Keep Quiet About Menopause!
Keep quiet about menopause! Though the message seems pretty loud to women in The Transition, we answer with the requested silence, presuming the world doesn’t want to hear about our unpredictable periods, low-grade homicidal tendencies, loss of libido and sleep, creaky bones and The Wattle. It’s not polite dinner conversation.
The symptoms of menopause (hot flashes, night sweats, disrupted sleep, irritability, irregular menstrual periods, depression, and many others) are both predictable and unpredictable. Predictably, when the ovaries “realize” that the body is no longer at the optimal baby-making age, they begin to shut down the reproductive process. They stop making estrogen, which is one of the hormones driving ovulation and your menstrual cycle. Unpredictability comes in when those ovaries can’t just quit; they’re like your parents, who swear they’re retiring but can’t seem to do without a few years of at-will semi-employment. Similarly, our estrogen levels rise and fall, haphazardly. Thus the waxing and waning symptoms—days when you feel okay, others when you’re a Law & Order episode waiting to happen.
Come on, girls, menopause is not a disease!! It’s time to stop medicalizing a normal transition. It’s a biological and cultural rite of passage. Women are living longer than ever, often twenty to thirty years after menopause is complete. Our longer life expectancy leaves us with plenty of time to enjoy our years post-menopause and to actually look forward to and embrace the change! Your body is no longer tied to reproduction. You and your desires define your sexuality, not your body and its desire to get pregnant, nor the desires of others who want to help you out with that.
The typical Western medical approach to menopause is to medicate the hell out of it instead of working with the imbalances that mark the transition. What can we do about the unpleasant aspects? Manage them. Know they’re temporary. Some suggestions that have worked for me and for my patients:
- Talk to your friends and family about what’s going on. They may not get it, but they will try harder not to piss you off
- Understand that the mood swings are probably due to your hormones, not necessarily your partner or boss. Help your relationship by articulating what’s going on with you and let the person know it’s not their fault (and neither is it yours)
- Caffeine can make you anxious and worsens sleep. Have a cup if you need it, but cut yourself off after 10 a.m. or so.
- Drinking alcohol aggravates hot flashes, moodiness and poor sleep. Sorry, it just does. So either cut down or cut it out of your routine
- Change your work schedule, if possible: start later and work later, so you can sleep in if you’ve had have a bad night
- Cry. You’re probably already doing this, but now do it without guilt
- Try to feel grateful. Instead of cursing the Divine for bringing menopause upon you, appreciate having made it to this point, when you can drop the plow and enjoy the fruits of your labors.
- From a Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) perspective, menopause is a time of yin deficiency heat, which leads to heat-related symptoms, both obvious and subtle ones. TCM herbs and acupuncture, given in highly specific formulae, are very helpful.
- Try yoga, meditation or some other quiet and disciplined pursuit. Training your mind to not react to your hormones is incredibly effective
- Find women in their 60s and older who inspire you. Ask them about their newfound confidence, the decrease in drama, the adventure that suddenly seems to return to life. Ask them about how much more they appreciate every day for what it brings.
Society stigmatizes menopause, treats the symptoms as something to ignore or suppress. Reclaim it! Be proud of being a woman who has earned a break from the endless reproductive cycle, that hormonally-charged rollercoaster. Hot flashes are manageable and an okay trade-off for PMS. PMS moodiness is due to the same dips in estrogen you experience during menopause, so try to see your new frequent irritability as an familiar and manageable foe. Don’t punish your body with caffeine, alcohol and overwork, if possible. Get active, reconnect with the self you lost before your life was taken over by your 20s and 30s. Don’t see menopause as a disease; your body’s doing something very right. You’ll come out of this cocoon, you will! And a new life awaits.