Since it’s summer, my family and I have indulged in some low rent binge watching – namely the profligate Marvel Universe on Netflix. On the Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., humans undergo a process called Terragenesis in which they evolve through one method or another into inhumans – humans with enhanced powers. In the show, The Ghost Rider is another character who gains the skill to become a fire-hurling head of flame.
My head has felt surrounded by flames on and off for a month now. I’m going through peri-menopause, on my way to being done with my childbearing years. Every two minutes, I feel like I’ve just opened an oven door in front of my face – prickly heat, the sweat, then the cooling off and chills. Insomnia is putting me on edge and writing is interrupted by chaotic thoughts hopping through my head, like frogs on lily pads, leaping from one random word to another.
Normally, I wouldn’t bother writing about “lady issues”. But there is some glee in doing so when we have a president who is viscerally offended by any bodily function of a woman. He’s expressed his heebie-jeebs about menstruation, weight, breastfeeding, using the restroom, children – anything that mars his puerile focus on beauty queen attributes. I’m not really interested in reading about other people’s bodily functions, hygiene or bathroom habits, but I know they exist and don’t act like a ten-year old afraid of girl cooties.
It is euphemistically called a change of life. Metamorphosis is the word that keeps cropping up in my mind. Will I shed my skin? Will I become something worse, lesser, weaker, older? My body seems no longer under my control, with the unregulated thermostat turning the furnace on every time I get the least bit comfortable. Now that I will no longer be a fertile being, is this the time when primordial husbands look for eggs elsewhere?
My body has been through a lot – all the running, marching in combat boots and gear, martial arts training, childbirth, endless menstrual cycles. I calculated that in my lifetime, I’ve had a period at least 400 times. 400 times of hormonal changes, fat loss and gain. 400 times when sappy commercials made me cry, I’ve blurted out the wrong thing, I’ve lain on the couch with a heating pad, bottle of ibuprofen, and a box of tissue. My body has been in a constant state of change, but this time the change will stick.
Death anxiety has been keeping me awake as I approach my 50th birthday. All that time under the bridge and I can still feel the rapid heartbeat of knowing that in an instant, I could be dead. I’ve had death thoughts all my life, part and parcel of a family gene of mental morbidity. They mostly come to the surface when I’m under a great deal of pressure or anxious about something. They pass as I finally get sleep and eventually wake up to the day with gratitude – that I made it through the night.
I don’t dwell long in that place – I know it’s not helpful. But these days the thrum of my anxiety isn’t waning. It is staying at a rather constant, exhausting level. This is where the desire to do something drastic and different arises. Anything to relieve the idea that this is it. That my life has culminated in a mere pittance and that any hopes or dreams I have are on a timer. It gets dark in my head, before a challenger arrives.
The challenger is this moment. In this moment, I get to sit in my study and write. I look past the happy cat snoozing on the window seat, into a green space with grape vines and flowers growing. My teenager is whiling away the morning in a horizontal position that seems to shift only slightly throughout the day. My husband, who has surely had his own death thoughts, is downstairs working, on the phone with his colleagues. I’ve had a good breakfast and there’s a full coffee pot.
What is it that would make this experience better? Do I need something or have I become so accustomed to scrabbling for more, I don’t know when to rest? The idea of rest, of not fighting so hard to be disciplined or accurate or on time or willing, bothers me. Yet I wonder if it would make me kinder and more joyful and less anxious. I’ve always wondered if we all aren’t just trying too much. And maybe that is the secret to being happy as one ages. To not try so hard.
I think about my lifetime pursuits thus far. What was I looking for? For me, it has often been safety. This is a sad realization on my part. I would do anything to be safe, not surprised, not noticed – just safe. I grew up with unpredictability, so I needed to be my own rock and I’ve spent a lifetime being careful. I keep waiting for that crushing, regret-filled moment when I see it all so clearly – what I’ve missed out on because I was safe.
That moment may never come. I will likely never be a wild woman, a revolutionary with fiery ideals and bold actions. I won’t be making history. As I sweat through another hot flash, I think about what might be released from my pores – fear, anxiety, pain, old memories, regret, disappointment. Perhaps this is the change that is really happening – that I am becoming unknown to myself again, because everything that has defined me is subject to question.