Friday, February 20, 2015

Hi, my name is Michele. I'm an artist.

So a few months ago my mind was officially blown. For those of you who think that is a task too easily done....hush and read on. You'd feel the same way.

I'm guessing very few of you reading this know that I'm a painter with watercolors. It's not something I've ever really announced out loud or in fact even whispered softly. Too often it's been something I've almost apologized for; as if being creative is some sort of character defect to be ashamed of. I cringe when friends who know or my loving husband tells complete strangers "Yes, she's a watercolor painter!" I used to look around and wonder who they could be talking about (not ever for a moment thinking it could be me) and now I've learned to stand there and say "Why yes, I do paint," and hide the fact that I wish a hole would open up under my feet and swallow me whole.

This is ridiculous really because I graduated from college four years ago with a degree in, you guessed it, studio art. Ever since I can remember  I've drawn, colored or painted my experiences. I was just brought up to think that it wasn't a responsible or sensible thing to do as a vocation. It's a nice little hobby but don't put all  your eggs in the art basket; it's sure to break your heart and certainly won't feed you.

Then, as I said, a few months ago there was some kind of shift in the universe and some lovely things happened that still make my head spin and my heart sing.

First I shared a painting with an online art group and the response was phenomenal. To the point that people were asking if I'd consider making prints of some of my work. So that was revelation number one. People would actually be willing to pay for things that I had painted. Doesn't even matter if it would be $50.00 or $500.00, just the fact that someone was moved enough by a picture to want to see it every day simply boggles my mind.

The second moment came during an "art crawl" with a friend here in Florence. She's a textile designer and several of the studios we visited were textile designers or clothing designers and each time we talked to one of them she would introduce herself, then introduce me as her friend, the amazing water colorist. And this incredibly talented woman would then talk about how the three of us could find some way to collaborate. How she thought to lump me in with a bunch of professionals is beyond me, but it did help me to realize that the thing I tend to play down as a hobby many people view as a marketable skill.

The third amazing thing that happened was when a woman who is running an artists workshop online asked me to be a guest artist. This just shocked me because, without any previous friendship connection that might force her to include me and without really knowing anything more than what she saw of my work and my writing from another online group, she felt I had artistic skills to share and the verbal/written skills to share it.

She recognized me as an artist.

I wish I had the words to explain just what it means when complete strangers (ie people with no emotional ties or obligations to you) think of you first and foremost as an artist. I've been many things in my life...student, teacher, drafter, committee chair, the list is long. What I've never been until now is an artist. I was, for instance, a mother who liked to draw. Or a wife who painted sometimes. Or a co-worker whose cubicle was less cubicle-like.

I should have been thinking as I do now. I'm an artist who is also a wife. I'm an artist who cycles. I'm an artist who paints. I am an artist.

Has anyone ever died from menopause?

This is a completely serious question. I can't ask my family because keeping the uterus is new to my generation, and I'm the oldest. I didn't watch anyone go through it and there are no stories handed down (ie horror stories) for me to reference.

For those wondering why I don't just go online and look it up well I have a good reason. I know people so suggestive that just reading about symptoms inspires the body to have those symptoms. I don't want to be one of those people who asks WebMD what I might have and instead of menopause I have some rare cancer or jungle virus with no cure.

But I think it's entirely possible that my uterus is trying to kill me. For real.

There was the first flush of excitement when "that time of the month" skipped a few months. I thought the absence of hot flashes and wild emotional ups and downs meant I'd simply skipped over the nasty stuff and headed right into the last gasping moments of my fertility. I was wrong.

After the blissful quiet of those first months everything kind of exploded around me. First in the short span of eight weeks I had my period five times. It sounds physically impossible but it happened, thankfully without the PMS or physical discomfort that typically comes along for the ride. Apparently my ovaries started popping out eggs like a Pez dispenser (after years of a very casual attitude in that regard) and the rest of the process struggled to keep up. I was confused and so very grateful when that stopped.

This next phase I'm currently in (if indeed it's a phase of menopause and not some terrible disease) is where my cycle crushes me like a fly under a flyswatter. I'm perfectly fine, better than perfect in fact, when suddenly I have crushing headaches, impossible nausea and mind-numbing inertia and exhaustion for about a day and the next day my period shows up and all is fine again. Since this follows the rigid schedule that a normal woman's cycle would have I'm probably correct in attributing it to this. Also I would say that three months in a row can be considered a pattern and not a general OMG panic.

Oddly enough all the symptoms I've come to expect from this blessed time of life haven't occurred. No hot flashes. Well, unless they happen on the bike. I suppose that's possible. I do have problems at night. I don't feel hot, but the sheets practically burn the skin off my body. (Maybe the linens are going through menopause.) No crazy emotional roller coaster. I'm going to blame the slight roundness I've accumulated over the winter to overeating and less cycling instead of to a change in metabolism. I do like to eat.

So what do you think people? Am I in the grip of menopause or am I just lumping a group of symptoms together that in reality should stand separate and alone? And the original question....can menopause kill you, or only make you incredibly uncomfortable for what feels like forever?

And, I'm almost afraid to ask, is this as bad as it gets or is there more to come? On second thought, maybe I don't want to know.