Welcome to the ongoing discussion about life after 50. As regular readers know, I asked people on Facebook, Twitter, and right here on The Huffington Post to tell me their most top-of-mind questions and concerns about entering this new phase of life. These articles address those questions head on and, hopefully, will help build an even larger audience so that we can all talk together -- regularly -- about what matters most.
When we talk about being a woman and over 50, menopause is one big, unavoidable topic. So much has been -- and continues to be -- written about menopause, because no matter how much we study it, research it, and understand it, it's not going away any time soon.
Menopause is truly one of those things that the vast majority of women eventually goes through, so remember this: you are not alone.
I went through transitional menopause, also called perimenopause, without a great deal of fanfare. There were a few months leading up to the big event during which I tossed and turned, woke up at 4 a.m., kept a fan blowing on me all night, and, according to my kids and husband, acted grumpy. It wasn't horrible, just uncomfortable, and, thankfully, didn't last too long. I know I was one of the lucky ones.
Many women experience more torturous aspects of menopause -- hot flashes, mood swings, uncomfortable sex -- and there are different schools of thought on how best to address them.
When I researched and wrote "The Best of Everything After 50," the medical experts I interviewed agreed that the optimal plan of action depends upon a woman's individual physical health, family history, and the degree to which she is suffering from the symptoms. There's hormone therapy, which comes with its own set of risks, as well as topical treatments to deal with the symptoms, the most common of which are dryness (affecting various parts of the body), difficulty sleeping, sweating, hot flashes, and generally feeling awful a lot of the time.
For anyone who has gone, or is going, through menopause, you know that it's a very complicated time. Not only are we dealing with the physical changes, but many of us experience the mental anguish, too, like the feeling of being the only one awake at 4 a.m., desperately needing an air conditioner pointed at you, or surfing the web to see the latest research on every possible disease or illness you (or your husband or kids) could get -- in other words, the feeling that you are going completely, and irrevocably, mad. Throw into this mix a mother who is suffering from dementia, and concerns about a writing career that seems to be stalling because you're going insane, and what do you end up with? You get "Marrying George Clooney: Confessions from a Midlife Crisis" by Amy Ferris.
Amy had everything piled on her at one time, it seems: a distant mother surrendering to the horrors of Alzheimer's, a brother who had decided he was an only child, and what could only be described as severe menopause. Amy went through the full-blown experience of menopause, suffering through every possible physical and emotional aspect.
What kept her sane, and from throwing herself off some bridge during this trying time, was her husband Ken and her powerful ability to put down on paper her every excruciatingly sad, happy -- and sometimes twisted and tortured -- thought.
The readers and cult followers (me included) of Amy's book found a soul mate. Here was this delightful, charming, funny woman writing what we were all feeling -- to varying degrees -- and who had the guts to put in a book what most of us couldn't even put into words. Over and over again I've heard women say, "This was my book," or, "Amy wrote what I was feeling."
When going through menopause, Amy would wake up in the middle of the night and fantasize about marrying George Clooney (one of my favorite anecdotes from the book, although I would have chosen Johnny Depp); google old boyfriends to see what had become of them; research every illness or disease that could possibly befall her; exchange bitter emails with her brother and a few formerly close friends; worry endlessly about her husband and her mother; and try desperately not to pick up another cigarette.
It is our great fortune that Amy could not sleep well during this period of her life, because as a result, she chronicled every one of her funny, sad, hysterical, and raw thoughts, feelings and stories in this powerful book. Here's one of my favorite passages:
Imagine this scenario if you will: You're in the Holland or Lincoln Tunnel -- all of a sudden, without warning, all the lights go out, including all the headlights on all the cars. You're Stuck. There's no going forward; there's no going backward. Complete and utter darkness. And you know in your soul that others are going through the exact same thing -- but no one, not one person, gets out of their car. Doors are locked. Windows are rolled up. Seat belts are tightened. Everyone just sits, looking straight ahead, waiting, waiting, waiting. For. A. Light. To. Flicker. At. The. End. Of. The. Tunnel. Welcome to Menopause:
Exit 36B on the highway called Life.
For any woman who is going through menopause, or getting close, I would strongly urge you to seek the guidance of a really great doctor who is compassionate and up-to-date on the best way to help women feel better while they are going through this life transition. I offer solid advice and tips on dealing with menopause in my book, gleaned from interviews I had with amazing experts. No woman should ever have to suffer through menopause, when there are proven ways to alleviate many of the more severe symptoms.
But, I would also encourage you -- without hesitation -- to pick up a copy of "Marrying George Clooney." Not only will you feel emotions from one end of the spectrum to the other, but you will know, without a single doubt, that if you wake up at 4 a.m., you are most definitely not alone.
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