For me, the word menopause stands alone. Some folks shrug cause it doesn’t apply to them. Some folks shrug cause it’s a long ways off. And then there’s the women (and perhaps their partners) for whom that word strikes fear, confusion, frustration, humor and a host of other emotions. They’re likely reading this wondering if anyone could possibly be suffering like they are… (I’m here for you!)
Trust me when I tell you that I struggled typing out the title cause I wanted to add super creative expletives that might get me banned, defining phrases to be crystal clear how I felt in case anyone was in doubt and I most certainly deleted the word ‘sucks’ like 100 times.
Menopause for me sucked. Actually – present tense – it still actively sucks. Just being honest.
Every woman has a different experience. There are yet again as many experts on what you should do to ‘tame’ the symptoms, ‘survive’ menopause or ‘accept’ this phase in life as there are women experiencing it. And there there is a host of predatory BS from ‘experts’ aimed to shame us into an exercise/food/supplement/skin-care programs, remind us to embrace specific mind-sets or even more semi-dangerous supplement/medical shams packaged as silver bullets. We might also have friends/partners trying to support us with information they’ve gathered that may/may not be helpful.
With as many women statistically experiencing peri/menopause currently it sure as hell has felt lonely, in part because the individual experience is really, truly, so very different for each woman.
You google menopause and as you start to type in ‘symptoms’ — the other autofill search suggestions mixed in among the ones you would expect to see are downright alarming… Psychosis, schizophrenia, suicide ALONG with all the normal ones relating to weight gain, depression, fatigue, balding, mood swings/changes, hot flashes, bloating, lost sex drive, insomnia, vaginal atrophy, irregular periods.
Fun stuff. (And with no sarcasm font available — just to be clear — this is NOT FUN STUFF.)
That extensive list became a gruesome ‘choose your own adventure’ representation of my journey with menopause.
I’ve said to friends at various times that menopause was trying to kill me. I wasn’t always joking. In fact a few times it was a plea for help. I didn’t want to hate life or my body – but damn… Menopause is hands-down the hardest thing I have ever done.
To make sure we’re all on the same page…
‘Menopause is the time that marks the end of your menstrual cycles. It’s diagnosed after you’ve gone 12 months without a menstrual period. Menopause can happen in your 40s or 50s, but the average age is 51 in the United States.’ – Mayo Clinic (There is a genetic link that might determine when you begin this whole process as well as the absence/presence of VSM (Vasomotor Symptoms) — night sweats, hot flashes…)
Perimenopause is the time (1 – 10 years) leading up to menopause and some super sketchy crap happens in that time frame too. To keep things entertaining; they’re often only mildly understandable symptoms and issues. Docs often misdiagnose things or you get the ‘you are getting older’ line (said with a sympathetic head tilt) when they can’t pinpoint a cause. It can be a super frustrating and bewildering time for your personal health that often becomes clear ONLY in hindsight. Down the road you look back and can more clearly pinpoint the moment when perimenopause was starting to sink her claws into your world. But in the moment-to-moment? You’re just hopping around trying to solve random issues as they crop up with a solid side of self-admonishment that you can’t just ‘power through’ or ‘be positive”: can’t sleep, gaining weight, random aches and pains, depression, no motivation to do anything… The image in your head should be somewhat like the old game ‘whack-a-mole‘. For me, that’s a pretty accurate explanation when someone asks what’s going on…
ALL of this from peri-to-post menopause takes YEARS. Yeah… I naively thought menopause was supposed to be ‘stop having a period , you might have a hot flash or two and welcome to menopause! Burn your bra, don’t worry about having a filter on your mouth and start wearing purple.’ I was beyond wrong. So wrong. We live 1/3 of our lives as menopause/post-menopausal.
‘Do not complain about growing older. It is a privilege denied to many.’ — Mark Twain
I do get it. I get that we’re in an age where we are living longer. Also; we’re in an age where women talk way more OPENLY about stuff that has generational ties. My grandma’s generation would have likely fallen out of their rocking chairs before talking publicly or openly about ‘lady things’. My mom passed in 2010; long before this crappola was even on my radar; and I never got to talk to her about any of this… A lot of my friends are younger and/or were NOT talking about this BS episode of life…
So I am aging, and I am aging at a time where we are talking more openly about our shared life experiences. That’s all good stuff. And damn it — I WILL be there for my younger friends who are entering this stage of their life.
I felt totally blindsided by the symptoms and severity of menopause. (I don’t want to address it in this specific blog; I do feel I need to say that not all doctors are equally capable of helping women with peri/menopause issues. Assuming you have access to health care, you better be ready to advocate aggressively for your own health and come in armed with some good information, ideas and questions.)
I thought long and hard about sharing all of this about my personal experiences – then started writing cause I would have DEEPLY appreciated hearing about this BEFORE I was living it. I also have to say I am in NO way ‘on the other side’. And let’s face it – I haven’t handled all of this well. It’s been hard. I don’t have answers or advice. I have lots of solidarity and empathy. And a willingness to talk openly about this phase of life with anyone who wants to talk.
Here’s what the last 4 years or so have been like…
I felt many times like I was losing my mind; brain fog, irritability, anxiety attacks, irrational fears, depression, wild mood swings.
I contemplated self-harm. I’m very purposefully leaving the details out. I was grateful to have a great therapist. If this is something you’re struggling with – reach out to me, your friends, your doctor. Please. Talk. You’re not alone – I and many others don’t realize that THIS CAN HAPPEN IN MENOPAUSE.
I had severe insomnia; months and months of 2-3 hours of sleep. I have always had great sleep hygiene, have never struggled with sleep. Insomnia drove me to the doctor — I was begging her for sleep meds and she was the first to tell me she suspected menopause. It is better – but even now sleep is hit or miss. I pretty routinely wake nightly for several hours from 11 pm – 3 am and have to try to convince myself to go back to sleep. I know sleep is important; but what I, and every other menopausal women I talk with struggles with is, actually how to sleep. I do aim to get 7:30 hours of sleep and get creative and wildly protective about getting that sleep.
Bone-deep exhaustion and general fatigue. It shows up in barely being able to do the basics for the day without napping in your car or desperately hoping plans after work get cancelled. And it’s frustrating when you know that you recently could easily run a 5K and suddenly a flight of stairs has you wanting to stop and nap and you have no energy for anything else in the day. Or even the next day. And you guessed it – this wreaked havoc on my fitness and training. I used to run happily, six days a week. In the past 3 years specifically, there were weeks I was lucky to get out the door for a miserable shuffle two days a week. And that of course spirals out to other critical areas of our physical and mental health.
Menopause forces women’s bodies into heightened insulin sensitivity or in my case resistance; I am already metabolically deranged…. So yeah, my type 2 diabetes management is a new-again full-blown nightmare. What used to work; no longer works. Super fun stuff. We tried Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT) and it either wouldn’t work or we never got it right. I could possibly be deep enough into menopause that doing nothing is in fact the best strategy at this point. My doc and I will discuss in early 2023 to assess next steps.
Unexplained weight gain while doing all the same physical activity and eating the same way that helped me maintain my weight for 8+ years. POOF; overnight I was gaining weight like a freaking air fern – and NOTHING I did would slow it down. As someone who lost 200 pounds, reversed type 2 diabetes, had excess skin removed, remains in therapy for an eating disorder and daily has to remind myself to LOVE the body I have… I don’t have the words to fully articulate how difficult and devastating this specific issue has been.
Hot flashes. Night sweats. Leaving buttprints on canvas chairs. Feeling like my skin was going to spontaneously combust and standing outside in literal freezing weather in shorts and t-shirt trying to get relief. Having to change PJ’s and sheets in the middle of the night because I can literally wring sweat out of the material. The jokes are legit. Hot flashes are brutal.
Aches and pains; super creaky after activities that shouldn’t leave me creaking or achey, tested for arthritis, wondering endlessly if I had the flu. Lots of ‘is this an injury’ moments — and then plenty of random injuries springing up just to keep you on your toes.
And the soul-breaker for me… NO mojo. None. Deep and persistent apathy about all things; my health, friendships, getting through life. I kept showing up and signing up and trying to live life. I knew that you can in fact fake it until you make it… But DAMN…. Waking up and just spending the day hoping you can get home and stop having to interact or be responsible or care… That is NOT ME. Not how I want to live life; but that’s been a sad reality for several years. This is not my body or mind at their best. This does seems to be getting better – much better – in the past few months. And I’m hopeful this new ‘light’ in my heart and step is around to stay.
If you hung in this far… thank you. Thank you for reading. I appreciate you. If you read this far I am guessing you are possibly peri/menopause and reading trying to figure out what bus ran you over or what is happening to your body/mind/world…. And I am HERE FOR IT. You are not alone. Message me, email me or call me. I’ll happily fan you while you have a hot flash and listen to you tell me about your journey.
I am including some resources I’ve found:
For a great read for women who are ultra runners and want to stay active, Menopause 200 by the wonderful Dr. Kamm Prongay or Aging in the Offseason by Meghan Canfield. Both great reads from Ultrarunning Magazine.
Great podcast on ALL kinds of related topics? Hit Play, Not Pause ( Note: This community does has a robust companion FaceBook page which is a good and supportive community; but please be careful. LOTS of women who suggest they ALL have the answers; if you’re looking for medical advice or guidance talk to your health care team. If you’re looking for community and can manage women pushing their own version of ‘this saved my life’, ‘ This is the silver bullet’ or moralizing about food/supplements — go for it! Just be very aware.)
Good reads? Roar or Next Level both by Dr. Stacey Simms.
I personally enjoyed Menipause Manifesto by Dr. Jen Gunter for in-depth explanations about the physiology of what in the hell was happening in my world.