Menopause: Beyond a New Normal
The women who move through menopause most easily tend to be those who can take a positive, or at least a “glass half full,” approach. If you’ve been looking at menopause as something negative, take some time to look at the other side.
Menopause frees you from the expense of buying menstruation products. No more period pain or pre-menopausal symptoms. No more monthly bleeding means no more worries about “leaking” on your light-colored clothes or sheets. If you’re sexually active with a sperm-producing man, your worries about birth control and pregnancy can begin to diminish now.
Menopause does bring changes in your body. Since these vary greatly between individuals, don’t expect your menopause to look exactly like what you’ve heard about from other women.
Perimenopause and menopause
The transition into menopause (known as perimenopause) begins earlier than you might think. Perimenopause usually starts in your 40s, although for some women it may begin in their 30s or earlier. The ovaries slow down or taper off their production of estrogen. This process begins gradually, then speeds up as you approach menopause.
Although menopause is usually defined as twelve months after the last menstrual period, it’s common to experience the first symptoms of menopause years before you reach that point. Completing the transition from perimenopause into menopause can take from 7 to 14 years.
Preparing for change
If you don’t already have a health care provider you can talk to easily, find one now. Your primary doctor should be one you can talk to easily about your overall health – including physical, sexual and emotional - and the natural interconnection of your body and mind. If your doctor dismisses all your concerns as based on being “over emotional” or interprets all your health issues based on your BMI, you might want to find a physician with a more patient-centered approach.
You’ve experienced a hormonal change at least one time before – - when you began menstruating. If you’ve been pregnant, your hormones changed then, too. Use your memory of those earlier hormonal shifts to help you keep perspective as you move into menopause. Just as pregnancy and menarche (the beginning of menstruation) have differing effects on different people, your experience of menopause may not be the same as that of your best friend, sister, or co-worker
Possible effects of menopause
Although vaginal dryness occurs as part of menopause for some people, not everyone experiences an alteration in vaginal moisture. Here’s a list of some of the common symptoms associated with menopause:
- Irregular periods (Please note that months or even years of irregular periods may precede your last menstrual period. Since your last period will not announce itself as the final shedding of blood from your uterus, it’s wise to continue using birth control if you are having procreative sex.)
- Shifting sleep patterns
- Changes in regulation of body temperature, which may include hot flashes, night sweats, and/or chills
- Emotional fluctuations, which can include depression and anxiety
- Decreased bone density
- Change in levels of physical and mental energy, possibly resulting in weight gain as your metabolism changes
- Urinary leakage and/or urinary urgency
- Alterations in sex drive
- Thinning hair
- Increased tendency to skin dryness
Rolling with the changes
Your physician’s advice can be very useful in dealing with many of these changes. For instance, they may want to test your bone density levels, and possibly recommend a calcium supplement. If you feel like you are riding an emotional roller coaster, you may want to talk to your doctor about medication, and/or see a therapist who specializes in issues relating to menopause and aging.
Taking a flexible and creative approach to dealing with menopausal changes can make this period of transition easier. We’ve heard stories of friends and friends and friends who used their unexpected perimenopausal insomnia time to learn new skills and hobbies. One woman took advantage of altered sleep patterns to learn a new language, using the early morning hours when she couldn’t sleep to memorize words.
Accepting, and working with menopause rather than fighting against it, helps lead to a happier post-menopausal life.