Suzanne and her husband created their own business, pretty much right out of college. It was highly innovative at the time and continued to grow on the cutting edge of audiovisual solutions for businesses.
Despite being partners at home and in business so long, their relationship fell apart as Suzanne was going through menopause.
Their children were grown, the business was sold. She wanted something more…
My name is Suzanne. My age is 63 and I think I’m through with menopause, but it’s a little ambiguous to me and I’m not really certain of that.
I’ve been retired for several years. Before that I owned a business in St Louis my husband and I started in 1988. We installed audiovisual equipment in boardrooms and conference areas and integrated their various components.
My earliest memories having to do with menopause are of my mother when I was younger. She would fly off the handle and have mood swings quite often, and people would say “Oh, she’s just going through the change.” Going through the change was the catchall phrase everyone used to describe these erratic behaviors, and I had not the slightest idea what that meant. In actual fact my mother was the same person she was before, only accentuated; these were all aspects of her personality before menopause, but the swings and irritableness became more frequent and exaggerated when she was in her 50s. My mother is twenty-five years older than I, so by that time I had graduated from school and was living my own life, and I didn’t have much contact with her beyond weekends and holidays. But I never discussed menopause with my mother, she wasn’t a mentor or someone who was able to tell me what to anticipate, and part of that was because she was totally unaware of what was going on with her in menopause. I don’t have recollections of behaviors or conversations around menopause among the other women in my family; my mother was the only point of reference I had, such as she was.
I started having my period very early at 11 years old, and I had a horrible time with it, I had severe cramping, and there would be at least one day a month where I couldn’t go to work or school or do virtually anything because I was so incapacitated. And I had heavy bleeding and clotting and for seven days I’d have to use some sort of a paper product. But I never felt comfortable telling any of this to my male gynecologist, so I’d try and get by with Midol or Tylenol to alleviate the cramps. I remember one summer day in high school when I was a lifeguard lying on the floor with a heating pad for my cramps and a fan blowing on me to cool me down; I was utterly miserable!
I went through menopause in my early 50s. I first noticed my periods had becoming less frequent, and then I went for eight months without a period and the next thing I knew it came right back, and that was a devastation. Luckily after that I had only one more period and then they ended altogether. I’d always had such terrible experiences and thought when this finally stops I’ll be so glad, and it did and I was.
I’m not the type of person to see a doctor and ask a lot of questions. On the other hand, I do like to have information, so I did a lot of my own reading and research about menopause. I had heard about hormone replacement therapy but was afraid of it because it’s been linked to an increased risk of breast cancer, and I didn’t want to go through that ordeal. And my symptoms weren’t terribly bad. I would sweat a lot at night, to the point where I’d be soaking wet and have the air conditioner turned all the way up, and my husband would say we could hang raw meat in our bedroom it was so cold! My biggest complaint was hot flashes, though they didn’t tend to come on very much during my regular waking hours. I remember we went out one night to a dinner event and a woman we were with was sweating profusely and became very red faced, and I never got like that. But I didn’t seek out any kind of help or advice, I thought we were supposed to grin and bear it, be stoic and put up with it all. I realize now it was a foolish way to handle the situation and I might have been able to relieve myself a bit more over that three- to four-year period, but I didn’t consider my symptoms to be so dire that I needed to address them. And as far as my mood went I was pretty much the same, except for my complaining about how hot it was at night; I don’t remember freaking out or feeling like I was going crazy or that there was something wrong with me. We were working hard to expand our business at the time, and I was preoccupied with doing that; maybe, with the business and raising our children, I might have neglected myself to a degree. In the larger picture I was fundamentally unaware of menopause, and if at any times I was I tried to not let it bother me.
I don’t think separating from my husband was related to my menopause. A partner in our business bought us out about four years ago, when I was close to turning 60 and pretty much through menopause. Our situation then was one where our children had grown up and moved out, and we no longer had the business, and with that all happening we didn’t know what to do with ourselves, the glue that was there between us had somehow dissolved. And I needed a bit of a break too, so I went out to Denver to be with my daughter for a couple of months, then relations between my husband and I just fell off from there, and the two of us were kind of left holding an empty bag.
I got involved with my spiritual program in 2008, and that was around the time we were thinking of winding down our business, and perhaps too I needed something that wasn’t there in my marriage. It’s all kind of rolled into a ball of a hundred different threads, and in a sense I’m not sure if were to I pull on one thread what exactly it would be related to. I grew up as a Methodist, and my husband was basically raised an agnostic, and we didn’t necessarily encourage our kids to go to church because we wanted them to evolve in their own directions. But I was looking for something all those many years in a spiritual way that I’ve now found through the Buddhist path I’m following, and it’s helped me to drop some of my baggage along the way.
What’s most evident to me as being different in my life today is that I don’t have to go shopping for women’s paper products; I love that, because there’s a real sense of freedom in not having to worry about it. And most of the symptoms are gone, aside from an occasional hot sweat, which is not that uncomfortable. Psychologically though I have a sense of feeling old, I think of myself now as having crossed through and no longer being fertile. But I embrace this chapter because I have so many blessings and freedoms, and I have wisdom that I didn’t when I was younger. In the long run I realize I’m better off; in the short run my body’s coming apart, my hair’s falling out, I can’t lose weight like I used to, and those physical changes have been a real challenge for me to live with. And at one point I never knew when I might not be having my period and another onslaught of hot flashes would unpleasantly surprise me, or I would get sort of foggy brained for no particular reason. I’m certainly more even-keeled, whereas I used to be on a bit of a roller coaster through each month when my cycles would occur. I’ve always had some depression, and I’ve taken minimal doses of anti-depressants for that, but by now I’ve evened out emotionally and I’m in a steadier state overall. It’s an interesting journey, and I feel so fortunate and grateful that I haven’t had a real rough time.
My sister is doing hormone replacement therapy because she doesn’t want to lose her skin tone and contend with all the cosmetic consequences of normal aging. We’ve talked about how hormones have helped her, and she’s mentioned Suzanne Somers and her bio-identical protocols, but I’ve decided not to pursue the same route. Going into menopause kind of frightened me after seeing my mother, because I didn’t want to be like that, and I was a little intimidated and uneasy at first in not knowing quite what to expect. But as things progressed and my periods stopped happening, which was a godsend, and then along with that to have had only fairly minimal other symptoms, it actually became a tolerable path, and my fears dissipated.
If I were to go through this all over again I’d probably be more open to the women friends I had at the time, and I’d share my experiences to help process what was taking place with myself and others; doing that would probably have made me feel a bit less odd. All my life I’ve been an introverted person and haven’t shared many personal feelings with others. But for people like me who feel inclined not to talk about things, I would encourage them to go ahead and open up and share; but not with your husband, don’t talk to your husband because he doesn’t have a clue! And my personal observation of physicians is that they have a grasp of menopause’s clinical aspects, but I don’t believe they know much at all about the emotional or cognition parts, and they don’t seem to have empathy for the day-to-day throes of it.
Every woman’s encounter with menopause is different. My fears on the front end ultimately didn’t play out and were sort of superfluous. But having a camaraderie with other women helps when you feel so alone, because going through menopause represents the end of fertility and bodily youth, and if we can let go of all that and see this as another productive and rewarding phase of life, then it’s bound to be a more positive experience.