Written by Marni Battista.
I sat near the edge of the Yellowstone River, the Montana afternoon sun setting, my husband fly-fishing while my daughters, now young adults, darted between the river and our rented cabin, laughter filling the skies. So picturesque, except all I could focus on was the grotesque feeling of my middle-aged belly pressing against my grey tunic. I felt worn down, fat. My body was not cooperating with my brain, operating in the way I wanted it to, blinding me to the beauty of this moment.
I felt worn down, fat. My body was not cooperating with my brain, operating in the way I wanted it to, blinding me to the beauty of this moment.
Maybe this was just what being a fifty-four-year-old woman felt like. Maybe I wasn’t going to escape feeling old, as I had planned. A ski accident nine months earlier had left me with seven fractures in my sacrum, bed-ridden for two months. I now had to stretch mornings and evenings, and after sitting for long periods, sometimes dragging around a portable chair. Even worse, hot flashes and the urge to pee every few hours made for many sleepless nights. Before the accident, I had logged 20 thousand step days, completed marathons. I felt young, vibrant. My husband and I were having good sex. Now, I was too tired. I felt unattractive, and it seemed like every sex position just hurt my back. I had skated through every gynecology appointment for years, believing that if I exercised consistently and ate less, I’d be immune from menopause and its symptoms.
What I didn’t know that August was that menopause had been wreaking havoc on my body for nearly a year. Or that I would be diagnosed with Osteopenia, dangerously close to Osteoporosis. All I knew was that this feeling of being old was stealing my joy and the ability to be present.
My mom died of lung cancer at 64, when I was in my early 40s. She suspected the cancer came from hormones she’d taken for menopausal symptoms but she had also been a smoker. The only information I had was from google and my mom. So, I decided to fix the blob problem the only way I knew. I would focus on losing weight, hoping all my symptoms would diminish. I enrolled in a traditional calorie-counting diet program. I took a selfie, deciding this would be my ‘before’ picture.
I dieted, still waking up in night sweats, running to the bathroom to lay on the cool tile floor, waiting for the hot flashes to pass. I went to physical therapy, cycles, boxed and weight-trained six days a week. I took supplements I saw advertised on social media. Yet when three months had passed, I had to admit, nothing had changed. My attempt at handling things my old way bombed.
Two months later, I broke my toe in Maui and cracked a rib while exiting the water snorkeling. That night I emailed a doctor I had interviewed on my podcast who had written a book about estrogen replacement therapy. Intuitively, I felt there had to be a connection between my injuries and menopause. Later on the phone he asked me about the results of the routine bone density test I had taken after my accident and I told him that since I didn’t hear from the doctor I assumed things had been normal. I confessed I also didn’t know the results of recent blood tests. He sternly advised me to become my own advocate, to take control of my aging process.
I listened enrapt as he informed me that the beliefs I had about HRT were dated, and had been based on a study done in 2002 on women over sixty, rather than newly menopausal women like me. “The media misrepresented the data,” he said. “In fact, the latest research suggests that for women under 60, not taking HRT can increase the risk of developing certain diseases.”
My gynecologist prescribed the right HRT for me, a 1×1-inch transparent estrogen patch that I would place on my abdomen twice weekly, plus a daily progesterone pill. I slept through the night three days later, the hot flashes gone.
Later he reviewed the results of my bone density test and hormone levels while listening to me detail my symptoms. Something inside of me shifted. I sat up taller in the chair. It was time to stop focusing on aging solely from the perspective of weight. Hours later, my gynecologist prescribed the right HRT for me, a 1×1-inch transparent estrogen patch that I would place on my abdomen twice weekly, plus a daily progesterone pill. I slept through the night three days later, the hot flashes gone.
Today, I feel I have somehow managed to reverse the aging process. It does not necessarily mean getting Botox, fillers or facelifts. Instead, I decided to manage my aging process by monitoring my health. I get metabolic testing done quarterly, while I test my VO2 levels regularly too, since learning that optimal health does not mean pushing myself every time I do cardio. ‘No pain, no gain” is a lie.
But most importantly, at fifty-five, I no longer judge myself based on my jeans’ size or the number on the scale. I want to remain active so that I can hike and play with the grandchildren I hope to have one day.
My well-being goals now look like increasing muscle mass and energy while reducing risk factors. My workouts are focused on building endurance and strength with the intention of raising my metabolism, hoping HRT and the training will improve my bone density. I easily hike through some of the most challenging trails in the country. I recently danced under the stars in booty-baring jean shorts at a country music festival, making out with my husband like a teenager. I’m meditating and journaling for my mental health, too. I focus on banishing stale thoughts that don’t match who I am becoming at this exciting part of my life.
But most importantly, at fifty-five, I no longer judge myself based on my jeans’ size or the number on the scale. I want to remain active so that I can hike and play with the grandchildren I hope to have one day. I want my body to serve me as the container that helps me express my authentic self through movement. And, if that means that I advocate for my health until my dying day, I will be grateful for what it feels like to have rebirthed a self I thought I had lost forever.
About the Author
Marni Battista is a Life Coach with a forthcoming essay appearing in the LA Times in November 2021. She has published articles and essays on the Huffington Post, Yahoo, The Jewish Telegraphic Agency, and LA Mom Magazine. She recently completed a memoir.