By Mylika Scatliffe
Special to the AFRO
The decade between 40 and 50 is a busy season in a woman’s life. She likely has an established career, a family and advanced degrees; all while trying to maintain good health, personal hobbies and interests. It’s also a time of great change for her; there’s empty nest syndrome, aches and pains that come out of nowhere and a firm footing in the sandwich generation, where she’s taking care of her children and her parents. By this time, women have gained a lot of life experience and wisdom, while simultaneously having lots of questions about navigating this phase of life.
Menopause looms large and it’s a change that isn’t often freely discussed. A plethora of questions and changes, both physical and emotional, arise. Patrice Frasier, a 48-year-old high school teacher and department head in Baltimore City Public Schools had a lot of questions and struggled with some menopause related issues. She also found that among African-American women, there’s a lack of awareness and knowledge surrounding menopause and other issues as relates to this phase of life simply because nobody was talking about it.
To combat this issue, Frasier got together with two friends, Andrea Carney, and Heather Boles and launched a Facebook group called “It’s Getting Hot in Here and Here and Here.” The group is private, and membership is by invitation only. Frasier felt it was important for African-American women and other women of color to have a safe space to discuss these issues. “There’s been a stigma around it and has been since we first got our periods; we deal with lack of awareness because we’re not talking about it and it’s compounded by lack of advocacy in the medical profession,” Frasier said. Things like hot flashes and mood swings come to mind when you the hear the word menopause, but other issues are not being discussed; issues like depression, fibroids and sexual changes.
As one of the co-founders, Carney, 48, a documentary standard scientist, was not only seeking a way for women to discuss menopause, but to exchange information and be honest about everything to expect during this phase of life. “It all clicked for me after I had a baby at a later age,” Carney recalled. “We need to be honest with each other about what happens. We try to pretend we can do everything on our own but there’s no need for that. I don’t subscribe to being ‘Superwoman.’ We don’t have to feel alone in dealing with stuff like postpartum depression or anxiety. We can talk, be open and honest and not whisper about these issues. It’s real life and there’s no need to hide or tip toe around it.”
Frasier and Carney have been friends for over 30 years. They’re closer to age 50 now but have different lifestyles due to their individual phases in life. Frasier is a single mother of a 20-year-old son. Carney is married with a 6-year-old. “I may not want to burden Andrea with certain issues that she may not relate to as a married woman and vice versa,” Frasier said. Frasier relates how Black women are often expected to provide support to Black men through their struggles and life issues, but that support isn’t necessarily reciprocated, particularly in dating and romantic relationships. Menopause can be and often is a struggle and a woman can feel isolated dealing with symptoms like mood swings and hot flashes and having a partner that doesn’t strive to understand. “I said it can’t just be me having these questions and issues,” Frasier recalled when discussing her reasons for starting the group. “And sometimes the stuff that happens is funny and we can laugh together too. Carney’s motive is to just get it all out there. “No one tells you about all the stuff that happens; we stigmatize biological things that happen to us naturally! I want us to share all of it – the good, the bad, and how you get through it. Even something like colonoscopies. A lot of us are having our first colonoscopies and it’s good to talk to each other about what to expect,” Carney said.
The Facebook group now has just over 100 members. Members can feel free to post questions and start discussions about all manner of issues of concern or curiosity, not just menopause. There’ve been discussions about building wealth, sexual health, hysterectomies, child rearing, self -care, mental health, advocacy in medical settings, and self-esteem just to name a few. If a member has a question that they are embarrassed to share they can take it to one of the group administrators and they’ll post it anonymously on their behalf. As mentioned before, the group is private and by invitation only, so members can feel secure in sharing and discussing sensitive and personal topics.
Today, women who’ve reached a certain age are more open to making mental health a priority. There’s been a long-standing stigma related to mental health issues, compounded by the generational trauma beginning with how we were brought to this country, according to Carney. Fortunately, the stigma is steadily decreasing, particularly in the African American community.
Tiffany Lowery, a Human Resources Professional for a large city agency, has no qualms admitting that she is in full blown menopausal and freely discussing it with just about anybody. She’s been considering seeing a therapist for the last few years to help deal with issues surrounding her menopause, life and work-related stress, and family issues. She hadn’t yet because as she described, life would get in the way, and she’d put it on the back burner. Now she’s ready.
Friend circles are to be valued, but where mental health is concerned, they may not always be enough. Stephanie Thompson, 48 and of Frederick, MD, is a Project Manager for a small company. She saw a therapist for a while about 15 years ago. She hasn’t been since, but still uses the techniques she learned during her sessions and said visiting a therapist at this phase of life for a “tune-up” or to check in with herself probably isn’t a bad idea. “I have a good circle of girlfriends. I talk about some things, actually a lot of things with them, but there are still some things I’m not going to discuss with them. My pride won’t allow me to disclose certain things to my friends, so I internalize them, and that’s probably not a good thing because it just festers,” Thompson admitted.
Women of a certain age have to practice self-care. Self-care is more than brunches and spa days (not that there’s anything wrong with that). Whether joining an organized online group, seeking professional guidance, or maintaining a meaningful circle of trusted friends, we have to reach out and communicate and do the work to take care of ourselves. It might be work, but it doesn’t have to be labor.
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