It's stunningly painful to hear once again that I may have been the chief architect of my own decline, and that even as I claw my way out of my self-made mess there'll be something new to worry about: an earlier risk of cardiovascular disease, thinning bones, a premature invitation to AARP.
I ask: What now? Oz recommends bioidentical hormone therapy and refers me to his friend Erika Schwartz, MD, a New York specialist in the treatment.
"The life that you happen to be in has thrown you a lot of curveballs," Schwartz tells me by phone a few days later. "Because you didn't have the tools you needed to fend off these curveballs, you absorbed them. We need to replenish your hormones and then see what your body does with the information. The body has a beautiful way of healing itself."
She prescribes an FDA-approved cream called EstroGel (bioidentical estrogen); her own Pro-Cream, a low-dose, nonprescription bioidentical progesterone topical; and a low-dose thyroid medication. (My thyroid level, as it turned out, fell on the low end of the normal range.) She suggests that I add supplements, including vitamin D, which I've actually been taking since the pre-Bikram round of diagnostics.
"By the way, none of this is because you are menopausal—I hate that term," Schwartz says. "You feel this way because you're hormonally out of balance. That's it. When people say 'menopause' it's like, 'Whoa, I'm old; it's over.' But you're not. You're not. You're not."
Which is what I most want, and need, to hear. This attitude feels absolutely necessary to my ability to move forward. Now I'm armed with a trio of defenses: hormone replacements, a new way of thinking about what's happening to my body, and, of course, Bikram. At first, this yoga felt exploratory, optional, but now that I know what's really going on, it feels essential to managing my day-to-day happiness and improving my overall well-being.
I've found a great yoga studio in my new city. I recognize none of the other students, of course, but everything about the postures is now familiar—as familiar, in fact, as Kettlebell and all my other old gym friends, which I ultimately never touched throughout the two months of Bikram.
I do not, and will never, love every class. Some days I'd rather stroll through Times Square in a string bikini than spend another 90 minutes in that steam box. Yet the best of Bikram redeems those days. The best of Bikram is like being in love. It's like taking in that first breath of springtime air, seeing green tips on the stems of dogwoods.
One Saturday in Memphis, I walked out of class and into a golden morning. Everything I saw seemed urgent and worthy and beautiful. I passed two old men hauling four small horses. I saw a field of yellow wildflowers. I swear to you, at a traffic light I pulled up behind a LOVE WINS bumper sticker. At the grocery, as I wheeled my empty cart back to the corral, an old man said, "Baby, let me push that over there for you. It'll be my good turn for the day." When I got in the car, Lloyd Cole was singing—again, not even kidding—that song about Eva Marie Saint in On the Waterfront: "All you need is love is all you need." The whole 60-day experience was worth one euphoric morning. Because I'd forgotten I could even feel that way.
We Hear You!