35. Dispatches From the Afterlife (Death, Menopause, & Other Minor Inconveniences)

At times during the past couple of years, it’s been an inordinate struggle producing worthy (even readable) content. I’ve been feeling very inward-focused for various reasons and, honestly, during this time I’ve felt sexually disconnected within myself, which hasn’t helped a bit. My racy place of work (and regular dose of sexual energy from the outside world) shut down for COVID. A year ago in November I got the plague which obliterated my sense of smell for a spell, cutting me off from a whole world of sensation and sensuality that I hadn’t fully appreciated before. And the transition into menopause sent my sexuality into a tailspin from which I have yet to fully recover.

So I’m still sort of disoriented in my body and being.

Oh well. I’m fairly well acquainted with disorientation. I’m one of those freaks who actually likes teetering on the edge of oblivion. It makes me feel more alive and awake. Keeps me scanning the horizon, questioning my assumptions and conclusions about everything. Keeps me real, I like to think.

So right now, I’m still not sure where I’m going, but I’d like to compose a different sort of post today by sharing what I’ve discovered in the limbo of my very own Divine Comedy.

Journey Through the Realms of the Dead.

…Yes, when my vagina ceased to exist (menopause can do that sometimes), it was like a death in the family. It wasn’t dramatic, no wailing or histrionics, just more like a somber wake. There was a void, a black hole (no more hot “pink” with bright red lipstick), and an emptiness where there used to be a living entity. There was the sobering recognition of a presence taken for granted, and the sense of bewilderment and confused abandonment that can arise from a loved one’s unexpected departure. (Why don’t women tell one another more about this?!) And, like a death in the family forces a shift in the family dynamics…so, too, with my vagina. Where once there was an inviting “Welcome!” mat was now posted an adamant “No Trespassing!” sign. (You can imagine what that did to my sex life.)

Inferno. The infamous “power surge” in the inner thermostat caused by the more dramatic changes in estrogen levels occurs as the sputtering ovaries begin to peter out. It’s a well known thing among women, but did you know that men, too, can experience hot flashes? My partner and I learned this fascinating tidbit first hand. He knew exactly when my flushes were coming on (even across the room) because he would start to sweat. While male hot flashes can be caused by various medical issues, some lucky men get to experience them right alongside their female partners, as a kind of “sympathetic” response.

Although Couvade Syndrome is known as “sympathetic pregnancy,” it can also occur at the woman’s menopause when the fluctuations in her hormones are similarly intense. It’s sometimes regarded as psychosomatic, but seems more likely to be the result of synced-up of biochemistry caused by living closely together (that same thing that tends to cause women in college dormitories to get onto the same monthly rhythm). Anyway, who ever may have thought of men as insensitive oafs certainly needs to think again!

Purgatory. After my vagina died I felt profoundly, constitutionally, adrift, and this gave me a peek into the deeper basis of identity harbored within sexuality, something obviously highly relevant these days. Who was I without any sexuality at all? I thought I’d seen the view and I thought I knew where I was going. What a na├»ve fantasy. But since I’m also a freakish outlier who strives to turn away from identity altogether, I was enchanted by the sense of freedom from sexual desire and it’s subtle-yet-powerful influence on sense of self. So I gazed into the emptiness behind the loss.

What I found there was a spaciousness within myself similar to what I experienced during a brief-but-potent stint of celibacy, but with an even deeper sense of being totally “unplugged” from sexuality at the level of my own physiology. What possibilities exist beyond the known and familiar? The horizon is infinite. Death is new life. Endings mean new beginnings. Loss opens the doors to new discovery, new dynamics, new being. And emptiness is replete in and of itself. It’s nothing to fear.

Paradise? After much research and reflection, I chose the route of bio-identical hormone replacement therapy. The very day I applied the first estrogen patch, I felt a shift. There was a distinct sensation of supple sensuality in my being that I can only call “feminine.” I hoped I wasn’t aborting a profound adventure, although I welcomed relief from the symptoms that had begun to take a toll on my capacity to function.

I’m still stumbling around in the woods, though. My partner and I still haven’t resurrected our sex life together, because he too is on the uncharted path called life and aging, but we have become even closer through traversing the unknown together, walking hand in hand through the wilderness, showing up for each other through doubt, confusion, and frustration. It’s vulnerable territory. Filled with challenge and revelation. Filled with opportunities for letting go and letting life.

In her own blog, my mother recently posted comments about fear and death and walking forward with courage into the unknowns of old age. Is it “golden,” she asks? As always, life is only as golden as we make it, as rich as we are on the inside. And, as usual, the greatest treasures are found by looking under the stuff that covers it, a process of subtraction rather than addition. This is true at any stage of life, and the sooner we catch onto this the better off we’ll be (while saving tons of vital energy along the way).

So why is it that more women don’t tell one another about the particulars of menopause…and, in addition, how many men share their own struggles and experiences? I think it speaks to the fact that we’re all too busy and harried in life to fully acknowledge the significance of such intimate events and thoughtfully attend to the scope of their impacts. I think we all need to slow down and attend to ourselves and our lives with more sensitivity, more consideration, more attention. Then we can discover the hidden treasures we find along the way, share our insights and experiences, and help each other make all of life a little more blessed, a little more divine, a little more golden.

I did a ceremony to honor my life’s transition. I took some time out for quiet reflection. I set my intent to keep listening and watching, remaining open and receptive to what presents itself. And I strive to revisit that every day.

5 thoughts on “35. Dispatches From the Afterlife (Death, Menopause, & Other Minor Inconveniences)”

  1. I hear you loud and clear on this experience. Throughout perimenopause and menopause, I would stop women, who looked about my age, on the street and in stores just to ask them what they were experiencing. I was hungry to share and to hear from other women. We (men and women) need to be talking and sharing our experiences. I also related to the disorientation brought on by the newly menopausal you and the surfacing of your identification as a sexual being. I had to take a good hard look at who I thought I was when my libido took a nosedive and when my own vagina started rebelling. Thank you for sharing your experience.

    1. I love it that you accosted women on the street and out shopping! I hope they were open and receptive. I also brought it up with every woman my age, and men too, where ever the opportunity arose. I learned that a female friend of mine went through a sympathetic pregnancy with her housemate (she actually had worse morning sickness than her pregnant compatriot!!) and one of my male massage clients had also experienced hot flashes with his wife. We enjoyed a good laugh.

  2. Love the paragraph: “disorientation” … teetering on the edge of oblivion.

    There is something to be said for adventure!

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