“Hormones create a symphony and if one is out of tune, the whole song sounds lousy.” – Suzanne Somers
Tackling Early Onset Menopause – The Denial
One time, for no particular reason, I woke up with a list of things for my husband to do – it was just floating around in my head. I shouted them off to him – just line-itemed it. He responded with a confused sideways-look* and a “huh?” that sent me into some deep, unknown place. I continued in such a way that made him feel like he’d be less of a man if he couldn’t do it. That sent him into defense-mode and he grabbed a piece of paper and pen and wrote it all down. He stormed out of the bedroom and quickly got the day started. He was so worried about how hecktic his day was going to be that he didn’t even stick around for coffee. I then slowly began to get upset believing he didn’t care enough about me to even stay for coffee! I’ve ruined the morning for both of us.
Well, after time I finally dared to ask myself the hardest question I’ve ever asked: Why did I just do that?
That one question forced me to search for answers that saved me (us) from disaster because it provided understanding where there was none before. I am normal. I am a good person. But for no obvious reason, I’d occasionally blow up at the silliest little things. Usually, the days preceding a big emotional blow up were great. I’d wake up feeling physically good, we would talk about stuff, and I would kiss him and send him off to work. He’s a good guy. He’s happy when I’m happy. That day I described above… the example of silliness… was no different than any other. So why blow up like that?
The Realization & The Downward Spiral
I now understand that when I turned 39 I began experiencing dramatic hormonal changes. Yes, you read it right – age 39. At first I thought it couldn’t be perimenopause (sometimes called early onset menopause) because I was too young. So the first time I began to actually take notice was around age 41, over two whole years before I worked up the guts to ask that infamous question. I had to figure it all out because more symptoms were creeping up. An example is when I developed a fear of crowds. I thought I was going nuts because I used to be so outgoing and fun. It really hit the fan when at age 42 I discovered that I had fibroids and had my uterus removed. The good news is that I had laparoscopic surgery and it was super easy and healed well. It allowed me to leave the good parts of my body alone and not have a full hysterectomy. The bad news is that it must have kick-started my perimenopause into high gear and just about ruined my family. My husband could deal with the occasional ‘list’ of super important things to do, but what came next was a different animal altogether. Year after year other symptoms came and went. It was happening to me, but we all suffered just the same. Take a look:
- Sweating. I know that there are glands that run through your armpits that can act up on certain occasions, like during exercising and during a pregnancy. But I didn’t know that when going through a hormone fit the glands can act up for hours on end – even if the rest of your body is freezing cold! This led to self-consciousness, self-loathing and perfecting the skill of giving dirty looks to everyone so they will want to keep their distance.
- Night sweats. Once in a while I would wake up the entire house with the rustling of pajamas and blankets that was meant for others to hear. Everyone around me had to pay attention to me and know my pain. My back, chest, neck and face would be covered in sweat, and the feeling of wanting my own skin to be removable was enough to want everyone else to suffer too. Why not accompany the emotions that come with losing control over my body with hatred and resentment from my family too? I said to myself several times before, “Just go for it. Who cares if they hate you in the morning?”
- Lack of sex drive. Libido, schlibido – that was the attitude for at least a year until one day the hubby shouts, “You can count the number of times on one hand!” But what about his grinning during an argument, the hairy arms on my side of the bed, and smelly clothes from his construction work? I thought maybe I should look into it when I realized that these were the very things that used to be attractive to me. “Maybe, just maybe it isn’t all his fault…”
- Fear of crowds/Claustrophobia. A crowd of people can be like the ocean. They surround and engulf you. Maybe if you swim to the corners of the room or to the outside edge of the stadium seating, you just might survive. One day during Sunday service I decided that I would not be able to sit anywhere other than in the back row on the left-hand side of the building where the least amount of people would be. And so that’s where we sat for the next two years. If anyone thought anything of it, they were certainly smart enough to keep it to themselves.
- Paranoia. I was followed several times in my car. And someone went through our recycle to learn more about us. Many times my husband would have to get up in the middle of the night, put on pants, and dash outside to try and catch them. (Too bad he was so slow at the ‘surprise’ part of it. He was never able to catch anyone.) They watched us for several months just after the claustrophobia, and right before the jealousy. Hopefully they won’t return.
- Jealousy. How could such a wonderful man love and want to stay with such a hot mess? He must have had an affair at some point during those years. Let’s see… how many times did I force him to buy me flowers, hold my hand and promise he only loves me? Not enough because I’m sure it happened, I just need the evidence…
- Emotional outbursts. And for no apparent reason. Screaming and crying. Sometimes all day and night. About the stupidest things. Not sure why it even happened. (Usually the next day I would feel like an idiot and apologize profusely. Everyone would keep their feelings a secret, perhaps thinking I was crazy, but said nothing. It was usually the sideways-look they gave me that caused another outburst.)
- Exhaustion. The energy level went from 10 to 2 in a few months flat at around the age of 46. I used to be on top of everything from the time I woke up until the time I went to bed, but that all changed. Now, I think about it first and decide if it really needs to get done at that moment and if not, then great! That’s more time for me to sit here and finish the movie I started. Maybe my body is just tired as a result of all the sweating, sex drive malfunction, claustrophobia, paranoia, jealousy and emotional outbursts? It started out strong but then it had to deal with menstrual cycles and having babies and now this? Yeah, let me watch some TV already.
Taking Action To Balance Hormones
So let me stop right here for a moment. As you can see, I had to do something. The average age for a woman to actually go through menopause is 51. 51! Five more years until it was over? No way. I got busy and did some research on why women experience these symptoms and why some women have it worse than others. I discovered that some of it is genetic. I knew menopause would be hard on me because of family history. There is a history of fibroids, hysterectomies, etc. in my family. But one person stood alone. My aunt. She is the one and only person in our family who had little (if any) female problems. In fact, childbirth to her was like having menstrual cramps! What on Earth does she know that no one else seems to know? Well, she switched her whole family over to soy milk and thinks that may be it. She claims to have never had a cramp during periods, a small amount of pain during her pregnancies (all 5 of ’em) and didn’t experience any of the typical menopausal symptoms. Just who does she think she is anyway?
Was this a fluke or is the secret soy milk? Well, I found out that genetics and nutrition both play a big part in how we experience early onset menopause. For instance, the fact that my perimenopause started so early is a result of genetics. But as far as nutrition goes, the proof is in the statistics. Women who live in Asia have fewer peri and post menopausal issues (including breast cancer) than women who live in the U.S. because of the amount of soy in their diet (and even more so if it has been part of their diet from youth). But wait. For many Asian women this may help the physical problems but still won’t stop some of the emotional ups and downs. Hmm. Well that raises more questions, doesn’t it? We have an answer to the timing of it and the physical stresses of it, but why is there an emotional change? And just how do we cope with it?
So the research continued and here’s the gist of what actually happens to us emotionally when our bodies go through this change: We freak out. When our ovaries stop making hormones, we freak out. Plain and simple. The mother of all hormones, pregnenolone, is from where all other hormones are produced; including progesterone, estrogen and DHEA. Ever so slowly, our bodies slow down production of it as we age, which would be okay if it weren’t for the ovaries drying up at lightning speed causing ‘hormone withdrawals’ that trigger a long list of side effects. Once the ovaries really start to go (starting at around age 45 or earlier) we go nuts. Literally bonkers. So are you getting this? At a certain point in our lives our bodies force us to get used to a big dose of hormones every day and then at another point in our lives, it just stops. It’s like getting someone hooked on crack and then taking it away! People kill each other for crack. Figuring out what is needed to replace the hormones is crucial to getting through this time in our lives without killing someone. You don’t have to end up in prison, just do a bit of research and try a few things that work for you.
Here’s what I did:
- I started drinking soy milk (in addition to cows milk) and replacing meat for tofu every once in a while. I even bought a soy milk maker and a 25 lb bag of soy beans from Bob’s Red Mill online. FAB!
- I live at the Vitacost.com and Terrafirmabotanicals.com (moved to mountainroseherbs.com) online stores. I take daily doses of DHEA (25 mgs) and Vitex (in a tincture). I also use Black Cohosh (in a tincture) and Pregnenolone (50 mgs) as needed for those special occasions. Tip: Keep the bottle of DHEA next to the bed with a pitcher of water and take it first thing every morning.
- I read a scripture every day, journal, blog and read snippets of others’ experiences daily to help put my mind in a good place. It also helps me to be thankful which always leads to a better mood.
- Speaking of mood, I’ve added L-Arginine, Wild Yam Root and Ginseng Root for an occasional testosterone booster. When testosterone is low in both men and women, it can cause depression. Who knew?
- I take an hour at the end of each day to recoup and reset. Men have been doing it from day one, so why can’t I? I call this non-negotiable time of the day “me time” where I take a long bath, lounge outside with a refreshing drink and a good book, or do some deep breathing while taking a stroll in the garden. Works wonders.
Ushering In The Golden Years
I know, you are probably wondering about exercise. I do exercise but it’s so sporadic that I can’t possibly include it on my list; you’ll just have to do me one better. I could do more and I will, because I always feel good afterwards. But I know I’m on the right track. These little changes have been so good for me (us) that it should be some kind of mandatory government program! I can see it now: The FDA’s DHEA Initiative – for the wife and mother gone bonkers.
Hold on, I think I left one thing off the list of symptoms. Ah, yes. Forgetfulness. This brings us up to the current day. I am really trying to figure this one out. I think it’s all about needing post-it notes. I have around 20 post-its on average pinned to my computer screen, on my closet door, on the refrigerator and by the phone. They are the best invention of the century. They are handy and colorful… wait, what was I talking about? Yeah, that’s right, menopause. Menopause is about forgetting all the awful things of the past. One day when we’re older, my husband and I will look at each other with dumb expressions and pretend none of it ever happened. I will have forgotten about all the times he moved so slow he couldn’t catch the people stalking us, and he will forget about all the times I reminded him about it. With all the issues men have to deal with each day and all the issues women have to deal with throughout our lives, maybe nature isn’t so cruel after all. We will just spend our golden years together in sweet forgetfulness, blissful stupidity and that gleeful state of obliviousness. Who needs hormones?
*Sideways-look: That bewildered look someone gives you that is usually accompanied by the slight tilt of the head – like when a dog stares at something he doesn’t understand.