his week’s story is from Ava, who spent her professional career in fashion but has now retired. Plagued by sleeplessness but determined to hold both herself and her marriage together, she has only good things to say about hormone therapy.
My name is Ava and I’m 49.
I studied at the Fashion Institute of Technology but was never terribly good at draftsmanship, so in my professional career I focused on doing print designs for clothing and domestic interiors. I was a buyer for the Limited for a while and then owned a textile design company with my sister for ten years. After we dissolved our partnership I worked for two accessory manufacturers that I had associations with from my time in the fashion industry, and then I retired in 2002.
My mother didn’t remember much about her menopause, she told me she had night sweats for a year and put on some weight, but then it was like it never happened. In general she wasn’t forthcoming about the subject. Now many of my good friends are older than I and most of them are menopausal, and I think those associations may have caused me to go through menopause a little earlier; even so, when I ask about their histories most of them are fairly reticent. In my experience women were happy to talk about PMS and their periods, but very few of them want to discuss menopause. I don’t have any remarkable stories about myself, but I strongly recommend hormone replacement therapy; I’m convinced all of this fear of cancer or heart disease from taking hormones is ridiculous and terribly harmful and causes many women to suffer needlessly.
The only question that I would like a good answer to is how long it’s advisable to stay on hormone replacement therapy, though personally I’ll take it for the rest of my life if it keeps me balanced.
I actually felt great sadness going into menopause, because I never minded my monthly cycle; it was a sort of timetable for me like a new beginning every month, and you knew if you were insane what the reason for it was, and you had the excuse of eating two pizzas or being overly emotional. Living in Florida as I do now, with the weather always being summer-like and no changing seasons, not having my period makes me feel as if I’m in this weird sort of vacuum.
Even though I would go through long stretches of time where I didn’t get my period, it wasn’t until my insomnia set in when I knew something was really wrong. I’m a girl who likes her sleep and I wasn’t sleeping, and it was going on for days and made me feel insane. It was similar to going through puberty, all those bad thoughts and anxiety and depression that can happen when you’re an adolescent, and when I approached other people about my symptoms no one knew what I was talking about, and that made it even worse because there was no validation. And my experiences with PMS and menopause were very similar as well. I spent a lot of time at night online and finally got on hormone replacement, but it took about a year and a half of flailing in the dark and trying three different courses before I finally found the right treatment regimen for myself. And I also started taking Xanax, because I knew I was prone to little flip-outs, and it’s occasionally helpful at night for sleep as well; it’s not a perfect science, but sometimes just having them on hand makes me feel better.
I’ve been married for close to thirteen years, and when you’re living with someone you don’t have the option of locking yourself away or acting out; it’s unfair to the other person, and you have to be a human being day-to-day. It’s one thing to yell at somebody in the supermarket and then walk away, but when you’re married to a man you love and care about and you have a sense of self-awareness, you come to realize that there are occasions you’re not quite what you had been, and you have to make a conscious effort to be your best. My husband and I spend an incredible amount of time together, and your guard is down when you’re in the comfort of your own house. You can put up a front for an hour or two and swing it with a glass of wine at a dinner party, but when you get in the car to go home it can be like Jekyll-and-Hyde. And you’re not always necessarily aware or able to control how you’re changing because you don’t walk around with a mirror or with a tape recorder that reflects or plays you back to yourself.
My advice, though, is pretty simple: take the hormones and do not suffer. Consult your physician immediately. If you can’t sleep get something to help. You have to be as happy as you can in your life, and if that’s through hormone replacement or drinking wine with dinner every night when you didn’t do it before, that’s okay. Menopause is a tremendous life change. Getting your period as a young girl was a significant rite of passage, it was a huge deal that was usually celebrated in some way, shape or form, and all your aunts knew and your other siblings knew. But when you go through menopause it’s as if there’s no conversation about it, and perhaps that’s because we all experience it so differently and at various ages. Again, I don’t understand the martyrdom over hormone replacement, because my approach is to do what you can to ensure an awesome quality of life for as long as you need to.
I don’t have any other particular physical or health symptoms or issues, and no singular personal realizations came to me either. You know, I never threw myself in a bank of snow, though that may have been helpful at certain points. It was very private for me and I just kind of got myself through it.
I realize that hormone replacement therapy is not perfect. I still have nights when I don’t sleep well and times when I don’t want to pick up any heavy objects. I’d assumed that the hormones wiped it away, and we’d all be like Lana Turner or Vanna White again, but unfortunately that’s not the case. In the end I don’t know if I was empowered or diminished as I came in to menopause, but it was a sad experience for me.