I was 40 years old when I experienced the first effects of menopause. It wasn’t awful – no night sweats, mood swings or brain fog. I simply missed my period during the month of August. I had never missed one before. The following August, I didn’t get it again. And the year after that. It was a gradual change. One month, then two, then slowly over time it stopped.
Although this part of my cycle was slowly changing, there were other changes that were far from slow, far from graceful, and far from pleasant.
I all but stopped sleeping.
A furnace raged inside of me at will.
Sweat poured from my skin,
And made it feel heavy as it was dry and thin.
I wasn’t sleeping.
My memory was foggy.
Mood swings became normal.
Laughing fell quiet as frustration took hold.
Sleep escaped me.
I was confused, stressed and tearful.
It seemed no one understood.
As if anyone actually could.
Still, I could not sleep.
I gained weight although I hardly ate.
My skin was dryer than ever even though I drank a gallon of water a day.
Sex was painful and hurtful with heartache.
Sleep continued to elude me.
I felt depressed, disinterested and alone.
Misunderstood, under-appreciated and unknown.
Somehow, I managed to go to work, clean the house and prepare the food.
My mother’s voice rang inside my head, ‘there’s no rest for the wicked’ she’d said.
My zombie-like features exacerbated my depression because I knew,
Sleep was not likely to come soon.
The most frustrating thing about this was how little anyone did for me. One doctor told me it was in my head. ‘Uh huh. And how much do I owe you for that?’ Another said I needed more sleep. ‘No shit. Thanks for your wise words.’ At one point I was suffering from a yeast infection and the doctor stared wide-eyed at me as she embarrassingly pointed at my vagina and said ‘you mean, down there?’. Never again would I see a doctor who was unwilling to say the word vagina. Vagina. (Years of heckling came roaring back, ‘Gina vagina!’ the boys at school sang). Vagina. Say it! Gina’s Vagina was itchy as hell and needed some effing help!
Will someone please listen?
For years not one doctor believed me when I suggested I might be going through menopause. Even the nurses dismissed it saying I was too young and that missing one period a year didn’t even qualify as perimenopause. I searched for my own answers because I was not willing to take the sleeping pills and [eventually] hormone replacement thrust at me. Why wasn’t anyone in my circle of friends talking about this?! Were they not going through something similar? Were they not on fire, seething with disgust at the rest of the world making fun of our vaginas?
I wasn’t crazy and neither are you.
Humans and whales
I now know that no one really understands. Get this, humans are one of five – Five – species in the world that experience menopause. The other four are Whales – killer, short-finned pilot, beluga and narwals. Humans and Whales. No wonder they’re not listening. They don’t know how to respond because they don’t understand themselves. Which begs the question, where are the studies focused on understanding the human ovaries and the role they play in our health?
I guess its up to us. If the professionals aren’t going to listen, we need to listen to one another.
So, let’s talk.
I want the medical professionals to take the time to listen and be open to learning from us. But the support we can offer one another is immeasurably valuable and must be shared. When we share, listen, learn and help one another we can make informed decisions instead of guessing there are no other options as pharmaceuticals are thrust in our direction. And just for clarification, this is not about shaming those who opt for the sleeping pills and HRT. Your body, your life, your choice. I simply don’t want those options thrust at me because the medical professionals don’t have the time or interest in listening and learning – and definitely not because they are too ashamed to say the word vagina.
Let’s talk about our symptoms and the things going on in our lives as a result of menopause. We understand because we are actually living it. We can share our story and what works for us. Support each another and acknowledge that, although there are a lot of similarities, our experiences are as different as our vaginas. Respect.
So, let’s talk about our symptoms and some of the things we can do to relieve some of them.
Symptoms – the short list
Hot flashes. Cold flashes. Restlessness. Mood swings. Tearfulness. Confusion. Dry skin. Dry mouth. Dry vagina. Loss of libido. Memory loss. Tender breasts. Inflamed and sore joints and muscles. Hair loss. Facial hair growth. Depression. Insomnia. Irritability. Anxiety. Fear. Lack of motivation. Irregular periods. Incontinence. Headaches. Memory loss… did I already say that?
What can we do?
Take charge. Set goals. Get back to Nature. Be patient with yourself. Be kind to yourself. Share your story. Support others. Practice mindfulness. Meditate. Spend time with your sisters, girlfriends and mothers. Change your diet to include certain foods. Exercise. Get back to Nature. Get a fan and an ice bath if needed. Get a weighted blanket. Talk. Be open about your experience so we don’t feel so alone. So we feel brave to share what worked for us.
Twelve years later I still have trouble sleeping; but seven hours a night is better than two. I even slept for eight hours three nights this month! Hot flashes are rare and fleeting. I laugh again – a lot. My skin is healthier. Yes, sex is easier, thanks for asking. I am happy, appreciated, understood and known. The wicked inside me? It turns out she wasn’t really wicked at all. She’s complex, a mystery sharing her secrets on her own terms. And she’s willing to share herstory for anyone willing to listen.
The best thing I did during the last decade of my life was share my experience with others living through menopause. I learned that it is best experienced with those who can relate. It is best experienced with compassion, patience and tenderness. It is best experienced with raw honesty and humor.
What about you?
We remain intelligent, creative, caring, gentle, generous, attractive throughout all stages of our life, especially throughout menopause. So do whatever you need to do to remind yourself of this and to love your sweaty, dry-skinned, facial-haired, red-faced, graying, frustrated self of this. And share.
Tell me, what’s your menopause story?
This is my story. I identify as a woman and it is written from my perspective and personal experience. It is important to note that, contrary to so much of what we hear and understand, women do not own the menopausal experience. Others who have ovaries but do not identify as a woman must be included in the conversation. If not this one, then another of their own choice. I invite and encourage all to participate in this one.