This is the first day of spring and it makes me think of Sally, who once advised me to plant a redbud tree because they blossom early in the year and give you hope when you are exhausted by winter.
Sally has her own business as a floral and landscape designer . What’s a floral designer? Those magnificent arrangements you sometimes see in grand houses and hotels–something you would never try at home–those are often Sally’s work.
She also does a lot of outdoor work herself and loves the feel of the earth in her hands. When you meet her she is always elegant and seems unruffled but she is also always apologizing for the fact that she just changed out of muddy clothes!
My name is Sally and I’m 50 years old. They say I’m peri-menopausal, but I think I’m full-blown over the edge and almost finished.
I was the youngest of five children and by the age of 15 the only one left at home. Unbeknownst to me my mother was going through menopause around that time, and she became progressively more possessive of me at a rate of speed and intensity that matched the momentum of my teenage rebellion. I was going through puberty as she was going through menopause; she was trying to keep me as a child, and I was trying to grow into an adult, and it was a very tumultuous time for us both. We’re able to talk about it now, but back then we never discussed it, and I think if we had our relationship would have been much better. I was highly conscious of not wanting to have the same thing happen with my two boys, I didn’t want to emulate my mother’s behavior while my children were teenagers, so my attitude was more to let them stand and go their own way, and it all seemed to work out. And that’s not to say I feel my mother did anything particularly wrong in raising me, rather that she had a difficult time emotionally during menopause, and now she recognizes that.
If I’ve noticed a change for me in menopause, or because of menopause, it would be that I feel more liberated. I’m 50 and I’ve lived my life and I just don’t care, I’m going to do what I’m going to do and say what I’m going to say. I’m moving forward, but it’s emotional for me to be thinking about because there’s a kind of disorientation with what’s happening in my body and mind, and it’s a perception similar to the way I felt during puberty.
I had my children when I was 21 and 22, and having just turned 50 my perspective now is where do I go and what do I do with the next thirty to fifty years, and in that sense it does relate to puberty as a time when you’re thinking in almost exactly the same kinds of ways, only this time you’re at a very different point of return. So I’ve decided to be happy and have every day be a good one regardless of what happens. I feel blessed and make a conscious effort and say my mantra: peace in my mind, peace in my heart, peace in my soul, let me be the love, light and laughter you want to see in the world, release the light, release the love, release the laughter. If I get anxious that’s what I do to calm myself down. It’s my own mantra, I made it up for myself, and I started doing that about a year ago. I was weary of the turmoil in my mind coming into my fiftieth year and didn’t wish to continue living the rest of my life wrestling with myself. And I wanted to be happy and bring that happiness to the people around me; there’s a great deal of negativity in the world, and if you can be cheerful and make a light for others then you yourself become enlightened.
I have communicated all this to my partner. I had been frustrated with our relationship, and when I was 50, for some reason, menopause or no menopause, I let him know that I wasn’t going to be passive-aggressive anymore. I’ve changed in ways that are useful to me, but sometimes it’s a daily battle with free-floating anxiety. If I wanted or needed something practically or emotionally I was going to express it, and sometimes that’s good and sometimes not, but it seems to balance out. We’ve both become more communicative, and if I’m not getting the answer I need I’m very tenacious about keeping after things. I’ve been married twice and I’ve had enough of that kind of unhappiness.
As far as physical symptoms are concerned, when my menopause began I was so busy at work I didn’t even realize I was going through it. I knew I was having my periods less frequently, but I wasn’t paying attention to my own body and didn’t really embrace the change until about a year ago. My body has certainly experienced some shifts, my skin is sagging, I have an extra belly and a tire around my lower waist, but it’s not as if I’m doing anything differently, there’s no distinction other than everything starts settling in the wrong places.
When I had PMS in high school it was terrible, I had horrible cramps, I wouldn’t have my period for months and months and then I’d be struck down, and later on I also often suffered with severe anxiety and agitation. When I got married I was tested to see if I’d be able to have children and was told that it would be very difficult, and then I got pregnant on my honeymoon! Being in menopause and still occasionally having PMS is not the same as when I was younger and it was happening to me every three weeks; now it’s more like every three months, and it gradually gets going and then there’s no relief. I simply don’t know what to do about that.
My relationship within my family has changed. I’m more open with my siblings and I value and rely on them to a far greater degree. I embrace my mom and dad in their old age and engage them both in lots of different ways. In the larger sense I don’t feel lost, I’m positive about the next phase of my life, the next chapters. I’m looking forward to enjoying every day and building my business and taking more time off to enjoy my kids and their families.
My business is gardening and floral and landscape design. I relish the art of it, and it’s therapeutic because people take their outdoor living spaces and surroundings and gardens very personally. If I can help them feel good about themselves and the environment they live in then I think I’ve made a real difference. For instance today a gentleman I’ve been working with for the past five years was talking about his daughter getting married. He’s struggling with the cost of what’s entailed, and though I’m not in charge of the wedding I’m helping with their grounds. We were discussing a certain project he had in mind that I didn’t necessarily feel comfortable doing, and he said well, you didn’t know this job demanded taking care of our plants, part of our house, and being a therapist in the bargain. It made me smile and I thought well, whatever it takes.
There’s a saying written on the corner of a framed photograph of my children when they were about two and three: If one dream should fall and break into a thousand pieces never be afraid to pick them up and begin again. That says it for me. You’ve got to keep going, make changes, compromise, and adjust.