Cheryl Bridges Johns | Feb 12, 2020

Into a Haunted Landscape

A few years ago, I set out on a journey into the strange and frightening land called menopause. Looking back, I realize how woefully unprepared I was for the trip. I had no map. I had not read any books that would help me on my way. No one volunteered to serve as my travel guide.

I had heard a few stories about the place to which I was going. It had a climate that could get very hot. It was hard to sleep there. It was, at times, a place of trauma and suffering. In my family, there were tales about “the crazy aunt” who, after having gone there, was never the same. There was even a frightening story of my great-aunt who bled to death in the land of menopause.

Before setting out on the journey, I tried to talk to a couple of women who had gone to the same place; perhaps they would give me some pointers. They only stared at me in stony silence as if to make it clear that I had broken some unspoken rule by asking about their sojourn.

Knowing that this quest was a fate coded in my DNA did little to curb my fears. I feared I would come out on the other side mentally damaged like those traumatized travelers many whispered about. Or maybe, like my great-aunt—the one whose face in faded photographs was the most beautiful I had ever seen—I would simply bleed to death.

In addition to not knowing what to expect, I did not know when my menopausal journey would begin. For certain, there would be no letter informing me to show up at the borderland of menopause on such and such day in such and such month. I knew there would be warning signs. So I waited for the signs.

I waited for years, until I was well past the age of fifty, with no notice of the impending trip. People began telling me that it was rare to wait so long to travel to this land. Sometimes they spoke as if I were somehow to blame for the delay. My physician wondered if I was “normal.” I tried to explain the delay: “I think my mother waited a long time.”

One day in my mid-fifties, I found myself standing at the borderland between my home and this new land. My time had come. The signs were certain. I had to leave the comforts of my earlier life and walk alone into the great unknown. As soon as I set foot into the new terrain, it became clear that my fears were legitimate. I learned quickly that menopause was a place that made up its own rules. Life skills from my prior existence had no effect here. The harder I tried to adapt, the worse things became. For the first few months of the journey, I was a complete mess. I did not know how to think. I did not know how to sleep. I did not know how to live.

There should have been a warning sign at the border of this land of menopause that read, “Beware! You are about to enter a haunted landscape!” I believe such a notice would have prepared me for the ghosts of my past who, as I made my way along, rose from their graves and demanded my attention. Had there been such a sign, I might have braced myself for the appearance of the vivid images of events long forgotten. Past injustice, hurt, and shame that I once thought were buried came back with a vengeance.

Remembering caused me to become angry. I do not mean a mild annoyance but an intense, deep anger. It seemed that the more I remembered, the more I saw people for how they really were and the angrier I became. Truthfully, the remembering and the anger overcame me. I could not get over things as I once did.

The anger and the remembering brought on tears. My eyes became red from weeping. I wept over the pain, the injustice, and the unfairness in my life. I wept over my marriage. I wept over my children. I wept over the world. I wept over my anger. I wept in frustration over my inability to control my tears.

One day the bleeding started. It did not trickle out. It came in great gushes, leaving my body weak and my clothing soaked. I bled so much that I became anemic. My hair became brittle. Dark circles appeared under my tear-soaked eyes. I thought of my great-aunt. Did she die from anemia? Did her beautiful face become discolored like mine? Did she simply not wake up one morning after bleeding out?

As I went deeper into this land, I began to believe I had entered hell itself. At times, especially at night, it felt as hot as hell. It seemed the life I had once known—the one characterized by control, accomplishment, and the ability to let things go—would never return. I feared I would always be an angry, teary, hot, and bleeding person living in this godforsaken land of menopause.

When I say “godforsaken,” I mean it literally. It felt as if God had stood at the borderland of menopause and waved good-bye— leaving me to face the anger, tears, and bleeding alone. To be honest, at times my tears and anger were directed at God. I would not have blamed God for not wanting to be around me. My husband often looked as if he wanted to escape.

During my sojourn in this desolate wilderness, I had one recurring fantasy. I imagined lying down and wrapping myself in a shroud. Here in the midst of the wilderness, the winds would cover me in sand, creating a silent tomb where the pain, anger, and bleeding would disappear. Strangely, this image held great comfort—so much so that it became my safe place when things became unbearable.

Then, just as I resigned myself to this hell, I began to realize that this land wasn’t all that I had feared it to be. Certainly, it was a place of my undoing. But, if I was being honest, there were things in my life in need of undoing. It was a place of anger, but anger is, at times, a good thing. It was a haunted land, but on occasion, the ghosts of the past return to give us a second chance.

Yes, I was in a godforsaken place, but a God more mysterious, more open to paradox replaced the God who forsook me. My previous God was one of order, green pastures, and still waters. This God seemed to relish the fierce storms that arose without warning in the land of menopause. The God of my past seemed to stand afar, looking down on my life. The God I discovered in the midst of the wind and darkness of the godforsaken land called menopause did not stand far off, repulsed by the hot mess I had become. Instead, this God drew close, surrounding me with gentle wings. In the midst of the darkness, I then understood that my longing to be wrapped in a shroud was actually a deep desire to be wrapped in a cocoon. Hidden under the Spirit’s wings, I waited to be reborn. I could sense that what was waiting to be born was good, very good.

I had reached a point where I saw the land of menopause for what it was: a special space wherein I could rewrite the story of my life. I was passing through a portal into a richer and fuller way of being in the world. I knew then that if given the opportunity to turn back, I would not do so. I had found the crucible of my remaking.

Content taken from Seven Transforming Gifts of Menopause by Cheryl Bridges Johns, ©2020. Used by permission of Baker Publishing