The last two months have been difficult to say the least. For most women, the average age for menopause is 51, but for some women it can come earlier for various reasons. Those of us who experience this change earlier in life (in my experience) often don’t feel we have as many emotional resources as those who typically go through the change later in life, because women like us don’t feel comfortable talking about it. It really upsets me to think about other women out there like me, suffering in silence, wondering where to go, who to talk to, and what options are available to them. I have felt more lost in the last four months than I’ve felt in years. There is nothing worse than feeling you have absolutely no control over your own body, your own mind, your own emotions, and in any moment something catastrophic could happen to you. It’s like walking through life waiting for an anvil to fall onto your head.
I have chronic health issues. Most of my day-to-day life and my family’s lives are planned around what my body decides to do. Many people with chronic health issues and chronic pain will understand; you make tentative plans and hope your body cooperates. The hormone changes caused by early onset of menopause has thrown my entire system into a tailspin. The insomnia causes the fatigue, which flares the other symptoms.
Unable to take traditional hormones, I sought help from a reputable GYN who works primarily with women on hormonal issues. Traditional hormones trigger migraines for me. My father suffered a massive stroke years ago, and spent the remainder of his life fighting the effects it had on his body. Hormones increase the chances of having a stroke, which is my worst nightmare, so they are off the table. The doctor understood and seemed to listen intently. Comprehending my hesitation to adding too many more medications to my already long list, she wanted to start with something small to help with the hot flashes, which would incidentally help me sleep at night. The dosage she started me on was minimal to be increased after two weeks, and I saw her again after those two weeks at which she increased the dosage again.
My menopausal mood-swings soon changed from up, down, crazy, zig-zag, to down a deep dark hole. Things took an unexpected turn for the worse. I felt unlike myself. In spite of everything, I’m normally a pretty optimistic person. I try to smile, even on days when pain hijacks my body, I smile through gritted teeth. In spite of everything, it could ALWAYS be worse. This was no longer the case. Days slipped by without my fingers touching my laptop or my camera, and I did not care. My husband peered around the corner at me as I watched one of my favorite shows one evening, The Big Bang Theory, his eyebrows knitted together with worry. “Trish, are you okay?”
As soon as I noticed the look on his face, I glanced back at the television and realized what I was watching. I didn’t even crack a smile. I tried to think about something joyful. My family would probably be better off if I just disappeared. Sometimes I just wish all of this pain would go away. Whatever you start doing is not going to work anyway, so you might as well give up now. No one is going to want a washed up middle-aged woman anyway. You might as well just stop writing, no one is reading it anyway.
These were some of the thoughts circling my mind during this period. Later in the week, I noticed some other strange changes. I forgot more than normal, which I just attributed to menopause. My limbs were heavy, my stomach upset and cramping, my muscles and joints hurt more than usual, but I shrugged it off as a possible virus or my autoimmune condition flaring up.
My youngest daughter had a her belated 13th birthday party that weekend. I put on my big-girl panties, slapped a smile on my face, and threw my baby a party. Sunday night, I took another dose of the increase. I had sudden pressure in my chest, my heart rate became slow and irregular (I have a medical background, and my husband was once a volunteer firefighter). My husband took my blood pressure and sent my youngest out of the room. For a few minutes, the room swirled and I thought I was going to pass out. I can’t scare the kids, was all I could think about. My blood pressure and heart rate were low, but they evened back out, and the chest pressure subsided. Yes, I am well aware of how silly it sounds to not want to go to the hospital, but I am a stubborn woman who once worked in an ER. 95% certain this was a drug reaction to the increase at this point, I told my husband I would decrease the medication and contact the doctor the next day. The next 72 hours were even more nightmarish. The medication effects your central nervous system, and stepping down caused horrible withdrawal symptoms. The nerves all over my body became overly sensitive, feeling like electric zaps all over.
Not long after the increased dose began to work itself out of my system, my mental faculties returned to normal within a day or so my mood felt better. I felt like coming out of a foggy, dense, dark forest. I realized quickly most of my mental symptoms were from the medication. The rest of the effects took over a week to subside. Not all of the depression symptoms went away, which I discussed with my doctor, and we had a back-up plan in place (an anti-depressant prescription on hold).
Some nights when I showered, I sobbed, hoping the water muffled my cries. I didn’t want my husband and daughters to hear me. We had so many other outside “things” going on, and it was just too much. The weight of it all was suffocating. In the midst of everything, I felt like my body and mind were not always under my control. Between the medication and the hormones, I no longer felt like me. I finally went to my husband and told him I was overwhelmed and the stress was crushing me. Tears spilled down my cheeks. He took me in his arms and promised everything would be okay. My husband took over everything for the next couple of days. He took care of me, giving me permission to just BE for a while. This time made me realize I needed to make a few changes to have less stress in my life.
The bottom line was, I took back some control, and I asked for help. I started listening to more audiobooks on Audible and have devoured three in the last month! The voices soothe my anxiety if I’m having a bad day and give me something else to focus on. In addition to therapy, I am also in physical therapy for an injury in December and making the time for exercise is also helpful. I am making more time for the things I love to do and sometimes we have to let other things slide.
I think with any big life change expected or unexpected, there is always a period of adjustment when we will be uncomfortable, and in some cases terrified. Nothing lasts forever. This is a stage and it will pass. I know some fabulous, beautiful, fierce post-menopausal women. If you are going through this, remember to breathe, and you are not alone.
“Age has given me what I was looking for my entire life–it gave me me. It provided the time and experience and failures and triumphs and friends who helped me step into the shape that had been waiting for me all my life.” –Anne Lamott, writer