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.

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