Menopause!!! No one likes to talk about it, but it happens whether we talk about it or not. We whisper about the “m word” and only feel comfortable when we are around another woman having a hot flash. Then we exhale, let our guards down and bond over our shared misery.
The “peri” aspect of menopause sucks and can be a long, drawn out, crazy, topsy-turvy time of hormonal fluctuations with physical, mental and emotional health manifestations; many of which impinge on your quality of life. It’s like puberty (hello pimples, irregular periods, mood swings and hair in weird places ) all over again except you have a mortgage, job and a lot of responsibilities. Unfortunately , the “moody” menopausal woman doesn’t have the luxury of brooding in her room. For many women in their late forties and fifties, this is a time of full career commitments while sandwiched between raising children and caring for aging parents.
Menopause was early for me (like it was for my mother) and fortunately the “peri” lasted less than 2 years. My biggest symptoms were drenching night sweats, horrid hot flashes worse with coffee and wine (my favorites) and insomnia, which may have made me a tad irritable at home and at work. I was single during my transition so I didn’t have to worry about the impact on my sex life which I know many women have to contend with. For many women, symptoms are more severe and the mental health impact goes beyond mood swings. Depression and anxiety can occur. These are serious and should be discussed with a professional.
Nowadays, I talk about the menopause transition, laugh at myself and even offer advice to friends going through menopause. I have read the Steve Covey book, ”The 7 habits of highly effective people” a few times and try to apply the habits in my daily life. As a confident post- menopausal woman, here is my take on The “Covey 7“ and menopause. These 7 habits are broken into personal victories (habits 1-3), public victories (habits 4-6) and renewal/sharpening the saw.
1. Be Proactive: Since we know menopause is inevitable, you can start planning. The median age for entering menopause is 52 years but maternal history matters. If you have access to your mom’s age at menopause that is helpful. Menopause usually doesn’t happen suddenly, in the absence of surgical or other therapy induced menopause. You actually will have time to research symptoms of perimenopause, best management options, what to expect. Research natural ways to manage symptoms. Talk to friends who have gone through menopause. Talk to your health care provider or gynecologist about what to expect and the best ways to manage your symptoms. Talk to your spouse or partner about what may happen as the process begins. They deserve a heads up about fluctuating thermostat settings, a libido that may be cool and damp sheets that may come from excessive sweating!
2. Begin With the End in Mind: The perimenopause- menopause period (pun intended) however short or long it seems will be done soon enough. The drenching night sweats, hot flashes and mood swings will stop. Your concentration and libido will return though you may emerge a few pounds heavier. Soon enough, you’ll be able to talk about it, laugh about it and drink wine without breaking into a sweat. You will be able to travel without tampons or pads, no more PMS and you never have to worry about unintentionally getting pregnant. *Infectious Disease (ID) doc alert – you still need condoms to protect against sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and consider prophylactic treatment (PrEP) for HIV prevention if you are not in a monogamous relationship.
3. Put First Things First: This is about YOU. Yes, millions of women go through menopause each year but they are not you. Focus on yourself. Are you healthy? Are your symptoms just menopause or is something else going on. How is your mental health? Make sure your health screenings are up to date. Schedule and complete your routine health exams like knowing your body mass index (BMI), getting your Colonoscopy, mammograms, gynecological exams and checking on your bone health are especially important if you find yourself considering hormone replacement therapy. This is a time to prioritize your self care and what you need to make yourself comfortable. If you need special expensive sheets to help with the sweats or to feel cooler at night, get them. If massages help, then treat yourself guilt-free. Your mental health is important too. If you need therapy, get it. Eating healthy and exercising helps to attenuate the weight gain. This is about YOU.
4. Think Win Win: When this is done you will be post-Menopausal. This is a new stage for you and the start of the next phase. Benefits – no periods, no possibility of pregnancy and you will save so much on tampons and period care products. It is also a time of maturity and growth where you can pursue hobbies and interests with renewed vigor. Embrace this as becoming older and wiser with so much to offer the younger generation.
5. Seek First to Understand then be Understood: This is a tough one to do… realizing that people who have not gone through menopause may not understand. Some women who had little or no symptoms may think you are overreacting and may not be as empathetic. People only see the outward manifestations. This means they react to your irritability or mood swings without understanding what’s going on. For close people like spouses, partners or grown up children, a heads up or talk could help. Many times, once they know what’s going on, they are more likely to want to “get” to know how you feel. My daughters teased me about the hot flashes but that just brought some levity to the situation.
6. Synergize: Bond with other women in the perimenopause or menopause stage and unite forces. Share tips on things that helped you as you transitioned to this new phase. Share recommendations and resources knowing that it’s not a one- size fits all. Stop whispering about menopause, it’s a natural part of living and aging… No shame or stigma. Take all the hugs you can get.
7. Renewal: This is emerging from the transition as a confident, older and wiser woman who is now post-menopausal. This is you taking care of yourself. Reflecting, renewing, refreshing, restarting, resetting as you embrace this new stage in life. You are amazing and have so much to conquer and accomplish.
Change is hard EVEN when it is inevitable. The transition can be rough but you’ve got this sis !