Curing my vulnerability hangover
On broaching taboo subjects, exposing myself, and (spoiler alert) feeling just fine.
I thought I'd get an email from the editor requesting a rewrite. Significant changes are needed, it would say, with my essay attached and soaked in red-tracked changes.
I was used to revision. Years of writing executive presentations and speeches—major rewrites under tight deadlines were part of the process. But those weren't my stories. This one is.
Hands shaking, I opened the email. The editor cut ten percent of the words, posed five questions that required clarifying edits, and changed the title. I nearly fell off my chair.
The essay had been rejected five times in the last five weeks. I'd rewritten it twice as often.
This short list of edits felt like winning the freelancer's lottery. The editor had said the essay was "really great." I repeated his words like a mantra for days.
That's when the panic set in.
The Boston Globe is essentially my hometown paper. My former employer has a large office in Boston, where a few candid scenes in the essay took place. While I finalized the piece, an imaginary judge and jury began deliberations.
Who does she think she is? I don't remember any of this. Is she throwing us under the bus? OMG, did she have to write about stripping to her underwear in the ladies' room during hot flashes? I can't unsee this!
My head pounded, and my mouth went dry when I signed the contract and okayed the final copy. Was this what researcher and author Brené Brown meant by "vulnerability hangover?"
The point of the essay wasn't to incriminate. Like most opinion essays, I used my memory of an experience to frame a larger trend and call to action—de-stigmatize menopause in the workplace.
It was a risk, exposing myself to what other people would think, talking about a taboo subject, and revealing my weakest moments.
Surprisingly, the panic didn't last long. When the piece went live on the Globe's website, I shared it in as many places as I could. I wasn't ashamed; I was proud and excited. Breaking into a major news publication was a big deal for me.
Then I read the comments:
My pride turned to annoyance. How can anyone assume they know my story, from beginning to end, after reading a mere 1,000 words?
I didn't engage, but I hope you'll forgive me for not resisting the temptation to set the record straight here.
Why yes, thank you, I did seek medical help. I was prescribed pills for my nerves and advised to relax. Did you know just 20% of ob-gyn medical residencies include menopause education?
I appreciate your concern. I began Hormone Replacement Therapy ten months after leaving my job. Both actions greatly improved my symptoms and my outlook.
Um, no. I'm not a victim. I am an advocate.
Finally, a special shout-out to the person who added this simpering opinion: No one will hire any woman over 40 now!
Hi, it's you. You're the problem; it's you.
First of all, 13% of women experience menopause before age 40, often from surgical removal of the ovaries due to medical conditions. Their symptoms can be especially brutal.
And secondly, I can't believe I need to say this. Women have periods, fibroids, and endometriosis. We miscarry, have abortions, give birth, and return to work six weeks later. We do more than half the chores and childcare at home while facing sexual harassment, discrimination, unequal pay, and lack of opportunity at work.
Menopause isn't the problem. The system is the problem.
I'm more interested in the private messages where friends and social media connections have related their own experiences, appreciated the article for making them feel seen, or thoughtfully questioned my position.
This newsletter might read like a long humble brag. It's not. Then again, so what if it is? I've put myself out there. There's no going back.
Throughout the process, I've learned a lesson—one among many I've learned during this midlife reinvention.
Do the thing you thought you weren't brave enough to do.
It will be better than fine.
I couldn't have written this piece four years ago, fresh off the corporate boat and flopping around like a fish out of water. But since starting this newsletter and reading other incredible Substack writers, I've realized that being vulnerable is not only brave. It is a measure of how far I've come.
The Reinspired Life is taking a break.
In July, I’m going to celebrate my birthday, then experiment with Substack publishing tools. Look out for new adventures in August! Until then …
Work hard. Be Brave. Believe.