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Punch in the nose for those who think they know

The grossly unhelpful "self-help" tweet that caused an online uproar last week - the one that called out people who are depressed as selfish - got me thinking once again about the misinformation surrounding menopause. 

I spent a week this past fall shaking my fist at the computer screen, arguing with the wall and stewing in frustration over comments readers posted to an online story about hormone replacement therapy. The Journal of the American Medical Association published a study that showed postmenopausal women who use hormone replacement therapy are more likely to die from breast cancer. 

Those findings followed earlier research that linked HRT recipients to an increased risk for stroke and heart attacks. So, it's no wonder that many think the pharmaceutical cocktail is dangerous and should be avoided. 

But what set my blood boiling were the holier-than-thou commenters who blasted HRT recipients as lemmings, bitches of Big Pharma who need to medicate the body's natural transition, cry babies who can't stand a few hot flashes. 

Here's what I wrote at the time: 

"I remember a moment in my early 20's when I realized people didn't grow out of their catty, judgmental teen selves. They just became catty, judgmental adults. That was a brutal gut punch.

I suffered a similar letdown recently when I realized the Perfect Police will dog me into old age. The hypercritical folks who find fault with my decisions to work or stay home with my children, nurse or formula feed, use cloth diapers or clog the landfill with disposables aren't going to stop once I become an older Mum. They're just going to change their focus. Apparently, the people who do things the "right way" want to tell me how to experience menopause. 

Good-bye Mommy Wars, hello Granny Wars?

Menopause hit me like a Humvee crashing through a straw hut. At 38, it was entirely unexpected and it upended everything in its path: my relationships, my sanity, my physical and emotional health, my mojo.

I thought I was losing my mind until blood tests revealed the culprit: my body wasn't in transition, it was already there. I hit menopause less than 18 months after my last child was born."

Eventually, I abandoned the post because I felt like a toddler in the throes of a tantrum, strapped into a car seat - shrieking, flailing, kicking - while my mother went about her errands, oblivious. What was the point of my fury if no one wanted to listen?

The fallout from the Daily Love tweet  - "Depression exists in selfish people. Step outside yourself, help others & you will feel better!"- kind of proves my point. The blog's founder rescinded the tweet and offered an apology but, in my opinion, he continued to ignore the significant physical impairment depression can be. 

"I have found in my own life that when I am helping others, focused on being of service and not thinking about my problems, I feel better," he wrote.

Well, sure, tell that to the mother who can't move from bed, cannot lift an arm, shift her head or tend to her young children fending for themselves outside her bedroom door. 

Tell that to me. 

A year ago, I was that mother. Trapped inside my body, unable to move, on account of the depression, a by-product of the motherfucking menopause. I'd been sad many, many times in my life before. Devastated by loss and overcome with hopelessness. But this was an experience on an entirely different plane, from an unknown world. It wasn't sad, rather the absence of all feeling and the inability to even move. 

"Come home now," is what I whispered into the phone one frightening afternoon to Kent. 

The menopause also caused crippling anxiety that made my heart race and my stomach run, impaired my breathing and created dramatic and damaging fictions in my head that no one - NO ONE - could convince me were untrue. 

It robbed me of my libido, caused Incredible Hulk rage, dread and memory loss. It made me dizzy and disturbed my sleep and, oh yeah, it gave me night sweats. Literally, the least of my worries. 

I accept that for many women, menopause can be a mildly uncomfortable transition with side effects that can be easily managed with yoga or a healthy diet. I wish people would accept that's not my reality. Menopause was a monster inside of me. 

So, fully aware of the health risks, I chose to start taking a low-dose birth control pill to reintroduce estrogen into my body (which, according to tests, had lower levels than the average man on the street). I also started acupuncture and daily doses of D3, B12, fish oil and calcium. 

I'm not entirely relieved of the menopausal symptoms, but I'm no longer besieged by them. I'm also not immune to harmful comments of well-intentioned but still uninformed observers. The good news is, for whatever reason, I'm not going to silence myself anymore. 

If you tell me people who are depressed could change their lot if they changed their attitude, I'll tell you that's not true. 

And if you tell me smugly that you're growing older gracefully and naturally and menopause is a minor inconvenience, like missing the bus, I'll tell you "Congratulations on your great luck." Then I'll punch your face.

Reader Comments (12)

Right on! You're still the bad-ass mommy rock star!

January 3, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterneighbor

Thank you so much for this! At 43 I am sure menopause is lurking around the corner for me and honestly, I had NO IDEA it was anything more than hot flashes. I hope I am one of the lucky ones, but please spare me a punch in the face! ;-)

Your writing is always so powerful and so evocative that even when you are writing about horrible pain, it is a pleasure to read. As usual, I am moved deeply by your post and your honesty.

January 3, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterGina

rage on dana. i'm so glad you wrote this and so glad for your readers who will benefit from your words (myself included).


January 3, 2011 | Unregistered Commenternic @mybottlesup

Your description of these Perfect Police (excellent name, by the way) reminded me of a gym teacher I had in middle school. She told my class point blank that she didn't believe there was any such thing as menstrual cramps, because she'd never had one. The object of her scorn was a fellow student of mine, pale, obviously unwell. She was told it was all in her head. Bless 'er, she still had enough wit to say, "No, ma'am, it's a bit farther south than that." It was probably the pain talking.

People like that teacher are not only lacking in imagination but horribly, horribly smug. Punch 'em again for me, will ya?

January 3, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterVee

Excellent work this! As a former psychiatrist this kind of stigma against mental illness BS makes me want to pull all my hair out one by one with tweezers. I once got hit in the head with a rotten tomato at a psychiatry conference by a disgruntled scientologist. Yeah, I'm the one causing havoc in the world with all my 'helping' people.

Rock it Mama...


January 4, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterBobbi

Well said! Even as a survivor of depression, I sometimes find it hard to remember what it was like. (There is a bit of self-imposed amnesia, I'll admit.) My husband recently went through a horrible bout this year and we have been struggling to get back to normal. It affects every facet of your life and the lives of those around you.
Thank you for putting into words what many who are struggling with this disease would like to say.

January 4, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterLois

A-freaking-men. (and very well-written)

January 4, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterseeking elevation

Thanks, all. It makes me feel good to have such tough, righteous women in my corner!

January 5, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterFeast After Famine

This was really nice for me to read. My long time best friend and I have know each other since 7th grade and are now 32 years old. She has been suffering from depression and has a sleep disorder and it affected her attendance at her job and she was the sole employee "laid off". So she has been with out a job for about 4 months now and their plans to start a family have been derailed. She is depressed. And it seems to me rightly so but I can't help feeling like she had a responsability to herself her employeer and her husband to keep on her medicine and go to bed at a reasonable time to manage her sleep disorder and not get fired, especially after being put on notice. Instead she came in with a doctor's note.
She is in a pit of dispare and consumed by the Green Eyed Monster of Jelousy.
I am at a loss. She won't return my calls or my emails so how am I suppose to support her. And honestly I don't understand what she is going thru so I don't know how to comfort her. And I certainly don't want to placate her. It was nice to read from a stranger how depression feels and that helps me remeber that she isn't behaving so because she has a princess complex or is lazy. She is honestly depressed going thru one of lifes hardest trials.
Thank you for sharing.

January 6, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterSarah

There is a scene in the movie "About a Boy" where the mom is crying and her son doesn't quite understand what is happening. I can't tell you how many times I have been there and how happy I was when I saw that scene; I realized that I wasn't alone but the Perfect Police made me feel like I am. I embrace being askew, I embrace that I feel alone and depressed and not Perfect because over the years I have come to realize that the Perfect Police only feels Perfect in large groups. They don't function alone: yet, I DO!

At age 36, my mother had an emergency hysterectomy due to a massive tumor and like the word it nearly drove her "hyster"ical, enraged and so depressed that I didn't think she would ever make it. Being an only child and being raised only by her - well I had the best/worst front row seats. The hormones helped her but a void was there that nothing completely filled until the day that my children were born - it was as if that feminine side of her once again connected.

I am sorry that your body told you it wants to move on - I am happy to read though that you are "healthy" and thrive in being in a great mother to 4 little beauties. No one come close the the wonders of happiness that they will provide you. May your days always have a little sunshine and know you are not alone.

January 8, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterbusybees-

Dana, this is one of your best yet [in my lil' ole opinion]. There is so much in this post that hit home for me and since I had the kind of postpartum depression that lands one in a psych ward, I expect my menopausal years will require more than "yoga and a healthy diet."

So well articulated, lady!

January 8, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterBuenoBaby

Give them a good smack for me, too.

January 10, 2011 | Unregistered Commentersam

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