I’m Mary and I am 61.
Growing up I wanted to be a nurse, and now I’m a medical assistant. Being a nurse involves a lot more formal schooling, and I’m dyslexic so it would have been harder for me to do well in that kind of an educational setting.
I started my menopause around the age of 46, and by now I’m pretty much done with it, aside from the occasional hot flash. My mother went through the change early because she had a hysterectomy; I was so young at the time that I don’t really remember much about her experience. She’d have her moods and so forth, but she was such a drinker that I don’t know if it was the drinking or going through menopause that caused her to be that way.
I didn’t understand a great deal about menopause going in to it. I knew that you had hot flashes and a little bit about being moody and emotional, but I’m very emotional anyway so that didn’t help me sort out the situation. In retrospect I wish there had been more of a discussion about the emotional parts of it in general. I’ve had high levels of anxiety ever since I had my second daughter– it’s been a battle for me for over thirty years, even before I’d gone through the change; but the change intensified things and that’s when I chose to go on antidepressants. The feelings were very similar to being pregnant because your hormones are just going flip-flop, flip-flop; and if you have another child and a husband, then you’ve got three people pulling at you every which way all at the same time. Our hormones and emotions are so different than men, and those are aspects I’d like to see more attention paid to and better support provided for.
I never did a great deal of my own research about menopause, I just sort of went with the flow. When I was working in cardiology I had a woman in her seventies who said that she’d gone off her hormones and started having hot flashes all over again. I remember thinking, so we get to have hot flashes the rest of our lives? That’s just lovely—being women with everything else we have going on in our lives and we get to have this too, all the way through! And a couple of the women I worked with in that same department were around my same age, and it was nice then, when I’d first started going into menopause, to have a little camaraderie about our moods and hormonal changes. And I went on hormones for about a month, but since my mother had had breast cancer I thought probably that wasn’t such a good idea, so I stopped taking them and never went back, ever. When I was in menopause my moods were more like being on a roller coaster—I was either in a good frame of mind or extremely low, and I felt like that had a lot to do with my anxiety factors.
Looking back on my life, the only thing I really regret is when I declined an invitation from one of my sisters to sail on her boat through the Panama Canal, and I’m still kicking myself for not having gone. But I had children then and couldn’t just drop everything, and she always had a much freer life than I did anyway. This is the life I chose though, and I have a beautiful family and beautiful grandkids. Perhaps I’m a scaredy-cat because I need to feel more secure, because I’m not as daring as she is.
If I think of menopause in terms of being freed from anything it would be that it’s so nice not to have my period anymore. I wouldn’t say though that it’s freed me to do anything sexually at all, in fact I think it’s made that part of my life worse because things dry up and sex just doesn’t happen as easily or comfortably as it used to. I used to believe that not having my period or having to worry about becoming pregnant would change things for the better sexually and I could have wild monkey sex or whatever I wanted to do, but it just doesn’t happen that way, and that really sucks. Some of my relationships changed a little too. I’ve been married for forty-one years, so I’ve been in the same primary relationship for a long time. But my husband was really worried about me, mainly because he didn’t want me to go on antidepressants; I have a sister-in-law who’s had a lot of emotional problems, and when she went on anti-depressants it very much changed her personality, so I think he was frightened that I’d end up like her. But that didn’t happen with me, though I do think the medications have a lot to do with reducing my sexual drive, along with being older.
My eldest daughter is 41 now; she’s never had children, and she’s very emotional like I am. She’s starting to get into menopause, and I don’t know if she’ll have a different experience than I did, or whether there’s a correlation between having or not having had children and how your menopause happens. My younger daughter is a little rougher on the outside, even though she’s got a soft core like my sailing sister. I’m not certain having that kind of personality makes it harder for people like that, but it may.
The emotional aspect of menopause was one thing that caught me off guard, because I’d never even thought about that part of it. I’m certainly more emotional than I was before, but I work in oncology now and you see a lot of things that make you more emotional, so that’s situational on top of everything else. I’ve also had some weight gain in the last two or three years. I’m not as active as I used to be because I injured myself—there was a huge lump on my Achilles heel that developed one day while I was walking with one of my daughters, which I found out was tendonitis which in turn forced me to quit the walking. That ultimately resolved itself with treatment, but then I developed Morton’s neuroma in my foot. So now I’m as heavy as when I was pregnant with my first daughter, even though I’ve actually been able to go back to power walking just recently. After I had my second daughter she had a hernia at a month old and had to have major surgery, and then six months later my dad died—so I started power walking and tread-milling because I felt as if I had to do something about my mental state, plus I’m borderline diabetic. I did that for over thirty years and I think it probably helped me through menopause. By now though I’ve gained almost forty pounds, and it takes something like an act of god to try and lose any of it! But other than that I didn’t really have any other health issues that came from the onset of menopause, at least to my knowledge. I think that post-menopause might be somewhat of a different story, though that’s mixed in with the inevitable ageing process overall. Fibromyalgia and arthritis, I notice those things happening, but I try to keep moving and that holds those back to an extent.
As far as resolving old personal and emotional issues, I think I’ve let go of my anger at one of my sisters. I lost her in my life and now I feel like that’s okay because she’s such a demanding person, and I’ve come to grips with that. I sent her a letter to tell her I forgave and loved her and maybe we could see each other from time to time, and of course she wrote back and said I forgive you but what about me—and it went right back to that same problematic situation. It saddened me but I’m glad I did that because it had been eating at me for a long time.
My advice for women going through menopause is not to be afraid to talk to somebody, because your emotions are so much stronger when you’re going through the change. And be true to yourself and strong for yourself and reach out for support. Nowadays the younger generation tends to extend themselves to a greater degree than women of my generation, largely because it’s something that’s not so stigmatized.
Working in oncology I try to bring joy to my patients, because they’re coming to a place that’s hell, and the types of oncology that we handle mean we lose a lot of people—head and neck cancer, which is really hard and devastating. And we do lung and prostate cancer too. It’s amazing that so many think of cancer as being a little bit of surgery, a little bit of radiation and some chemotherapy, and then you’re done, and it’s not like that. I become especially attached to these people, and that’s hard for me because I have to write to each family when someone passes, and I’ve found a beautiful poem that I send to them when that happens. But I think I’m doing something good, I think I’m contributing something valuable. I enjoy these people, and I care about them, and it’s nice to try and give them a little bit of joy and positive reinforcement in their lives.