What is happening to me?
As I moved into my late 40s, I was aware that my hormones were changing, but I had no idea what physical symptoms to expect or how they would affect me. Mother Nature decided to have some fun at my expense. She tormented me with more periods as I continued climbing up the perimenopausal mountain, sometimes with two in one month.
It was as though I was playing a game of Candy Land, getting closer to the castle of menopause, only to draw the gingerbread card that forced me to start from the beginning again.
When I complained to my gynecologist, he reassured me there was no cause for alarm and nothing to worry about. Little did he know.
I wasn’t worried, but I was pretty darn irritated about it. He informed me that they usually become more frequent, then less so, until they eventually stop altogether. Once I reach 12 consecutive months without a menstrual cycle, I would be considered postmenopausal.
I left his office feeling completely violated. I mean, what the hell? More periods, seriously?
It’s about to get crazy up in here.
The following year, my predictable cycle became as erratic as a New York taxi driver. Then, one day, I realized it had been two months. Did the moment I’d been yearning for practically my entire life finally arrive? I went out for a walk, and without warning, a tiny wave of grief swept through me.
I was officially entering the second stage of my life — moving closer to Medicare, retirement, and AARP. For me, it represented my mortality where having “my whole life ahead of me” no longer applied. I now had the rest of whatever remained, as a considerable portion of that ‘whole’ was behind me, much like the trail of dust kicked up by an old pickup truck on a gravel road.
By the time I finished my walk, the brief mourning of my menstrual cycle ended. I returned to feeling liberated because it didn’t mean I was done living. In many ways, it meant the opposite. I was currently experiencing some of the most satisfying sex that I had in decades and felt more alive than when I was in my 30s or 40s.
I started writing again. I left a job last year that mentally and physically depleted me for over a decade. Even with numerous twists and turns this past year, I feel a sense of emotional freedom I haven’t experienced in quite some time.
It‘s not just a physical thing.
Unfortunately, some women find themselves severely depressed throughout this transition or battling other mental health issues from all the hormonal changes. Those with a history of depression are five times more likely to find themselves fighting it during menopause.¹
Hot flashes, night sweats, and irregular periods are often linked as the most common symptoms women experience during “the change,” as previous generations so ineloquently described it. However, for numerous women, the most significant concern during this transitional time isn’t physical but revolves around their mental well-being.²
I have yet to experience hot flashes or night sweats, but navigating my moods during perimenopause felt like a wild ride on the tilt-a-whirl with screeching stops and starts I couldn’t control. Unfortunately, even the physical symptoms women experience may not be ones they automatically associate with menopause.
Unexpected Change and Loss
Years ago, I noticed I no longer needed to shave my legs. I never had tremendous growth anyway, but enough to warrant a quick swipe of the razor every other day during the summer months. I assumed the decrease resulted from wearing tight leggings in the winter since I dressed in skirts year-round but lived in a frigid winter climate.
I didn’t think much about it until recently. Sporting hair past my shoulders, I started noticing more strands in the drain and on the floor than usual. I began resembling the cafeteria workers I vividly remembered from high school with their hairnets, as I had to start tying mine up in ponytails while preparing meals.
No one, and I mean NO ONE, talks about how menopause may lead to more hair in your food.
One of the lesser discussed symptoms can be hair thinning or less growth on all parts of the body.³ Now, I loved not dealing with hairy legs, but finding gobs of my beautiful thick tresses falling out by the fist full created overwhelming sadness — another undeniable reminder of all that dust in my review mirror and the effects of aging.
After doing some reading, it became clear that some unexpected physical problems I encountered could be related to menopause. From the heightened sensitivity of my gums due to dryness in the mouth to the startling diagnosis of alarmingly high blood pressure, the correlations began to fit together like pieces of a menopausal puzzle.
While I’ll never know for sure, it’s quite plausible, considering the wide range of symptoms — some familiar to most of us and others more unknown.
Common and Not-So-Common Experiences
You will recognize the following more widely known effects:⁴
- Hot Flashes
- Night Sweats
- Mood Swings
- Irregular Menstrual Cycle
- Sleep Issues
- Vaginal Dryness
- Decreased Libido
- Weight Gain
- Memory Problems
But do you know about some of these lesser-discussed ones as well?⁴
- Sensations of Electric Shock
- Changes in Sense of Taste
- Panic Disorder
- Different Digestive Changes
- Occasional Dizziness
- Irregular Heartbeat
- Burning Sensation or Metallic Taste in the Mouth
- Tingling Hands and Feet
It’s important to recognize that if you’re experiencing any of these symptoms, seeking professional help from a therapist or doctor is essential to ensure that any serious underlying issues are properly addressed and managed.
My Therapeutic Path
Since my main challenges fell more into the emotional category, I journaled as the primary method of dealing with my feelings and mood swings. I wrote as therapy for years in my 20s and 30s. Life intervened in my 40s, so my 50s brought me full circle with writing again.
I tried anti-depressants in the past without success. I’ve been in traditional therapy a few times earlier in my life, which I found helpful. At this point, I didn’t feel the need to pursue either option and instead chose to channel my healing through the expressive power of the written word.
However, I would encourage anyone who feels depressed or anxious to seek help.
For more than 30 years, I looked forward to the end of my menstrual cycle. However, Mother Nature had a nasty sense of humor by giving me irregular periods and an unanticipated wave of grief just when I thought it was finally over. Despite the unexpected cruel twist, I made it to the other side, where the ‘rest of my life’ awaits me.
It’s not about the end of something but rather the beginning, where I never have to worry about that time of the month again. Pads are a thing of the past, as well as working my sex life around that irritating pleasure-killing intruder. So long, Aunt Flo — you are no longer welcome.
It’s time to change the focus, unlike my mother’s generation, where open discussion, especially about the emotional impact of menopause, was nonexistent. We should encourage honest conversations and support for all women going through this transition. It’s important to recognize you’re not alone and don’t have to deal with it on your own.
Bette A. Ludwig