FLASH! (Not a news flash… Hot flash.)

Menopause. Perimenopause. ‘The change.’

Call it whatever you want, it’s the end to a woman’s reproductive years. And it’s a years-long process of the ovaries shutting down hormone production.

And some strange shit starts happening to your body.

You suffer in silence for a while because you aren’t really sure what’s going on and nothing is overtly or consistently alarming. A couple of sleepless nights, gaining weight in strange places – like, oh … say your arm pits and brief hot flashes.

Suddenly you blurt out to a friend (sorry Pat!) that you’re leaving sweaty ass-prints on chairs because of hot flashes that are NOT the flu and you can’t sleep and you feel like maybe you’re losing your mind. She has the good graces to softly laugh with you, hug you and welcome you to menopause. She assures you it’s normal and that it will go away some day…

You’re dumb-struck because that never occurred to you…

When I started reaching out for support and solutions, other women came out of the woodwork, as strong tribes of women often do, to share their stories of entering and thriving in perimenopause (literally; surrounding menopause) and menopause. They talk about how they manage moodiness, insomnia, weight gain, hot flashes … oh the hot flashes. They commiserate, share things that work, things not to waste your money or time on and tell you their hacks for surviving work-week hot flashes. They laugh with you as you suddenly throw off your coat and go stand outside in the snow, sweating. I’m grateful for being welcomed into this sisterhood with candor and humor and patience.

Emotions about the change can be all over the place as each woman grapples with what this changes means for her life. And for the record; that’s on top of the emotions or exacerbated by the out of whack emotions related to menopause. Some rejoice at not having periods. Some struggle with the idea that this marks ‘old age’. Some feel off-kilter because they spent decades getting used to a rhythm with their periods and now it’s luck-o-the-draw and ‘surprise!’ when periods change or stop showing up or show up for months on end and won’t go away… Every women I’ve talked to has a different array of emotions – but they absolutely have some sort of emotions around this change in their life. We have a visible, tangible ‘shift’ to a new phase of life happening within our bodies. Honestly, it’s hard not to have some emotions around it.

Here’s the list of fun (normal) stuff we get to contend with as our body starts a phenomenal hormonal shift with estrogen in decline … some women get hit by all of this and more, some only experience one or two symptoms.

  • Irregular periods
  • Hot flashes, night sweats
  • Vaginal dryness, change in sex drive
  • Sleep disturbances, insomnia
  • Mood swings, depression, anxiety

{Click here for some good information and resources.}

The average age for entering into menopause is 50 years old. And you can have symptoms for years before, during and after. You’re considered in menopause when you’ve gone a full year without having a period. But even then; these are just rough guidelines according to my doc who said ‘each woman is very different’. The one thing we all seem to have in common is that it seems to arrive in big-ass hurry one day and then it’s not in any hurry to move along.

So me personally? My body is physically adjusting to the decline in estrogen by going on a sleep-strike.

My worst symptom by far is insomnia.

Yeah, I’m having the typical hot flashes. They arrived in January. First I thought I was battling the flu or a whacky thermostat at work or I’d over done the cross-training by shoveling snow for three days straight. Nope. Just good ol’ fashioned hot flashes. They’re annoying and wake me up at night drenched in sweat with my covers kicked clear across the room. As some one who works out regularly – the feeling of a hot flash is uncomfortable with my face and torso suddenly becoming hot, sweaty, flush – but the feeling of being a sweaty mess all the time? I’m used to that. 🙂

For me, the sleeplessness is the worst. Not being able to go to sleep or stay asleep is a new kind of torture for me. I have bragged in the past (karma anyone?) that sleeping was my super power. I could sleep anytime, anywhere … Slept through a fire alarm at a hotel. Can sleep on planes. I typically get into bed and don’t even have time to read a chapter – I’m out like a light.

Insomnia reached a critical point this past week for me. With 20+ days of three hours or so of sleep each night. I had tried every remedy thrown my direction. Nothing, not even Benadryl which usually knocks me out flat, worked. Most of that sleep was in 40-50 minute blocks. I was losing my mind, crying, frustrated, anxious, hungry, exhausted, disoriented. I was absolutely falling apart.

The tipping point that forced me to call my doc? Got to Master’s swim class, swam 50 meters crying IN my googles the entire time. Gave up. Got out of the pool, crying, and went back to work to tell them I was sending myself home sick. I cried from 11:45 am until about 7 PM that evening for no reasons other than I was utterly exhausted. When I called my doc with my request for help in finding sleep and my suspicion that I was entering menopause; she got me in within a week. Her words were ‘you don’t have to suffer, we can treat the symptoms.’ We parsed out all the options, especially given my background with type 2 diabetes (remember insulin is a hormone…) and I chose to start Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT). I started with an estrogen patch and progesterone pills on Monday and slept for 5 hours that night. It was heaven. And the sleep seems to be getting a tiny bit better with each passing day.

I’m glad I made the choice I did. I’m starting to feel human again. And I haven’t cried in a week. 🙂

We don’t seem to typically talk about menopause. Or I wasn’t paying attention until I urgently needed the information. I’ll concede that might be the case. My mom is gone – so I can’t ask her any of the burning questions about what it might be like for the genetic women in my family, but I also know that my family didn’t always openly talk about periods or ‘private’ stuff. I remember trying to tell my granny Dolly that I’d gotten my period when I was a teenager and she made a grimace and shushed me … and I never mentioned it again. So there’s that. That might be why I felt blind-sided and ill-prepared and then scrambled to get answers about what in the hell was happening…

Most of the women I have talked in the past few weeks mention suffering through the process ‘because what else are you going to do’ and suffering alone just waiting for the symptoms to go away ‘because no one I know talks about menopause’.

And I just don’t think we should be alone in this common life-shift that all women are going to experience. I don’t want to be alone. Do you?

I think that most of us would welcome the company and support during this time of big changes. Even if all we can do is laugh with each other about how ridiculous it all seems as we suddenly combust into a sweaty mess. If you have any good advice or stories or questions — hit me up. I might even be able to get back to you at 2AM when I’m wide-awake… 🙂

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