In recognition of Menopause Awareness Month, I’m sharing my story. So male readers … you might want to skip this or you could read it for additional insight into what your girlfriend/mother/sister might be going through.
I officially entered menopause last July during what I’ve named “My Ugly Summer.” Most of the spring and the summer are a blur—a consequence of months of sleep deprivation caused by hot flashes that progressed to sweats that progressed from just the nighttime to any time day or night.
Summer temperatures in Colorado are typically in the nineties and often go over a hundred. Working in an office that wasn’t air conditioned only made me crankier and more emotional. The cumulative fatigue from the sleeplessness made it hard for me to concentrate—I struggled to remember what I’d done even the day before and had to write down all my errands. Things got really ugly when we went on vacation to Thailand. The humidity made wearing makeup futile and I felt constantly damp. Was it my hot flashes? Was it the humidity? Was it the rain? It really didn’t matter … it was just exhausting.
For some reason approaching menopause I’d decided that I was going to do menopause naturally – no hormone replacement therapy for me. If I could give birth naturally, I could do this naturally, right? And I remembered from a few years ago the whole big HRT scare. So as my symptoms progressed I tried lots of remedies:
- progesterone cream to be applied at the first inkling of a hot flash – not very convenient especially if you’re mid-conversation with someone and hard to carry with you all the time.
- a mild anti-depressant – I wasn’t depressed (or at least wasn’t at the beginning of the end) but these were supposed to make me drowsy and help me sleep. Instead I ended up with loads of canker sores inside my mouth.
- herbal teas
- hot flash pajamas made from wicking fabric
- homeopathic pellets for hot flashes and anxiety – I liked these. These were small enough to carry around and also affordable so I could have multiple stashes—by my desk, by my bed, in my pocketbook and so on.
They each would seem to work for a while but ultimately stopped being effective. The lack of sleep seriously compounded everything and was much worse than anything I’d experienced nursing either of my children. I resorted to over-the-counter sleep-aids at the weekends so I could get a couple of good nights’ sleep. Then came Thailand and jet lag was the worse I’d ever experienced. Combined with broken sleep from my hot flashes I thought I’d never get back to a normal routine. Out of desperation I started to take the sleep aids every night. That was when I knew it was time to reassess the natural route.
I sat in my doctor’s office, barely holding myself together. I poured my heart out and begged for a better solution. Fortunately, I am very healthy and am considered at low-risk for breast cancer so she explained current thinking around HRT and suggested a low-dose combination of estrogen and progesterone. The relief came quickly and with hindsight I wish I had turned to the hormones sooner.
I do think it’s smart to try the over-the-counter and natural remedies first because from my experience, the symptoms change and progress as your body changes and even though HRT is considered safe for people like me, prolonged use is not recommended. So delaying starting is HRT is prudent … just don’t be as stubborn as me!