Is It Hot in Here?
Top 10 Ways I Deal with Menopause
by Ute Mitchell
It started with the night sweats. In the dead of winter, I woke up in the middle of the night completely drenched, my T-shirt clinging to my body. I wiped my forehead, and my hand was wet. So I got up, rinsed off in the shower, and changed my clothes. I thought that maybe I’d had a bad dream, although I had no memory of it, so I didn’t think much of it until it happened again the following night, and then again and again over the course of the next month.
“Perimenopause” refers to the bodily changes that occur during the transition to menopause. I had the term before, though I was certain that at my “young age” of forty-two, I was way too young for it. But over the course of the next year, I started noticing subtle changes in my appearance. I suddenly had to pluck out little chin hairs, the vertical wrinkle spreading from below my left eye down to my mouth didn’t go away for a half hour after getting up in the morning, and my upper arms started to look a little bit more like my grandma’s, even with all the working out I did.
The daytime hot flashes didn’t start until recently. I am now forty-four. I was sitting in my office writing a blog post about healthy foods for women over forty when a wave of heat hit me so hard I had to pull my sweater off and fan my face with a notebook. It was in the lower sixties that day, so I opened the window and let in the cool air, and within a couple of minutes the wave passed.
“I think I just had a hot flash,” I said to my husband, who, like me, works from home. “But you’re not even menopausal yet!” he exclaimed, dumbfounded by the very idea. But instead of continuing on my blog post, I started a Google search.
The symptoms of perimenopause include, depending on the website you read:
- Increased hair loss
- Sudden weight gain)
- Hot flashes
- Night sweats
- Mood swings
- Irregular and/or heavy periods
- Vaginal dryness
- Trouble sleeping
This is when it hit me. I have been experiencing all of these symptoms to some degree over the previous two years without really paying much attention to them. I blamed my fatigue on my bad sleep. I blamed my mood swings and irritability on the fact that I am the mom of three, two of them teenagers. I did blame my sudden weight gain on hormonal changes, because there was no other reason why I would put on twenty pounds out of the blue.
After reading up on symptoms of perimenopause, however, I quickly came to the realization that this is very much what I’m dealing with right now. How do you know it’s perimenopause and not something else? Oftentimes, the irregular periods, combined with those other symptoms, are a good indicator that you’re going through perimenopause. However, do talk with your doctor if you’re suspecting something else. Some of the symptoms listed above can indicate autoimmune disorders or abnormal thyroid function, so they should be ruled out.
Perimenopause can last anywhere from three to eight years. You may experience it for just a while and then have no symptoms until menopause or you may experience any or all of the symptoms listed above, and if you’re lucky, not really notice.
For the rest of us, or at least for me, perimenopause means adjusting and doing some soul searching. There was some sadness, because even though I knew that I didn’t want more children, this chapter of my life is now officially closed, so for a little while I experienced some grief.
Then there was anger. Why did I have to experience this and my husband didn’t? Years and years of painful periods, and now we’re adding hot flashes, weight gain, and hair loss into the mix? Not fair!
How did I finally find peace of mind?
The truth is, I’m still working on it. Some days, I feel I’m on top of the world, ready to take on any challenge that is thrown my way. Other days, I feel sad and in denial. Here are a few examples of how I handle every day life as a sometimes cranky, middle-aged woman.
- I experiment with supplements that I discuss with my doctor. I have a great naturopath who advises and supports me. She is also in her forties and understands how I’m feeling.
- I eat well and limit my alcohol intake. I really do like that glass of red wine or bourbon, but limiting alcohol intake can help with weight loss and can have a positive effect on those night sweats.
- I meditate every single day. I have a meditation app on my phone, and calming my mind first thing in the morning and then again at night has made a huge difference in my life.
- I surround myself with women who understand. I probably have the best group of friends a girl could ask for. They’re all over forty. They all get me. And they’re always happy to commiserate.
- I allow myself to be upset, and then I move on. Actually acknowledging my feelings of occasional sadness or anger, has made a difference in how I interact with the people around me. I let people know when I just can’t talk to anyone or when I absolutely need someone to listen to me.
- I journal. Paper is patient. It doesn’t talk back. It doesn’t care how angry or sad or happy I am. I don’t know that I would ever want anyone to see what’s in my journal, so maybe I’ll have to burn it someday. Or maybe they’ll keep it after I die and it will be part of my legacy.
- I take more time for self-care. Taking a bath is the ultimate luxury to me. When I’m in a bad mood or tired or exhausted, the bathtub is my place of peace and warmth. Also, I use much better skincare these days, and I frequently get either my fingers or toes done. Finally, I love a good massage, so I get them when I can.
- I buy clothes that make me feel good. I don’t wear tank tops, so I buy T-shirts and three-quarter-sleeve shirts. I buy clothes that look flattering, and I have gotten rid of anything that no longer fits or just doesn’t speak to me anymore.
- I speak up rather than to hide my thoughts and feelings. Many women are silent when it comes to their perimenopause and the accompanying symptoms. It’s like we’re scared that we will be less respected for experiencing this. I am not going to be quiet. When I have a hot flash and I need a moment, I say so. I communicate this to other women, too. I was surprised to find out how many women are out there who don’t know or feel ashamed. It’s nature, ladies. Don’t be ashamed!
- I take time off when I need it. This is probably one of my favorite things in the world. I take time off. I will drive to the coast for a weekend. I will go to the bookstore for an afternoon or hang out by the waterfront in Portland. I need time to recharge and to be alone, and I’m no longer afraid to say so.
Midlife is no piece of cake. But I’m finding that the more I talk about it, the more I meet people who understand. As my mom’s friends used to say about difficult phases with our children, “This, too, shall pass.”
Photo credits by Express.co.uk and verywellhealth.com
Ute Mitchell is a freelance writer and certified Nutritional Therapy Practitioner. She is married, mom to three children ranging in ages from teenagers to adult, and is preparing for an empty nest. Gifted with early perimenopause symptoms like hot flashes, poor sleep, headaches, and sudden hair loss, she has made it her mission to research the best way to approach midlife nutritionally and using mindfulness techniques and shares her findings with women all over the country.