Between my feet are two perfectly cylindrical teardrops, a pair of emerald stains on the slate floors of this bathroom. I’m sitting on the toilet, elbows propped on my knees, quivering chin resting in both hands. Just sitting. Crying. In a bathroom. At work. When I get up to look in the mirror, my face is pink as a pig’s rump, my eyes in dire need of Visine, mascara clumped and unsightly. No, this is not an episode of Allie McBeal; this is my life. And I am pretty certain I am going through emotional menopause.
Emotional menopause is unlike the normal variety of female mood swings. It’s not just your monthly, run-of-the-mill “I got hijacked by hormones and now I’m just playing puppet to some cruel adherence to anatomy and biology.” No, emotional menopause is a combination of said hormones with a psychological sense of “drying up.” It is a compounded helplessness, like a marathon runner who’s just realized that every time they near the end, the finish line has been cruelly moved back another five feet, after which every inch traveled feels more laborious than the previous miles combined.
What sent me into the bathroom today was a simple conversation with a superior, laced with the slightest hint of criticism. I wasn’t being ripped a new one, so to speak. I wasn’t getting yelled at or fired or denigrated in front of my peers. By all accounts, this was a perfectly acceptable professional interaction. But for me, at that moment, it was the last crack in the dam, one of a thousand tiny fissures joining together for a final, catastrophic collapse.
I’m in the bathroom thinking not only about work, about this job, but about a vast, cavernous loneliness that only becomes more apparent when I feel sorry for myself. I know that when I go home today, crumpled and spent, I will have no one to commiserate with, no one to talk me down save for a pair of good friends with permanently bent and well-worn ears who are just as sick of hearing about these breakdowns as I am having them.
In the throws of emotional menopause, every sign of normal life is a psychological minefield. Watching a couple walk down the street holding hands is not a testament to the power of love, but your inability to harness anything similar. That cute baby you saw on the subway is not a bundle of joy, but a drooling testament to all of your personal failings. Your boss asking that you do X instead of Y is the end of a career and a bus ticket back to wherever you came from. Through the prism of emotional menopause, life moves forward while you stay behind, like a runt being pushed away from the teat and left to ashamedly sulk in the corner.
Unfortunately life does move forward, and despite my contrary belief, I am certainly moving along with it. And so I wash my hands, shake some life into my face, and push my mouth into something agreeable. Besides, if Allie McBeal could last 112 episodes, I can certainly make it through a day.– Jenny Bahn