The Illuminati Of The Peri-Menopausal

I’ve just read in the Sunday paper about this “new” phenomenon of the female mid-life crisis. Apparently, up until quite recently, middle-aged women didn’t actually have crises. Try telling that to past generations of women who had only Valium or insanity to retreat to when their husbands took up “working late” and heading off for “weekend conferences interstate”. If you ask me, the only precursor I know of for many of the crises women suffer from is having ever known or lived with men. But I digress.

There is something that happens to women when they leave their late thirties. It’s not so much a crisis, however, as it is a revelation. Unlike many men, women don’t wake up at the age of forty and wonder why the world doesn’t understand and appreciate them – they wake up and realise they don’t understand and appreciate themselves.

From the ages of about eighteen to thirty-eight, most women believe they will never be as good as everyone else in the world, including other women. We spend our teenage years unable to see our own inherent beauty and vitality. We try all through our twenties to be sexy as our duty to men, and at the same time smart and successful as our duty to our liberationist forebears. We enter our thirties believing that by this age, we should have the perfect body, children, husband, home and career because for crying out loud, we have been at it for about fifteen years and we should have gotten it right by now. Told in our childhoods we had the right never to be violated, oppressed or abused by anyone, by our late thirties we sadly discover most of us have been anyway. Then we reach our forties. Our husbands leave us, our children rebel against us, and our bodies betray us. The “all” we are supposed to have is divided up in court settlements, sent to family counseling and lopped off along with a course of chemotherapy.

In middle-age, many women realise they have expected too much from themselves. By this time we absolutely know that we can’t have everything. We have come to realise that what we have now will probably be what we have when we’re sixty, except it may all be closer to the ground. We’ve also learned that we can’t be all things to everyone else, so we stop trying. Most of us have had at least one health scare, or at least lost someone very close to us. Forced to change our view of life, we now accept we are not immortal or bulletproof. We know we’re not young any more, but we also know we’re not old…just yet. Middle-aged women don’t generally rush out and buy sports cars and get young lovers, although some do. More often, we simply take a look at what we do have, and decide to make the most of it in whatever time we think we have left.

Some decide that what they have at forty is a body they have kept cellulite-free and size double D for twenty years, and venture out to see how much trouble it can get them into. Others decide the reasons they didn’t write or paint or travel or study when they were younger no longer exist, i.e.: they no longer believe they are dull, stupid and responsible for the happiness of others, so they take the limitations off themselves and go for it. A woman’s mid-life realisations often are more of a crisis to others around them than they are to themselves. Some middle-aged women come to accept that they possibly only have a few years left with the capacity for cognitive and intelligent conversation, so they decide to leave their monosyllabic house-mate in his recliner with a TV dinner, and head off to a book club or lecture theatre instead. One could see how this might cause problems.

Unlike most men, women often have less to lose anyway. Middle-aged women are less likely to see their assets as an extension of their egos, because this generation of women are accustomed to earning less, and sacrificing what they do have for their families. Middle-aged women will fight as hard to keep her family together, seeing that as part of her identity, as a man might exert in leaving it to prove his.

Middle-aged women have been largely invisible in our society. It’s taken a re-emergence of us as a force – albeit in tattoo parlours and universities – for that society to even acknowledge we do exist. And then, they have the hide to dismiss us as menopausal shrews; as nothing more than the demographic responsible for the unhappiness of a whole generation of brilliant, misunderstood and apparently incredibly good-looking middle-aged men. May I point out that even the most successful Self-Made Man came out of a woman’s body at some point?

This female mid-life crisis thing they are trying to label us with is a ruse, a myth and a lie. There is something going on, but I can tell you, it’s no crisis – it’s more of an enlightenment. As for me, yes, I’ve had my nose pierced and got myself three large tattoos since I turned forty. Yes, I’ve dreadlocked my hair and bought skinny jeans – in a size 14. Yes, I went roller-skating last Sunday and I refuse to wear Cottontails. But let me tell you, if you don’t like the look of my cellulite, you’re standing way too close to my butt. Just hand over the pink slip to your V8 pal, and no one gets hurt.

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*This is an excerpt from my e-book God, You Can Take My Mental Illness, Just Not The Part Where You Speak To Me, now available from Amazon for Kindle.

Speaking In Tongues, Internet Shopping and My Three Nights On The Mental Health Ward

I started a new job a month or so ago, another role in mental health rehabilitation and support. This time, I don’t just go out visiting service clients in their homes, supporting them with their ADL’s (activities of daily living) and helping them reach their personal goals and aspirations. The organisation I am working for now has the additional service of a 24 hour facility with clients living on site. These clients require 24 hour care and supervision, because they have a dual diagnosis – this means that they have two separate mental health issues going on, like schizophrenia + intellectual disability, or schizophrenia + obsessive compulsive disorder. These darling folks (and I mean that most sincerely) can’t be left alone for a moment, otherwise they may wander off and do various anti-social things out in the neighbourhood, the details of which I won’t elaborate on. Suffice to say, we have a locked office on the block of housing units that a staff member must man overnight to make sure nobody leaves, and more importantly, make sure nobody comes on site that isn’t supposed to. I’m told this has happened in the past: this is a fairly high crime area, with vandalism and robberies common. This thought comforts us no end at 2am when we’re locked in the teeny little office in the dark watching late-night TV with one eye on the grainy security monitor and one hand clutching a fistful of keys like a set of knuckledusters.

On the whole, this role is turning out to be a little more demanding than I bargained for. I applied for a part-time position. I thought that meant I’d be working part of every week. My employer, however, seems to believe it means part of every day. I’d hate to see how literal a full-time role is. I had no idea I’d even be doing night shifts when I applied, but thought it might be an interesting experience. On receiving my roster, I was surprised to discover I have about six overnight shifts every three weeks, and three of those shifts are consecutive. A Friday, Saturday and Sunday night all one after the other.

My first triple night shift was last weekend. 11pm to 7am, all of it to be done sitting up or walking around, absolutely wide awake. There are rounds to be walked, and paperwork to be signed to say rounds have been walked. I thought I’d be a little scared staying awake there by myself all night, but then I realised that being asleep, or even half asleep there by myself all night would be much, much worse. I packed for myself a lunch bag with appetising snacks, because if there’s anything I know will keep me awake it’s the thought that several kinds of tasty food are available and nearby. I packed my computer, hoping to catch up on a little writing. Over the next three days, I was to experience 24 hours of nocturnal consciousness, interspersed with 24 hours of daytime sleeping, and 24 hours of something weirdly in between these two. A kind of menopausal, mental-ward, twilight zone.

I decided my first night I’d take a few DVD’s to work to watch during my eight hour vigils. My kids suggested such horror slash drama epics as Gothika (set in a mental hospital, I’m told), Jason Returns (featuring a certain psychotic homicidal maniac)and perhaps even One Flew Over The Cuckoos Nest (where a sane but pathologically irritating guy fakes mental illness and ends up with a lobotomy). I’ve since decided on a black ban against any movie with Jack Nicholson in it, because when the gentleman from unit 4 comes shuffling up at 2am to tell me through the crack in the door that Johnny has arrived, my screams might just wake up the whole building.

At  first, I seemed to be coping quite well. The Friday night shift came and went. I slept after arriving home about 7:15am Saturday morning, then got up about 11am and did some stuff until having an early dinner at 6pm and heading back to bed. I got up at 10:30pm and got ready for work at 11pm. Then I did it again for Saturday night and Sunday night.

Monday morning. Everyone was getting ready for work and school when I got home at 7:15am. On the weekend when I’d arrived home they’d all been schlepping around and I’d felt great about sleeping during the day knowing they were all there somewhere. However, on Monday, everyone was busy getting ready to make off into the world, and going to bed felt to me to be a very boring and antisocial thing to do. I felt like I had passed through weary, beyond tired, kicked exhausted’s ass and now I was all fired up and ready to roll. I bounced around my family like a puppy begging to go walkies. “Where ya goin’? Where ya goin’? Gosh ya lookin’ awesome! Wow, what a beautiful day, don’t ya think!? Where ya headed? Goin’ out? Can I come? Can I come?” The last one to leave kicked me off their leg after dragging me up the hall, and locked the door from the outside shouting back at me, “Go to bed!” My eye-motes were vibrating. Look at the sunshine! Look at the blue-ness thingy! I’m so thirsty. I feel so skinny! I don’t need to sleep, I need eggs. I have a car! I can go out and drive and get eggs! That’s not me that smells, no way. I’m going for eggs!”

I found eggs, poached ones, two of them, on top of a slice of sourdough on a very white plate beside a rustic hand-thrown terracotta receptacle which held about a cup of home-made baked beans. There was garnish. And relish made from an exotic berry. My coffee hummed in my teeth while I batted my eyelids at the staff flirtatiously. I watched a video clip on my phone without the sound with my jaw hanging open, and read my local paper with the perplexity of a jet-lagged tourist – what day is it here? I then gave the lady at the cash register all my petrol money for my breakfast, and went looking for an art supplies shop.

Don’t even ask. But I did spent enough to get five holes punched in a customer loyalty card.

Now, I know better what to do. On the next post-triple-shift Monday morning, I must have an arrangement in place with someone I trust to take my credit card and my car keys away, and put tasty snacks in my bed, to which they must forcibly direct me, after they have me change out of my underwear, just in case I hallucinated I was camping on Saturday night and have been turning them inside out ever since. I have also closed all my internet shopping accounts, just in case. I think probably 95% of purchases made on Ebay are by shift workers after their 36 hour rotation.

I also have a theory that when the disciples spoke in tongues in the upper room, it wasn’t so much the holy spirit as the fact they’d pulled a couple of chronic all-niters. No sleep, three nights in a row, and not long since having been with someone claiming to be Jesus Christ? Now that sounds very much like my weekend on the ward.