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Menopause And Anxiety: The Night Terrors Pt. II

Anxiety Medicine © wcjacobson

Night time anxiety was such a common symptom among those of us going through menopause. Let me describe a couple more variations on this distressing theme: Instant Replays and Night of the Undones.

Instant Replays were a hard-to-swallow flavor of the night terrors for us menopausal goddesses. Here’s how it went: Like a curmudgeonly version of the movie “Groundhog Day”, you are forced to relive over and over some insignificant event. The repetition could drive you stark, raving mad. Ordinary moments play over and over in your brain like visual earworms. You re-view the dinner where you had an extra glass of wine and told an overlong albeit amusing story about your cats. You see yourself over and over again saying something stupid to your neighbor. A little episode of mutual crankiness at the dinner table plays ad nauseum. Even a mundane phone conversation with your mother is stuck on repeat.

Yet unlike that uplifting movie where Bill Murray learns the meaning of life and love, you just keep viewing the same loop with no resolution in sight. And in the morning you know it will strike you as inconsequential and meaningless, even silly, but right now in the dark of night, it won’t leave you alone. It drones on like a mosquito, bent on sucking the rest right out of you.

Then there is the dreaded “Night of the Undones”, a B-grade subplot of the horror movie that is menopause. The Undones. Those things you forgot to do, should have done, or worry that you might need to do – like thought zombies that parade through your night, jostling you, keeping you awake with silent incessant nagging. Did I pay last month’s phone bill? I can’t remember seeing it. I forgot to call the plumber or clean the catbox. I should have bought computer paper. When did I last check the oil in the car? What am I going to do with all those Christmas cards I bought, now that it is mid-January? Did I buy laundry soap? Did I clean the lint catcher in the dryer? Did I set the Tivo to record Desperate Housewives?
The litany goes on. And on.
If I got up and wrote these little reminders down, I’d be up for a while. Usually, I would stay in bed trying to focus enough to commit them to memory, in case they might be important. However, this took long enough that, I’d be up anyway. If I tried to ignore the Undone zombies, they just kept lurching into my consciousness and you guessed it, I’d be up.

Undones from the Future came to plague me as well. If they visited me over my morning coffee, I would consider them fodder for a walloping big to-do list. But of course, I was too exhausted from the previous night’s visitations in the morning, to have a single productive thought in my head. Like their counterparts from “Night of the Living Dead”, my middle-of-the -night, synaptic zombies would shuffle, lurch, and drag inexorably on through my sleep-deprived brain.

LURCH Order more diet cat food from the vet.
DRAG Check the chemicals in the hot tub.
SHUFFLE Look for the little dual voltage travel water-heating thing so we can take it traveling.
LURCH Remind Dewitt to find and put up the motion sensor light outside.
DRAG Trim dead bird-of-paradise blooms in front garden.
And so on. Forget about using one of those little light pens that you can use to write down your list in the middle of the night, guaranteed to keep from waking your spouse and to allow you to fall right back to sleep, safe in the knowledge that you have corralled and organized the zombies.

Suffice it to say that I’d fumble around in the dark, knocking all other implements from my bedside table to the floor, searching for this small item that if I weren’t so irritated would help me so much. But then, I’d be frustrated and heading toward pissed off, so once again I was AWAKE. and up for a while. The only thing that seems to help dissipate the nighttime anxiety WAS anger.

The one thing that truly made it all bearable was knowing that I was not the only one. Even though I didn’t see my sister goddesses on the Fretliner (see previous blog post), I knew they were there – in some other car, riding along with me, sharing my sweats and terrors. The movie was so much easier to handle knowing what to expect and experiencing it together. And that it was normal. And temporary.

So hang in there, dear sisters. I swear to you it gets better.
(material partially adapted from Lynette’s ebook Becoming A Menopause Goddess, available also in softcover as The Big M)

 

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Menopause Will Scare You Sometimes

Cactus Whirl © lynette sheppard

Anxiety may literally be the most unnerving of the emotional traumas visited upon menopausal women; certainly it’s one of the least recognized or discussed. A number of goddesses struggling with this frightening symptom have written me recently, so let’s address and demystify it.

First and most important, anxiety that comes out of nowhere when you enter perimenopause and menopause is NORMAL! Not every woman will suffer it, but those who do can take heart that it is just another in the panoply of maladies that accompany our transition. Second, it is TEMPORARY! It will get better. Most women I know have anxiety issues that last 6 months to 2 years. (If you’ve just started having anxiety episodes, you may be screaming inside “Two years! I can’t take two more years of this!”) Oh yes, you can. And you will. And there’s help.

The biggest help we found was the discovery that we were not alone. Other midlife women, who previously had never suffered from anxiety and fear, found them selves terrified driving on the freeway or over bridges, petrified for no reason on a daily basis, even experiencing full-blown panic attics in the absence of any recognizable threat.

The Venuses don’t really know of any ingestible remedies that decrease the anxiety of menopause per se. (OK, maybe wine, but it can also make it worse sometimes.) Yes, there are some herbal anti-anxiety supplements but we felt we just didn’t know enough about them. Kava kava, for example, relieves anxiety but may damage our liver. (Although that may be dose related – Fijians have been using it for decades on a daily basis – they seem to have a decent life span.) As always, when trying something like this, let your health care partner/practitioner know and monitor your symptoms and dosage carefully. If your MD is not acting as a partner, but as a parent or ultimate authority, find one who will work with you. I can tell you as a health care practitioner myself that the amount we DO NOT KNOW about menopause and many of the complementary therapies would fill a library. Or two.

While you may consult your health care practitioner/partner about your anxiety, be wary of pharmaceutical intervention as a first answer. Tranquilizers and other drugs such as Prozac may be helpful, but may cause other problems or adverse effects. Remember, we’re women. We can handle a lot. We do every day. As long as we know it’s NORMAL and TEMPORARY.

As a group, the Venuses’ fretting was rarely overwhelming, but it was scary and disturbing. If it had been worse, we likely would have seen therapists. (Differentiation note: If you are frightened and jittery, that’s normal. If you cannot leave the house because of fear, or are unable to conduct activities of daily living, that’s not normal and professional help is needed.)

We did practice giving ourselves and each other little “reality checks” when our worrying was excessively annoying. We practiced asking, “What is happening right now, this moment?” (Usually the answer was “Nothing.”) “Am I safe, alive, comfortable, etc?” Then we took deep breaths and decided not to panic until we had something to actually panic about, rather than a mental litany of “what ifs”. This actually helped ease our jitters quite a bit, although some days our practice worked better than others.

Above all, be gentle with yourself. Give your fear a name. Invite it in for tea. Recognize it as another part of this roller coaster ride we call Menopause – remember right after the scary climb up, anticipating the drop, comes the thrill of a great ride. Let’s do it together – it’s easier to share both the fear and the fun.

(Stay tuned for a future blog entry regarding the Night Terrors, a nocturnal flavor of anxiety.)

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Cool New Menopause Relief Stuff

Blossoming © lynette sheppard

Menopause waylaid my daily life, bringing heat and chaos. But it has brought more gifts than difficulties overall. Our goddess group, new and deeper relationships, this blog with its expanded community of like-afflicted women, and a new found sense of self are among the positive changes accompanying the Change. It’s not sarcasm to say that the Big M has been one of the greatest gifts in my life. So far.

Sure, given the choice, I’d forego the hot flashes, chin hair, weight gain, and myriad other weirdnesses perpetrated on my unprepared, unsuspecting body, mind, and spirit. Still, if it meant that I wouldn’t have the gifts I’ve been showered with, well…I guess I’d choose to have the full meal deal all over again. I’m just sayin’…….

One of the unexpected pleasures of writing this blog (and contributing to great sites like Vibrant Nation, Jane Nation, Women’s Health Foundation, Wellsphere, and Examiner.com) has been the influx of information about new, great products designed to ease the journey of the menopausal woman. Our voices have been raised and we’ve been answered, it seems.

In this blog post, I’ll spotlight a few of the latest products to catch my interest.  Some of the creators have indeed sent me a sample to try. I’m telling you this because apparently it has been mandated that bloggers/reporters disclose receipt of a sample, in case we are telling you about this just to get a free whatever. Like anyone would want to need these products……… There, you’ve been forewarned. And I promise not to B.S. about any of these. Enough said.

Aloe Cadabra is a natural personal lubricant, made as the name suggests, from 95% organic aloe. It’s a wonderful adjunct to intimacy for the menopausal woman (and I just love the name.) We’ll be sharing more about the importance of lubricants in a  blog post in the near future, where Theresa Venus shares an  personal experience important to all menopause goddesses. For now, visit Aloe Cadabra’s website (www.aloecadabra.com) to find out more about this great product.

Down is not a menopause goddess’s best friend. It can contribute to hot flashing, especially at night. (Watch out for those down pillows and comforters, ladies.) Still, what are we going to use for bedding, where we want as much comfort as possible?

Enter Lana Abrams, a menopause goddess who started a new line of comfortable bedding when she started to “heat up” at age 50. Her mulberry silk comforters and blankets are naturally wicking and cooling while they keep us warm.  Her company is called Mulberry West.

Mulberry silk is a natural fiber that contributes to temperature control, repels dust mites and bedbugs, repels mold and mildew, and lasts longer than down or synthetics. And it meets the luxury requirement, too. I don’t have one of these yet, but I am going to order one. There’s lots more information on her site: visit http://www.mulberrywest.net/. With sleep at a premium these days, we almost can’t afford not to have one.

Most of you know that I am a HUGE fan of anything that has no side effects and is a natural treatment for hot flashes and other manifestations of The Big M. Ladycare is a UK based company that has just begun offering its non-invasive, alternative therapy for menopause in the US.

Basically, it is a magnetic device worn in the pelvic area.  Clinical trials in the UK showed 33-67% of women reporting significant reduction  or complete relief from hot flashes and myriad other Big M symptoms using this device.

Magnetic therapies have long been used for pain relief and other maladies. So it’s no surprise that it might be useful in menopause treatment.

Ladycare sent me one of these to try and I’ve just begun wearing it. Like most natural remedies, it likely will take a few days to a couple weeks to reach full effect, so I will keep you all posted on my results. I will say this, it is really pretty. For whatever that’s worth. Find out more on their website: www.ladycareusa.com.

All these products will be featured on the Menopause Marketplace, just as soon as my webmaster and I can upload the info. Let us know any experiences you have with these or other great “helps” so we may share with our sister goddesses.

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Menopause: Change Your Life But Take it Slow

red maple leaves, Zion NP © lynette sheppard

The first menopause book I bought when I first started into perimenopause languished on the shelf for a couple of years. It was…Ginormous. Gargantuan. Encyclopedic. Just lifting it was too much effort to expend in my then fragile state. Besides, I boggled at the commitment I’d be undertaking to read its 500 or so pages.

So I left it in the bookcase as a placeholder.

When I finally managed to garner enough fortitude to tackle it, I found it pretty good. Yes, I know, damning with faint praise. Still, it was a decent treatise about the change with some great stories from real women going through it. The author wasn’t shy about sharing her own journey of menopause and subsequent divorce.

Here’s where she lost me (and many of the Venuses). She posited that many of the emotional symptoms were caused by unresolved life issues; problems unattended to prior to the Big M. Indeed, she recounts her own story and that of other women to back up her premise.

While that is an authentic experience for many women, it is not the only one.
A number of us in the original Menopause Goddess group had worked hard to resolve life and relationship issues and were pretty happy, content, satisfied when the Change hit. Wham. End of equanimity. Enter emotional maelstrom. Out of nowhere. For no freaking reason other than the soon to be ubiquitous “it’s hormonal.”

Christiane Northrup MD makes a really important point in her book: any important life issues that you have not dealt with prior to The Big M are going to loom larger than any elephants in the living room. You will be compelled to notice them.

However, sometimes there is no large unresolved issue to be dealt with. It just feels that way. The Big M can make you so uncomfortable in your own skin that you feel like shaking everything up: work, relationship, friendships, where you live, you name it.

So how do we know? How do we know if we actually have an unresolved life issue; if we need to make major changes before we move ahead with our second Act, or if we are just caught in the tornado effect of the Change?

Good question. One that each woman will have to answer for herself eventually. But, one thing the Venuses have learned over the years of meeting, sharing, learning, and growing together. And this is the most important advice we can give regarding any and all aspects of Menopause.

TAKE IT SLOW.

Do Nothing.

Feed your soul and your spirit in gentle, caring ways without major upheaval. Elsewise, you may end up throwing the baby out with the bathwater.

We live in a “Do something” world. This is our time to slow down and contemplate. Sure, try new things. Always wanted to be an artist? Don’t quit your day job just yet. Explore art. Make things. Do it just for you. If it grows into something more (like a new career) great! If now, you have a nurturing passionette to fill yourself up to overflowing. Not a bad deal.

Mortality, that other “M” word that overtakes the Scrabble center squares at this time of life, steamrolls us with urgency, too. Not only are we feeling emotionally jittery, depressed, anxious and pissed off; we suddenly feel the press of time.

If not now when? When will I travel the world, become a famous chef, move to the country, find my soulmate? While the Venuses would be the first to say, “You go, girlfriend. Follow your dreams and live boldly,” we’d first say this: take it easy. Wait til you start to come out the other side of Menopause. Yes, you’re mortal but there likely is time.

Imagine making huge life decisions at fifteen, in the maelstrom of puberty. Sheesh, we’d never let our kids do that. When in the midst of the hormonal sh*tstorm, they are rarely able to make those choices. Things change in a heartbeat.

Well, Menopause isn’t much different. Except it’s bigger, kind of like puberty to the 10th power. And we have driver’s licenses. And responsibilities. And we think we know better, because we are adults and have life experience. Hormones The great equalizer.

So go ahead, reevaluate your life. Dream your biggest dreams. Imagine who you would like to become. And then, do nothing for awhile. If hormones are causing turmoil, it will calm in a year or two. If there really IS a life issue that you need to address in a big Change, it will still be there. we guarantee it. You can work on it then.

For now, go slow, go safe, go inward. And most of all, go with girlfriends. They will keep you sane, and hopefully keep you from making any big life moves that you’ll regret.

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Menopause Mythbusting: The Truth About The Big M

The Big M Wisdom © lynette sheppard

I clicked on a tweet (on Twitter) the other day promising to answer our questions about menopause. And got the same old rhetoric that I’ve read countless times in books, in articles, on websites. Finally, I gotta comment and reanswer each question as a true menopause goddess. I’m tired of the B.S. I’m not picking on any one site or author (which is why I won’t include the link to this particular Q & A article.) I’m addressing all of them that put this kind of information out for women. Below are their questions and answers in plain text, my answer is in bold. And I do mean BOLD!

The info started with:
Are you or a loved one approaching the time of life many women fear — menopause? If so, you probably have questions about this sensitive subject.

Well, we didn’t, I’m sorry to say. We didn’t know it would be so momentous. So it caught us completely by surprise (read mind-numbing shock). But once it started? You bet your sweet bippy we had questions! And we sure wanted answers!

Here are 6 answers to help you go through menopause as comfortably as possible:

Oh Goody. Let’s hear them.

1. Why is menopause a puzzling time of life?

Before reaching the change of life, many women don’t know what to expect. That can be scary! There are horror stories floating around that can make women unnecessarily apprehensive, but you need to know that menopause is a normal part of your journey through life.

Oh sweetie. Menopause IS a freaking horror story. For most women who haven’t started immediately with hormones anyway.
Of course, it’s NORMAL. Puberty and childbirth are NORMAL, tsunamis and volcanic eruptions are NORMAL, but that doesn’t make them any easier to take. Especially if we don’t know what is coming!!

2. At about what age does menopause begin?
Most women cease having periods between the ages of 45 to 55. However, menopause can be induced earlier by surgery.

Yeah, well perimenopause can start years earlier. And for many women the symptoms start or are the worst in perimenopause. So you’d better amend those ages. And let me say that I talk to women in their sixties still dealing with it, so 55 sounds like a nice cutoff but it just ain’t always so. So the answer to this question? Whenever it wants to!

3. What are some of the symptoms?

During the early stages of menopause, called perimenopause, a woman’s menstrual cycle becomes irregular. When menopause has been completed, a woman no longer has periods at all. One of the most widespread symptoms of menopause is hot flashes and a high percentage of menopausal women have them. Some women experience feelings of depression while they are going through menopause and mood swings can accompany the change of life.

There is so much understatement here that I almost don’t know where to begin. Let me start with hot flashes. Widespread symptom? High percentage have them? Allow me to explain. Hot flashes are not short private vacations in the tropics. Because vacations are enjoyable. Think of the worst flu fever you’ve ever had – now quadruple it. And you’re not even close to how bad it is.

Depression and mood swings? We have more ups and downs than Six Flags. Tire commercials can move us to tears and the sound of the refrigerator or our cat breathing can piss us off. And again, none of the fun.

4. What about hair loss during and after menopause?

Hair loss sometimes occurs to some women with the aging process. This is one of the most distressing side effects of menopause. However, there are a lot of women who don’t lose their hair during this transitional period in their lives. Some women have higher levels of the hormones that cause hair thinning. If you are experiencing hair loss, you should check with your doctor about treatment options.

Having been one of the “some women”, I can tell you that yes that losing your hair is distressing. As in I was afraid I would be bald soon!   It’s actually terrifying.

As for checking with my doctor about treatment options? I consulted with more than one physician. They were less helpful than the DMV and ten times as expensive. Like us, they have no experience with menopause that hasn’t been squelched by immediate hormone therapy. If I had to depend on them, I’d still be freaking out. Or bald. Or both. (For more info, search hair loss here on the blog. Or write me.)

5. Are there any special nutrition recommendations for women going through menopause?

You might want to consider adding soy products to your diet to assist your estrogen levels. Be sure to get enough vitamin A to help your skin and hair to be as healthy as possible. Health food stores offer a variety of herbal extracts to help with menopausal symptoms.

Hmmmmmm special nutrition recommendations. Other than you can’t eat anything every again without gaining weight? Oh yeah, soy is one of the top food allergens, and can interfere with thyroid function. Since everything you eat turns to fat, might as well make chocolate your main food group. And wine. Lots of wine.

6. What medical help is available while you’re going through menopause?

Your doctor may prescribe treatment options to help lessen disturbing side effects of the change of life.

A combination of estrogen and progestin may be recommended by your doctor — if you don’t have a history of breast cancer in your family. There are treatments to help you if you are suffering from hot flashes that disturb your sleep and other symptoms as well

Or s/he might prescribe antidepressants, the latest “magic” cure for The Big M. I highly recommend holistic or complementary physicians/nurse practitioners who look at the whole person and don’t start with either HRT (hormone replacement therapy) or antidepressants as the first (sometimes only) approach. Check out Holistic Medical Association or Women In Balance to find a practitioner near you.

Although cessation of menstruation can be a puzzling time dreaded by many women, there are a number of advantages to this period of your life’s story. It’s a new chapter opening before you! You will probably be able to enjoy greater freedom than ever before to pursue interests you could not pursue before because of family responsibilities. Why not investigate new opportunities and challenges in this new chapter of your life!

While this is true, it doesn’t compute when we are in the beginning or worst stages of The Big M. There are few things worse than perky, upbeat proclamations about how this is the best time of our lives. Eventually it may be. (It certainly is for the goddesses.) But we went through a few RIDICULOUS years before we came out the other side feeling whole again. Different, but whole. Menopause. It will set you free but it will really mess with you first.

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Sharing a Menopause Meltdown

melting anthurium

Yesterday, our new rescue dog chewed through the irrigation hose. One of our cats has a mouth infection requiring antibiotics and special food prep, while the other feline family member was screaming at the top of his lungs for no apparent reason. To add to the general household bedlam, the phone was ringing off the hook, the dock informed us that our new-old car shipped from the mainland needed to be picked up, and Dewitt got the news that his knee injury is a torn medial meniscus, which will require surgical repair.

All this was a recipe for menopausal meltdown. My usual equanimity just flat out deserted me. I collapsed in on myself with the gravitational pull of a black hole.

“Are you okay?” asked my hubby, Dewitt. Instead of answering with the usual “Fine,” or “I’ll get over it,” I shared (read spewed forth) my feelings of overwhelm. He listened sympathetically (BTW,a GREAT thing to do for your goddess, men). “Well, just remember, you don’t have to do it all or do it alone. We’re a team here.” was his sage response.

The weird thing is that I immediately felt better. The black hole continued to shrink throughout the day and was completely dissolved in my evening medicinal red wine. I forget that I don’t have to carry all the weight of my feelings of overwhelm, sadness, or general freakout alone. I don’t have to “protect” my husband, even when he is injured or not doing so well himself.

Here’s the thing: misery may love company, but when said company is allied against it, it slinks off to bother someone else. I’ve usually been good at sharing my flip-out times with my girlfriends, but have rarely shared them with family. What’s that about? Being strong? Suffering in silence? Creating calm even when I don’t feel it inside? Because??????????????

Okay, I never make New Year’s resolutions, but I’ll make an exception. I’ll share my feelings with my mate from now on as well as my girlfriends. Supermom doesn’t live at this house anymore. A Menopause Goddess does. And some days, it’ll be a little more Menopause and a little less Goddess. But it will be real. And it will be shared.

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Menopause Survival Manual For Men

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Lately, I’ve been getting as much mail from men whose mates, moms, and menopausal female pals are looking like a puzzle they just can’t figure out. So for them, I’m offering a few small tips for dealing with us while we are going through the Change.

#1 Choose Your Words Carefully
While you are tippytoeing on those eggshells, here are a few phrases that will get you on your way with the least amount of breakage:

“I love you.”
“I’m sorry.”
“Have you lost weight?”

I’m forever grateful to Shellie Rushing Tomlinson of All Things Southern for sharing these gems. Check out her video on Hot Flashes and Mood Swings in the August 3 blog post of this year “Gotta Love Those Southern Menopause Goddesses” to further understand why you can’t say these three phrases too much.

My own hubby, Dewitt, often sounds like a well-trained parrot as he trots these out over and over. Do I mind his constant repetition? No I don’t. It doesn’t matter how or why he is saying it, just that he is. It’s a way for him to express to me that he knows I’m having a menopause moment. Or year. Or two.

#2 Don’t help. Listen.
We know that it is a man’s nature to want to help in situations where damsels are indeed in distress. However, I can assure you that unless you can magically change our very DNA or make it rain female hormones on command, there is nearly nothing you can do to help. Except listen. Without speaking. And maybe handing us a cool damp cloth for our fiery forehead when we start to sweat like pigs.

#3 Surprise us with housework

I came home today from lunch out with two of the Venuses. I looked at the kitchen sink where I’d left the stack of dirty dishes only to find them washed and air-drying in the drainer.

This is guaranteed to get us right in the heart. And sometimes even in other sensitive places, where our libido has hung a sign reading “On Vacation, Indefinitely.” Yep, porn for women is men doing chores without asking what needs to be done (that is a key part – if we have to tell you what to do, the surprise factor is pretty much lost. As are points.)

The other night, Dewitt jumped up and dried dishes that I was washing, after throwing in the laundry. I gotta tell you, he never looked sexier to me. Hmmmmmmm, housework as aphrodisiac.

#4 Preemptive mood strikes

Along with the aforementioned three mission critical phrases, offering chocolate, neck rubs, wine, and the TV remote are effective mood enhancers that can smooth out some of the emotional swings before they happen. And if they do occur? It’s less likely that you’ll be caught in the crossfire.

These are enough to get you started. Heck, if you only implemented the advice in these four simple tips, you’d be well on your way to being the ideal menopause goddess mate, friend, or companion. We’d love you for it.

Photo for this blog posting is the cover of a fabulous, fun book called Porn for Women. Photographed by Susan Anderson, From the Cambridge Women’s Pornography Cooperative, published by Chronicle Books of San Francisco.

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Pausitive Changes

surf lava

My husband once remarked that it was a wonder that more couples don’t get divorced during the  Big M transition. And certainly it’s true that if we who are undergoing this forced journey don’t understand much of what’s occurring, our mates and loved ones are left completely befuddled.

The combination of physical changes and emotional changes can put a strain on the most loving relationship. Loss of libido, depression and apathy, irritation with everything your loved ones say and do, fatigue, hypersensitivity to noise, temperature, and touch are just a few of the manifestations of this hormonal rollercoaster ride.

Christiane Northrup, author of The Wisdom of Menopause, starts her book of 500+ pages with this sentence “It is no secret that relationship crises are a common side effect of menopause.”

Okay, well it may not have been an intentionally kept secret, but I sure never heard anything about this. (Or any other of the myriad manifestations of the hormonal sh*tstorm we call the Big M.) And I’m a registered nurse for pity’s sake.

Dr. Northrup goes on to elucidate that whatever is wrong or dysfunctional in your relationships will be greatly exacerbated by menopause. I think that is true.

However, in all my talks and sharings with menopause goddesses and their loved ones, I’m finding that a huge amount of upheaval can exist in the most functional relationships.
The Venuses spent a significant part of every meeting focusing on our primary relationships. Suddenly sexual desire disappears. We may not have leisure time interests in common with our spouses. The kids are no longer a focus.  How then do we connect with one another?

And now our intimates want to spend more time with us (the men are changing, too, don’t forget.) We are just beginning to explore our creativity and may want to spend more time alone or with girlfriends  How do we reconcile these needs with our desire to be connected with our loved one?

It has been all too easy to assume that every freakout or episode of bitchiness is hormonal – “oh she’s just going through menopause”  rather than a legitimate reaction to circumstances.

Additionally, deeper difficulties may be brewing or problems long ignored have just come to the surface.

However, it is just as deluded to assume that this sea change isn’t hormonal. Especially if the change is fairly dramatic, seemingly without warning.

Theresa and I found that we went from zero to sixty on the irritation meter in seconds during the worst of our transition. Talking with the other Venuses showed us that we were not alone.

It became clear to us that we needed to ascertain when our anger was a legitimate problem, a true trampling of our boundaries versus a hormonal side effect. Let me tell you truthfully, it can really be hard to discern the difference.

Looking backward, I can offer this advice. Proceed with caution and take it slow. We found that irritation might flare up in a circumstance that we could certainly rationalize as being justifiable anger. But we often decided not to act or say anything right away. We mused. We waited. We paused.

If we were still pissed off in a few hours, we reevaluated and decided on a plan of action for confronting and discussing the problem. If our irritation had literally vanished, we knew that hormones might have played a part. And we let it go.  No harm, no foul.  Especially no harm. To us or anyone else.

(A little history sidenote here – none of the Venuses is a shrinking violet, unused to sharing her feelings, including anger. If you have always contained your anger and irritation, this may not be the best plan for you. You may need to let some anger out. After all, some Change is good!)

And some good news.  The worst of the emotional and hormonal upheaval seems to last around two years, give or take a year. So be patient. Get to know your irritation levels; when they require intervention and when they don’t. Warn your loved ones when you feel especially out of control so they won’t take it personally. Best of all, they can support you. They love you.  They want to help.  Let them.

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I’m Not Depressed, I’m Just Hot, Sleepy, and Crabby

17 kaleid rosefr blog

My friend, M (you’ll remember her as the Menopausal Squirrel), felt pretty good about her health care practitioners. She liked and trusted her gynecologist right up until she began her menopause journey with a plethora of symptoms including hot flashes, mood swings, and insomnia. That’s when things got ugly.

On an office visit, she asked  about remedies and symptom relief. Her gynecologist recommended HRT. M. wasn’t too keen on that idea given the press since the WHI study. “What else can  I do? ” she asked. “Antidepressants” was the answer.  “No other options?” she queried. “There’s nothing else we can do,” she was told.

She walked out of the office and never went back.

Now I’ll be the first to admit that it can’t be pleasant to have a hot, bitchy woman demanding relief and answers in your office when you don’t really know what will help. And I truly understand as a health care practitioner how much you want to offer a definitive answer to such questions. Especially when your local drug rep has just offered you a sheaf of paperwork detailing why this might be a great new use for an old favorite drug.

Still, I gotta think that “I don’t know” might be a better start than “How about an antidepressant?” A fabulous followup might be “I’ll try to find out what other options might be helpful.”

A simple medical professional review session is in order here for all healthcare professionals involved in the care of menopausal women. And all menopausal goddesses are invited to read along to learn how to frame some of their questions in discussions about symptom relief or management.
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Review Statement # 1:   There is no silver bullet.
This is a phrase often used in health care circles to mean that there is no single drug, therapy, or regimen that will eradicate, alleviate, or cure any given syndrome or set of symptoms.

(It is well known that health professionals speak their own language – not sure where the silver bullet metaphor came from unless it was referring to the single thing that can kill a werewolf. While we may feel like we change as much as these lupine creatures during menopause, there really is no silver bullet for us.)

Review Statement # 2    All treatments have adverse or side effects.
Duh! And antidepressants have some whoppers!

Review Statement # 3    All Patients Are Individual
You wouldn’t think that this would even need saying. I heard it over and over again in nursing school. Still…………..

Review Statement # 4    Choose the least interventional option first for any symptom or disease state.
Okay, fans, moisture wicking clothing, natural progesterone cream, and go up from there. Need I say more?  To suggest that HRT or antidepressants are the first or second or only answers goes contrary to this very basic rule. Never try to shoot a fly with an elephant gun.  At least not until it goes rogue.

Review Statement # 5    Conduct a Risk-Benefit Analysis before prescribing treatment.
Take into account severity of symptoms, prognosis, and medical history versus possible benefits minus adverse effects or danger of future medical problems. In other words, examine the risks and potential benefits for each individual patient together with that patient. The operative word being Together.

Are antidepressants bad?  Or wrong? Heck, no. If one is suffering from depression that interferes significantly with daily living, these drugs can literally be lifesavers. This type of clinical depression is an indication that the benefits might outweigh the not inconsiderable risks. Should they be a first line for hot flash relief? Absolutely and unequivocally NO. The risk-benefit teeter totter will be weighted the other way.

Review Statement # 6    Involve the Patient In His/Her Own Healthcare
Duh again. Yes, it’s inconvenient. Yes, it will likely take longer. And the outcome will likely be far more satisfying for all concerned.

To be fair, I can’t tell you how many physicians over the years have told me that their patients don’t want to be that involved in care decisions; they just want to be told what to do. It’s possible we consumers have been at fault by not communicating our desire for involvement or by being too compliant or passive.

We need to prove them wrong and take an active role in symptom relief and control. Empower yourself, ask questions, seek information and move ahead as a full fledged participant in your own Menopause journey.

What did M do when she left her MD’s office? She shopped around., albeit hot flashing, grumbling, and sleep deprived.

She found an integrative wellness clinic that offered wellness counseling including dietary solutions and bioidentical hormones. Options were offered only after extensive testing for her hormone status, including thyroid as well as cortisol, estrogen and progesterone levels. She’s feeling 100% better. Especially since she is now in partnership with her healthcare provider/s.

Want to learn more about your own options? Check out Women In Balance, a non-profit organization dedicated to educating women about their health and wellness options.

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Gotta Love Those Southern Menopause Goddesses

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I’m not from the South. I have no roots or ancestral connections there, although my Mom and Dad retired to Alabama’s Gulf Coast some years ago. But I LOVE Southern women.

I love the steel magnolia- tell it like it is in such a genteel tone that you may not get it til later- way of communicating. And I especially love Southern women’s humor.

My latest fave is Shellie Rushing Tomlinson, who does “On The Porch” chats about All Things Southern.

Forward it to your menopause goddess sisters, and especially to all the men who will benefit greatly from her wisdom and understanding of how to deal with the Change.

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