Meno-Blog (Part 1): An Extreme Lesson in Self Care

Peri-menopause.  The wonderful time in a woman’s life which transitions her into menopause (the cessation of menstruation for one year).  Every woman experiences it differently.  Some have little to no symptoms (grrrrr) and some woman have extreme symptoms requiring hormone replacement therapy (HRT) (awwwwwe) and me, I think I fall somewhere in the middle.

Mostly inability to sleep because at 2 and 4 and other intervals during the night, hot flashes wake me up with a pounding heart and racing mind as adrenaline tries to restart my ovaries.  I am not sure why my body wants to fight this but I imagine it has something to do with long-ago coded survival of the species in my ancestors.  I go to bed and my external body temperature = inferno so I’m hot & cold all at the same time.  My husband installed a wifi capable thermostat so I can switch from heat to air conditioning in the matter of moments.  Thank god for thoughtful husbands and technology.

Once I have a spike, I’m ready to run a race.  After working with my OB/GYN, I’ve only been able to use Zquil which at least helps me go back to sleep after the spikes.  It is not a medication you are supposed to take long-term but my choice is falling asleep driving to work and getting into an accident where I kill myself or someone else or taking my chances with an OTC medication.  Yes, it’s that bad, the sleep deprivation.  Yes, I’ve tried about everything else.  This is what works the best so far.  I am hoping once into menopause, I can sleep without the medication even if I wake up a few times a night and then fall back asleep immediately.   I don’t think I will ever sleep like the dead again until I am actually dead.

The mood swings are particularly annoying.  I liken this to aliens (hormones) taking over your body and you have such little control over being happy one moment and ready to kill someone the next.  I have to work very hard in recognizing what is a mood swing and an actual true emotion.  My family and close friends have learned when I warn them I am feeling off or moody that they don’t poke the bear.  I’m trying, people, I really am but someone else has control of my emotions and moods at times and there is so little I can do outside of HRT which ups my chance of cancer (which you read mixed studies on this evidence but there are estrogen-fed breast cancers so I am erring on the side of caution).

I spend more time alone especially when I’m feeling like this.  I’ve realized that I have to let the fiery anger, deep sadness, etc. just settle for a bit because it feels like I have issues and problems in my life I need to fix when really it’s just a hormone shift.  It is hard to tell at times , you can have nothing negative going on in your life and suddenly it feels like the world is ending for no reason at all except the emotions you experience seem legit and very real.  It is why teenagers seem so irrational at times.  Some of it is immaturity and some of it is their hormones.  People don’t understand how swiftly and strongly a hormone shift can affect you.  Perimenopause is essentially backwards puberty except we can’t usually dress all in back with dark makeup and hide in our bedrooms to muse about life’s indignities.

I’ve made a discovery about this lovely time in my life, you have to really push self-care.  Perimenopause forces you to start taking better care of yourself and your body.  After years of taking care of everything and everybody, a woman has to stop and start focusing on her own needs more.  I’m tired much of the time right now.  My life has changed somewhat because I just can’t (I hope temporarily) do all that I once did.  I was beating myself up because I fell short of my yearly cycling mileage goal by 200 miles.

Then I realized that I was just too exhausted to spend all the time it requires getting ready to ride my bike, even from my own driveway.  I have to gear up: helmet, padded diaper shorts, cycling shoes, gloves, sweat band, jersey, fills water bottles, snack for longer rides, sunscreen, dog spray, pump up my tires, check bike mechanical, grease chain, and check weather to see the wind direction to determine my route.  A year ago, all this preparation  didn’t phase me.  Today, though, by the time I get ready to ride, I just want to go crawl into bed. I’m too tired to really care about riding more than ten miles.

So I focused more on walking which requires maybe some sunscreen and my running shoes.  A water bottle if it’s hot and I’m going on a longer walk.  It’s easy, it’s simple and it takes much less preparation and gear.  Exercise is really essential for this time because at least for me, it seems to keep the moodiness at bay, plus it helps keep your healthy.  You just have to give yourself some slack and do what you feel you can.  I walk 3-4 miles rather than ride 30-50 miles.  It’s a big difference but I don’t have the energy to ride much over 20 miles.

Eating better.  I can tell when I eat crap because my hot flashes get worse.  Alcohol makes them worse as well (dammit!).  Resting when I am tired.  My family is used to seeing me up and going all the time as something always has to be done.  At first they thought I was sick but I told them no, I’m tired, I’m going to rest for a bit.  No, I’m not suddenly lazy, I am freaking exhausted.  When my oldest two daughters move out, I am taking one of their bedrooms for my office which will include a day bed for naps where I am out of everyone’s way.

Saying no to things you don’t want to do and don’t have to do.  Giving yourself a break, treating yourself like you would your best friend if she was going through the same thing.  Taking vitamins, eating more fruits and veggies, drink more water.  It all seems elementary but I have noticed it does help.  The better you care for yourself, at least in my case, the better I feel.  Just not pushing myself so hard has been a big help because I don’t get as frustrated.  I just keep telling myself this is a phase and it will pass.  My mom went through raging hot flashes but eventually she quit having them and she slept better after menopause came.  Her moods settled back down.

Perimenopause is a natural event in a woman’s life.  For me it has been tough at times but it has also pushed me to take better care of myself.   As in most things in life, this too shall pass.  Be kind to yourself.

Don’t Talk Yourself Out of Your Dreams

September 1989, I was 19 years old, living in Dayton with my future husband and working for a doctor part time with the plan to finish my college degree.  During this month, I adjusted to living in a new city, got engaged and bought a newer car. A 1986 Nissan 300ZX in a deep burgundy paint with matching leather interior, a five-speed transmission, smoky T-tops and black louvers over the hatch window which I thought was the coolest thing ever.  I loved this car even though it was only a two-seater and it certainly wasn’t the fastest thing on the road but it was fun to drive.  And I love to drive.  

Like my Z


I used to dream off driving when I was kid.  While other girls were dreaming of becoming nurses, teachers or mothers, I wanted to be a race car driver.  I started driving young around my grandparents farm but mostly tractors and not fast cars just out of the necessity of farm work needs every pair of able hands to get completed especially on their small, cash-poor farm.  Driving felt like it was in my blood, I love to drive, fast.  

I never became a race car driver but I loved zooming around in my Z.  The car drew attention because it was pretty snazzy back in the day but I didn’t buy it for attention, I bought it because it was an adrenaline rush on four wheels.  But like life can be when you make poor decisions (marrying the wrong man), your dreams can get hijacked and your life goes a different direction.  

Over the years I have become the practical person who has watched her finances and tamped down a lot of my dreams and desires until the last few years. Several months ago, my husband and I got to talking about our future plans and finances as we will be turning 50 in 4-6 years (he is two years younger so I hit the milestone first).  Did we want to buy another camper?  Motorcycles?  Travel to Europe?  We mulled around the possiblities.  We ended up decided on buying a Corvette.  I imagined one that was a few years old but all souped up and super fast.  We would save up and splurge on one.  My husband grew up around Corvettes as his father was an engineer for GM.  I don’t have a particular alliance to any sports car so I was fine with the selection.  

My husband, however, started doing research into what he wanted.  I’ll make a long story short, we ended up buying one now rather than 4-6 years later.  Instead of a super expensive high end model, we got an 8-year old base model with low miles that was one-owner and still smelled new inside.  I hadn’t driven a manual transmission since the early 2000’s so I test drove it twice just to get the feel back.  Wow, it was fast and powerful even as the base model.  The car is silver without racing stripes or anything that really stands out except for the fact that it is a Corvette.  I preferred it that way.  There aren’t a lot of options on the car but we both own optioned out daily drivers and really we were busying something fun to drive that won’t even see winter roads and salt.  It is actually cheaper than both our vehicles though most people wouldn’t guess it. 

We went with a hard top coupe which you can remove the top and it’s similiar to a convertible.  The first weekend was gorgeous weather and we spent both days driving around in it and exploring places I haven’t been in years.   I think we were smiling ear to ear the entire weekend because my face muscles hurt Monday morning and I was a bit sunburnt.  My husband went back to work Monday but I didn’t drive it again until Tuesday evening after work when no one was home, my first time driving it solo.  The sun was starting to set and fall was definitely in the air.  I drove down my road and along some other back roads, feeling the thrill and adrenaline rush of feeling so much power.  

It dawned on me as I drove back home that I had long locked away my dream of owning a sports car when I had to give up my Z back in 1990.  I had literally talked myself out of it and told myself that it was no longer important.  I had my sportscar and I should be happy that I once owned one.  I settled.  I’ve done that a lot in my life.  Let the fire just be squashed right out of me by life.  Or by ex husbands, failed marriages, etc.  I think you reach a point where you are tired and worn down.  A ‘valley’ of sorts.  Where you regather your strength and try and reignite the fire you lost.  Slowly mine is coming back.  According to my therapist, it happens often to middle-aged people.  Makes sense.

So now, I’m enjoying zipping around in our Corvette, my husband is on Cloud 9 with our new car.  It gives us something to bond over, enjoy and travel around in as a couple (two-seater).  We are planning our anniversary road trip at the end of October now as we speak.  

Now I am going to dig deeper to see what other dreams I may have squashed.  Don’t talk yourself out of your dream, you might just need to make a few adjustments or just believe again.  Even if it seems frivolous or useless, remember life is really short and waiting until you retire, etc. when you can do something now might not be the best thing.  Tomorrow is never promised.