The Adventures of Swamp Woman
by Ferida Wolff
“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. I have turned into Swamp Woman. Hardly a night passes where I am not awakened awash in steamy sweat. It is the Curse of the Crone. Wouldn’t that would make a great title for a horror movie? Swamp Woman is a perfectly normal person until her mid-fifties when she suddenly straps on a backpack and goes trekking in the jungles of 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, and now, each night, she becomes an oozing creature of the jungle waters looking for the cure.
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 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 wet spots. Black is the preferred color. Twins sets are good because when the under sweater soaks through, the top sweater hides it. 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 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. 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% of women experience hot flashes and night sweats. A lucky 50% to 15% 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 during a winter freeze when she 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 her 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 yourself that were kept in check by the responsibilities of youth and middle age. Appreciating the resonance of long-time friends and the delight of discovering new ones. 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 boiling mixture then purees and strains it into a glass. It looks like toxic sludge but 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.
Excerpt from Ferida Wolff’s book The Adventures of Swamp Woman: Menopause Essays on the Edge.
Ferida Wolff has been exploring the terrain of the self for over thirty years. She has an MS in Education and holds a certificate in Holistic Studies. As a teacher of Hatha Yoga, she helped her students focus on and listen to their inner messages.
Ferida is the author of 16 books for children as well as the adult book The Adventures of Swamp Woman: Menopause Essays on the Edge. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or through her website www.feridawolff.com.