One Woman's Menopause Journey
Six Things I Wish I Knew Before it was Too Late
Menopause is a journey we take, whether we want to go or not.
I must have spoken to a thousand women, and none can remember exactly when it started.
Was it when you had less energy, or when you noticed your body was different?
Was it when you lost your temper, or when you began to fall asleep during the day because the nights are not restful?
The truth is that by the time we notice these things, we’re already on the Menopause bus. Our hormones and physiology do not change overnight, nor with the first missed menses. The change creeps in slowly until one day we are hot, exhausted and pissed off.
My Menopause Story
My own experience with menopause was the greatest health crisis of my life – and that’s no exaggeration. But then I talk to a thousand more women who sailed through it and look at me with disbelief, like what I experienced could not possibly be true.
Those of us who suffer greatly may not have support because others can’t understand why we’re having difficulty. I can’t tell you how many times I heard, “Just relax, it’s natural.”
It’s time for all of us to be transparent and real so older women will feel heard, and younger women will be prepared when their time comes.
What Menopause Looked Like for Me
My journey undoubtedly started in my teens when I was an avid runner. This left me with too little body fat to retain estrogen. Next, I had cervical cancer which was treated successfully with chemotherapy drugs. These two events probably created an estrogen deficit in my body.
Here is my journey, in brief:
- At 28, I no longer produced enough hormones for my cycle and needed monthly shots.
- At 36, I tried for a third but could not get pregnant again with my husband.
- At 39, I had a 20% curve in my spine due to osteoporosis.
- At 39, my eyes were dry, and a doctor inserted tear duct plugs.
- Other things were dry and my gynecologist lectured me on the importance of cotton panties, but what I really needed was estrogen.
- At 40, I was plagued by migraines and underwent MRIs.
- At 42, my period was erratic and would last for two weeks. I became anemic and weak.
- I suffered anxiety and panic attacks and went on antidepressants and Xanax.
- I had sudden, unexplained weight gain.
- Insomnia meant I could barely function during the day to take care of my children.
- At 45, I broke five bones in one year. Loss of estrogen had left my bones brittle.
At no point was I checked for menopause because doctors thought it could not happen before 50. Instead, I was told: Get more rest. It’s normal.
Six Things You Can Do Now, to Prepare for Later
Menopause is an opportunity to make a change. It’s a time to put our needs first. Women traditionally have done all the things for everyone else – earn a living, keep a home, raise the children and take care of an aging adult. In the midst of all that, we tell ourselves that how we feel can wait until we have more time.
It cannot wait. Do this now.
1. Listen to your body. Notice if you feel “off.” Notice changes in weight, energy, attitude and overall health. Record various symptoms in a diary and consider they could be linked.
2. Be compassionate. Your experience will not be like anyone else’s. If your mother or your best friend sailed through, it does not mean you will. And vice versa. Support other women, and they will support you.
3. Be present. Do not ignore a yeast infection or that you’ve needed a nap lately. These are symptoms, not just annoyances.
4. Notice unusual weight gain. This is common. Our metabolism slows down, muscle mass diminishes, and poor sleep affects our energy. You may need to go to bed earlier, add resistance work, and pay attention to food. Menopause often triggers a sweet tooth.
5. Advocate for yourself. If you suspect that your hormones are decreasing, demand a blood test. Record the results year to year. Ask for a bone density test. These tests do not become standard until our fifties, when symptoms may begin in our thirties and forties.
6. Seek a second opinion, and a third and fourth. There are many paths to wellness.
My experience has led me to a place where I now assert myself with doctors and healers. Life is too precious to waste in unnecessary illness. Believe that you are worthy of your undivided love and attention, and you will reap the benefits of better health and happiness for years to come.
Michelle Marchildon is the Yogi Muse. She is an award-winning writer and the author of four books on yoga. She lives in Denver, Colorado where she still has the occasional hot flash.