I'm waging a battle against menopause. And what an adversary menopause is proving itself to be.
In the past three months, I have gained 20 pounds. Not because I'm eating too much. Or, rather, not because I'm eating any more than I was eating four months ago -- the halcyon days when my jeans fit and my gait felt spry, not ungainly. Not because I've been drinking too much, either. But "simply" because my hormones are staging a riot as I turn that bend and head for age fifty-two.
And, of course, as if the weight gain isn't bad enough, there are other attendant signs of the big M's advance, including but not limited to: headaches and exhaustion, and, in the runner-up position to the weight gain, chin hair. Another few months of this and I'll look like Kevin from Top Chef. Or worse yet, my late Aunt Marion.
So I've consulted an ayurvedic doctor I used to see regularly in London. And, on his advice, I'm following a strict detox plan: no caffeine, no alcohol, no wheat, no sugar, no dairy. Portions comprise 3.5 oz -- that is, postage stamp-sized -- squares of proteins cooked without fat. Salad, surprisingly, is neither unlimited nor dressed. Water and herbal tea are the only beverages allowed, and the former is to be consumed in copious quantities. No artificial anything -- sweeteners, fake food (like those Weight Watcher dessert squares of yore -- the "German Chocolate Cake" contained the same chemical compounds as panty hose), diet sodas. Healthy food only. But not much of it.
The idea is that the detox will help kick-start my metabolism so that, after six or seven weeks of this, I'll have lost the offending 20 pounds and be physically ready to start re-introducing foods without worrying about piling the weight back on.
I am determined. I will not simply throw my arms up in defeat and resign myself to the ravages of menopause. Because I hate the thought of it. Because I prefer the idea -- fantasy?? -- that I'm running my life. That I'm calling the shots. Not my hormones.
No, I will not go gentle into that good night.
But fear not. Today's post is not about dieting, or portion control. We have Oprah for that. And it's not even about the dreaded march of menopause. Yawn. No, today's post is about hunger. And what it brings up.
In my middle class life, I have rarely experienced hunger and only then on a strictly volunteer basis. With this detox, I've now spent the past six days in an ongoing state of what I'll call non-satiation. Actively hungry between meals and only slightly better after eating the meager portions I've prepared.
Millions of people experience far worse than this every day and, critically, for the entirety of their short, unhappy lives. I know that what I am experiencing -- exploring -- is a gift: the luxury of a privileged standard of living. That's my life, that's my starting point. I will never know what it's like to live in Haiti or in flood-devastated Pakistan. Reality? I can't even imagine it. And, as a writer, the only thing I can possibly write about is what I can imagine.
Against that backdrop, here's my experience of hunger.
My stomach growls and I want something to eat. I realize, with surprise, that I dread this sensation. I actively dread it, yes. I do not want to feel hungry. So I probe deeper. Why not? What's loaded about the hunger issue?
Hunger stokes the memories of being a young girl -- eight, nine, ten, twelve -- studying at The School of the Hartford Ballet and being told, repeatedly and cruelly, that I was "fat and ugly." Verbatim quote. I went on my first diet at age eight. I got home from ballet school and announced to my parents that I was going on a diet. My parents said nothing; my mother bought me Light 'n Lively Diet Yoghurt. I fantasized about anorexia. I longed to be too thin but to rally, valiantly, heroically, to dance the Waltz of the Flowers.
Hunger has always been dangerous. Being hungry meant the last veil -- the last vestige of protection -- was gone and I was vulnerable to anything. Unprotected. At risk, even. Feeling like there is no one there who is going to comfort me, hold me, protect me, acknowledge me. My parents weren't affectionate people, either with us or with each other, at least publicly. As children, we weren't touched or rocked. I have no memory of sitting on a lap or being carried any place. I have no memory of being hugged. Ever.
Yet I knew my mother loved me. She poured that love into her meals.
I read a piece by Joyce Maynard yesterday about the love she experienced when she ate one of her mother's pies. Yes! That's it, I thought. The love was in the flakiness. The love was in the buttery deliciousness. The love was in the fruit, baked to perfection and topped with a sugary rich topping. All made from scratch, all turned out and crimped and buffed to say, in one concrete moment of confection, I love you. Even if the only way I can show you is through this pie or this cake or this meal. And even if I turn around and tell you that you need to watch your weight and should walk away from every table feeling like you could certainly manage another bite or two. A love of mixed messages, perhaps, but love nonetheless.
Hunger means there isn't enough. Hunger means an absence of love. Hunger means alone.
I'm hungry as I write this. Peckish. But I am also at peace, finally. I understand more than I did as a child. I forgive and I love and I express anger, and I feel deep compassion. I make choices now that feel more like my own, rather than my parents' or, god forbid, than that sadistic, twisted fuck who ran the ballet school.
And maybe that's why menopause doesn't really stand a chance against this Don Quixote: I'll tilt away at this windmill because nothing and no one is going to make me give up all that hard-fought self-awareness and say, Okay, you win. Blow me up, give me a beard, pound my head, put me in a bad mood for the next six years.
Menopause, consider yourself warned.