I am sure, dear reader, that you are getting tired of me talking about, or at least alluding to, my peri-menopause blues or, as it were, excess heat. But here we go again.
The hormonal imbalance of middling years, otherwise known as peri-menopause, is a phenomenon of many faces. I know of some women who are asymptomatic or, at least, never complain about their symptoms. Others get moody or have migraines, have hot flashes and night sweats. I am overjoyed I don’t get headaches and I’ve always been moody so extra emotions don’t faze me. I do get tired, fiercely tired actually, but it is nothing that ten hours of sleep and a nap or two wont cure. Other times the excess heat from the imbalance makes me light headed. This, too, is okay as long as I have a vertical wall nearby for reference. It is the logic scattering days that truly get my hackles up—those brain defying moments that leave me yearning for a dollop of cognition or a whollop of common sense… the days that make others look at me and wonder what the hell I am thinking let alone doing.
Take last week. There I am at my part-time job when I have to give a customer $35 in change. Easy, you say? All I need is a twenty, a ten and a five? Well, guess again. I take out a five and my brain, stymied by a wet mass of cotton that has somehow eased its way into my cerebral cortex, tells me to stop while reaching for a ten. The “logic” goes as follows: two fives make a ten; I have one five in my hand so I need another one. Oh, but stop, I already have a ten in my hand and two fives, a ten and a twenty will be too much money. I put the bills back to start anew and yet again I get stumped at the ten and how many fives go into it. I stare at the five, and then at the ten. It is as if in staring at the thin coloured paper an answer will arise. But nothing comes forth except an acceleration of brain synapses attempting to fight their way through the cotton batting. I try to slow them down, take a deep breath and rethink the whole process. My brain won’t let me. Instead, I feel the cotton morph into waves—big waves, rolling waves; a tsunami of heat waves of which I am trying desperately to stay afloat. The movement pushes and pulls, submerging me in a metaphoric cold sweat that once had me pleading for an early coffee break so I could cry in a bathroom stall bemoaning my early onset dementia.
I finally take a breath and, holding the bills in my hand, look at my customer. He smiles reassuringly. Are you doing okay, he asks. I want to cry. Yes, I say, yes, all I need is to get through this day and I will be okay. He nods. It is like he has just held out his hand and I know, with the surety of a drowning victim, that I am safe again; that I will get through this moment. And that I do.
It is funny how some people’s words can do that for you. They are full of understanding, compassion … even empathy.
A few days later my brain goes into overdrive again. I am trying to do a relatively easy, but not often used procedure on the till, when I find that I can’t remember how to do it. My mind goes blank. I feel flustered and irritated. I look up at the customer; he says: take a breath. I want to punch him. It was like someone just told me that I was stupid or needed brain surgery. It took all my energy to focus on not snapping at him and calling for someone to assist me in completing the task.
Later I compared my reactions to the two events. With the first I was able to compose myself and carry on; with the second I went from flustered to irate with nary a breath in between. I then thought about the two customers. Both, indeed, offered kind words but perhaps it was the latter man’s giving of advice (at a rather trying time) that changed the dynamics. Sure it could have been my state of exhaustion after a long day of customer service but I wonder it if was something to do with his intent. There is a big difference between offering advice and just being present; between being empathetic and giving pity or even sympathy. The first man stayed calm: he didn’t rush or urge me to be kind to myself; he just smiled and shrugged his shoulders as if he knew, first hand, this happens to all of us. With a few gentle words, surrounded by a blessed silence, he let me know that I was okay. The second man’s voice, however, when I try to recollect, felt more like he was coming from a place of knowing better, or of trying to help the poor store clerk get through her day. It felt condescending. Then again, perhaps I am just projecting on to him.
Regardless, I know now through my experiences of being at the other end of a cash counter I will never, ever say to a store clerk who seems to be having trouble:
“You must be new here.”
“It’s okay, honey.”
“Try it this way.”
I know I have made similar comments in the past, especially the first one, but I think I have learned my lesson. In future, when I come across a flustered retail clerk I will give him or her the space and time they need to get through a difficult moment. Then again, isn’t that what we all need? Space and time, a helping hand if necessary, but mostly just the knowledge that without judgment, without urgency or impatience, someone cares; someone understands enough just to be present.