Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Menopause, midway

I am in the throes of menopause.

It isn't a simple case of one day realizing you haven't gotten a menstrual period in a few months, and lah-di-dah, I think I'll go out and take a new class at the neighborhood culture center! Although, in discussing menopause with my many friends and students, some women have a very lightweight experience and hardly noticed it was happening at the time. Unfortunately, I do not fall into that category!

Menopause is defined in the dictionary as: the permanent cessation of menstruation, normally between the ages of 40 and 50, or the period during which this occurs; female climacteric, or change of life.

Interestingly enough, the dictionary doesn't list all the symptoms of menopause, which are like a myriad of "side dishes" to the main event. Let's see...what all have I experienced to date?

There's the sleeplessness. I wouldn't go so far as to call myself an insomniac; but I struggle with not being able to fall off to sleep for three or four hours at least twice a week. This creates a fatigue that makes me vulnerable to any contagious bug in the air. I've had pneumonia twice in a span of three months this year! It's a drag.

There are the hot flashes. (Or maybe they should be spelled hot flushes!) These are completely unrelated to the season, weather, temperature, and humidity. Suddenly you feel so hot you've just got to fan yourself. In my case, the sweat just pours off the top of my head and down my back. Women experiencing hot flashes turn pink and moist-skinned. These happened to me also in the winter. People were sitting with shawls thrown over their knees and heavy sweaters on, and I was sitting there madly fanning myself! I had these frequently during my forties, and they were one of the first symptoms of menopause I encountered.

There are the headaches. I have to take a bunch of asthma medication every day, so I don't take aspirin or pain relievers as a rule. Therefore, when the headaches come, they simply have to be endured. I also get these occasionally from high blood pressure or constipation, to be totally honest.

There is a sense of hopelessness that comes with the hormonal imbalance of menopause. I find myself trying to escape my life, because if feels intolerable, as is. Work is a saving grace through these shadowy periods. But I rarely feel I have any other value, as a mother, wife, neighbor, or friend, even. Only my relationship with my mom has helped me endure these periods. She has been showering love upon me and that's the only thing that makes me feel better. Gosh, I'm thankful for my mom!

There are irratic periods. All normalcy and predictability of the 28-day cycle goes out the window. Recently I go about two months without a period, and then get one for ten to 14 days! Last year, beginning in July, I had 90 days of menstrual bleeding over three and a half months! Not every day was ultra heavy, but many, many days were. Fortunately I did not get anemic through this patch, but I got mighty tired!! It was impossible to go and aquawalk in our local pool, which is my only source of exercise. So I gained weight during this period as an additional kick in the shins!

My friend (who takes medication for clinical depression) told me I sound clinically depressed, too. She said she had similar feelings of hopelessness and an intolerance for her life, as is, before she was diagnosed. For all I know, this could be true but I am hoping it is only menopause, and therefore a passing inconvenience, to be endured for a few more years, or months... God only knows.

Women have the great privilege and blessing of being able to give birth to children. But the other side to that coin is menopause, and I find I'm paying my dues for that privilege now!