Menopause and Anxiety: The Night Terrors

We Venuses may not all have suffered daytime panic, but each of us had nocturnal visits from a variety of rest-sucking fears we call the night terrors. Our specters included anxiety and worry, instant replays, and the list of undones. Some of us got all three of these lovelies, occasionally all in the same night. Along with insomnia, these visitations disrupted our sleep profoundly, leaving us more vulnerable to all the other emotional and physical changes that afflict us during the daylight hours.

Initially, I was feeling rather smug during the onset of menopause because I did not find myself bursting into tears or excessively cranky like some of my menopause goddess sisters. However, I made up for this initial blessing in spades during the night time.

In the wee hours of each morning, I would wake to find myself aboard the Fretliner Express, my own personal bullet train to anxiety and worry. While I would have no memory of embarking or even purchasing a ticket, I’d suddenly be speeding straight on to worst-case scenario with no stops at logic, rationality, or probability statistics.

"But this is not me!" I’d cry out silently. "I just don’t worry." I think I’ve mentioned before that this phrase could be the mantra of mid-life women "This is not me." Alas, it is you. And me. Now.

Back to the Fretliner – as always, I am alone and the train is whizzing past stops so fast I can’t tell where we are. Of course it is an underground train – eerie and dark and forbidding. My heart races, and I worry. About everything, it would seem. My kids – where are they right now? Either sound asleep, like I ought to be or partying the night away with their friends or mates. In any case, they are thousands of miles away, living their own lives. But I worry about unseen, amorphous dangers they might encounter. I worry about my health, my husband’s health, the health of my island or the planet. I fret about global warming and whether Friendly Market will have mahi-mahi for tomorrow night’s dinner. I worry about aging in general. I worry that Island Air will be late when we fly to Maui in 2 months, though we have no particular schedule that would be affected if it were late. All these worries are equal somehow. Equal as in HUGE. So I lay awake – worrying and fretting and desperate to get back to sleep. The worst part is that all this worry is aging me further! As much as I lose my train of thought these days, I can’t seem to lose my nocturnal journeys on the Fretliner Express train.

Instant Replays are another hard-to-swallow flavor of the night terrors for us menopausal goddesses. Like a curmudgeonly version of the movie "Groundhog Day", you are forced to relive over and over some insignificant event. The repetition can 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 get up and write these little reminders down, I’m up for a while. Usually, I focus on them, try to commit them to memory, in case they might be important. And this takes long enough that, I’m up. Or should I try to ignore the Undone zombies, they just keep lurching into my consciousness and you guessed it, I’m up.

Undones from the Future come 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’m 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 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 to Thailand.
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. Don’t even suggest 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 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 now, I am frustrated and heading toward pissed off, so once again I am AWAKE. and up for a while. The only thing that seems to help dissipate the nighttime anxiety IS anger.

And the one thing that truly makes it all bearable is that I’m not the only one. Even though I don’t see you on the Fretliner, I know you’re there – in some other car, riding along with me, sharing my sweats and terrors. The movie is easier to handle when we know what to expect and when we experience it together.
(material partially adapted from "The Big M" – available in the next 2-3 weeks – stay tuned.)

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35 Responses to Menopause and Anxiety: The Night Terrors

  1. moonseazen September 23, 2009 at 7:43 am #

    Boy, is that me to a "t"! I am so happy you have painted such a clear picture. It does feel better to know I am not alone. I worry that I am not me, I have lost it, and I am such a nervous wreck. I have been contemplating medication, but so far the only thing that helps is trying to moderate the stress in my life, eliminating people that are stress-provoking, and cutting way back on caffeine. Which I need to stay awake all day since I have been up all night. ๐Ÿ™‚

  2. Maureen Senn September 23, 2009 at 7:43 am #

    And that is why I read this blog! Because I experience the same things. I have tried getting up, looking myself in the mirror and mentally shouting "STOP IT". Sometimes it works. My best cure is Benedryl. I can take it as long as I have 5 hours before getting up and still wake up clear. Of course that may cause another worry: is it too late?

  3. Rae Young September 23, 2009 at 7:43 am #

    My solution to the "up all night and finding things to worry about" syndrome was kind of silly, but it worked for me. I needed to change the dreary atmosphere in my brain to something cheerier and I knew no matter what I did I would be up all night until my body just gave up and fell asleep. So……. I turned to the harlequin romance novels, it was like reading a comic book. I could stop reading it and always come back and pick it back up again where ever I left off. The story lines have just enough adveristy in it so I worry a bit , but hey, it's a harlequin romance novel, eventully everyone will live happily everafter!!!!! Well, told you it was silly, but it has saved me from lot of night of needless worry. aloha Rae

  4. Theresa Souers September 23, 2009 at 7:43 am #

    I find that I still "panic" at night when trying to figure out how I am going to complete every "must do" item on the following day's list. At least now, I am able to remind myself that an event that at night appears to require two hours can actually be completed in fifteen minutes. The panic still comes however, deep breathing and a personal lecture seems to help. Also, no caffeine after 2:00 pm.

    Now, on the flip side, I also realize that I often come up with brilliant solutions in the middle of the night. Is that a silver lining on the moon?

  5. betty Zahler September 23, 2009 at 7:43 am #

    The demons of the night plague us even after menopause. As an older venus, i can attest to one of the problems of anxiety, a part of old age. In our twilight years we are cursed with anxiety, forgetfulness and frustration of our shortcomings. Menopause is temporary but old age stays with us everyday, as we age. There is light towards the tunnel with love and fortitude. Again, kudos to Lynette for your help and understanding.

  6. Rae Young September 23, 2009 at 7:43 am #

    I forgot to add, I can't stand Harlequin novels anymore and the night frights have pasted and all is well. aloha Rae

  7. Michelle March 26, 2013 at 12:58 pm #

    Thank you so much for writing this. I am not crazy. Yes, night terrors about every thing. Did I say something wrong, do something wrong, what are people saying about me, relationship troubles. I had a historectomy, went through a divorce, not even sure that these were my choices but the choices from this other woman inside me.

  8. LynetteSh March 26, 2013 at 7:31 pm #

    You are so welcome. And these days, I always caution my menopause Goddess sisters not to make any major life decisions for at least the first couple of years of menopause – it’s like puberty to the 10th power and we sure wouldn’t let a girl going through puberty make any major life decisions. Sadly, some decisions are not ours to make. Hang in there – it does get better.

  9. Michelle March 26, 2013 at 8:19 pm #

    I sure hope so. If I would have known that I started going through menopause I wouldn’t have made some of the decision I did. Oh well.
    Can you also feel paranoid at times? It’s like all my emotions are to the extreme. Even some that I haven’t experienced before.

  10. LynetteSh March 26, 2013 at 8:33 pm #

    Oh gosh, Michelle. The full gamut of weird emotions suddenly can show up: paranoia, panic attacks, anger over nothing more than the cat is breathing too loud. You name it, some goddess has suffered it. Eventually, things settle down, though we are never like we were before. Sometimes, we are better (see latest blog post by Saskia). It just takes awhile. BTW, Girlfriends and chocolate are mandatory.

  11. Michelle March 27, 2013 at 5:58 am #

    the hardest part right now is making decisions. I can’t even start to explain what is happening to me. Not sure how much in menapause or if there is more to it.

  12. Michelle March 27, 2013 at 9:41 am #

    I wish I had a direction in my life.

  13. LynetteSh March 27, 2013 at 2:24 pm #

    This is where girlfriends are critical to our well-being and to creating the second half of our lives. Check out the blog posts about Creating A Menopause Goddess Group (should be able to just put them in the search box and get to them. If you have any problems finding them, let me know and I’ll get the links for you. One meeting of ours centered on “finding our passion” or direction. One goddess suggested that we get the local community college or adult ed catalog and just take things to see if anything sticks. Worst case is you’ll have tried something. Amazingly, some of us found beading, gourmet cooking, or just enjoyed experimenting. At this age, we don’t care about looking foolish or making a career as much as just trying things on for size. And having a little fun while we are at it.

  14. Michelle March 27, 2013 at 2:48 pm #

    Thank you. I also just found out that I have a gaba/glutamate imbalance. So that doesn’t help. Just ordered natural supplements, Trancor.

    That’s funny that you say that about cont. ed. I had signed up for a class but there wasn’t enough people so they cancelled it.

    Need some income coming in soon. I have been doing some stained glass & abstract paintings.

  15. LynetteSh April 6, 2013 at 3:41 pm #

    Keep doing your art, Michelle. It’s like we have an artistic renaissance in Menopause. However, most of us are not able to make a living at it, so had to find other employment as well. Good luck, my dear, and keep us posted!

  16. Michelle April 6, 2013 at 7:47 pm #

    Thank you Lynette. I recently had one of my pieces get accepted in a juried show. Just came back from the opening. But boy am I wiped out.
    Had a bad morning though. Was so lost, didn’t know what I was supposed to do.

  17. LynetteSh April 9, 2013 at 6:40 pm #

    Congratulations! And hang in there. Mama said there’d be days like this!

  18. Michelle May 14, 2013 at 6:49 am #

    Having a tough time with all the racing thoughts & the should haves…etc. Can’t seem to stop them. It’s not healthy.
    Also, going back & forth about stuff, wishy washy. Sleeping on couch, then to bed, back on couch, back on the bed. panic, fears. I can’t handle to much anymore. Seeing things out of context, saying or doing things then regretting them. Help……

  19. LynetteSh May 14, 2013 at 12:26 pm #

    I know, this is so hard, Michelle. You didn’t mention whether or not you were taking HRT or herbs or any other remedies, which certainly can help to varying degrees. Some women experience relief with Kava kava, a supplement for anxiety (used in Polynesia for centuries). Do not exceed recommended dosage or use if you have any history of liver problems! Second best, if you can’t take Kava kava, SAm-e or St. John’s Wort has worked for some, although it is best for depression. Third best, if this is really interfering with your life, try asking your MD for a mild tranquilizer, just to get over the hump. Otherwise, know that it will get better. It’s temporary and sadly, normal. Wishing you luck – keep us posted!

  20. Michelle May 14, 2013 at 3:02 pm #

    I am taking Trancor, a natural remedy & lavender oil.
    I’m not on any HRT yet. I may be having a saliva test done to find out how bad it is.
    Thank you for the info.

  21. LynetteSh May 14, 2013 at 4:36 pm #

    You are so welcome – let me know how it goes.

  22. Michelle May 14, 2013 at 7:23 pm #

    Went to yoga tonight. Feeling less depressed. It’s incredible how sensitive I am to the weather also.
    Is it normal to feel awkward like a teenager? I think my sex hormones are raging too. Seem to want some younger men. Haven’t had the opportunity yet though…

  23. LynetteSh May 14, 2013 at 8:57 pm #

    Oh yes, it’s perfectly normal to feel awkward and to feel like your skin doesn’t even fit. As for the libido thing, most of our Menopause Goddess group suffered decreased (read no) libido for awhile, but two of our group had just the opposite – their libido went on overdrive. So yeah, it’s all normal. Weird, but normal. I always say that Menopause is puberty to the 10th power. Hang in there (yoga is a good idea. And girlfriends. very important.)

  24. Michelle May 15, 2013 at 5:22 am #

    Not sure why I don’t have many girlfriends to hang out with, if any.
    I must be doing something wrong.

  25. LynetteSh May 15, 2013 at 6:58 pm #

    Hey Michelle,
    Check out today’s blog post – I posted it with you in mind. ๐Ÿ™‚

  26. Michelle May 29, 2013 at 12:06 pm #

    Hi It’s me again. Boy, I wish I could make decisions. Too much is happening. Too many memories. Don’t know how much longer I can handle all of this.

  27. Michelle May 29, 2013 at 12:19 pm #

    I know I have more issues than just hormonal stuff. I am doing a hormonal test too.

  28. Michelle June 8, 2013 at 8:43 am #

    Oh I just want to scream. why can’t I be normal?
    I get angry because a friend didn’t call. Not understanding if people are sincere.

  29. Michelle June 18, 2013 at 11:18 am #

    Does Menopause make you think you’re crazy, take things out of context, or flair up at nothing?

  30. LynetteSh June 30, 2013 at 2:50 pm #

    Dear Michelle, Start that Menopause Goddess group – it will be so nurturing to share with other like-afflicted women. We’ve all been there.

  31. LynetteSh June 30, 2013 at 2:53 pm #

    Oh yes, all of the above. Hang in there, it gets better. And I can’t stress enough the importance of girlfriends at this time.

  32. Michelle July 1, 2013 at 6:49 pm #

    I sure hope it does. I know I have other issues too but all this doesn’t help to think clear…:) I am on a high right now. I don’t like feeling scattered, never knowing if I’m doing the right thing.
    If you have chance, look me up on Facebook & see some of the artwork that I do. Would love some feedback.

  33. LynetteSh July 10, 2013 at 9:07 pm #

    What is your Facebook name or link – and I’ll sure take a look, thanks. A lot of Menopause Goddesses have a resurgence of creativity during this transition – one of the actually good things.

  34. Darlene Smersall November 5, 2017 at 8:02 am #

    Where can I find the blog because I am having a rough time with the panic attacks and insomnia?

  35. LynetteSh November 8, 2017 at 1:12 pm #

    Darlene, Just put in in your browser window and the whole blog will come up. Use the search box on the right side to search specific topics. Hang in there – it gets better. lynette

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