Hot flashes. Night sweats. Vaginal dryness. Thinning pubic hair. Mental confusion. Increased depression, anxiety, and irritability. Slower metabolism. Thickening waistline. Weight gain. Thinning bones. Wrinkling skin. Decreased sex drive. Painful intercourse.
Yes, these and more are the many “gifts” of menopause and I experienced most of them, all because of changing levels of the hormones estrogen, progesterone, androgen, and testosterone.
I thought I would sail through menopause. After all my years of healthy eating, regular exercise, good sleep hygiene, and caffeine monitoring, I figured “the change” would be a blip on my screen of life and no real change at all. Boy, was I wrong! At the time I was Clinic Coordinator at a county mental health clinic. I remember sitting in a staff meeting with sweat profusely pouring from my face and body – in the middle of winter. I remember how much I had to concentrate on a staff member’s case presentation in order to retain the necessary information. How my brain felt like a sponge. I remember being awakened in the middle of the night by my body’s inner thermostat that triggered rivers of sweat, soaking my nightclothes and my sheets. And the fatigue, oh the fatigue, from lack of sleep.
Silly me! I was going to do “it”, “the change”, differently than my mother had, without factoring in my genetic predisposition. So with a little medicinal help (yes, I went on hormone replacement therapy after having tried every tincture, supplement, and soy product on the market) my debilitating symptoms decreased significantly or went away entirely. As my wonderful gynecologist reminds me, “it’s about quality of life, Ilene”. And it was restored.
Interestingly, though, there have been other “gifts’’ of menopause, far more valuable than the diamond studs that I bought myself for my sixtieth birthday. In her important book, The Wisdom of Menopause, Dr. Christiane Northrup another postmenopausal woman and a OB-GYN, says, “the hormone-driven changes that affect the brain… give a woman a sharper eye for inequity… and a voice that insists on speaking up”. This is a very different message than many of us heard and lived. Make nice. Keep the peace. Put others first. Go along to get along. Swallow your hurts. Look pretty. Those socio-cultural messages are harmful to the physical, emotional, and mental health of women, and become harder to tolerate in menopause. Like some of my clients, I had some soulsearching to do.
Not surprisingly, according to Northrup, I became increasingly discontent with my status quo. That dissatisfaction fueled my vision of opening a private psychotherapy practice for women of all ages. “Speak your truth”, I often say to the women I work with. Yet in order to do that, we need to give ourselves permission to experience the messages that body, mind, and spirit are sending. We need to pay attention to the bubbles of inspiration and the pinpricks of deflation that arise when something happens to us, when we read something, when something or someone wounds us or makes our hearts sing. These psycho-spiritual messages are harbingers of change, transformation, and healing. Some of us are paying attention and taking action. Others are still fearful of what is on the other side of change, which can be very scary – and also very exhilarating.
Today, we women are living well into our seventies, eighties, nineties, and beyond. Menopause, “the change” is truly that, an opportunity to make changes, to redesign the second half of our lives, to heal from the wounds of the past, to create, to inspire, to transform our lives, as well as the lives of the ones we love.
So many gifts – of menopause.