Last week as I was watching Bill Maher on HBO, he invited author, speaker and performance artist Sandra Tsing Loh to join the panel at the half-way point in the show. This is usually when the new guest often has a book to promote. More than once I’ve enjoyed this part of the show so much I’ve gone on-line and ordered the book immediately and that’s exactly what happened when I downloaded Tsing Loh’s The Madwoman in the Volvo on to my Kindle before the show was even over.
Subtitled My Year of Raging Hormones, the book describes Loh’s midlife struggle with combining motherhood, overseeing an aging father, a marriage breakup and new relationship and depression while entering that dicey time of life known as menopause. She describes her daily life in terms any working woman can relate to. Driving children to various functions in the midst of domestic chaos, stressing about work deadlines, trying to keep a marriage viable with creative meals and date nights and coping with a difficult aging parent are life scenarios most women can relate to. Loh’s situation is further complicated by having two children who are still in elementary school at an age when most women are seeing their progeny off to college. She finds herself ill-equipped to deal with the noise, the demands and the sheer physical energy required to keep all the plates spinning while she’s experiencing hot flashes, depression, anger, resentment and loss of libido.
As I started reading I found myself thinking, “This is just another one of those books about how life is demanding, not always rewarding and sometimes you just want to give up. Ho hum, nothing different here.” What makes this book different and so incredibly special is her stark honesty about her shortcomings and coping mechanisms. We can sympathize and empathize with her often hilarious descriptions of dealing with her 88-year-old Chinese father’s issues and the day-to-day challenges of family, work and marriage. Things really picked up in the latter half of the book where she looks deeper into the harsh truths about her own makeup and how she turns things around. She exposes her barnacles and gives us permission to do whatever works for each of us to get rid of them and find our joy. From the halfway point the book just gets better, moving with a nice rhythm, picking up speed and climaxing at the end in a wonderful multiple orgasm of wisdom and support. It’s almost as if you should read the book from back to front.
Happily, The Madwoman in the Volvo is not encumbered with pages and pages of footnotes and bibliography material. It is not a rehash of other people’s research and studies. The only major book she references is Dr. Christiane Northrup’s The Wisdom of Menopause, a hefty tome that is universally read and respected as the definitive word on menopause issues. Loh’s book is a wonderfully subjective, humorous recounting of her own experience and recommendations. We are not told to choke down eight glasses of slimy green liquid every day, subject our bodies to yoga and pilates or live on a diet of kale, broccoli and boiled chicken. In fact, trying to add these disciplines to our already-busy lives can often add to our stress levels when we’re barely holding ourselves together.
One of the most interesting things I learned is that our estrogen-fuelled years between puberty and menopause are actually the “unusual” years because we are pumped up with a temporary supply of hormones (estrogen, progesterone) to cope with mating, child-bearing, mothering, and nurturing. When we hit menopause, our hormone levels actually return to where they were before puberty so we are in fact once again our authentic selves. That’s why she maintains there’s nothing wrong with telling the kids to make their own lunch, leave home or simply grow up. She gives us permission to get more sleep, hire help around the house if we want to and treat ourselves with a little TLC. Don’t beat yourself up because you’re a few pounds overweight – after all, we didn’t have waistlines when we were ten years old either. After all those years of putting everyone else first, menopause brings us back to square one where it’s natural and not unhealthy to make ourselves a priority. Isn’t that wonderful? No need to feel guilty. We’re vindicated. Girlfriend—you nailed it. I’d give Madwoman in the Volvo 10 out of 10.