After the hot flashes and mood swings, then how will we feel? According to plenty of older women, great. I cling to one Gallup poll from 1998 that asked older women when they felt happiest and most fulfilled, and a slim majority chose the years between fifty and sixty-five. So hang in there, baby. Fifty’s coming. In the meantime, forewarned is forearmed. Just knowing you can get a little crazy and angry can help the whole process not get the better of you …” Julie Holland, MD
A nicer title might be “can I handle the season’s of my life?” as Stevie Nicks so eloquently put it …
“Climbed a mountain and I turned around
And I saw my reflection in the snow covered hills
‘Til the landslide brought it down
Oh, mirror in the sky
What is love?
Can the child within my heart rise above?
Can I sail through the changin’ ocean tides?
Can I handle the seasons of my life?
Well, I’ve been afraid of changin’
‘Cause I’ve built my life around you
But time makes you bolder
Even children get older
And I’m getting older, too
I took my love, I took it down
I climbed a mountain and I turned around
And if you see my reflection in the snow covered hills
Well the landslide will bring it down
“Landslide” by Fleetwood Mac
I love this song, most people do, they must because they keep making remakes of it. But you don’t really understand this song until you get older, you can love it, but not understand it. I thought I “got it” after I got married & then again after I had kids, but now that I’m living through “the change of life” (perimenopause) and losing my father — I think I “get it” even more and then I’ll probably “get it” even more again when I’m in my 70’s, if I’m lucky enough to live that long, all these changes,”changin’ tides” of life.
“Women & cats will do as they please, and men and dogs should relax and get used to the idea” — Robert A. Heinlen (author)
My friend is really wise, just like my conversation with her about women in their 40’s drinking inspired “All women in their 40’s do … drink every night”. She also inspired this post, because one day we were talking about my “issues” … horrible periods, night sweats, sleeplessness, irritability, weepiness , racing heart rate. I told her I was about at “the end of my rope” and she asked “well have you had the crazies yet?” And I said “oh my god YES — exactly!”. Perimenopause is no fun. “The ups and downs of the your menstrual cycles, relationship drama, and family responsibility may seem like enough to manage, but just at the moment you might begin to think you have everything under control, there comes another curveball: perimenopause. And it comes earlier than you may have thought. Actual menopause lasts one day. It is the one-year anniversary since your periods have completely stopped. The average age for menopause is fifty-one, but anywhere from the forties to the mid-fifties is considered normal. Perimenopause, however, is the long, drawn-out transition from fertility to infertility, which begins seven to ten years prior to your period stopping. Things don’t usually get problematic until the late forties, but this is a marathon, not a sprint. As you near the finish line, things will likely get intense. You learn to expect the unexpected: worsening PMS that seems to come earlier every month, flying off the handle for no reason …” from a book I’ll be quoting a lot “Moody Bitches” by Julie Holland MD (when quoting I’ll use MB ;)) I highly recommend it!
My doctor told me some women “sail right through” perimenopause and some women come into her office practically suicidal. And then there is a whole range in between … I have never felt like killing myself but I have felt like killing everyone around me (including by beloved dogs, on occasion 😯). Also talking to our mother’s generation doesn’t offer much help because most of them were on some form of HRT (hormone replacement therapy — therefore most of them “sailed right through”). They took it off the market (due to a link to breast cancer, however some experts say that’s debatable and today there are a lot of natural HRT options and supplements, so don’t be afraid to ask your doctor about HRT or visit a naturopath). The heavy periods that have landed me in the hospital and left me anemic for months, are the least of my problems, the worst of it being the uncontrollable irritability and a racing heart rate that felt like I was going to have a heart attack, making it really hard to get a good nights sleep (what is a good nights sleep anyway? — between having kids & perimenopause — I can’t remember), I finally went to see my doctor and after a long road of blood tests & cardiology tests, & as she suspected months earlier, she said I was physically fine but suffering from perimenopausal symptoms, a combination of depression & anxiety manifesting itself in the form of panic attacks. She recommended an anti-depressant/anti-anxiety and when the cardiologist said she agreed with my doctor, they convinced me to at least try it for a couple of weeks to see how I felt. Both doctors are women approximately my age which I think is important to note. Within a week or two my husband said “wow it’s so nice to have the old Shannon back” and this is coming from someone who is adamantly against any drugs, he won’t even take an Advil for a headache! It’s been a couple of years and I’m weaning off the medication. Even though it made me more “even keeled” and probably easier to live with — I did feel a little “flat”, no extreme highs or lows. However, it definitely saved me from getting in my car and driving to California and never coming back, but now I kind of want the “old, old Shannon” back — the one that cries really hard at a touching or heartbreaking moment, the one that “calls bullshit” when she thinks it, one of my teachers recently said “yoga teaches you to feel that it’s okay to FEEL”. My husband thinks he might like the “medicated Shannon” better, I was more fun, I think because I just didn’t “give a shit”, everything was a lot more tolerable and therefore more fun. I also think I was a little bit wrong to think going on that medication wasn’t a big deal — going on it WASN’T a big deal, within 5 days I didn’t feel like divorcing my entire family. But going off is another story — the irritability is back albeit not as bad, I was nauseous and dizzy & had pretty debilitating headaches for a week or two (the Ancient Greek word, pharmakon, which has held disparate meanings — sacrament, medicine and poison. It is a common saying in medicine that sometimes the treatment is worse than the disease. MB) Getting off the medication was not easy but I kept trying because it can’t be good to stay on it forever?! I’m almost completely off and “so far so good”!
“Sometimes, if I see a patient with crippling depression or anxiety, then prescribing an SSRI is the right call, but even if it is the best initial treatment, it might not be the forever cure. Feeling deeply may, at times, be difficult to navigate, but it’s also a powerful tool … We are built to be highly attuned and reactive, and embracing that truth is the first step in gaining mastery of our inner lives and our health. If your serotonin levels are constantly, artificially high, you’re at risk of losing the emotional sensitivity that makes you you. You may be less likely to cry in the office or bite your nails to the quick, but you’re also going to have a harder time reacting emotionally and connecting fully with others, especially sexually.” MB the old, OLD Shannon.
“Our hormonal variations allow us to be empathetic and intuitive—to our environment, to our children’s needs, and to our partners’ intentions. Women’s emotionality is normal. It is a sign of health, not disease, and it is our single biggest asset.” MB I feel like my medication served it’s purpose, getting me through maybe the worst part of my perimenapause and the dying/death of my father. As she states in her book “Yet one in four American women are choosing to medicate away their emotionalism … More women than ever before are taking psychiatric medications, creating a new normal that isn’t normal at all. It is at odds with our biology. Our brains are wired differently from men’s brains, and our hormones do make us more moody.” MB
I was hoping I could blame my weight gain on the medication, however I haven’t noticed any weight loss and read in “MB” that during perimenopause “Your appetite for food goes up. For sex, it goes down. The urge to mother or nurture, reliant on estrogen all those years, starts to give way to thoughts of … Why do I have to do everything around here? When is it my turn? But first, let’s talk about my belly. FYI, when you’re perimenopausal, your belly starts to store fat because your estrogen levels are waning. Beware the menopot.” MB — which I copied and emailed to my husband and my son to show them that the little belly I’ve developed in the last few years (that they make fun of) isn’t my fault — “just like I’ve been trying to tell you!!!”
I’ve been killing myself for the last 8 to 10 years to try to look like my 25 year old self, when people ask why, I say it’s because I know there is a 25 year old out there just waiting to take my place when my husband leaves me because I’ve gained weight and gotten wrinkly and fat, but lately I’ve been thinking that maybe the real reason men leave their wives or wives leave their husbands in their late 40’s to 50’s isn’t because they’ve gotten fat or gray or wrinkly (on either side) but because the women are crazy and the men are boring (which is their version of perimenopause aka MANOpause)!
When I was in my early teens I so clearly remember my parents talking about the “crazy” things their friends were doing, getting divorced left & right, having affairs, buying expensive cars & boats, drinking too much and doing drugs, leaving their families to move to India for a year to live in an ashram (little did I know back then I might grow up to be one of them — especially now that I know what an ashram is ;)). And then one of them would whisper “well you know it’s because they’re having a mid-life crisis” and I remember thinking that’s a “bunch of bullshit” just because you’re over 40 doesn’t mean you get a “license” to lose your mind and start behaving badly or at best bizarrely! But now that I’m 49 (50 in 5 minutes ;)) I’m here to tell you it IS a real thing. Between realizing that your life is more than 1/2 way over and the hormone shifts and the getting fat & gray & boring or crazy or all of the above (and did I mention living with teenagers) — it’s not an easy time in life and it definitely makes you want to reflect on your life and life choices and where you see yourself in the future. And if you’re in a relationship (i.e. married 20 years or so with children — teenagers in particular) you find yourself wondering “is this really all there is?”, “are we still going to like each other or even know each other after the kids leave?”, “can we weather the storm of my menopause?” “Can I handle the seasons of my life?”
MB offers some advice for just those questions “make sure you create and maintain a “space between” in your relationship. Do things separately, (i.e. yoga retreats for me, ski/bike/” motorcycle trips for my husband) have your own friends and interests, so you’ll have something to talk about when you do spend time together. And when you can, do novel, fun things together. Travel to new territory, try new activities, … have fun out there. It may lead to great sex, which can help solidify the bonds of great love. Remember that you’re on the same team.” MB I have friends taking pole dancing (yes like a stripper only with their clothes on ;)) & salsa dance lessons and they love it & so do their husbands because they say it makes their wives feel sexier and therefore … ;).
“Also, only one of you gets to be a baby at a time. Two passive, irresponsible people cannot run a household or raise children. If you insist on being two children, neither of your needs will be met. You can decide between you, and it can be fluid, but one of you needs to be an adult in any given situation.” MB Like when I HAVE to go “take a bath”, even though I just took a shower 😂 my husband now knows he needs to step in and take the reins.
Ever since I had babies I have said where’s my red tent!? If you haven’t read “The Red Tent” by Anita Diamant you should (or maybe you shouldn’t, especially if you’re young because when you have babies and as you age you’ll be asking “where’s my red tent?”) 😔 In MB she talks about “The Red Tent”… “I still advise keeping the sanctity of the cycle by having some delineated downtime on a monthly basis. I wish we had some sort of red tent, where women could gather to learn from one another and grow together, to hang out when they’re menstruating or nursing or delivering. I hate that there is so much shame and secrecy around menstruation and menopause. It’s not fair, and it’s not healthy.” MB Where’s my Red Tent? Where was it when I was pregnant & having babies & where is it now? I’m trying to find it in researching, reading, talking & sharing with others about this “mid-life crisis”, this “change of life”.
“Perimenopausal women today are not just balancing work and family; they’re also trying to avoid putting their parents in a nursing home. It’s not only stress inducing or anxiety provoking, it’s depressing. We all have fears around aging and becoming “infirm.” Watching our daughters blossom in the springtime of their fertility as we fade out in the autumn of ours, plus seeing what lies ahead as our mothers wither and weaken, is poignant and painful and very nearly too much to handle. Hormonal surges and cycles are a major part of being a woman.” MB
“Just as my teenage daughter, is entering into her cyclical moodiness, her mother is ungracefully exiting. Don’t you wish you were my husband, sandwiched between a cadet just joining the ranks of the menstruation nation and a retired general who’s bowing out? Both of us are having fits and starts of our ovaries, … Nearly a quarter of women with teenagers are in their fifties.” MB We’re in the same shoes in my house right now, I tell my husband all the time I feel sorry for him, thank goodness we just have one daughter can you imagine being the husband in a family with multiple teenage girls???
“Being authentic in your actions and in line with your emotions, doing what you feel instead of what you think you should, can lead to improved health.” MB How many times in the last few years have I said “I’m so tired of people telling me what I should do?” Or feeling like I should be doing something other than what I feel like … like I should be doing cross-fit when what I feel like doing is yoga & guess what it turns out after a certain age yoga and pilates are way more beneficial to your overall health than lifting ridiculously heavy weights, and box jumping and sprinting and on and on and my yoga teachers don’t yell at me like the cross fit trainer … instead they talk about being kind and gentle to yourself and others and taking care of yourself so you can take care of those around you …
“Women feel more, and for good reasons. By evolutionary design, women’s brains have developed to encourage empathy, intuition, emotionality, and sensitivity. We are the caretakers and the life givers; …” MB
“The answer for each of us will be unique. But all of us need to stop and listen when we get bitchy. Embracing our moods will, in the end, make us happier. We need to begin anew, to realign with our bodies and learn how to treat them right. It’s time to embody the wisdom inherent in nature, and in our natural animal selves. Moody Bitches will show you the way, ...” MB So when I say I need to take a nap, or need to go (escape) to my room to “read my book” or “take a bath” and sometimes I don’t even come out until morning 😮, I mean it, I NEED it, and we will all be better off because I took “a time out” (that’s what my friend Melissa calls it 😘) from now on I’m not going to feel guilty about it! I am almost 50 after all!
“Dogs are wise. They crawl away into a quiet corner and lick their wounds and do not rejoin the world until they are whole once more” — Agatha Christie
We have a football tailgate group and we are all between the ages of 45 -55ish and I said to one of the husbands at the last game I wasn’t sure we would renew our tickets next year because “I couldn’t keep up! I couldn’t handle the tailgate party plus the game plus getting home late, because I’m so tired the next day I have to take a nap.”
And his reply was “so what if you have to take a nap, or how about only come to the tailgate party, you’re just going to die soon so let’s have fun! Cheers!” He is NOT one of the boring ones!