(I wasn’t completely sure whether to blog this, not sure whether readers, especially those of my own somewhat conservative community, are mature enough to deal with an issue like this. But it’s helped me feel so much better putting things down so while I know many of my female readers may still be several years away from my experience, I have a feeling they might thank me for this one day)
Years ago I remember reading a funny article in the Readers Digest written by a man whose 12 year old know-it-all daughter once stumped him by asking, “Daddy, when did you start your menopause?” When he replied something to the effect that men don’t have menopauses, she triumphantly shut him up with, “Oh yes, they do. That’s why it’s called the men-o-pause!” Semantics apart, it’s a word that applies more commonly to the female of the species of which I’m proud to call myself one and whose life process I cannot escape.
Yes, I’m in perimenopause. Which explains the general tone of my first post of the year – dispirited, beaten, defeated, and then the tone of the second post – silly, giddy, frivolous. In those two wildly vacillating moods you get an idea of what I’m going through – see saw, Marjorie Daw, up and down and down and up.
Actual menopause starts on the 12th month anniversary of your last monthly menstrual period – in other words, a full year of no periods at all. It happens gradually since the ovaries don’t abruptly stop but slow down. That transition period is called perimenopause during which you can still get pregnant because your childbearing years are simply winding down, not stopped, and although your periods may become unpredictable, your ovaries are still functioning, and you may still ovulate though not necessarily on a monthly basis. While the average age for menopause is the early to mid 50s, it has been noted that it tends to happen earlier to women who begin menstruating early in life (such as at age 9/10/11) and to women who have never been pregnant. Perimenopause can last anything from a couple of months to ten years. It affects every woman differently so symptoms and their intensity vary, with the more common symptoms being mood swings, hot flashes, insomnia, forgetfulness, osteoporosis, incontinence and depression.
While I have no problem (touch wood) with things like insomnia or hot flashes, suddenly all my common-sense and self-confidence seem to have flown out the window and I find myself secondguessing everything people do or say. Was there a hidden meaning in that? Did they really mean this or that? Was it because of this or that? My self-esteem is shot and so are my nerves.
A good friend and colleague once told me about the problems she’d had during her perimeno. She said she often felt isolated, that she’d come to work and feel like nobody wanted to talk to her. As she mentioned that, I remembered a time when she’d just morosely sit all by herself and never join in all the staff room chatter. Well, I feel exactly like that often now. While before I might have casually joined in any conversation, now I think umm no no, I don’t think they want to talk to me, don’t want to be with me, and just can’t summon up the confidence to approach anyone unless they come and actually sit and talk to me.
My friend tells me it’s all in the mind and it probably is, but when you’re hardgripped by hormonal putdownitis, everyone and everything just seems totally daunting, unfriendly and hostile. You go out and every other female seems so vivacious and alive, bubbling over with confidence and good health while you feel frumpy, dowdy, stupid and slow-witted. Thanks to the estrogen level drop, your skin goes into sand desert mode overdrive and no matter how much you moisturize or take pains to dress, there’s always something wrong with the end product so you can hardly stand to look in the mirror.
Even worse is the reality check mood that got me bad earlier this year. The so this is you and this is where you stand and what have you achieved in life to show for it stink bomb. That really sank me when I thought of everything I have not achieved and probably never will. I got out of it only when someone pointed out what I have already achieved – like my reasonably well-paying job. That kind of negative thinking and brooding over the impossible is dangerous since it could even get you into suicidal mode.
As I was writing all this, it struck me suddenly that all of this is very similar to adolescent angst, puberty blues or teenage stress. The physiological changes accompanied by all the hormonal psychological disturbances, when you feel the ground you’re standing on has suddenly shifted and you’re falling through space, and you’re not sure about anything anymore. So even if men don’t go through menopause, they ought to be able to relate to the emotional rollercoaster that goes with the territory. When something major is happening within your body, it naturally follows that everything goes out of sync because the human body is so intricately complex. As the psalmist put it, “I will praise thee; for I am fearfully and wonderfully made: marvellous are thy works.”
A final note: talking with people who have gone through similar experiences is always therapeutic, and I am truly grateful for the network of friends, neighbours, relatives, colleagues, you get the idea, who have shared either their personal ordeals and know-how or that of their mothers. It’s always reassuring to know you’re not alone in the dark.