Monday 23 October 2017

A life in the balance: refusing to be beaten by the change that beats all bowed but unbroken by the change in life

Gemma Fullam is set to discover if slacklining will bring some welcome equilibrium to her life

Walk the line: There'll be no slacking as Gemma Fullam tackles her challenge. Photo: Gerry Mooney
Walk the line: There'll be no slacking as Gemma Fullam tackles her challenge. Photo: Gerry Mooney

I had thought I was pregnant, so when the phone call came from the doctor, on a Thursday afternoon in April, I was blind-sided. "... well into the menopause" are the only four words I can recall from that conversation, as I stood in the hallway at work, reeling in shock and disbelief, trying to keep back the hot tears that threatened to flow.

I was only 40 - only 40! - and like it or not, change had arrived at my door. The change to beat all.

You might experience mood swings, they said. But I am consumed with rage.

A bit of weight gain is to be expected, they said. But I don't recognise this body anymore.

A bit of depression is normal, they said. But I feel nothing. Just an emptiness so huge it overwhelms me.

It helps to talk to your partner, they said. But he doesn't know who I am any more. I don't know who I am any more.

Nothing I read in print or online came close to describing how I felt. I experienced irrational, overwhelming grief for children I never intended to have, but now couldn't; incandescent anger that this incomprehensible ugliness had been thrust upon me ten years too early; hideous, unrelenting exhaustion; confusion, despair, and tears, tears and more tears. The tears were endless.

I drank wine and large gins to escape, but found no sanctuary. I drank anyway.

Almost overnight, the bottom half of my face collapsed in a cross-hatch of lines and furrows. My clothes no longer fitted and my waist vanished under layers of flab. I would catch glimpses of a middle-aged woman in shop windows and recoil when I realised who she was. Me. And every day, there she was, the crone, mocking me in the mirror.

I was filled with self-loathing for this sweaty, fat, crabby, apathetic, pathetic thing I had become. I wanted to stop the world and get off ... if only I could.

That fateful phone call was three years ago, and today, the first day of November, the month of the dead, brings an ending of sorts. I'm now one year without a period, so it's official. At 44, I am a menopausal woman.

Those words still stick in my craw.

The fog has lifted somewhat, however, as it always does, if you can hold out long enough. My spirit has been tested and tempered in the hormonal fires of menopause and come out stronger. The change that has embraced me has demanded I embrace it back.

So, finally, I am.

Extremes and excess don't suit me, I've found, so I've ditched the smoking, banished booze from my home, downsized my job and made some space in my life - for me.

I've dipped a toe in yoga, walked in the woods, rain or shine, and stopped judging my physical self.

I'm done with the see-saw. It's equilibrium I seek.

Last week, two packages arrived in the post. Inside the first was a gift from a friend - a tiny piece of mistletoe wood, with a symbol burnt into its surface: the ogham representation for yew.

Inside the other package? A slackline. A tightrope of sorts.

Yew stands for change, endings, rebirth, and, in the world of the feminine, it's the hag; the crone; the wise woman. I have learned that the more I fight against her - the crone - the more she tightens her grip and suffocates me. She has the lead now, and like it or not, I have to follow.

I have to walk the (slack) line.

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