nothing to do but weep.
It is raining tonight, so I linger before getting out of my cozy nest, listening to the soothing sounds of raindrops pinging on the gutter, pattering in gentle rhythms on leaves and patio. Here in Southern California, this is a rare and welcome music, and even in December Lorin and I keep the bedroom window open to the fresh night air. Lying there, I imagine I am the Earth herself soaking up the sacred, life-giving moisture. With every breath, I sense the eternal cycles of nature at work in my own flesh. Inhaling deeply, I drink in the fragrance of rain-drenched air and thirsty soil.
Meanwhile, my skin is raining again. As I walk in the dark towards the kitchen, naked, of course – gotta be naked – I discern a darker shape on the floor: Slayer, my feline familiar, seems to have found a new position. (People always ask how I could name him such a thing, so I’ll tell you: Slayer because he slays me, pierces me right in the heart.) I snuggle down around this little bundle of love, shamelessly pressing myself around the perfectly designed package of purring fur. Finally getting chilled, I stand up, heat water for my herbal potions, replenish my bodily fluids, take a pee for good measure, and climb back into bed.
Nestling myself into the down pillows and comforter, I smile at the soft snores coming from Lorin’s peaceful slumber. He’s my Big Cat, his leonine body languid, substantial yet still supple: a master of relaxation. Lorin’s leg casually slides to rest heavily over mine, but after several comfy minutes I feel another surge coming on. I pull away, bend my knees, and lift the covers for cooler air as the fire breaks out from my core and exits through my pores. Sweat trickles down the backs of my thighs, tickling me lightly, almost mischievously. If you’ve never experienced this hormonal rush, permit me to say you have no idea: inexorable waves of primordial life force erupting through this mortal form. Awesome, indeed. Lorin says in amazement that he can sense heat radiating off my body in waves: witness the furnace of creation.
Exactly how each woman cooks in this furnace is supremely individual, with hormonal levels shifting wildly and unpredictably for years of her life. It’s a lot to track, and it seems to me that conventional medicine has a hard time keeping up. So little is known about these potent substances, hormones; are we the guinea pig generation, messing with the intelligence of nature through HRT? I can certainly sympathize with the women who choose such intervention, understanding how overwhelming the symptoms can be. But I’ll eschew that course and take my chances, at least for now, and I refuse to buy into the menopause-as-disease propaganda. Those in the know say that the better your attitude about the menopausal transition, the easier it will be, and I believe this is true. My friend Emilie thinks pitta types have a harder time, having so much fire already, a quality she and I recognize in each other. Actually, I think I’m pitta-vata, gleaning this self-description from my cursory study of Ayurveda.
So now in honor of yogic wisdom and to balance my elemental pelvic energies, I place myself in supta baddha konanasa, the one with knees and elbows bent, soles of the feet together and fingertips touching overhead. I also put a small foam roll under the back of my heart, propping my chest open to breathe fully and allowing my sternum to spread. I call this pose the Double Diamond, envisioning light emanating from my head and fiery power from between my legs.
My Little Cat seems to sense this power, jumping onto the bed and humping my foot – a sign of Slayer’s health, I think, which makes me happy. His lusty gusto is remarkable for two reasons. At 6 months I had him gelded (and experienced the mix of guilt and duty that mothers having their infant boys circumcised must feel), so where does he get this urge? Plus he is over 15 years old, and while his hip is stiff (I wince when he struggles to leap), he seems to be going strong. Another deep breath, this one a prayer: may he be with us for years to come…
Age, you merciless teacher, age. So conscious I am now of the passage of time and preciousness of these moments. Lorin stirs in his sleep, his familiar body so natural and comfortable next to mine. After 19 years, I am more in love with him than ever. No strangers to the storms of relationship, amidst the inevitable tempests we have forged a bond that is hardy and true. Even sex grows deeper all the time, our passion still spicy and experimental, though mellowed now with intimacy and leavened with easy mirth. I admit I’m just superstitious enough to spit over my shoulder right now: pyeh, pyeh; don’t want to tempt the fickle fates. When you sign on for the marriage journey, however, you are saying yes to the forces of life, so letting them have their way with you is the name of the game. We are both excruciatingly aware that we will lose each other eventually, a soulful reality that suffuses us with great tenderness. To love we must risk a broken heart.
Here in the middle of the night, in the center of darkness, I find such sweetness and peace. Gradually my senses detect the beginning of navaswan, that magic predawn time the ancient Hindus spoke of, when a wave of fresh energy washes over and renews our being. I sink back in luscious surrender. Cuddled in comfort, serenaded by rain and sounds of breath, I am utterly content. No matter that my head throbs from stuffy sinuses, no matter that the rest of me is taken over by heat or chills – I am thrilled, in a quiet ecstasy. Life is happening. I am alive and aware, partaking in its great mystery.
With a little chuckle, an idea sprouts in my brain – a desire to share the weird wonder of this ordinary night, to write what I’ve learned so far on this hormonal odyssey…That’s how I’ll begin. I imagine you reading this now, woman to woman, heart to heart. I take another deep inhalation, this time in sleepy satisfaction, and roll over, curling into the coziness. Slowly I drift into dreamland. Who knows? Maybe I’ll see you in there.
Copyright 2001, 2018 Camille Maurine