I sit in the small consulting room barely big enough for the massage table in the middle on a small green vinyl stool which looks like it came from my parents’ kitchen. On the other side of the room sits a Chinese man peering at me.
“It’s menopause,” I say, “I haven’t slept for two weeks because the hot flushes keep waking me up at night.”
His face is unreadable. He is older than me, with dark hair starting to go grey at the temples. He wears a polo shirt with a sleeveless jacket over the top and track suit pants. He reminds me of a sports trainer, like the ones you see at the Olympics, or Mr Lui, the Chinese trainer at the Circus where I worked in 2000.
“Let me see your tongue,” he says. I open my mouth and he looks inside. He writes on his clipboard in Chinese characters.
“How is your digestion? Do you go to the toilet every day?” he asks.
“Every couple of days,” I say.
“So you’re constipated?”
“Not really, it’s just that I don’t go every day. It isn’t painful or difficult to go, just not so regular.”
“Ahh, then you’re used to it,” he says.
There is a pause where nothing seems to be happening. Maybe he’s thinking. Maybe he’s bored with treating middle-aged white women who don’t go to the toilet often enough and can’t cope with hot flushes.
“When was your last period?” he says at last. I tell him it was nearly two months ago. He scribbles some more on his paper.
I wonder if I should tell him that I lost my period entirely for months at a time when I was at my skinniest. Does he need to know that I have experienced recent trauma in my life? What about the whole eating disorder thing … would that make any difference?
As if reading my thoughts his last question is “How is your appetite?”
“Fine,” I say.
As he gets up and tells me I should undress while he leaves the room, I’m still thinking about my appetite. Once I would have said that my appetite was insatiable, that I was hungry all the time. Now, if anything, I’m rarely that hungry. I guess ‘fine’ will have to do.
When I am lying face down on the massage table in my underwear with a towel draped over me, he comes back into the room. The acupuncture needles go into my lower back in the exact spots that ache the most. These are the places that Duckfish strokes lovingly in the darkness, comforting me before I go to sleep. The relief from the needles is immediate and made even better by the warm heat lamp positioned over my back.
“Twenty minutes,” he says as he leaves the room again.
I lie alone on the table listening to the relaxation music playing from a speaker somewhere. Twenty minutes seems like a long time to be doing nothing. I regret that I didn’t bring a book so at least I could be doing something productive.
This is my problem with meditation of course. I feel like I’m wasting time – time that could be used to do something valuable. The thought comes to me that quieting my body and my mind is productive because it allows my spirit to regenerate. I imagine my spirit as a young willowy girl dressed in a floaty dress, her hair long and wild. She only gets to be free when I dream at night. During the day she is imprisoned by a constant barrage of thought and activity. I realise that letting her out during the day is important. She is who I’ve always been and who I’ll always be. Being her is not a waste of time.
It seems like moments later when the man comes back into the room and removes the needles. I turn over on to my back and more needles are placed in my abdomen and right calf. This time when he leaves I fall quickly into deep meditation feeling calmness wash over me. I could stay like this forever.
Too soon it is all over. He is back pulling out the needles and telling me he’s finished.
“Sometimes fixing menopause it easy,” he says. “Other times it is very difficult.”
I wonder which one it will be for me.