Louise: Let there be Sleep!

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One woman's odyssey through the Trump presidency. My focus is centered on the many issues affecting women--but what doesn't? There's a new post every week.

Louise’s major problem in menopause has proved to be insomnia. A diagnosis of sleep apnea has helped her get the right equipment, but sleep is still tenuous.

My name Louise, and I’m 62.  I’m in magazine publishing.  Menopause for me is essentially done—I still get a hot flash now and then, but I think I’m through the process—I think.

For me menopause was all synthetically created, because I was on birth-control pills, and then this doctor I had told me that if I just stayed on birth-control pills I would go through menopause without having any symptoms, I wouldn’t even notice it was happening to me because the pills would act like an estrogen replacement.  I did this for a while, but then I didn’t like the idea of it, so I went off the pills when I was 48.  Essentially, I had shut down my own system to the point that there wasn’t a gradual entry into menopause—I just went full blast into full-blown menopause at 48.

I don’t remember anything about my mother or aunts going through menopause—not a thing.  My mother was 38 when I was born, so she must have gone through it within five or ten years of my birth, but I think I was young enough so I didn’t know what was going on.  And she was not one to talk about those kinds of things to begin with.  Even when I first got my period and thought I was dying my mom still didn’t explain it to me—she just sent my sister to the store, put this pad on me, and said this is going to happen to you every month for the next thirty years—end of story!  Explaining wasn’t her thing.  And I don’t think I would have recognized other women going through menopause when I was younger, either.  I did have my husband’s aunt commit suicide, and the official family line was that she committed suicide because she was so depressed by going through menopause.  But I wasn’t even really close to her—so fairly much no guidance for me—just going in cold.

Things that changed for me during menopause, well, I can’t sleep for shit.  I can’t sleep at all!  I’ve got a fat stomach I never had before.  I’m drying up and intercourse is painful.

Things that changed for me during menopause, well, I can’t sleep for shit.  I can’t sleep at all!  I’ve got a fat stomach I never had before.  I’m drying up and intercourse is painful.  I’ve always had very oily skin, so I’ve retained a little bit of that, but I’m wrinkling up, drying up, becoming an old woman.  I don’t take anything right now, but after I went into all-out menopause I did try some things—progesterone cream, and something called Estroven that was over-the-counter, and I felt like that helped a little bit with some of the symptoms around my insomnia.

I used to have pretty bad PMS, with irrational outbursts and difficulty dealing with what was going on in my life, but interestingly I didn’t have those kinds of mood swings or feelings in menopause.  I don’t have a sense that I one of those screaming, irrational women on menopause.  I think the only real emotional problems I had were all related to my lack of sleep or my difficulty in getting sleep.  I remember sitting and just sobbing.  And unfortunately that stayed, that lingers—the rest of the symptoms gradually disappeared over time, but the insomnia holds over and I still sleep very poorly, I still struggle with it.  But there are other things going on.  I have sleep apnea and I use the CPAP machine, and sometimes the mask set-up, which is kind of cumbersome, keeps me awake.

I certainly think there’s a stigma still attached to menopause.  My female doctor even said to me, when I chose not to take anything, you don’t want to dry up, you don’t want to become an old woman, so take this and take that.  And frankly that was kind of the first thought that I’d had that I was going to dry up and become an old woman.  And unfortunately I didn’t have any experience with my mother, though I have two older sisters and I tried talking to them about it.  My sister Caroline didn’t have many symptoms other than being hot, and my sister Linda, with whom I’m very close—I don’t recall her saying anything to me that was helpful.  The only things I knew to look for were hot flashes, temper changes, and sleep deprivation—and maybe that’s all there is.

I think menopause probably did affect the way I behaved at work, because there was a period of time where I was very explosive and cursed loudly—I remember one of the people I supervised one day saying something to me about the fact that I cursed like a sailor.

I always worked in an office and supervised a group of people, and I think menopause probably did affect the way I behaved at work, because there was a period of time where I was very explosive and cursed loudly—I remember one of the people I supervised one day saying something to me about the fact that I cursed like a sailor.  And so that was probably menopause-related because I’m not like that now.  But I was also in a pressure-cooker environment—I was responsible for several magazines with constant deadlines and demands from advertisers, so it was an intense job.  I think if I were doing that job now I’d handle it much differently.  I believe I have quite a bit more wisdom now, but that could just be age and experience—it’s hard to separate that out.  But even now, in the job I currently have, though it’s not as stressful it’s extremely discouraging—it’s horrible, horrible.  When I first started doing it I would sit at my desk just sick to my stomach with frustration.  But now, I’ll get the discouragement and I’ll say to myself, okay, I can’t do this today and then I’ll just stop doing it, and usually by the next day or so I will say, okay, this isn’t really that important, I don’t really have to do this, this really is not my problem.  It’s again in the magazine business, but on the printing side, which is still very competitive if for no other reason than it’s a dying business model.  One time I spent a week preparing an unbelievably complex proposal for a prospective buyer, and I really thought I had it in the bag, but the client went another way because we have higher costs—which is something I’d warned her about up-front!  So that’s why I say it’s discouraging.  But I have the wisdom now to just sort of move past that and say, you know what?—I bring people to the table, but I can’t make them eat.  My job is to bring them to the table.  I’m doing my job—period, end of subject.

After menopause of course I loved not having my messy periods.  But I don’t think of myself as being sexually viable any longer—and historically I’ve always been quite… well… quite that way.  So, overall that’s a loss, because although I’m not beautiful, I was always very much of a flirt and was always very good at it.  I was the master at picking up men and I don’t do that anymore. So that’s a loss—I feel a loss of my sexuality.  And that’s a huge part of one’s persona.

If I had any advice for anyone else, or for my younger self, I would absolutely advise that person to do some research—learn what to look for and what to do about it.

If I had any advice for anyone else, or for my younger self, I would absolutely advise that person to do some research—learn what to look for and what to do about it.  Because I just sort of stumbled through it unguided.  Estroven or progesterone cream, or things like that, would probably have helped me.  And staying on birth-control pills until I was 48—for most of my life, really—was probably not the greatest approach, because I was always thinking it was a bit risky and scary; am I giving myself cancer by doing this?  My first husband didn’t what to have children, and I thought then, you know what, I’m the one endangering my own health because you don’t want kids, so why don’t you go have a vasectomy and get this over with.  And he did, and then I was off the pill for a bunch of years; and then I met my current husband, and went back on it.  And in the end I never had any kids.

Whether or not menopause had anything to do with it—which I’m not really sure of—I did resolve some emotional issues with other people during and after that time.  I had a horrible relationship with my mother, right up through her dying, and that left a very weird void.  It was a big screwed-up mess that sent me to therapy multiple times, and my sister Linda even wrote a book about the whole thing.  But I really worked at processing that—in her absence it was easier to do—and I think I came to peace with why she was that way, and I forgave her, and I feel like I came through the grieving process very well and came out fine.

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