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Menopause, Sisterhood, and Tennis
Menopause, Sisterhood, and Tennis
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Alice gives an overview of the book:

"You the only one who can say what you can and cannot do." —Gramma Fun Like many women of the baby-boom generation, Alice Wilson-Fried found the specter of menopause looming over her as a sinister figure, come to take her womanhood, her mind, her energy, and her enthusiasm for life. Surrounded by popular representations of aging as a devastating illness to be fought against with all one's strength, and seeing in medical literature the hormonal changes of menopause likened to a mental illness, she withered in despair. And then a miraculous power seized her: Tennis—and the friendship and support of the women with whom she played. She'd never played tennis—or any sport—but in the latter half of her life, the struggle to learn tennis became, in part, a quest to face the challenges of menopause and aging head-on, with determination, grit, and grace. In Menopause...
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"You the only one who can say what you can and cannot do."
—Gramma Fun

Like many women of the baby-boom generation, Alice Wilson-Fried found the specter of menopause looming over her as a sinister figure, come to take her womanhood, her mind, her energy, and her enthusiasm for life. Surrounded by popular representations of aging as a devastating illness to be fought against with all one's strength, and seeing in medical literature the hormonal changes of menopause likened to a mental illness, she withered in despair.

And then a miraculous power seized her: Tennis—and the friendship and support of the women with whom she played. She'd never played tennis—or any sport—but in the latter half of her life, the struggle to learn tennis became, in part, a quest to face the challenges of menopause and aging head-on, with determination, grit, and grace.

In Menopause, Sisterhood, and Tennis, Alice offers the powerful story of one woman's tangled journey through menopause. Based upon her own experience, and steeped in the rich Southern humor of her mother and grandmother, this guide to surviving "The Change" unveils the mystery of menopause, laying bare the physiological, psychological, and emotional transformations menopause brings to women's lives. In giving the story of her own experience and research, Alice offers to women everywhere a laywoman's guide to the medical understanding of menopause, offering personal "epiphanies" about why diet, exercise, mental activity, and good humor are necessary for good health during menopause—and even more important, encouragement, motivation, and advice for women who despair of ever being able to implement these strategies into daily life.

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INTRODUCTION

My inners, as my grandmother would say, were in turmoil. I had the energy of a gnat, couldn't think, and couldn't sleep. I craved and ate so much sweet and starchy food that my thyroid stopped metabolizing. I cried for no reason. Went into anger tantrums without provocation. Hell, I couldn't reason my way out a confrontation with my two-year-old grandchild.

My husband, Frank, a former tennis player and an avid fan of the game, suggested that I take up the sport. He argued that the game would get me out and about, put me in touch with other people, particularly women my own age. Tennis, he told me, might give me the physical outlet I needed to put some distance between my brain and the inevitable hormonal changes I was experiencing.

"Me, play tennis?" I responded. Understand, I would have flunked high-school physical education if not for the written exam and the extra points awarded for simply wearing the gym suit. You see, I'm the crossword-puzzle type, the bookworm. A Matlock and In the Heat of the Night groupie. If computers had been around when I was a kid, I would have been the classic nerd.

Besides, I'm black and grew up where nonwhites weren't allowed on tennis courts. So I had attitude with a capital "A" about this elite sport—I wasn't white and I hadn't worn a size six since the tenth grade. I was the least likely person in the world to hit the courts.

But my husband bought the racket anyway, along with a gift certificate for lessons with a pro. Despite my reservations, I accepted, asking myself, "How hard can it be to hit a ball over a net? I'll do it, then tell him how boring it is. That will end that."

Guess what? I found tennis to be exciting. It's mental. It's physical. For the first time in my life, I'm part of a team and it's fun, fun, fun! When you meet my teammates later in this book, you'll see why. You'll see how my relationship with each of them has added excitement and self-awareness to my life. How being a part of a team brings people closer together as well as broadens social consciousness. You'll learn how team camaraderie can add spice and purpose to the aging process.

Also, I've developed some "feel good" eating and exercise tricks that I'll share with you, habits I never would have espoused if not for my eagerness to play a good game of tennis. Now, if you're looking for a crash diet and a personal trainer's routine, expecting to become a Vanessa Williams or Julia Roberts look-alike or to get into that size-eight sweater you wore ten years ago, close this book. That kind of nostalgia will keep you fat and depressed.

Face it: Turn fifty and your weight, like your life, will never be the same. Remember the serenity prayer? It goes something like this: "God grant me the strength to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference." Heed these words the first time a hot flash wakes you up from a deep sleep and you're sopping wet. And remember them when you notice you've developed a jelly belly that neither sit-ups nor a low-fat diet can budge.

Instead of giving your hips spreading power by settling into the rocker, instead of allowing the second half of your life to drift by on the merits and memories of what you've done, make a change. Don't get stuck in an "oh-Lord-I'm-getting-old" rut. Change your mental outlook to offset the biological changes. Embrace new challenges. Set new goals. In other words, get a new life. Combine the wisdom of your past with a vision for a blast of a future. Using vignettes and anecdotes, l show how the game of tennis and its social outgrowth did just that for me in this book. In fact, I hope that my story, told with both the humor and pain indicative of real life, will rescue you from the despair that can be part of the aging process. And that your life's focus will shift from how many years you've lived, to how well you intend to live.

CHAPTER 1: Menopause, the Reality

I graduated from New Orleans Booker Washington High School in 1966, and my classmates awarded me a black skeleton flag to wave when I was in a bad mood. (Too bad I didn't have that flag when menopause kicked in.) The gift of the flag not only ticked me off, but also hurt my feelings. So I did what the average, you-don't-know-what-you're-talking-about youngster would do: I declared myself misunderstood. Unfortunately, I transported that defensive perspective into my adult life to call upon whenever things didn't go my way.

Oh, I know. Some Freudian types might suggest that, by ignoring the message my peers offered me, I had built an ego wall to protect my vulnerability and provide the control I craved. Older and wiser, I can't say that I'd disagree with that assessment. But considering my upbringing, self-preservation was tantamount to existing. I was raised by my mother and her mother, who grew up sharecropping on a Louisiana plantation. Plantation women, especially black women, knew their place. They had to be independent as well as dependent, strong as well as tough, nurturing while self-sustaining, intuitive but not introspective.

My mother and grandmother were two such women. They were abandoned by their men in a cosmopolitan city, a short distance yet a long way culturally from their plantation homeland. Thrust into the breadwinner role in a strange work environment, they struggled to raise two boys and me during that historic period of the 1960s when women took to the streets, even burned their bras, in their quest to redefine womanhood.

By the time I was in junior high, I was far more educated than Mama and Gramma Fun and, as Gramma Fun used to say, had so much lip it dragged the ground. I like to say I had attitude, even though I know now that it worked both for and against me. Attitude has been the source of my tenacity. With my take-no-guff personality, I knocked down the doors to get myself through school, made a career in corporate America, and survived a marriage broken by the pain and circumstance of the Vietnam war. And I lived through single parenthood.

But my attitude was also the source of my fear of failing, of losing control. And it was attitude that cloaked me in aggression. With attitude, I was able not only to survive but to succeed; to thrive, though outside of myself.

Everyone said I'd inherited Mama and Gramma Fun's independent nature. I thought so too, until menopause reared its head. Menopause has a way of forcing you to get in touch with yourself from the inside out. I found myself asking, was I independent or just afraid? Afraid to really get to know who I was for fear that others might get to know me too?

Modeling their own unique version of the southern belle, my mother and grandmother taught me how to stay balanced on life's tightrope, how to be outspoken and secretive, giving yet selfish, self-reliant while needy. Then menopause set in. And I'm here to tell you, there's nothing like a couple of years battling menopausal blues to get a woman off her tightrope onto the hard ground. This reality began its descent upon me one day like a hailstorm while I stood, of all places, in a grocery store checkout line.

I don't know why I decided to go grocery shopping in the middle of a rainy Saturday afternoon, when the store would be crowded and the checkout lines were sure to be so long that they wrapped around each other. The only explanation I have now is that my mind was in such a state that I'd transformed procrastination into desperation. That's likely, since I'd already given procrastination art-form status, having gone for days without bread, milk, eggs, coffee creamer, and, Lord help me, toilet paper. With neither paper towels nor tissues in the house, I was out of substitutes.

I forced myself to put down the remote control long enough to get dressed. I'd allowed my household supplies to run out, and now that I think back, it was because I'd abandoned my to-do checklist, a control mechanism that was like a bible to me since the third grade, when I flunked a spelling test.

The day of that test, my teacher, unbeknownst to me, had slipped a note into my lunch bag. It read, "Please teach your child how to spell." Mama and Gramma Fun got hold of the note and I got the whipping of my life. That was the last time I ever misspelled more than one word on a spelling test—and I have the awards to prove it.

But the swatting wasn't the end of my punishment for flunking that test. From that night on, I had to write down every assignment the teacher gave me. Mama, in turn, would check them off the list as I completed them. This kept up through high school. As a result, creating to-do checklists might as well have been innate. So what happened to my reminder to go to the grocery store? As it turned out, my procrastination was symptomatic. But I didn't want to own up to what it was a symptom of.

Back to my grocery-store revelation. There I stood in the checkout line, when I caught a glimpse of my reflection in the glass door of the Coke machine near the magazine rack. I'm five feet eleven inches tall, and for a pound to show on my broad frame meant that I had to have gained quite a few. Believe you me, the pounds were showing. I had a pooched-out jelly roll for a stomach, and my butt had spread. I couldn't believe how it had spread. Why hadn't I noticed my big ass before? Who had I been looking at in the mirror those past months? Also, I needed a haircut. My chemically relaxed straight bob had ends that were as frizzy as an Afro. A no-no for me. My mama used to say, "If the hair ain't right, no matter 'bout the rest. You look tacky and ain't fit to go outside." But there I stood, in public, looking like, as Mama used to say, death rolled over.

Remember those television commercials in the fifties, the housewife scrubbing the floor in pearls and high heels? I never went that far, but I certainly was not accustomed to venturing out into public until every hair was in place. What was with me?

I couldn't just stand there looking at this strange version of myself much longer or I'd end up screaming, so I set my sights on the reading material. Time and Newsweek were sold out, so I picked up a minibook called Fit and Firm at 40-Plus. The title of the book didn't set off any bells and whistles in my mind; in fact, I was more likely to wondering about which episode of Walker, Texas Ranger I was missing. But then an article entitled "The Menopause Survival Kit: Every Woman's Guide to Perimenopause" grabbed my attention. Why did these words jump out at me? It had to be divine intervention, considering how downright fearful I was of the "M" word . . .

~~~

© 2003 Alice Wilson-Fried, All Rights Reserved

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Note from the author coming soon...

About Alice

Alice Wilson-Fried grew up in the Magnolia Housing Project in New Orleans, Louisiana. After attending Grambling College and Tulane University, she worked as an administrator in public relations at the Delta Queen Steamboat Company. Alice now lives in Alameda, California, with...

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Published Reviews

Feb.11.2008

A fascinating new character makes an entrance in Alice Wilson-Fried’s Outside Child (Komenar, $24.95). In pre-Katrina New Orleans, we meet Ladonis Washington, the sole black employee in an otherwise all-...

Jul.31.2008

Highly recommended [5 stars]...When I picked this book up, I stopped reading every other book I was in the middle of reading. I rarely do that. This is a MUST READ.

Outside Child
Alice Wilson-...