Since all of you are at least teenagers now, I have already explained to you that blaming hormones for your behavior is just an excuse. Everyone has feelings or gets tired or has pain, and everyone has choices about how to let that affect how they treat others. How you act toward others when you don’t feel good is where the proverbial rubber hits the road and exposes a person’s true character. It is easy to be nice when everything is going well. It is important to be aware of feelings, but just don’t let them sit on some mystical throne decreeing dictatorially “off with their heads.” Someone will get hurt.
The time in a woman’s life that is commonly referred to as menopause is also surrounded by the mythology of hormones. Jokes abound about women acting crazy and dangerous. The propaganda portrays women during this part of their lives as being anywhere from “empowered” to “pathetic.” It seems like there is a lot of discussion going on about it, but really individuals can have a hard time learning anything substantial. It is personal, but the information about it is mostly cataloged by professionals who have no experience with it. They write about it to get papers published. Others want to sell you “remedies,” treating it like a disease state.
The word “menopause” is a relatively new on the scene, apparently designed by a doctor for the medical profession around 1812. From Greek men, which means month, and pausis, which has the stronger meaning of “cessation” (as compared to our word “pause” which has a connotation of being more temporary), you now have a medical condition that needs professional help. I’m guessing it was viewed as a normal part of aging before that.
From reading about it, you might be led to think that everyone suffers horribly and you really should see a doctor if you want to survive. I had the benefit of reading a short little book about it (that I can’t find now) when I was needing some continuing education for my nursing. This book made a good case for 80% of women transitioning through their “change” with no significant upheaval. The other 20% were not necessarily those who needed help, but those who chose to seek out more intervention. A very small number of women had absolute need of medical help, and even then their issues could not be directly attributed to the usual course of this phenomena of aging.
The problem often is that something is viewed as a problem. Diagnosing “menopause” is akin to saying that being pregnant is unnatural. Okay, they try to say that, too. The sad fact is that there is hardly a normal variation of human existence that hasn’t been classified as a disease state, medically or mentally. But that doesn’t make it so. Much of it is marketing and playing on people’s fears or misunderstanding. They think they are getting expert advice, when what they are really getting is a sales pitch. Somebody is paying for those free lunches to sell the products.
It is true there are common features of this time of life for women. However, it can be very hard to determine 1) what is from general aging, 2) what is from a particular approach to aging, and 3) what is just happening all the time but now it is attributed to hormones. Do women lose bone mass because of menopause or because they stop moving and doing as much physical work? Are they gaining weight because of menopause or due to a more sedentary lifestyle? Is there trouble sleeping because of hormones or is it general aches and pains?
The one given is that the hormonal cycle is changing. That particular system has served its purpose in the time allowed. Someone set the clock and it is entering the next time period. The change is not usually an abrupt now-you-have-it-now-you-don’t affair. Hence, the additional medical term peri-menopause, or the time leading up to the complete change. It takes a few unpredictable years. And you really need to go with the flow (excuse the pun). Hormones do affect things like appetite and weight gain, but hormones are not the only things affecting you and they don’t need to be the driving force. Here is a summary of
symptoms what may occur:
Erratic menstrual cycles – Not only can they happen more often, but any regularity may be a thing of the past. You just need to always be ready. Carrying around one of these menstrual cups can help with that.
Heavy or unusual flow – Anything from dramatic flooding, to clotting, to off and on again. (more on an embarrassing situation of my own later)
Cramping – Before, after, during. This combined with erratically timed cycles can mean a fair amount of cramping, but not usually of incapacitating degree.
Hot flashes – We are talking sudden core heating like there is some sort of inner combustion chamber that has been activated. Fortunately, this usually happened at night for me so all options for coping were socially acceptable.
Sleep issues – While the physical sensations accompanying a regular hormone cycle can interrupt sleep, I have found my biggest indicator of “something beginning to fluctuate” is that I get incredibly sleepy, like fall asleep at the drop of a hat in the middle of the day sleepy. I have never had any trouble with apnea or insomnia regularly in my life. However, I have had nights that I don’t sleep well. There are more of those nights that are not associated with hormonal issues than are. So, in a sense, I have dealt with both extremes of sleep being affected by hormones, but from other things, too. (I will mention some reasons that I don’t think I have too much trouble overall with this)
Weight gain – Most women that I know get hungry at certain times of their cycle. It’s sort of like pre-potential pregnancy state for the body. There seems to be something similar going on with peri-menopause. Kind of like a last hurrah, hurry-up-an-eat-this-might-be-your-last-chance-to-have-a-baby appetite. This can be wearing mentally and emotionally. That is, it can feel like you are constantly starving yourself. But the next item can help balance it out.
Lack of appetite – Yep. I have some days where I am extremely hungry, but nothing sounds good. If I try to eat, I can feel something like morning sickness, but not nearly as intense. Just a subtle nausea. It may just be my particular predisposition to feel things in my stomach. At least water always sounds good.
Headaches – I never had headaches to speak of before entering the perimenopausal phase. Now, periodically, it feels like aliens have implanted an electronic pulse device in my temples. I haven’t figured out exactly what they are trying to tell me yet or why they set it off when they do … but the sharp, pulsing sensations demand attention without being long lasting or throbbing like a a sick headache. And they don’t go on more than a few minutes. If anyone knows the code, please let me know.
Listing all the things about this time of life, that might need to be managed, can make it sound worse than it is. It’s like reading a list of all the discomforts and problems associated with anything. How you view the list depends on how you view the outcome. Do you like to run? Then such a list is simply educational and helps to navigate or avoid trouble. Do you want to learn to drive? Then all the challenges of the road are worth it. You may not want to age, exactly, but you may be able to look forward to a different time of life, without the same monthly inconveniences. Either way, it makes no sense to stew about the inevitable. Make the best of it and don’t dwell on the discomforts unnecessarily.
So, I have mentioned that these changes are all signs of a gradual change going on in a woman’s body. Sometimes the experience of the moment is dramatic and there is no way to be ready for it. For instance. my first time with erratic flow was while on a transatlantic flight back from Africa. Try to be prepared for that! I fell asleep in my seat, only to wake up 3 hours later in a red lake. I mean a lake. Not many moments in my life have been more embarrassing than that. I wrapped a sweat shirt around me and made it to a restroom and was horrified at what a mess I was in. I had no idea what was going on or if it was normal. After all, I had just spent 3 weeks in Africa coming into contact with who knows what. After sitting there in the airplane lavatory for a few minutes, I finally rang the stewardess and hoped a woman answered. She seemed to think I might actually be bleeding to death, but what can be done over the Atlantic? She got me a pair of first class jammies that I wore through all the subsequent airports.
Regarding weight gain, I put on about 20 pounds before I realized something had to change. I formed a double strategy of calorie counting using myfitnesspal.com and signing up for running races and a sprint triathlon. When you sign up for a triathlon, you want to train for one, so I was getting a lot of exercise. This not only helped me lose weight, but made me feel and look better. At least my husband and friends said I looked better. If they are lying, they are good liars and I don’t really care. I’ll take all the positive encouragement I can get.
All of the exercise made me sleep better. I needed a bit more sleep. I found that if I maintained a fairly regular sleeping schedule, that helped me, too.
I mostly don’t sit around and think “Woe is me! I am suffering from peri-menopause.” Shudder and weep. I think,“This is how I feel and what is happening. How am I going to manage my day, my responsibilities and my opportunities?” Sitting around feeling bad only leads to feeling bad. Just in case I’m not around when you get to this part of your life, I wanted you to know about it. It is normal. It is just one of the many things to figure out how to deal with in life. Be happy and enjoy the journey.