I’m All Out of Vices
A Tale of Involuntary Clean Living
Photo by Edward Howell on Unsplash
February of 2020 proved to be the convergence of a lot of change. The big one we all know. That one is still impacting our lives over three years later.
But little did I know that would also be the final act of my monthly cycle. Yep, February 2020 was the official start of my menopause. Since menopause is defined by going a full year without a period, I could only know that February 2020 was the last one twelve months later. Had I known I might have lit a candle. Baked a cake. Held a Bon Voyage party.
What I also didn’t know in February 2020 was that it would be the last time my hairdresser and dear friend would put color in my hair. I began growing out my gray roots in those strange COVID times and just kept going. I’m still not sure I embrace my gray, but it’s mine.
Turns out February 2020 was a significant inflection point for the world and for me.
My monthly cycles had always been at best uneasy and at worst downright awful. They were so regular I could set a watch by them, but in my early twenties I was diagnosed with mittleschmerz which is just a German way of saying ‘middle pain.’
This meant very painful ovulations in the middle of each cycle. This pain would last my entire adult life. Bonus? I always knew when I was ovulating. Downside? Every time I ovulated it made me hurt so bad I wanted to throw up.
In my thirties, I was also diagnosed with Premenstrual Dysmorphic Disorder, or PMDD. To call it a severe form of PMS is to call a tornado a severe form of wind. The PMDD was a 28-day mental, physical, and emotional roller coaster ride where I felt good for about four to five of those days.
I remember back then thinking how menopause was going to be great. I couldn’t wait to get rid of these awful monthly cycles of agony. Not having periods meant no more pain and the end of the hormonal nightmare, right? It’s cute that I thought having no period would be a cakewalk.
My hormones had so many more surprises in store. With the change came incredible joint pain. Overwhelming fatigue. Brain fog so bad at times I am still certain I have early-onset dementia despite being assured by my medical team that all is well.
I have read and researched and looked for help and I have found many women telling me “It doesn’t have to be so bad.”
Well, yes and no.
Traditional medicine doesn’t have a lot to say. My regular doctor sent me to a menopause specialist who gave me antidepressants for the hot flashes that I told her I only rarely had. She had little to say about the fatigue and memory issues and sent me away saying, “I hear yoga helps?”
Next, I tried a naturopath who did really listen and offered quite a lot of help. Within six months, my situation considerably improved. I was starting to feel better, and as the fog and pain eased, it became clear to me that in my fifties, it was finally time for me to do a much better job of taking care of myself. Something I had ignored for quite some time.
So, back to the regular doctor. “I actually want to exercise,” I told her, and I meant it. I began to eat better. I finally admitted that my lactose intolerance wasn’t something I could pretend I didn’t have.
Also, I grudgingly acknowledged that every time I ate bread products that I craved so much and my stomach bloated up and hurt that maybe, just maybe, I needed to stop ignoring that too.
I ate more vegetables. I vastly reduced the amount of sugar I consumed even though sugar and sugary food is my comfort. And then, something happened that I never could have imagined.
I stopped drinking.
I have never been a big drinker, but boy did I love a couple of glasses of red wine or maybe some bourbon at the end of the week. In menopause, how my body metabolized alcohol changed and I had to stop drinking just to see if it made me feel better, and it did.
So here I am, still working on myself.
I’ve never been a fan of tobacco and nicotine. I’ve tried multiple forms of pot and didn’t like it. Anything harder than that is off the table. I don’t drink. I don’t eat wheat. I rarely eat cheese. I eat sugar but in far smaller amounts. I once had a thing for binge shopping but even that isn’t interesting anymore.
These days I find myself, curiously, without vices. Me, the person who chased all kinds of vices and comforts and mind-numbing agents for the first fifty years of my life.
This is so unexpected.
I often ask myself, “what will I do when I have that really bad day and I want to sink into something that will dull my mind?” And honestly, I don’t know anymore. Yeah, okay, I can get out a pint of oat milk ice cream but come on, the decadence factor just isn’t there.
What do I use to celebrate big news? Non-alcoholic spirits seem to be having a moment. I did try the Seedlip brand, and while tasty, it’s just never going to be that same warm numb feeling as pouring a glass of amber liquor.
This isn’t a complaint, I guess. I feel better than I have in years. Someone commented recently that my face has changed. I haven’t lost any weight, but I think I am less puffy. Less inflamed.
Less inflammation means less joint pain. Less joint pain makes me rather content.
I have always been the type to seek food and drink and other mild to moderately addictive behavior as a way to comfort the aches and pains of everyday life. The past three years of my life have been filled with change and loss and grief.
So now, during what is arguably the most painful time of my life, no one is more surprised than me to find I no longer want to find ways to forget but rather I seek ways to stay present. To feel what I feel and figure out how to cope with that.
Huh. I’m evolving. It’s the weirdest (and most beautiful) damn thing. Who knew menopause would make me a better person?
This post was originally published on Medium and more of my work can be found over there @karenfayeth.