My name is Donna and I’m 53. I’ve just finished menopause, I think. I haven’t had hot flashes now for almost five months; occasionally at night I’ll have them, but I’m no longer walking around miserable all the time. During the acute phase of my menopause, which was from 49 to 52-and-a-half, I experienced hot flashes and insomnia and irritability and craziness virtually every night and day. I could go from zero to bitch in less than ten seconds, and was very short-tempered; everyone from a sales clerk at Home Depot to the people I loved most got on my last nerve. But you’ve got to go on—you’ve got to go to work, pay the bills, make love to your husband, make sandwiches, fit into your clothes, and maintain yourself as best as possible. And all that’s almost impossible, or at least it feels impossible. I’m so afraid it’s going to come back, but I haven’t had any periods and I’m not taking hormones, so I hope I’m through with having those kinds of symptoms. Overall, I feel I’m in a much better place, a lot calmer and not so hyped-up; before, I was thinking terrible thoughts and feeling out of control, but now I have a sense that I’m back in command. I can think again, I can play Words with Friends or go to the grocery store and not forget why I’m there, because that brain fog has lifted and I’m finally again able to concentrate. I could scarcely get through the day without re-tracking all my steps to make sure I’d done everything properly. Had I needed to get a new job I truly could not have done it, because I couldn’t center myself long enough to focus on anything new. I was extremely lucky to have been working for two people who loved and guided and helped me through, regardless of what I was doing or what my mental state was.
When I was 18 and my mother was around 50, she was irritable and crying and much more emotional than usual, and I couldn’t figure out what was the matter. I felt her responses were about my own behavior, about me being a brat, which of course I probably was. I didn’t understand what was really happening, and I’m not sure she understood it either, until she started getting estrogen shots. She would go to her doctor every month to get these injections, and she’d be fine for about twenty days and then she’d start getting grumpy again, and I’d say mom, it’s time for your shot! She died of pancreatic cancer at 76, which was probably induced by all those hormones, but we didn’t know that then.
Even though I’m a nurse by training, nobody teaches us about menopause. We go through the books on anatomy and the sciences but it’s never discussed, and that’s so unfortunate because over the course of my career I could have helped so many women. Thank god I’m able to help people now, but I didn’t understand the symptoms of these women who were coming in, and that embarrasses me. I even tried explaining my own problems to my female gynecologist, who was younger and pre-menopausal, and she didn’t get it at all. Her recommendation to me was to consider taking hormones or Xanax. But though she wasn’t terribly sympathetic, she did say something that was useful, even if at the time it felt like a flip response: that I should think about menopause as when I was in my mid-teens and my hormones were going crazy, when all I had to do was go to school and come home, but now I’ve got a life full of adult responsibilities, including having a profession and being a wife and mother, so there’s a great deal more at stake while you’re going through this hormonal shift. Maybe you have to experience menopause to understand it, because if you’re an OB/GYN and you’re hearing these things about the same range and kinds of physical and emotional issues from all sorts of different women all day long, you’d think there would be a more informed and supportive understanding and practical clinical response.
The question I would want to have answered at the outset, even though it’s a different experience for every woman, would have been will this go on forever, because I didn’t want to be in that state. And I remember my mother saying to me that without those estrogen shots she understood why in earlier days women actually killed themselves, and that she herself would have committed suicide had it not been for them. And she was a happy, fun-loving and highly capable person who had five children, so for her to be thinking that way things must have been pretty horrible.
I had testosterone, progesterone and estrogen implants, but those didn’t make me feel any better. I only did it once, and yes, the hot flashes went away, but it was a stupid decision and I wish I hadn’t done it. I do take 25 milligrams of Zoloft every day, and I feel great. It helped me get through those last couple of months, but now I’m afraid to stop taking it. I don’t think Zoloft would have been able to conquer or alleviate my most intense symptoms while I was in the middle of menopause, but it seems to have worked well when I was coming to the end of it.
The greatest way I’ve changed is that I’m much more insightful now, and that helps me to help other people. My advice to women would be not to lose your self, and remember when you feel you’re falling off the edge that you’re ultimately going to climb back up and be okay. Just stop for a minute and think about things before you react.