Butterflies in the making
Another night of sipping warm milk with spices, downing Tylenol and sweating through my t-shirt. Another sleepless night. I had been asleep, but only for a few hours when the sweats start. Another night of recrimination, the seemingly joy-filled critic in my head recounting the glass of wine, then a little more, then just another half glass and now paying for it with restlessness and sweating. Oh… menopause, I thought. What happened to those youthful years of drinking a whole bottle of wine alone and not being awake at 2 am? Of course, those years in Quebec city I was only just going to bed at 2 am.
Why do I keep doing this to myself, I thought. I don’t like how I feel, I don’t like the sleeplessness and yet I snack way more than I should. I resented my mother for being intoxicated most of my young life. Why then do I do it? The vibrating anxiousness that filled my evenings came into shape. I could sense the anxiety, at least I guess that is what one calls it when the body seems to want to be anywhere but here. I could see the image of being enclosed in a giant soft plastic zippered container and my body inside like a caterpillar in a cocoon. Only I wasn’t lying still. I was thrashing against the enclosure trying to find a way out. During the day able to busy my mind with tasks and to do lists that avoid the feeling of being trapped. But at night, when all the tasks were put down and I sat alone in my living room waiting for the clock to tick through the final hours before bed, the feeling of never enough, the anxiety of wanting to escape filled me and moved me forward to that glass of wine just to relax. Somedays, it was a beer after completing one of the many very physical tasks like rebuilding the deck steps and painting that I would pile onto the to do list.
The sheath of the cocoon woven from the thoughts of loss and what the hell was the point of this thing we call life. We all die, and we will all eventually be forgotten, so what was the point? I thought back to that day sitting with my then husband — climbing — business partner, in our 1984 Toyota camper van planning our trip with our border collie Sebring and golden retriever Autumn back to Nova Scotia. We were done. After all the hard work we had put together for the company and all the nights of sleeping in a van, showering in community pools or fresh water rivers of cold mountain runoff, we were just another expense on the marketing budget line that the company had let go. Disappointed and angry we decided to let climbing go. To return to Nova Scotia, to our families and a small life that was more predictable and where people traded money for your time. We decided to leave this life of trying to please sponsors, sell their products while scrounging through life voluntarily homeless and jobless. Sort of. Then Herm, a fellow climber and van-living athlete, stepped forward into the middle of the road and stopped us from leaving the canyon. He threw a wad of cash into the front seat between us and said, “No one will ever remember who did the first ascent or second ascent of any route. But you will always remember what you walked away from.” Tears flowed down my cheeks without shame, knowing the truth of his words and the heartbreak of struggling to make a dream real.
Our dream had been to share this amazing sport and the science behind performance with any prospective climbers who wanted to explore climbing. I had completed a master’s degree researching climbing performance and my partner and I used our own experience to shape our understanding of improving. We were able to live the dream as long as we gave up any ideas of retirement, having a family and were okay living in a, or rather, out of a van or tent when the van was in the shop being fixed. It wasn’t a setup like you see today with the Mercedes Sprinter vans decked out with sinks, stoves, solar panels and heaters and air conditioning. Some of the rigs these days even have showers and loos. No, our set up was a twelve year old van we had taken the seats out of in order to build a bed frame with patagonia black hole bags filled with clothing and necessities underneath. The bed folds back during the day giving access to the food bins which were plastic rubbermaid containers. We had a Thule box on roof racks on top to carry all the climbing gear and tent. This van set-up was a step up from where we had started in a Mazda GLC loaded with everything inside, including us. No power, no heat or AC, it was a simple life consisting of one key and very little responsibility. Always living hand to mouth only to learn that all the hours of dedication and hard work were so easily crossed off the budget line so the company could still have profit on the bottom line and the men working in marketing could have their five figure salaries, their homes with pools and luxury vehicles.
What is the point? Menopause is just an ugly reminder of the loss of my physical abilities and the relative loss of my relevance in a male and youth dominated career. Watching my father in the last months of his life slowly deteriorating, unable to walk very far, challenged by picking berries and making bread. In the past few years, dad, like my mother, my dear teacher Sue, my ex-grandfather-in-law and two aunts had all died. It is the inevitable end for all of us. So what is the point of life?
I had reached out for support to reduce the alcohol. I had reached out for support to get the recriminating thoughts about just losing ten pounds being the answer. I knew those thoughts were just winding me up tighter and tighter. A global pandemic had stripped my life of casual connections with friends twenty years younger than me who distracted my evenings with hikes and kayaks, or snorkelling at the beach. Isolation meant just me and the dog home, not venturing beyond the neighbourhood. I knew I wasn’t thinking about walking away from living. I was still reaching for courses, opportunities to grow, write and teach. Walking away from living was something I had considered when my marriage ended and I knew I wasn’t in that place again. The idea of bliss at the thought of just going off the road and dying instead of facing yet another moment of releasing my son from my arms and saying goodbye to my son as he departed on yet another travelling adventure with his father. Jesus, hadn’t I suffered enough? My mother always said, “God only gives you what you can handle.” Well I was done with handling then. Now, right now I wasn’t in need of suicide watch. I was just trapped in a cocoon, wriggling and struggling against the fabric of the containment desperate to become a butterfly. But not knowing how.