Symptoms and the Elephant in the Room

You know what they say about hindsight, then again it wouldn’t take 20-20 vision to see an elephant in my living room. Nope, that would be impossible to miss. Yet when I first had the suspicion that I was going through the change I missed something that big for quite a while.

One of the most difficult things I ran up against in the early months of perimenopause was describing what I was going through. I’d mutter to myself that I was just feeling so weird, that my moods were strange and I felt overwhelmed.  I didn’t recognize myself in the mirror some days. Driven by this I asked a lot of questions and started reading about early menopause indicators. I began collecting a list of menopause symptoms gathered from books, websites and other women’s stories.

But something kept nagging at me, something was off. I ran across so many references stating that menopause is a natural event in a woman’s life. Reading further into these articles the discussion of symptoms would be the most prevalent idea presented and the reader urged to get a diagnosis or seek treatments. For example, one four page article describing menopause and perimenopause used the phrase “it's a natural cycle of life” once and the word “symptom” fifteen times including the subheading “Menopause Symptoms”. From one of the largest menopause education programs in North America, the single page article describing perimenopause uses the phrase “prior to natural menopause” once and the word “symptom” 11 times. This depiction bothered me, but I kept right on repeating things I has picked up never stopping to take a look at what that nagging feeling was all about.

I don’t bring up these examples to criticize, but to underscore how I’d accepted the conventional viewpoints surrounding menopause unconcerned with the bias built in to the vocabulary. While menopause has broken away from being a taboo subject, this use of biased and contradictory language is common throughout the literature and in everyday conversations between friends and professionals alike.

So what is the big deal? Is there any real problem here? I certainly felt uneasy with the assumed pathology inherent in the verbiage. However I questioned myself about its importance. Am I being overly sensitive, creating an issue where one doesn’t really exist? Am I just getting vexed like the typical, ahem, menopausal woman?  While I remained undecided, this small point of discontent became the elephant in the room.

menopause symptoms and the elephant in the roomThere most certainly was something there. It took me a while to clarify this one for myself, but once I did a significant shift occurred. It was tricky because the bias is hidden in the meaning of the words. This acknowledgment of bias was important because I believe that language defines and shapes our reality. My word choice can expand or limit my experience of life. When I unquestioningly use or agree with popular phrases, like the words “symptom” and “menopause” paired as if they characteristically go together, this brings with it the connotations and cultural value judgments associated with them into my experience. It also reinforces them.

The truth is that menopause is natural, normal and ordinary. The language I was using did not reflect that fact. At first it was awkward to go against the established norm and break up that false pairing of “menopause symptoms”. But that is precisely what I did. I quit using the word symptom in association with menopause. In its place I selected the word sign.

symptom: sign of illness or problem

The word symptom is appropriate when used in the context of describing illness or problems. However when used in conjunction with menopause it conceptually turns menopause from a natural ordinary event into a pathology or sickness where the implication by association is that there is something wrong, something to fix. Thus the value placed on the menopause experience from the get-go is negative. Using this kind of language even before menopause is actually happening, we all start out with a deficit that must be overcome just to get to neutral. In that reality, potential menopause indicators however slight set off alarms, giving reason for worry and a defensive stance to look out for increasing signs of a problem.

sign: indication, evidence

The word sign does not evoke apprehension. The word sign is value neutral. Because of this I now use it in my writing and in all my conversations about menopause, including when I talk with medical professionals. I want to emphasize that I did not just exchange one word for another, but I rejected the entire frame of reference that the use of the word symptom carries with it and adopted a different point of view, that of a sensual researcher.

To do this actively I began to notice and describe what sensations were happening as my body changed.  I noticed the indicators and evidence, all of which are concrete. In present time I noticed the intensity and duration of signs in my body and the accompanying thoughts and feelings. Pinning down specific sensations, in particular physical locations in my body to a specific moment in time eliminated my confused portrayals of “weird”, “strange” and “overwhelming” things happening to me. Events became describable in ordinary and understandable terms that I could clearly communicate to others. I left the emotionally charged words out and used my senses as the basis for my observations. I realized over and over again that what I noticed simply confirmed that yes indeed I’m making the transition into menopause. Yup, it is happening right now, I am aging normally. No alarm required. So far it is been perfectly within the scope of ordinary!

It has been over three and a half years that I’ve been in perimenopause and at least two years since I confronted that elephant in the room. Coupled with my sensual goals, this ordinariness has expanded my capacity for having pleasure and fun with the signs of menopause. I’ve passed along what I’ve noticed about using the word sign instead of symptom. Out of that I have had some unexpected and revealing conversations with both men and women. I’ve discussed confidence in knowing my body, related experiences of menopause through paying attention to my senses and ideas about how to get the most enjoyment in this transition and they have talked about similar positive experiences and ideas.

I’m curious what you think about making this one change. Do you think it matters? If the switch in language spread into the sources for menopause information do you think it would have an impact for others as it did for me?

Pleasurable Menopause Interview Emphasizes Choice

With two million women entering menopause each year in the U.S. alone, everyone knows someone who is making the transition in to menopause.  It is a phenomenon that effects women physically and emotionally and can alter our outlook on life. Thus, menopause impacts all of us regardless of age or gender. I believe we can all benefit from placing emphasis on the positive without discounting the reality of what happens during the change.

Recently I was interviewed by Rebekah Beneteau, creator and host of Ask Me Anything Love and Sex Show. We talked about pleasurable menopause and explored some tools that anyone can use to have more fun with what occurs in their bodies.  Below are some excerpts from the second half of the interview.


Listen to the second half hour of the interview with this built in audio player here ---> 
Download/Play the mp3

Pleasurable Menopause Interview Emphasizes Choice
Rebekah: So what's fun about a hot flash?

Yvonne:  In a hot flash one of the things that I experience is this intense rush of heat coming from my inner core, right? In seconds I can break out into sweats and my heart is rushing and I feel these fluttery feelings. It’s like Whoooooo!

One day I'm having this experience of a hot flash and I was about to whine about it because, well you know, it was a hot flash and that’s what you do. You complain about your hot flashes and you whine about having a hot flash. Then I had a flash of my own - a mental flash... Wow, if I felt this same thing during a Deliberate Orgasm I would say it was great. I would love it.

Then I thought, why don’t I love it right now? Why don’t I call it fun right now? Why don’t I feel my body like I feel my body during a Deliberate Orgasm? They don’t last that long. A hot flash is a Flash! I better catch all the enjoyment I can out of it right now or I’m missing it. That’s how it’s fun.

It happens at unexpected times though. That’s the thing that I had to get into agreement with. I didn't control or arrange anything. Those flashes happen. Here I am, I’m talking in the middle of a dinner conversation and all of a sudden I feel like ripping my sweater off. Taking my clothes off and fanning myself. Well, I can whine about it, but it’s happening right now. I might as well have fun right now because it’s happening right now.

I can let other people in on it too. I get this experience, a beautiful flush in my skin and can let it glow. I let the turn-on out during that time, ooze turn-on. Because that’s how I feel now when I’m in agreement, I just ooze turn-on. It’s so fun.

I’m not trying to pretend like I don’t have a hot flash. I’m not trying to pretend that nothing is happening. Why not turn on? That’s how I make it fun for other people is I turn on when it’s happening. I approve. I’m in agreement.

Approval, other people feel it. Other people feel me approve of the hot flash, of myself, of being a woman. You know, that’s a rare thing somebody who approves of being in menopause, being middle-aged, having things happen that are out of control, so to speak. It’s a really powerful way to live life.

I’ve taken those viewpoints that I have researched for 18 years with Deliberate Orgasm and am using them with menopause. Whipping out those tools at the time it’s happening. At the time that it’s happening I make the choice to turn-on. I make the choice right then. That’s why I say I’m just like every woman because we all have choices to make moment to moment.

Rebekah: Right. For me it really becomes a spiritual discipline and a practice. I feel like when I give into my negativity and my anger it’s easy, it’s cheap excitement and it’s lazy. It takes a little bit of work to get into agreement with how it is. To find something to approve of and yes, to go for making every moment fun and pleasurable for myself and the people around me. No matter what’s going on.

Yvonne: It does take something from an individual to do that. You said that well. I think the payoff is huge. It’s huge when you do make that choice for fun and pleasure.

How many women reach menopause each day?

How many women reach menopause
As a sensual researcher I often search out simple ways to answer questions about menopause that I can easily pass on to others. Recently I was wondering - What is the rate of growth for women in menopause in our population? How many women reach menopause in the United States each day? How about in the world? 

Yup, that's my tech-geek side coming out again chewing on numbers for fun. Basically I wanted to know how many of us are there? I ran across this infographic that put a few things in perspective.

Information About Menopause
[Infographic Source]

Pleasurable Menopause Ask Me Anything Interview

Recently I was a talk radio guest of Rebekah Beneteau, creator and host of Ask Me Anything Love and Sex Show. Rebekah describes herself as a former stand-up comic turned healer and coach. Her signature style draws on straight talk, humor and radical acceptance.  No topic is taboo.

When Rebekah initially made the invitation she let me know she had an avid interest in pleasurable menopause. As we became acquainted before the show, I knew we'd have a lot to talk about. In fact we talked for nearly an hour non-stop on the show and I thoroughly enjoyed it! Below are some snippets of our dialogue.

Listen to the first half hour of the conversation with this built in audio player here ---> 
Download/Play the mp3

This photo was snapped while live on the air with Rebekah and I hope you can tell I'm enthusiastic. Have a question you'd like to see addressed on Menopause Flashes? Feel free to ask in the comments. This post after all is titled Ask Me Anything, so go for it. 


Ask Me Anything Blog Author Yvonne Wray
Why I can talk with such confidence, it’s not an intellectual thing. I feel it in my body. I have to say, I know sometimes people think "Oh Yvonne, you’re from California and you're so San Francisco. You know -- it's not the same for people across the US. You're in this unique special situation."

But you know what? I'm a really down to earth, practical person. I mean I have a computer science degree. I'm not really into those kinds of mmm-- I don’t know what to call them exactly. Although I'm talking about orgasm and a definition of orgasm, I'm talking about something that I feel, that I experience. It's a reality, not just a play on words.

It can keep getting better and better. Why I say this, about me being a practical person, is because I just know there are women and men out there that think they can brush it off because I'm this San Francisco sexual person or something. But it's not true. That part doesn't matter so much, except to say that I'm really like every woman.

Every day I go through the same types of resistance that women have to having pleasure. I face those kinds of everyday decisions, those everyday choices that every woman goes through and every man goes through in order to have a good relationship. In order to have a good sex life. In order to have something that you can sustain over years and years.

When I tell the truth about what I'm feeling and just say it straight out -- Oh this is how I’m feeling today, I can enjoy the communication and the intimacy that comes with that.

It is the same in everyday in life, not just in menopause. Every day your moods are changing. Every day how you are experiencing your life changes moment by moment. So in that communication with my friend, when I'm telling him and letting him know what's happening, that creates movement. It also moves the energy through my body. It moves the energy through my life and it opens up more possibilities for more pleasure and more enjoyment.

Note: excerpts were edited for readability. The full transcript with the audio can be found at Fun, More Pleasure and Menopause: A Paradox?

Three Things My Celebrity Crush Taught Me About Menopause

This week I’ve joined the women of GenFab™ to write about: My Celebrity Crush.
Scroll to the bottom to read other blogs about crushes.
John Travolta and I grew up together. Right from the start, boy could he make me laugh not to mention my heart race with his Italian good looks.  He was already in high school when I met him, but I reasoned that was okay. I was thirTEEN, that’s only one year behind. He’d find out about me soon enough. When he ran for student body president I was with him all the way. I dreamed up the perfect campaign slogans and signs. My bold approach would show everyone else what I already knew about him. Underneath the swaggering good-looking Sweathog exterior, there’s a guy who cares. I was the perfect match for him, my brains his bravado. Only he didn’t know. I could be Vinnie Barbarino’s girl. I was sure Mr. Kotter would approve.

A year later my initial crush was elevated to full-tilt heartthrob. As Tony Manero in Saturday Night Fever the familiar John was there, but a new element had been added. Staring at the theater’s larger-than-life poster he appeared an exotic man-creature with serious sexual vibes. In his sleek white suit I admired the confidence of his stance and was elated to see that he could dance! I could imagine him, finger pointed skyward slowly lowering it to point in my direction. He’d look right at me, beckoning me to come be his partner. Just thinking about it let loose a million butterflies in my stomach and a stampede of horses pounding within my chest. It was exhilarating. It was obvious to me, we had both grown up.

My Celebrity CrushBut being only fourteen-AND-A-HALF I wasn’t allowed to see my R-rated John until a few years later. This situation only increased my ardor. I pined and brooded, sure proof of my devotion. The popular Bee Gees hits from the movie’s soundtrack played on the radio and gave words to my amplified emotions.

When I got the original movie soundtrack album, I sang right along declaring “If I can't have you, I don’t want nobody, baby!” I found out that in the movie this passionate plea was sung, not by the Bee Gees who wrote it, but by a woman with the same name as ME, Yvonne Elliman. I became convinced that this fact was not merely a trivial coincidence, but a sign of something more.

I saw John dance with Olivia in Grease, scrubbed clean for a PG audience, before I’d ever see him in what I considered his full glory, on fire dancing disco in Saturday Night Fever. But my crush had made his mark on me. I’d caught the fever. True to the hit song “You Should be Dancing”, before I graduated high school I was a self-taught dancer, my disco techniques worthy of Travolta’s attention.

Coming up with what I wanted to write, I went over the telltale symptoms of a classic crush. There I sat with my laptop studiously making notes. The click of the keys coming quickly as I got on a roll. Then it dawned on me - the list of behaviors describing a young teenage girl with a crush sounded strangely familiar. In fact it described me, and I don’t mean the teenager me. I mean the me of just a few weeks prior, the 50 year old menopausal me.  

The clickity-click of my typing stopped. My head did a little spin on that for a moment, fragments of thoughts colliding. I’m going through menopause. A crush? It seemed entirely contradictory. I read over my list, fingers still poised over the keys. Could that be? I did a quick mental checklist. The giddy highs and aching lows, the overwhelming feelings of falling for him and noticing so many things I liked about him. The intensity of emotion flooding me, not to mention the preoccupation with how he was spending all of his time, were undeniable signs of something.

I’m not sure just how long I sat there like that, staring at my screen. Then it hit me. Pieces of the puzzle came together and I had one of my menopause flashes. Thus I’d like to thank John, My Celebrity Crush, for teaching me these three things about menopause.

#1 – Menopausal hormone shifts can feel astonishingly like an adolescent crush. This is nothing I’d ever heard of before. I probably would have judged it silly if someone suggested that would be happening to me.  But expressing those overwhelming positive emotions, rather than trying to figure out if I was crazy or not, opened a window to more pleasure for me.

#2 – Mood swings during menopause can be taken advantage of for more enjoyment. Writing about my celebrity crush I saw how I actively looked for reasons to adore my crush. Thinking back about it, that was true of all my teen crushes and it remains true today. While it might be hormones that give my emotions a kick start, I’m the one who reinforces them and keeps the good feelings alive by coming up with more excuses to enjoy more things.

#3 – There’s no rhyme or reason to the intensity of menopause experiences. In hindsight, I cannot come up with any logical explanation for developing a crush so intensely for so long on John Travolta.  I cannot sensibly explain the causes of the highs and lows, or scribble down the recipe that created the potent mix of idealization and infatuation. What I can do is describe and acknowledge both the uniqueness of my experience and the common threads that bind us as human beings. Therein lies the joy of living. And so it is with my experience of menopause.

 

Down for the Count

Down for the Count
Instantly I’m awake, aware that I was deeply asleep moments before. I don’t know why I'm awake now – is it morning or night? I’m not entirely sure. 

It’s dark. I can barely discern the difference between having my eyes open and closed. I open up my senses, scanning to identify the cause for my waking.  I hear the soft hum of faraway kitchen appliances. Only white noise, no one else is stirring. I snuggle in against the plush down of my bed, bundled against the cold of mid-winter reassured that all is well about to fall asleep again. 

Then I feel that telltale sensation within my core. Something I have only noticed a few times before and only when I've been still and quiet. It’s a vague foreshadowing, yet undeniable in its meaning. Time slows down. I realize what is coming and my brain races. “Oh NOOOoooooo!” that first reaction despondently echoes within me. I brace for what I know is next. The first rumblings make themselves known. I don't like this. I feel myself going down, slumber erased from my world in a snap. I don’t have much time. My heart is already racing.

Quelling my sudden compulsion to make a preemptive strike and throw off all the covers, I decide to do something different. I have new goals after all. I lay still. The silence outside my body remains unbroken, but inside there is an outcry, “Arrrrgggghhhhhh.” For whatever reason, that thinking, judging part of me does not handle this recurring event very well.

I switch my attention away from those struggling thoughts. I decide to feel my body, pay attention to it. I'm naked, lying on my right side, hips and knees curled. My body is tense. One hand grips the corner of my pillow. I relax, letting my fingers unfurl. The cotton pillowcase and feathers plump up giving them a buoyant lift. I relax even more and Lub-WHUMP a single robust heartbeat reverberates loudly in my chest. Seemingly in answer, a new thought pops into my consciousness. “Count the seconds” and so I do.

“One one thousand, two one thousand…” time slows even more. I feel thick fingers of building heat push outward from deep inside. The dense force of heat expands, moving between my shoulder blades to spread up my back and envelop my neck. Moisture springs from my pores. I notice it at the nape of my neck first, then up the hairline. Drops emerge and multiply across my shoulders and throughout the center of my back. There I feel a single rivulet fall from the dip of my spine and roll around the curve to my waist where it meets the bed. 

The blaze spreads further filling my body. Just under my skin the hotness exerts its pressure most insistently. If I could see it now, I’m sure my face would be brightly colored in the flush of this wave. I am so very, very hot now. But I stay put and with the least movement possible lift the covers away from my body. I am still counting. I’ve only reached nine.

I am in awe at the capabilities of the human body, at my body! The movement and release of energy continues and I am like a kid looking forward to what will happen next in a new action flick. I want to feel and experience the entire ride. I am radiating heat and my brain feels keenly aware. Sensations are amplified as I hone in on each.  Eleven seconds have passed and I note that my ankles break out in a sweat; the bottoms of my feet dotted with tingling vibrations. I hear a ringing, a sustained note bringing to mind chimes resonating in a great hall. 

The temperature peaks and I feel the beginning of its rapid fall. At fifteen seconds there is so much perspiration happening all at once that the surface of my skin feels dewy, glowing as if I just stepped out of a steamy shower. Vapor rises, a layer of tropical atmosphere hovers around me. The pressure from the inside subsides. I am aware of the rhythm of my heart, slower with each beat. Inside my body the roaring heat has dissipated. I breathe in deeply. Calmly I bring the covers back over me. Suddenly goose bumps materialize and chills blanket me all at once. I feel the last remaining threads of heat waft from the top of my head as I whisper the count to myself – “Twenty.”  

In the dark, motionless and silent, I reflect on what just happened. I experienced so much. Whew! This was an intense one. Only twenty seconds had passed, plus a few seconds dedicated to rearranging my prejudices prior to the count. It was fun to find out just how fast this tremendous shift in energy can be. Moreover, once I let go of disapproving and felt what was occurring in my body in such detail during those twenty seconds, the hot flash itself was fun.

As that sinks in, my critical self attacks conjuring up a dramatic scene. Legions of menopausal women, who weirdly all happen to look like some version of me, call out "What do you mean your hot flash was fun??! Them are fightin' words!"  I cower realizing that this unsettling mob would love to go a few rounds with me in the ring for stating something so outlandish, so ludicrous and contrary.

Whoa there! I stop myself and give no more attention to that fabrication.

During those twenty seconds, I'd crossed the line. That hot flash was fun. Pleased, I turn over, fluff up my pillows and drift back to sleep. 

So It Is Written Menopause Means Big Trouble

One of the things I have done on a regular basis as a sensual researcher is assist putting on courses. It is something I love to do together with my like-minded tribe. It is fun relating with the diverse people who come and I am acutely aware of the viewpoints, tools and concepts that I build my life upon. I am engaged and it is a pleasure.

Shortly after my Bloody Mary celebration, it was during one of those courses that I went through a menopausal paradigm shift. It happened simply, without fanfare, yet once done things were never the same again.

I was in the back of the course room, set to film the instructors giving the lecture. It was the first morning of a retreat and, as we do in most courses, each participant was giving their goals. This is one of my favorite parts of a retreat, hearing what people want, what they traveled here to get and what they will take home with them when they leave. Many times upon hearing another person’s goals, a new goal will be generated on the spot. Possibilities open up.

On this morning after the last person finished up, the instructors directed their attention to me. It was my turn. Yvonne? Partially obscured by the video camera, I straightened up and came into full view. An entire series of thoughts tumbled through my mind in the span of one lingering pregnant pause.

While I had not written or prepared in advance what I would say, I had big questions concerning menopause. Could I realistically expect to experience the change of life to be a good thing or, going even further, to be pleasurable? By now I knew it could take many years, like 5-10 years to go through the transition. That is a significant amount of time. Already I was running up against a multitude of hidden obstacles to enjoying it.

This is nothing trivial, pleasure and menopause. The words clashed and rattled in my brain. How will I figure out how to put these contradictory realities together? Perhaps I should just settle for tolerable. If I did figure it out, would it be sustainable or just a couple of tricks good for a few laughs?

Menopause Means Big TroubleSpeaking of laughs, the afternoon I looked up menopause in the thesaurus flashed across my mind. This was a few days prior. There it was printed clearly in black and white, only two synonyms –

1) climacteric which basically means climax and it’s all downhill from here and

2) midlife crisis.

While the meaning of midlife crisis is absurdly obvious, I went one step further on this little word exploration and looked up crisis.

Of course I really did not have to do that, but on that day I was looking for confirmation that menopause was the opposite of a pleasurable life. I found what I was looking for. The first synonym listed -- big trouble.

I reminded myself that the instructors were not waiting for me to blurt out all these questions. They certainly did not want to hear about my intellectual detour leading to big trouble. They’re asking for my goals. Okay this is a sensuality course. Forget the how and the figuring, what do I want? Sensual goals are based in pleasure and enjoyment. They involve the senses and experiences of living and relating.

It dawned on me that the seed that sprouted all of my questions and concerns gave me clues to what I do want, what my desires are for this time in my life. At the kernel of that seed I uncovered my goals.

Oh how quickly my supposedly fuzzy menopausal mind worked! Without further hesitation I spoke.

“I want my transition into menopause to be fun for me and for those around me.”

“I want to experience the changes I am feeling in my body from menopause pleasurably.”

Stating my goals out loud to the instructors and to the class, I felt them land. There was no clash or confusion. What I wanted was clear. Recorded as I gave them, written in black and white in the course log, they are just as real as the entries I’d seen in the thesaurus. But unlike those commonly accepted definitions cataloged for our use in that reference book, my goals had intention behind them, power to bring about a lasting paradigm shift. So it is written.