From Chicken Soup for the Soul in Menopause

The Adventures of Swamp Woman

“I think I’ll start wearing scuba gear to bed,” my husband said the other night. “I don’t want to drown.”

“Ha, ha,” I replied. But I could sympathize. I wish I could protect myself from myself. Hardly a night passes where I am not awakened awash in steamy sweat. I have turned into Swamp Woman, starring in the Curse of the Crone.

That would make a great title for a horror movie. Let’s see . . . Swamp Woman is a perfectly normal person until her mid-fifties when she suddenly straps on a backpack and goes trekking in Borneo. There she barely escapes being dragged out of a longboat by a rabid crocodile, but not before she is injected with the jungle virus through the crocodile’s bite. Now, each night, she becomes an oozing creature of the jungle waters looking for relief. She turns first to her family for support, nearly drowning her husband in a hug when all she really wants to do is assure herself that she is still desirable. She slimes her way to her children’s bedrooms, hoping to get the help she needs, but cannot find a single dry towel. In her mad, wet resolve, she vows to experiment until she discovers the herbs that will ease the heat raging inside her. She uses her friends as test subjects and leaves a trail of chemically altered mutants behind her. . . .

I haven’t figured out the ending yet, but just think of the possibilities for special effects. We could leave out the part that menopause plays in this; it’s much better fictionalized.

Menopause has brought out in me a whole host of skills that I never knew I possessed. Besides dreaming up screenplays, I am now a fashion consultant for my friends who are shifting into the “wet season.” We choose clothes by how little they show the damp spots. Black is the preferred color. Twin sets are good because the outer sweater can be removed when the heat rises and then popped back on when the under sweater soaks through and the chills start. Beading is concealing on fancy wear and a shawl adds just the right fashion touch, especially when shoulders begin to dissolve atop a slinky evening gown.

I have also become a stress counselor for women’s groups, offering understanding and techniques to those who are experiencing the transition into mature womanhood and need help coping. And my years of yoga have at last come in handy. “Breathe,” I tell them. “Focus. Find your inner puddle . . . I mean . . . your core.” These workshops have a de-stressing effect on me as well once I get going, but I must admit that planning for them makes me nervous enough to have flash attacks beforehand.

My mother never prepared me for this. Back then women didn’t talk about such things. They endured in silence or threw tantrums but did not reveal the source of their distress. In all fairness, maybe my mother didn’t have hot flashes. Not every woman does. Somewhere between 50 and 85 percent of women experience hot flashes and night sweats. That means a lucky 15 to 50 percent escape with their internal thermometer intact.

My daughter won’t be able to say that about me. She has seen me turn scarlet over the salad course at a restaurant. She has watched her mother prance around in a T-shirt and shorts during a winter freeze when she, herself, was sitting in the kitchen wearing a hat and scarf. She knows what is going on. She reminds me to breathe.

I think it is important to share the full life cycle. Let my daughter see how I deal with maturing. It will give her something to laugh about when she is in the same position, if she is, and maybe offer some insights into the joys and challenges that come with female aging.

And there are joys. Like knowing who you are, at last. Like having the freedom to explore parts of you that were kept in check by the responsibilities of youth and middle age. Appreciating the resonance of “long-time” friendships. Feeling the throb of life within the changes going on.

So, back to the adventures of Swamp Woman . . . We last saw her experimenting in the laboratory looking for the precise combination of ingredients to halt the insidious, creeping night sweats. She has been reading about cooling substances from the annals of herbalism, Ayurveda, and traditional Chinese medicine.She brews a mixture of black cohosh, basil, coconut oil, dried peaches, and rose buds. She cools the bubbling mixture, then purees and strains it into a glass. It looks like toxic sludge, but to Swamp Woman it represents hope. Now for the test. Does she drink it or slather it all over her body? The fire is stoking itself inside her like an alien being. Do it. Do it now! She holds up the glass. It is time. . . .

The tension is unbearable. I think I’ll sit quietly and do my breathing practice. And while I’m calm, maybe I can come up with further adventures: Flood and Fire in the Suburbs, The Revenge of Swamp Woman, or perhaps, and this is my personal favorite, Swamp Woman Out of Control. Who knows where this could lead. Perhaps I’ll have a whole new career. I believe in seeing things in a positive light. When life hands out lemons, I’ll be the first in line at the lemonade stand. More ice, please.

Ferida Wolff

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