Menopause and Me
(And Why I Chose HRT)
Menopause is one of those things you never really think about until it happens to you.
Even though 50% of the world’s population will go through it at some point in their lives, many of us are still oblivious to the signs and symptoms of peri-menopause and menopause.
Until of course, you find yourself in the middle of it wondering what the hell happened!
I honestly didn’t set out to write about menopause, but I tend to write the truth, and the truth is I’m now a menopausal woman.
There I said it!
When I ‘outed’ myself by writing about my crippling anxiety, obsessive-compulsiveness, and depression, I thought I had done my job. My book, Taming Crazy — Confessions and Lessons, was my way of sharing how I finally found a way to manage all the mental and emotional issues that I had hidden away all my life.
Writing it had required every ounce of courage I had. It made me face vulnerability head on, and it was incredibly uncomfortable for someone like me who was much more comfortable pretending that everything was normal (whatever that may be.)
Publishing it meant I had done my part. I had found a solution to a common problem and shared it, surely that was enough.
Couldn’t I just quietly fade back into the shadows and be content?
Well, apparently, my brain doesn’t have an off switch. It seems that once you start sharing a part of yourself with others, it becomes sort of a habit. Once you’ve faced vulnerability and lived to tell the tale, you can’t stop sharing. You might call it an addiction of sorts.
So once again, I find myself sharing something that millions of other women around the world are dealing with right now. I’m talking about peri-menopause and menopause!
Chalk it down to optimism, positivity or just plain cluelessness, but I thought I would sail through menopause.
I was generally pretty healthy. As a longtime vegetarian, I ate a ton of fruits, vegetables, and all the good stuff. I didn’t smoke, drank very little alcohol, and tried to be as active as possible.
The only real medical issue I had undertaken was an emergency hysterectomy years ago, and thankfully, the surgeon had managed to save an ovary to prevent me from entering surgical menopause at the time. Once healed, I felt pretty good, especially when one of the side effects of the surgery was no more hormonal migraines. Bonus!
I had struggled with anxiety for most of my life but even that was no longer an issue and although I still dealt with the occasional bout of depression, thanks to mindfulness meditation, I felt mentally and emotionally stronger than ever.
I had even started strength training alongside the daily walks and the odd yoga class. All of this made me believe that menopause would merely be what I had seen others go through, which seemed to be the occasional uncomfortable hot flash and maybe some night-sweats.
Despite the subtle changes with my hair, skin, and the odd pesky chin hair, I didn’t think too much about entering menopause. I felt confident that once the hot flashes started, I would be in menopause, and that would be that.
It was nothing I couldn’t handle.
However, it seems that life always has a way of smacking you across the head when you’re not paying attention.
One evening, as I was watching tv, I noticed an itchy sensation on both my shins. No amount of scratching relieved the constant itch. I slathered on moisturizer to no avail, blaming it on the dry Winter air. This became a daily occurrence along with a new sensation — burning tongue.
Yes, burning tongue!
The burning tongue was weird. You know when you bite into a hot pizza because you’re too hungry to wait the 10 minutes it would take to cool down a little, and it burns the roof of your mouth? Well, this felt much the same except it was just the tip of my tongue, and no pizza was involved. In fact, no food or drink was involved at all.
Google gave me no answers, and since it wasn’t a daily occurrence at the time, I chalked it up to one of those strange bodily things that happen in life — like leg cramps and skin tags.
And then came the migraines.
The god awful migraines came back with a vengeance. Anyone who suffers from them can attest that they can make daily routines almost impossible, and for someone who makes a living tied to their computer, they can be debilitating. They came out of the blue and lasted for days, which made my life a living hell.
By this time, I was taking all the recommended supplements, ate healthily, followed all the health advice, exercised, meditated, and did everything I could to live a healthy lifestyle, but I still had days when I could barely get out of bed.
A few months later, I experienced my first hot flash and quickly realized that this was not at all what I expected. Imagine someone just turned the furnace up as high as it will go. Now imagine the heat is blasting out except the furnace is in your chest and all the vents are closed, so the incessant heat has nowhere to escape. There were times when I had to resist the urge to strip off all my clothes and jump in the river.
Soon, the hot flashes made an appearance several times a day, but since I was sleeping well and still had some good days, I felt confident I could get through this menopause thing without help.
However, as usual, I spoke too soon.
I had never experienced fatigue before. Sure, I was often tired, sometimes even exhausted, but there was usually a very good reason for it. Fatigue was something else entirely.
It came out of nowhere despite getting a good eight hours of sleep, and when it hit, it hit hard. Fatigue feels like every single ounce of strength has been sucked out of you, and all you want to do is drop to the floor, curl into a ball and sleep forever.
The funny thing is that up to that point, I still didn’t realize that all of the symptoms l was experiencing over the last several years were all related to menopause.
I hadn’t had a menstrual period for years due to the hysterectomy, so I didn’t have the usual indication of missed periods. This meant each symptom that came along felt unrelated. I looked at every sign as a singular thing, something to be treated on its own instead of as a set of symptoms pointing to one thing — menopause.
All of these symptoms may have been manageable on their own, but now I was dealing with hot flashes, migraines and headaches, burning tongue, mood swings, joint pain, irritability, memory loss, and nausea daily. Twice daily bouts of extreme fatigue made the pendulum swing too far, and I couldn’t bring it back to the centre.
I was completely out of balance, and it was miserable.
No one tells you there are forty known symptoms of menopause (or at least no one told me.)
Much like puberty, menopause is a natural part of a woman’s life. It’s not an illness, disease or medical condition. However; it is estimated that 25% of menopausal women experience severe symptoms that can significantly affect their quality of life. Most of these women suffer in silence, many of them for decades.
Peri-menopausal or menopausal women who experience anxiety and depression are often misdiagnosed and are treated with anti-depressants which do nothing to alleviate mood swings, fatigue or any other symptoms and may make them worse.
It was time to visit my doctor and get informed of my options.
Blood tests are not an accurate test for menopause, but they did rule out any other medical conditions, which was a relief. I was medically healthy, but my long list of symptoms indicated that I was definitely ‘smack dab’ in the middle of menopause, and my doctor believed that my estrogen levels had pretty much dropped off the planet.
Research shows that a lack of estrogen results in increased bone loss, which can lead to osteoporosis. Knowing my mother spends every day in pain due to advanced osteoporosis was the reason for my interest in strength training, but I had never really thought about estrogen being a factor.
Researching my options with my doctor and taking my severe menopausal symptoms and family history into consideration, I made the informed decision to try Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT).
HRT has come a long way according to oncologist Dr. Avrum Bluming and social psychologist, Carol Tavris — the authors of Estrogen Matters. Their extensive research shows that Hormone Replacement Therapy can decrease the risk of heart disease by 30% to 50%. It can also cut in half the risk of osteoporosis, and numerous studies indicate that estrogen is the only intervention that prevents or reduces the risk of Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia in women.
Is HRT the right treatment for every menopausal woman?
I have no idea, but I know that it’s the right decision for me. Menopause was kicking my ass despite doing all the right things.
What I want women to know is that menopause is different for every single woman, and comparing ourselves to others can be emotionally damaging. I compared myself to others for far too long and should have reached out for help much earlier.
Menopause is a natural occurrence in every woman’s life, and yet it’s something we still know very little about.
If nothing else, I encourage you to talk to other women. You’ll find that we’re more alike than you thought and that can’t be a bad thing, can it?
Thanks for reading!
Alicya Perreault is the author of Taming Crazy~Confessions & Lessons: A True Story for The Worried, The Fearful, & The Anxious!