Excerpts from The Adventures of Swamp Woman
The Adventures of Swamp Woman
By Ferida Wolff
"I think Iíll start wearing scuba gear to bed," my husband said the other night. "I donít want to drown."
"Ha, ha," I replied. But I could sympathize. I wish I could protect myself from myself. I have turned into Swamp Woman. Hardly a night passes where I am not awakened awash in steamy sweat. It is the Curse of the Crone. Wouldnít that would make a great title for a horror movie? Swamp Woman is a perfectly normal person until her mid-fifties when she suddenly straps on a backpack and goes trekking in the jungles of Borneo. There she barely escapes being dragged out of a longboat by a rabid crocodile but not before she is injected with the jungle virus through the crocodileís bite, and now, each night, she becomes an oozing creature of the jungle waters looking for the cure.
She turns first to her family for support, nearly drowning her husband in a hug when all she really wants to do is assure herself that she is still desirable. She slimes her way to her childrenís bedrooms, hoping to get the help she needs but cannot find a single dry towel. In her mad, wet resolve, she vows to experiment until she discovers the herbs that will ease the heat raging inside her. She uses her friends as test subjects and leaves a trail of chemically altered mutants behind her. I havenít figured out the ending yet but just think of the possibilities for special effects. We could leave out the part that menopause plays in this; itís much better fictionalized.
Menopause has brought out in me a whole host of skills I never knew I possessed. Besides dreaming up screenplays, I am now a fashion consultant for my friends who are shifting into the wet season. We choose clothes by how little they show wet spots. Black is the preferred color. Twins sets are good because when the under sweater soaks through, the top sweater hides it. Beading is concealing on fancy wear and a shawl adds just the right fashion touch, especially when shoulders begin to dissolve atop a slinky evening gown.
I have become a stress counselor for womenís groups, offering understanding and techniques to those who are experiencing the transition into mature womanhood and need help coping. My years of yoga have at last come in handy. Breathe, I tell them. Focus. Find your inner puddle, I mean your core. These workshops have a de-stressing effect on me as well once I get going but I must admit that planning for them makes me nervous enough to have flash attacks beforehand.
My mother never prepared me for this. Back then women didnít talk about such things. They endured in silence or threw tantrums but did not reveal the source of their distress. In all fairness, maybe my mother didnít have hot flashes. Not every woman does. Somewhere between 50% and 85% of women experience hot flashes and night sweats. A lucky 50% to 15% escape with their internal thermometer intact.
My daughter wonít be able to say that about me. She has seen me turn scarlet over the salad course at a restaurant. She has watched her mother prance around in a T-shirt during a winter freeze when she was sitting in the kitchen wearing a hat and scarf. She knows what is going on. She reminds me to breathe. I think it is important to share the full life cycle. Let her see how I deal with maturing. It will give her something to laugh about when she is in the same position, if she is, and maybe offer some insights into the joys and challenges that come with female aging.
And there are joys. Like knowing who you are, at last. Like having the freedom to explore parts of yourself that were kept in check by the responsibilities of youth and middle age. Appreciating the resonance of long-time friends and the delight of discovering new ones. Feeling the throb of life within the changes going on.
So, back to the adventures of Swamp Woman. We last saw her experimenting in the laboratory looking for the precise combination of ingredients to halt the insidious creeping night sweats. She has been reading about cooling substances from the annals of herbalism, ayurveda and traditional Chinese medicine. She brews a mixture of black cohosh, basil, coconut oil, dried peaches and rose buds. She cools the boiling mixture then purees and strains it into a glass. It looks like toxic sludge but it represents hope. Now for the test. Does she drink it or slather it all over her body? The fire is stoking itself inside her like an alien being. Do it. Do it now! She holds up the glass. It is time.
The tension is unbearable. I think Iíll sit quietly and do my breathing practice. And while Iím calm, maybe I can come up with further adventures: Flood and Fire in the Suburbs, The Revenge of Swamp Woman, or perhaps, and this is my personal favorite, Swamp Woman Out of Control. Who knows where this could lead. Perhaps Iíll have a whole new career. I believe in seeing things in a positive light. When life hands out lemons, Iíll be the first in line at the lemonade stand. More ice, please
Living in the Hot Lane
By Ferida Wolf
I feel it approaching, the way you know when a train is about to hit the station before you see it. Two seconds later it comes roaring in, the olí hot flash express, filling me with its suddenness, its engine steaming inside me. I hope it will pass through quickly and Iíll be able to get on with what I am doing. If not, I will have to carry on anyway. Life doesnít stop just because Iím living in the hot lane.
I have tried to describe what a hot flash feels like to my husband but there is really no way he can know without experiencing it. What he does feel is the outer manifestation. He says I am swampy. He is right. Rivulets of sweat flow down my body, pooling in any small indentation: the crook of an elbow, back of my knees, between my breasts. I have a friend who loves hot weather, the hotter the better, yet she said that on the hottest day she never felt as hot as she did when she was flashing. She complained that her ankles sweat. But she is past flashing now. She doesnít miss it.
I am grateful that I work at home. I can get up from my computer and jump into the tub when it gets too uncomfortable. I donít have to worry about leaving a puddle on my chair at an important clientís meeting. I have been known to stick my head inside the freezer when it really gets to me.
One friend who does go to client meetings never lets on when she is burning up. She has, however, allowed her hair to grow a little longer so she can cover her ears. They turn bright pink when she flashes.
Another friend is also experiencing this transition. Her husband says that she turns the air conditioner so low at night, he has icicles forming in his nostrils. I have no sympathy. He knows where to find the extra blankets.
The standard advice for flashers is to take hormone replacement therapy. But it is not for everyone. Not for my friend with a heart condition, or for the one with a family history of ovarian cancer. Not for me with my alternative philosophy. And since research has shown that HRT actually increases the risk of heart disease, cancer, blood clots and stroke, many more women are looking for other options.
So we balance wild yam and soy, primrose oil and dong quai, looking for the combinations that work for us. And we talk to each other, sharing our stories and laughing. A lot. One thing we discovered is that none of us feel our femininity is threatened by the knowledge that one day soon we will not be able to have children as was once thought about menopausal women. Our sex drive is still in gear though it may be in second instead of fifth.
This isnít a disease that needs to be cured. It is just a natural part of the maturing process. Some of us feel it more acutely than others but we are individuals and bound to vary in our responses to this time of life. We donít deny what we are going through, we work through it with information and accommodation and intelligence.
What we have noticed is that our sisterhood has deepened. We cannot talk about such intimate things without drawing closer. And that has many benefits. We see how we have grown over the years because we are no longer afraid or embarrassed to tell the truth. With truth comes power. We know who we are now. We accept ourselves with all the flaws and inconsistencies that come with living actively. At least most of the time. When we have doubts, we go to each other knowing there will be a receptive ear and no judgment.
So what if living in the hot lane has its inconveniences? They will pass eventually but the joy we women have in each other will remain. We are getting the better of the deal.