By: Barbara Schwartz
C’mon, let’s talk about it. The Change. It has a scientific term: menopause.
No one really discusses it. The National Institutes for Health describes menopause as the time when the ovaries stop making estrogen and progesterone and lists all of the usual symptoms including hot flashes, night sweats, insomnia, vaginal dryness, mood swings, trouble focusing, and “hair loss on head, more on face” (Menopause, 2018). Your physician may prescribe hormone replacement therapy or holistic remedies for particularly bothersome symptoms. But we are rarely prepared for these symptoms and some can be terrifying until we realize we are not alone!
In the 1970s, there was much talk about spontaneous human combustion. This was apparently a science fiction phenomenon during which people simply disappeared in a high temperature puff of smoke and fire. They were describing a hot flash! For those of you who are unsure if you’ve ever had a hot flash, you have not! There’s no mistaking them. You may feel jittery just before one comes on. Your heart may race. And the heat will rise from your chest to the top of your head and down to your toes. You will turn red. You will sweat in odd places: I can feel the heat between my toes and my eyelids actually sweat! You will feel like someone stuffed you in the oven like a Thanksgiving turkey. You will strip naked if you can, or at least learn to dress in layers so you can get as naked as is appropriate. And in two minutes, you will be as cold as ice and wrapped in a blanket. People will ask you if you’re ok. I finally had to tell my boss I was having hot flashes because I turned so red he thought I was dying. After that, meetings were amusing. Said boss would occasionally announce, “Cornell’s having a hot flash!” We had that kind of silly relationship.
Night Sweats and No Sleep
Night Sweats: Your bedmate will think you’re out of your mind: blankets on, off, on, off, on, off, on.
Insomnia: Welcome to the 3am club! Between the hot flashes and the hormones, sleep may become difficult. You can either get up and empty your dishwasher and clean out your cabinets or ask your doctor for something to help you sleep. I’ve tried both. Sometimes, I turn on an old television episode (I Love Lucy) or use the Headspace app (Headspace, 2018). Headspace’s regular mediations and their new ‘Sleep by Headspace’ will generally lull me back to sleep. Be warned – you’ll likely wake up an hour or two later. Rest while you can, stay away from Facebook and the news, and ride it out knowing it’s not just you.
Apologies to my kid and mom if they’re reading – skip ahead. You may want to be intimate, but your vagina may not cooperate. The tissue in there gets thinner and doesn’t work the way it did when you were a 25 year old wild woman. Sex can become painful. Talk with your partner and explain the biology of it all. Then go shopping. There are a zillion different lubricants out there that will help. Slow and steady will win that race (sorry kid and mom). A word to the wise: nothing petroleum based. #1 They can interfere with condoms if you’re using them for pregnancy protection (late in life babies happen) or for STD protection. #2 Petroleum is part of fuel production. Friction causes heat in a bad way.
Yep. Hormones just like PMS. I find myself to be weepier than in the past and if I get angry, I swear a lot more than I used to!
Lack of Focus
Trouble focusing: THIS IS IMPORTANT! You may think you have early Alzheimer’s disease. What is your best friend’s kid’s name????? Why am I in this room? What’s the word I’m looking for? I thought I was losing my mind until I spoke with two of my high school friends. We realized the chances were slim that we were all three suffering from dementia. Our doctors concurred. I write EVERYTHING into a date book. I have lists for my lists. And when my child says, “You already asked me that,” I respond with, “Yeah? Well what did you tell me?”
Finally, expect freaky hair changes. Yep. Although my armpits and legs require less maintenance, the other day I asked my husband a very pointed question, “Did I always have this hair on my jawline or am I growing a beard?????”
Please make sure you check with your health care provider when you have any new or concerning symptoms. I am not presuming to give you medical advice. But if your healthcare provider says everything is normal for your age, know that you are not alone in the weirdness of menopause. And remember – it’s a NORMAL stage of life. Enjoy the next phase!
Headspace. (2018). Retrieved December 12, 2018, from https://www.headspace.com/
Menopause. (2018, November 2). (NIH U.S. National Library of Medicine) Retrieved December 12, 2018, from Medline Plus: https://medlineplus.gov/menopause.html