Misery Is Optional

Toni Hurst Health Guide
  • Just months before I started the "change" - maybe 10 years ago - I read a story about a woman who was climbing Mt. Everest. She wasn't very happy to be there. She was always cold, and in the middle of the exhausting climb, which takes many days, she unexpectedly got her period and had absolutely no "equipment" with her to help her out. You can only imagine the misery. Here she was, one woman among several men, trekking up the tallest mountain on Earth, cold, tired, and with her own menstrual fluid running down her legs. I simply couldn't believe she kept climbing. I would have given up in total despair.

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    But she wrote something that has been with me since I read the story. On her way up, as she was barely able to put one foot in front of the other and with every inch of her body freezing, a voice in her head said to her: "Cold is a fact. Tired is a fact. Being a woman is a fact. But misery is optional."  What she meant was: She didn't have a choice about the temperature outside, she didn't have a choice about the lack of oxygen at that altitude that was making her body tired, and she didn't have a choice about getting her period. But she DID have a choice of whether to be miserable about it. She could choose to be miserable, or not.


    Misery is not a fact, it is a choice.


    I don't remember whether she actually made it to the summit or not, because after I read that, I was fascinated with her mental fortitude, not her mountaineering ability.  I was determined that I could have that kind of fortitude too, and NOT be a victim of facts by slouching into misery when the facts get ugly.


    And they DO get ugly.


    I began rock climbing after that, and there have been times when I've been in a freezing cold rain on the side of a mountain where I thought I was going to freeze to death. But I remembered that cold is a fact, misery is not. And I got through it. I was bike riding in Nova Scotia two summers ago and got so tired and so far from where I was staying that I thought I simply couldn't make it back to civilization. My legs felt like lead weights. But I really COULD go on, I was just tired. I refused to slump into misery and made it back with a great feeling of accomplishment.


    I use the same thought process when I get those terrible night sweats. Sure, they are miserable, but I know it will end and I choose not to be miserable because of them. Uncomfortable, yes. Cranky, sure. Unhappy to the max, you bet. But miserable? No.


    Maybe you think there isn't any difference - but having control over whether I am miserable or not means a lot to me. Menopause brings with it many facts, some more welcome than others. It brings harsh realities into focus, like our age, and our changing bodies, and our need to focus on our own health. Some of the facts that accompany menopause are ugly, like bone loss, insomnia, and hot flashes. But they are facts, and being miserable about them is optional.


    I don't know how else to explain it. You have a choice about your attitude. You can face facts, understand that those facts won't change, accept them and move on, or you can be miserable. It really is your choice. There may be no time in your life that is harder to face than your own mortality, the time when you leave behind your child-bearing years, the time when you face many challenges about who you are and what you want to do with the rest of your life. You can choose to be scared. The facts may make you miserable. Or you can face this "mountain," put one foot in front of the other, and get to the top so you can see what's on the other side. Imagine the thrill of that. 

Published On: June 27, 2008