I know some of y'all--the young, the male, the way-past-it-so-let's-forget-it--are tired of my periodic postings about menopause, but I think it's so, so important to spread the word, to talk about this. Menopause can be nothing more than a blip on your radar, but it can also be a big huge deal that takes your life and shakes it up and throws it to the ground, not unlike the guys in tight shorts who "wrestle" on "tv."
I know. My mother had a horrible, horrible time and was institutionalized for repeated suicide attempts. I firmly believe that if she'd had 1) a good OB/GYN, 2) other women to talk to about this and 3) some emotional support from her spouse, things would have been so, so much different.
So periodically I'm going to post about this. Even if you'll never experience it, it's like The EGE used to tell the 9th-grade boys in his health class about menstruation (it always came up when someone would, at some point in the semester, toss a tampon into the aisle of his classroom. Still in its shiny little package, it nevertheless would have the effect of a stinking dead rhino carcass dropped from the sky. As you can imagine: 9th graders): Even if it doesn't effect you personally, it will, at some point, effect someone you love: your mother, sister, wife, partner, daughter, friend. Someone will experience this, and they will need your support. And probably your willingness to drive to the drugstore in the middle of the night. Do it.
He hopes the message got through to some of them.
If you're anywhere in sort of middle age, from somewhere in your 40's or so, you might (and, again, this isn't true for everyone) begin to have the odd symptoms of perimenopause and/or menopause. I know something about these because I've had most of them, sometimes all at once.
Pay attention here! Menopause doesn't just mean hot flashes. You can have all kinds of horrible stuff going on and never have a hot flash. I didn't have one of those until a couple years into it. Your OB/GYN may not be all that marvelously informed about all the symptoms--mine asked, "Are you having hot flashes? Then it's not menopause." He was wrong. I persevered. I got the estrogen (which I can take by itself because I don't have a uterus), and my life got oh, so much better. Eons better. Tons better. It was the difference between night and day. If your doctor doesn't listen to you and work with you to find out what's going on, find someone else. Find a nurse pracitioner, go to your local women's clinic, call Planned Parenthood (yeah, they're about more than birth control--they're the ones who put me in touch with Mendez, my ob/gyn, over a quarter of a century ago).
Here are some of the things you might experience that could (and I am *not* a doctor, and you should not take this as medical advice; this is Girlfriend Advice, and it's what you take with you when you go to an actual medical professional) indicate you're NOT losing your mind (which is what we often think is happening--I sure did) but are just experiencing the fun of hormonal upheaval. Adolescence, but in reverse. Ack.
If you think you might be in the middle of any of this, grab your notebook and pen and make some notes here, please.
~~constipation and horrible gas pains
Now, all of the above, plus the more-well-known vaginal dryness, are all about the same thing: mucus membranes that are too dry (see #8, #31). We all hear about the vagina, because, hey! That's the kind of thing people care about--like your partner and stuff. You know. But nobody else really cares if your eyes are dry, or your nose. So nobody talks about that. I had 6 baby teeth going into my 40's, and suddenly 2 of them died and had to be removed, with bridges. So I started wondering about this. And doing a lot of reading. Take a minute and think about the body's mucus membranes. Make some notes.
~~palpitations (see #2, #10, #11)
~~formication--this is the feeling of ants crawling on your legs. I do not know why this is sometimes a symptom of menopause, but it is, and it's very weird. I thought I had ants in the studio. When I couldn't find them, I thought I was losing my mind. (see #15 and note)
~~waking up in the middle of the night, completely terrified
~~joint pain, increased symptoms of arthritis
OK, are you beginning to get the picture here? Your hormones are kind of a big deal, and when they get out of whack and start changing, they can affect almost every part of your body. Physically. Mentally. Emotionally. You might have no symptoms (the rest of us will try not to hate you); you might have all of these and more. You'll probably have some of them. But if you have *any* of them and they're making your life miserable, there are things you can do, from herbal supplements (I take St. John's Wort, along with vitamins), soy (you can't get enough in your food; you need a supplement--find a doctor who understands this and will help you find the proper dosage, if this is the way you want to go (I heard about this from my ob/gyn, who says people think they can eat extra tofu and get enough soy that way but can't--you need much more than that)), to hormones.
As I said, I take estrogen. Will it cause breast cancer? Heart attack? Alzheimer's? I don't know. I made the decision to take it because I wasn't willing to be miserable. For me, a possibly-shorter life is better than many years of the symptoms I was having. My ob/gyn and I talk about this regularly. Next year, when I'm 55, we're going to cut back and see how things go. For me, it's a quality of life thing. I saw what untreated symptoms did to my mother, and I don't want to go there. You may make another choice, but here's the thing: if you're informed and have an idea about what's going on with your body, you'll be able to make that choice, the one that's right for you.