My name is Elizabeth and I’m 68. I went into menopause when I was 48.
My ambition as a child was to be an author, though I never turned out to be any good at writing books, but it sounded so magical and professional—there I was, picking out a profession I couldn’t do.
I had no idea what menopause was when I was growing up, nor do I recall seeing anyone going through it. By the time I was in my 30s my mother was in menopause and she had hot flashes. One minute she’d be normal and then the next there would be sweat pouring off of her, and she’d tell me this is what’s going to happen to you. I was also aware that some women were taking estrogen in order to put off troubles such as mood swings, but the only thing my mother took was Valium, and I just sort of put all of it in the back of my mind. My mother also enjoyed a drink to help her with her anxiety, which I’ve definitely inherited, but I had no major symptoms during menopause that I’m aware of—even my hot flashes were rare and always a surprise. The actual flow changed towards the end, and I can remember a couple of embarrassing moments where it actually caused me to soil my clothes, but since it was so relatively easy for me there probably weren’t questions I wished I’d had answered in advance.
Around the time of my menopause my oldest son had graduated from school and was off being a ski bum, which was okay, and my daughter was still young, maybe around 10. I worked for the Bureau of Labor Statistics in Washington DC, and there were four openings for promotions and for every single one of them they picked a man, so it was time to go because I was really good at my job and felt as if I’d been passed over. So I quit and started working as a private consultant in project management for software companies– it was part time and a shorter commute, but more importantly it was also a lifestyle change. In those twenty years since a great deal has changed and a lot of that’s the Dharma. I’ve dropped loads of anxiety, I’m much nicer, and I don’t get so frustrated. My husband is the guy who knows absolutely everything, and it doesn’t bother me because I know that about him. And I’ve found that I’m more interested in having sex than I used to be, but the problem is I’m timid about initiating things because it’s a little difficult for my husband to keep an erection now, so there’s a kind of awkwardness.
My health has gradually changed in the last twenty years. I don’t get good blood cholesterol results and take statins to help with that. I had kidney stones for over a year but didn’t know it—I kept getting sick and didn’t think anything of it until one day I went to the emergency room and they asked me if I’d been feverish and I replied oh no, not at all, and they said well, you have a fever of 103. I didn’t realize it because I had been feeling cold, so now I’m smarter about taking my temperature. But what got me to go in was that I was feeling crummy, so I asked the [Buddhas] what to do and it came back twice clearly to me: go to the hospital. It was amazing.
In 1993 I started seriously in Tai Chi, and there are some similarities in Taoism and Buddhism in mystical spiritual practice. I was a little Catholic girl who said lots of prayers, and it was the practice that mattered, much in the same ways that it does in Tai Chi, which has really changed me in helping with my anxiety and nervousness. It can be hard work, but the first Tai Chi principle is to relax and sink– it releases tension and it’s grounding. In the East they know that the physical body impacts the mind and that there’s a total feedback loop there. I still practice Tai Chi, but what led me into Tibetan Buddhism was a friend of mine who asked me to go to a public talk that Sogyal Rinpoche was giving in Washington. It was held in a church that was very uncomfortable and quite crowded, and I could barely see him from behind the pillar where I was sitting, but after a while I felt as if he was talking directly to me and answering my own questions, and that a spotlight was shining right from him to me. So I started going to classes with my friend in the DC Sangha —it was a stream class, and the teachings and the truth of it spoke to me and made sense.
If I had any advice it would be to find a spiritual path that appeals to you. And maybe find a diet that makes you feel good, and learn how to cook it.