While cleaning out my bathroom cabinet for Passover, I came across some old packages of menstrual pads. I had forgotten about them, as I have not needed them for several months; it seems I have “passed over” from perimenopause to menopause.
I would be happy at age 53 and with seven children to bid my menstrual cycle farewell, but this has not been an easy transition; the symptoms have been difficult. Estrogen has served my body well. If menopause meant just hot flashes and night sweats, I could just ride it out, I think, as uncomfortable as they are. But I have had for the past five years terrible, sometimes almost unbearable, dryness throughout my body, but especially and most debilitatingly in my mouth — a body part I certainly took for granted.
I could go into the whole story of doctors dismissing the notion this phenomenon is related to menopause and putting me through loads of tests (including cutting my lip open to remove several salivary glands for testing, which was awful) only to tell me everything is normal, but I won’t. Suffice it to say I am now getting a bit of relief because of herbs my neighbor, a Chinese medicine practitioner, prescribed for my hot flashes; they seem to also be hydrating me more (at least somewhat).
My suspicion it was menopause-related was correct and was also affirmed when I looked online and saw that most people who suffer from severe dry mouth unrelated to side effects from medications are women over 50. (The condition is surely exacerbated by the fact that because of the muscular disease I live with, FSHD, my mouth is only closed when I make a conscious effort to shut it, and it is hard to maintain that position for long. Doctors were telling me that is the primary cause of the dryness, but it is not.)
Validated in my suspicion or not, I am still resigned to the fact that nothing is going to cure this. It’s yet another chronic condition I am told to live with.
This was weighing on me when I got into the pool today for my daily swim. Over the years I have had many visitors from the animal kingdom to my naturally filtered swimming lane, who have brought me profound messages: Slug, Spider, Mourning Dove (all of which you can read about in my new memoir, Dreaming Against the Current: A Rabbi’s Soul Journey).
But lately it’s been Frog. She visits me now every time I swim, sitting, watching, and sometimes even jumping in to swim with me, which makes me happy. From inside my house, I hear her croaking day and night. I cannot ignore her. I’ve been trying to understand her message. Now, finally, I think I do.
Tomorrow night is Passover when we sing about the plague of frogs descending upon the Egyptians. So I was not surprised to see Frog sitting right at the entrance to the pool today so that I could not pass by without paying her attention (and luckily had my phone with me, which is rare when I go out for a swim, so I got the photo above). I looked at her long and hard, and this is what she told me:
I was once a tadpole, swimming effortlessly in the water, not worrying about dehydration. Now I am a frog, my final metamorphosis, or life stage. Now I am both in and out of the water — a midway point of sorts — and susceptible to dehydration, as frogs are. Like you, we try to stay near water and have methods of trying to stay hydrated when we cannot be close enough, but there are no guarantees. This stage has its benefits, but it has its limitations and difficulties, too, that may not be worth the benefits. But no one asked me if I want to metamorphose. We go through changes, and sometimes they are hard and permanent. This is part of life.
When I got out of the pool, I moved the menstrual pads to the kids’ bathroom with a sigh and took my special herb concoction, hoping it would give me at least some relief and help get me through the day. For my FSHD, which is a degenerative disease, there are no treatments at all, although my daily swim helps keep my muscles that do still work moving. I think of the Israelites passing through the Red Sea. I might have been one who would have preferred staying there by the water instead of continuing forward into the dry desert, the unknown, had someone asked.
And this is all just on a personal note. There are so many others in the world suffering so much more than I am now, and always.
When we sing the “Dayeinu” (“it would have been enough”) song tomorrow on seder night, I’ll be thinking not only about how God sends us more blessings than we deserve, which is true, but also that sometimes God sends us more suffering than we can bear, yet we do our best to keep swimming, hopping, or however else we manage to move along, through life. Because, as Frog said, no one asked us, anyway.