Lisa had a traumatic first pregnancy, soon followed by her second child. By then, her hormones were “everywhere.” Nothing in menopause has compared to this but she has developed hormonal migraines.
I’m Lisa and I’m 50 years old. I started going into menopause in my mid-40s.
I didn’t get my period until I was a freshman in high school. I remember a little movie we were shown in 5th grade, when the boys had to go away to another place, and the girls were all gathered in a classroom to watch a video about ‘the period’. By the 8thgrade all my peers were getting their periods, and I thought I was a late bloomer, because it seemed like everybody had it except me. Anyway, getting my period later didn’t result in my going into menopause later– didn’t happen!
I had my two children later in life– my first at 39, and then a year later my second, and then I was done. Right now I’ve gone a full year without having my period, and last year it might have been only once for four consecutive days. I always knew menopause was a process, and I remember my physician telling me that it would last for about five years, but that was early on, and at that point I had no clue. Then, a couple of years ago I had some blood tests taken because I was sweating a lot and my hot flashes were in full force, and my physician told me the results indicated that I was in full-on menopause. And then I began looking at myself as being menopausal—literally walking around my house and looking into the mirror repeating this to myself like a mantra. But it bothered me only in the sense that I thought of menopausal people as grey-haired women– it was old age I was envisioning more than anything else, and the idea of being an old person bothered me.
I associated the word menopause with being bitchy and crazy—and I wasn’t. I certainly could understand how someone could be bitchy, because you don’t sleep, because you’re up. There was one month I was awake every night, an entire month where I never once got one good night’s sleep. And crazy—no, but I recognized moments where I was magnifying a situation that turned out not to be as big a deal as I thought. So I’ve tried to watch myself when I’m more stressed-out mentally or physically, and the way I deal with menopause is to acknowledge it as a part of my life– it’s a process, it’s annoying, but I’m not going to die from it—that’s how I look at it. If I get a hot flash I acknowledge it, I talk about it and say hey, you’ll get the same thing, just know our grandparents went through it too. My doctor would ask me if I needed something and I’d say no thank you, I don’t take drugs—my symptoms are annoying, yes, but they’re not going to kill me. I acknowledge it for what it is as part of the process of ageing and as a landmark of getting older. It was the icing on the cake for me to realize that I’m in this new group, this new category. When I look at me, do I look in the mirror and say you’re menopausal? Hell no– it’s part of life, and I think having that state of mind helps with all of it. What I’ve learned from menopause is patience– it’s not something that’s going to disappear tomorrow, and there are various things that come with it—for one your body changing, and not always in a pretty way. But I don’t obsess over it.
There are people who don’t wish to discuss it, or others who’ll say oh, so-and-so is going through it, you should talk to her. But I don’t sit down and have a conversation that starts with “let’s talk about menopause…”. Most people I know respond to me having hot flashes by laughing it off, and that’s their way of not knowing quite how to react. And let me say there’s nothing wrong with that– it’s a personal and private thing, and if they haven’t experienced it, I don’t think they want to be part of that particular conversation. I was in a meeting last week and said I think I’m having a hot flash, sorry—just brought it up-front in a kind of funny way, because it is what it is. But the first time it happened to me in a formal business setting I had to get out of here as fast as I could. The sweat was just pouring out of me, and there were men in the room so I couldn’t just casually say “excuse me guys, I’m having a hot flash”. And there’s no schedule to it, no rhyme or reason– for example last night I got a hot flash at 7:30, and then at other times I should have had one but didn’t, and for a while it seemed like I was getting them at the same time every day.
Nobody modeled menopause for me. I don’t remember my mother going through it—she had a hysterectomy when she was really young– and nobody older talked to me about it either, nobody. I didn’t have mood swings or personality changes, and when that did happen to me it wasn’t during menopause, it was post-traumatic stress from events earlier in my life—my son being born with cancer, getting pregnant unexpectedly right after that, our house being flooded, all within a five-month period.
In terms of changing me as a person, no, it hasn’t done that– mentally. I haven’t had a lot of bonding-type experiences over it, but I would like to start some kind of a ‘50s-and-fabulous’ group, because I think this is a great time in life—it’s not all death and destruction and my god you’re menopausal and so your life ends. As far as body changes, I haven’t gained weight, but I have noticed that my body’s getting older, and that’s mostly wrinkles. When I was younger and I looked at 50 and that was old, but I think that perception has changed. For me, not drinking, not smoking, not taking drugs or anything else like that into my system is key– I think how you take care of yourself over the span of your life makes a difference, how you deal with who you are, and where you are at this point in time– mind, body, and soul.
And I’ve made big changes too– I went from working most of my life for a corporation to striking out on my own– that was a big move in my life when I was in my mid-40s. And now that I reflect on it– in terms of being perimenopausal or menopausal—it came from me wanting to grow. I remember I really wasn’t happy with where I was in my mid-40s– I was in a toxic work environment that beat me up every day, and it was just too much for me, and that’s when I decided to do something about it. My husband said get your ducks in a row, and I spent a year doing just that– I put money away, I stopped doing unnecessary things, I figured out who I was going to be and what I was going to do. And now I look at where I’ve come today and I’m so incredibly proud of myself. I had it in my gut– you can do this, you can do this– and I did, and it was the best move I ever had.
The other thing that changes when you go through this—and something nobody ever told me—is that there were times it physically hurt me to have sex, and I think that’s part of what’s happening as your body continues to change. As far as my sex drive, well, I’m just tired, and it’s not a priority. It’s not that I think about not wanting it, it’s that I just don’t think about it– I really almost couldn’t care less. But then of course when we do do it I’m glad we did. The one thing that’s always there is that I love my husband so much, and I love my family, and that’s the balance for me.
I started having hormonal migraines around five years ago– my neurologist diagnosed them as hormonal because my grandmother and sister had them later in their lives, but they’re hereditary as well. When they hit I’m down for as long as four days in a row. History. See you later. I put a pillow over my head and shut the door and you could be talking to me and it’s just shhh. I don’t know if these headaches are attributable to menopause, I don’t know what hormonal means in that context– my hormones have been all over the place at certain times way before menopause, so as far as it being due to the change who knows.
Some of this goes back to the guys and their so-called mid-life crises– I’m getting older and I don’t want to get older and I have to accept the fact of it anyway, sure, it would be fun to be wild and crazy again—but that’s really about men. I also think where you are in your life has an enormous amount to do with how you deal with menopause. Are you happy? Do you have a happy home, a happy mind/body/spirit? I think that if you’re not happy, then it’s just like oh, great— and now I’m going through menopause, and it’s just another piled-on burden to slog through life with. In my view I accept it, I don’t make fun of it—it’s part of me, part of my life, and is what it is. I think if you are in a right place in your life then you can accept menopause and continue to live knowing that it’s something that’s with you and will be with you, and there is no check-in and check-out date. It’s not fatal or terminal, and it’s something every woman in the history of our species who’s lived long enough has gone through.
If I were to give any advice, it would be to sum up what I’ve already said– embrace it, accept it, and live your life and enjoy it. What I wish I’d been told was everything you’re going to go through in bullet points, as in what’s peri, what are the stages, what’s going to happen when you’re in the next phase, when are you considered menopausal, and so on– give me a show-and-tell. And tell me a story– stories from others—in every way—are invaluable.”