It’s a little hard to read Sue’s story as she went through a very tough time. I interviewed her last summer when it was all very fresh in her psyche. When I spoke to her recently, all was well with her—she was through the nightmare, but it had changed her life.
My name is Sue. I am 51, and I’m not exactly sure where I am in the menopause cycle, aside from the fact that I’m through with having my period. My profession is entrepreneur in risk-management and indemnification.
I have no memories at all of anyone talking about menopause while I was growing up—I’m from an Irish Catholic family, and no one discussed anything having to do with a bodily function. And there was no one I talked about menopause with either, including my physicians. Never ever did someone talk to me about this, and I go to gynecologists and internists for regular annual checkups, so it’s not as if I never see a doctor! At this point I’m all about Google and I’m taking it as it goes. I hear a little bit about it on television, but rarely. It seems to me that nobody wants to discuss it.
I do not have hot flashes or night sweats—I do have hair growing out of my chin at an alarming rate, and that’s highly disturbing. But I have a story that wraps around all of this. It began about five years ago when I was going through some issues with my own company—specifically with one client—and I was getting more and more agitated and depressed. And I didn’t realize it was depression when I was going through it—I’d never battled anything like that, and I became completely closed in. There were times I wouldn’t go into my office for weeks at a time—I didn’t want to leave my bedroom, I couldn’t stop crying, I couldn’t get out of my bed, I couldn’t even open the drapes of my bedroom. I started binge-watching entire seasons of programs on TV. I was afraid to tackle projects, afraid to do almost anything. I would still text and answer my phone calls—I did that—but I didn’t want to interact with anybody, and if I did I was hyper sensitive to anything anyone would say. I’ve always been sensitive to begin with, probably more so than most people I know, because I have such a strong personality. But to confront someone making an idiotic comment would literally break me down in tears and close me down even further. And it didn’t help, as an aside, that my sleep patterns were way off, though I later discovered, after being addicted to drinking Pepsi One during this time, that it was loaded with caffeine. My life became very dark—it was almost as if a shroud had been drawn over me.
Anyway, around this time my periods stopped happening, and one weekend it got very bad, and I called my best friend and said I simply cannot do this anymore. I had squirrelled away lots of Valium—I had about sixty pills in my hand in a container—and she said, just call your cousin. Well, I didn’t want to call my cousin because his brother had committed suicide a year earlier, and they were Irish twins and very close; and I love my cousin, and I thought, you can’t do this to him—to have another person in his life kill themselves. But I called him nonetheless, and he stayed on the phone with me for about two hours and made me promise to go out and find a doctor, which I did the following Monday. The doctor’s diagnosis was that I had major depression—but he sucked, he was the worst. So on my way out of there I called a friend, the first person I ever talked to about menopause, and she said everything I was going through was hormonal. And then I spoke to another friend right after that who said the same thing. I’d never considered that this could be hormonal, and how absolutely dangerous it was, in fact. So I went to my regular internist and he put me on Viibryd, a major-league serotonergic antidepressant. It was a real rough drug for me—it killed my GI system, and gave me intractable insomnia, so I had to be careful to take it by noontime. I still couldn’t go in to work for about ten days, though I needed to because my staff was all over the place, so I dragged myself in there and called a meeting. Everyone’s gathered and here I was crying hysterically—I’m a mess—and I told them all that I’d tried to kill myself a week ago, and everyone asks me if I’m okay and I said, well, I’m back and I’m going to get to work, and please let me do one thing at a time. Then, straight off the bat, one staffer jumped in and said well, okay, here’s what I need done right now—I mean, I’d been the boss of that company since the early 1990s and here everyone was piling on and there I was sobbing and telling them that I’d just tried to kill myself! Everyone in that room had been there and worked for me for at least ten years; and one of them was a woman who’d already been through menopause and her attitude was, well, it’s okay, you’re all better now, and it’s back to normal.
I started working again by taking on one small project—an endorsement that before would have been something I could have done in three minutes but now took me half an hour. Two days later, because I didn’t do something he wanted me to do on two accounts, one of my associates flipped out and started screaming at me in the middle of my office. There was no understanding whatsoever on the part of any of my staff of what I was going through—not that it was their job to understand, but they never made the effort—not even a little—and it sucked. There were only two people from my company who helped me, and it was because they’d both been through the same thing with menopause—it’s not going to be a guy who’s going to step up and help, I can tell you that. I needed a mirror to myself and that mirror was these two women. Female friends who are younger than me—between their mid-to-late 30s up to their mid-40s—none of them talk about it—not even a glimmer of a conversation.
There’s been a problem maintaining my relationships since then, because I’m not out and about, because I’m not constantly
. It still affects my sleep. There’s a physician I’ve been seeing since I was 18 years old who doesn’t say a fucking word to me about it. The medical community is still predominantly run by men, and they don’t understand—they sweep it under the rug, they say it’s not real, you’re crazy, you’re psycho, you’ve turned into a bitch, it’s just you. The male medical community has entirely failed us on this. The NIH has performed hundreds of studies showing the effect of the common cold on the economy, but they don’t have a single survey or analysis on something that fifty per cent of the population goes through and how that might affect the system. I’m only one small example—I sold my company, I couldn’t do it any more, not the least reason being that I lost a big account for having pushed back on one of my most important clients who was sexually harassing me. And this was a person who I had performed miracles for over the years, a client whose Forbes-level company I almost single-handedly rescued from financial ruin—and they simply terminated my contract and walked away, all because of the harassment.
And now I need a job. I didn’t sell my company for millions of dollars, and so I’m compelled to be somewhat back in the game again, and part of me wonders if I’m able anymore to operate in a corporate office environment. I’m still in this menopause bullshit, and I’ve effectively lost any semblance of self-confidence I ever had, and everyone’s after me saying, what’s wrong with you, why can’t you get it together—all questions, no answers, no solutions. I can do a million other things—I just can’t do the equivalent thing in that same kind of environment.
How did I come out of all this? Well, I did Viibryd, and then I went caffeine-free, which was a big deal for me. I went entirely organic in my diet, I did Power to Sleep PM, which is a combination of melatonin, magnesium and calcium; and now I’m just taking fast-acting straight melatonin, which really knocks me for a loop. Back in the day I tried Lunesta and Ambien, and in no way did that agree with me—I never got REM sleep and I had horrible dark puffy circles under my eyes. I don’t like the prescription drugs—they don’t leave me feeling well or rested. This new regimen is very inexpensive and over-the-counter, and I don’t have to see a doctor to maintain it. I started doing stand-up comedy about a year ago, and that was good—to get up there and have all my friends watch and give me positive feedback, probably the first positive feedback I’ve gotten from a bunch of people in I-don’t-even-know how long—I need that kind of affirmation, and it’s something I never had in my old business. Once I gave a client a $10 million settlement check, money from heaven she didn’t even deserve that I made happen for her—and her response was, let’s just say we’re satisfied—and that was probably the single best piece of work I’d done in my entire career, so, gee, thanks a lot! But it’s important to say that I didn’t sell my company only because of depression and menopause; my business, like so many others, had become monetized and commoditized—the customer-service side of indemnification reached a point where I felt I couldn’t contribute anything meaningful to it, where this incredible skill set I’d developed over decades had become meaningless, and so had I.
I’m attending a lot of tech conferences. I’m starting a new company. I’m reinventing my entire life. For twenty years in my old company I was on 24/7—I never turned my phone off, I was always available and up and running. On the day of my wedding I was on the phone negotiating contracts. If I even knew what a vacation was, or what time off was, it wasn’t the same experience as with most other people—I’d be occupied through every morning and always available for the rest of the day, I worked on my vacations. And my job wasn’t a walk in the park—I was blackmailed and intimidated, I was threatened with physical harm, I was put in agonizing situations where I had to deliver horrible news to people who’d suffered unimaginable personal and financial losses. And I could never be prepared for any of it—everything bad was a surprise, which it always is to people, and that drove me nuts, because it comes at you any time of day or night any day of the week. And all of it was very layered and complicated and deadline-oriented. It was fucking bad. I can’t go back to that.
I have practical and non-practical advice for anyone going through menopause. Seek out women older than you are and speak to them, try and get them to educate you. Do as much research on the internet as you can. When a doctor tells you something, get a second opinion. Run it past your friends. Don’t allow men to tell you you’re crazy. Don’t lose your confidence. Try and determine what your specific symptoms are, what has changed in your life from what you used to be like, in order to determine how they’ve manifested themselves in you. Invest in a magnifying mirror and some waxing strips for your face! And because the male-dominated healthcare system has failed us, you’re going to have to solve it all on your own for yourself.
What menopause reminds me of is how back in the late-70s and early-80s the gay community went from getting out there and saying we’re going to be who we are and express ourselves and do what we want, and then they completely turned inward as a community to take care of their own, because the government and the society totally failed them. I don’t see a lot of difference there in terms of my own experiences, because I was not a functioning human being, even though I may offend a lot of gay people by saying that. I’m not trying to downplay the HIV/AIDS crisis—I went through it, my brother-in-law died of AIDS—I’m just suggesting that for women it’s our own plague that refuses to be addressed, and we have to turn inward in lieu of the benign or not-so-benign neglect of big pharmaceutical companies and the American government and our society at large. You always have to help your own, and I can’t comprehend why women don’t do that. How is it that in this day of no secrets and social media this still isn’t a subject that’s talked about? On the other hand, it’s not as if I don’t fully understand it, because in today’s youth-driven culture you don’t want to admit that you’re getting older. Women feel so devalued by the age of 50 they don’t want to talk about menopause—it means they’re admitting to the world they are 50, and they’re stuck in the self-acculturation of that. Whereas if you’re black you’re black, if you’re gay you’re coming out and saying you’re gay—it’s maybe a little different, even though there’s still an aspect of societal devaluation there. But I’m not sure women are ever going to completely reach that point of coming out and saying, yes, I’m this age, I need help. But I am old enough to know that anything can happen.