Diary of a Menopausal Woman: January 2021 (Fear)

I am afraid.

I fear the mental illness that’s coursed through my blood will surface at last. Thus far, I’ve escaped my mother’s schizophrenia, my aunt’s clinical depression, my sister’s depression, my niece’s trichotillomania, my other niece’s bipolar diagnosis, and my daughter’s anxiety. For women, mental illness appears during hormonal shifts. I thought I was different. I am not. My body has been waiting for the most opportune time.

January 11th: I couldn’t stop crying about all manner of things. I lamented my life’s choices, the latest was taking a job as an assistant professor of education at a community college six years ago. I was just now attaining tenure. Of all the things I’ve done, this has made me feel most like a failure. My brain ran with these thoughts. By traditional calculations, I should’ve stayed at my first academic job and gotten tenure in 2015, like a “normal” person. But I couldn’t because my husband couldn’t find a job in the small racist town we’d agreed to move our family to.

The self-loathing invited me to cozy up in its arms, and even though I tried to writhe free, I couldn’t. It was comfortable, so I stayed a while. I pondered my next bad decision, moving from that small Georgia town back to Florida and commuting two hours and forty-five minutes one way to another academic job. That was stupid. I quit after three years. Maybe if I would’ve moved to that city, I would have tenure by now. Maybe I wasn’t supposed to be a professor at all. Or maybe I wasn’t good enough to be at a university in the first place.

My mind raced.

I fear change in general and have spent much of my life controlling myself and my surroundings. When I was sixteen years old, I was caught off-guard by my adopted mother’s death, by her not returning home after a routine hospital visit. She’d been ill my entire life, riddled by the consequences of kidney disease; however, I never anticipated she would die. My adopted father’s behavior changed. Years later, one of his best friends said he’d contemplated suicide. She begged him not to, so he didn’t. But our home life grew as erratic as his moods.

From that point on, I attempted to create a life of predictability. I married a man who enjoys routine: Work. Tennis. Movies. I maintained lists on agendas intended to organize my life into a tidy bow. Anything that veered from the lists didn’t happen. It was too much for my anxiety.

This new way of life is like walking blindfolded into a real-time haunted house on a daily basis.

January 13th: I awoke at two o’clock, then four o’clock, then six o’clock. Each time I lie on my side of the bed, listening to my husband’s soft snores, wishing he’d wake up to notice how I’d suffered. There’s no way I can get used to two-hour increments of sleep. Or is there? The root cause of this insomnia is biology, a lack of progesterone, according to the interwebs. Too little disrupts women’s circadian rhythms. No amount of chamomile tea with lavender matters. Every night is like a crapshoot: How long will I remain asleep?

January 14th: I awoke to drenched sheets. The next day, my husband told me he saw my feet by his nose. I thought he was sleep when I’d flipped around in an attempt to find a cool part of the bed. There was none. Every place I was, the heat was too.

I’m annoyed.

I can’t even ease my nerves with a drink, something I’ve been doing since before I was twenty-one. For years, I’ve relied on varied forms of liquor to soothe and bring me down from the bundle of nerves that tie themselves in a knot in my stomach. Mixed drinks and fancy elixirs have helped calm my busy brain from concocting ridiculous thoughts. The most recent fix is red wine in a time of COVID-19. But even that must change.

Experts suggest avoiding alcohol. A glass or two of my favorite red blend signals my body to heat up in an uncomfortable and embarrassing rage. Droplets form at my hairline and flow down the sides of my face into a pool between the wrinkles of my neck.

“Are you okay?” a voice always asks.

No, I answer in my head. All I want is to escape this new body that’s forming. Every shift does not fit into a beautiful cocoon-butterfly metaphor. No. Change is bad. And no magical number of inspirational quotes, pointing toward accepting change or being brand new will help.

“Yes,” I say, while grabbing a napkin and jokingly referring to how frequently sweating now occurs.

I’m ugly.

When I look in the mirror, I no longer see my once beautiful, big, brown eyes. Instead, I notice black rings forming underneath, one for each hour of sleep I’m missing. My used-to-be bright caramel skin now appears as a dull ash. Sucking in my belly is futile. Though I’ve worked out four times a week, religiously for the past two decades, somehow, I’ve gained ten pounds all in my stomach.

My husband says, “You’re beautiful,” as he has most days of our marriage.

But his words don’t change the way I see myself. Self-esteem and self-love are both inside jobs, after all. And this change of life has quickly stripped me of both.

January 15th: I texted my mother-in-law.

She experienced menopause when I was in my twenties and preparing to marry her son. She’d mentioned it was tied to when a woman began her period.

“I started mine when I was ten,” I said.

“Well, you better start your estrogen shots now,” she advised, half smirking.

I ignored her, thinking I had all the time in the world to worry about old-lady things. I was right and I was wrong.

I’ve learned to communicate with her the same way she does me, sporadically, without warning or too much greeting.

What natural remedies can I use for these night sweats?

She responded with a list:

Natural Remedies for Hot Flashes

Black Cohosh (Actaea racemose, Cimicifuga racemose) This herb has received quite a bit of scientific attention for its possible effects on

Hot flashes

Red clover

Dong Quai

Ginseng

Kava

Evening Primrose Oil

Use with Caution.

She also advised me to avoid caffeine and refined sugar and to get a fan and ice water.

I’m nervous.

Drugs seem to be the universal answer; however, this remedy is outside of my nature. In my house, we don’t even take aspirin for headaches. We take a nap or eat a meal.

Twenty-two years ago, when I delivered my first baby, I was hellbent on having a natural birth.

“Are you sure you don’t want an ep-i-duuuur-aaaalllll?” the nurse mocked.

“No,” I panted.

A few centimeters later, the pain was too much to bear.

“Can I get an epidural now?” I begged.

“It’s too late,” the nurse said. “We can give you Demerol.”

I delivered a baby on the slow drip of pain meds. To now consider a daily pill to quell my symptoms for the five to ten years they say menopause may last seems excessive. But my growing depression, sweating at inopportune times, and getting four hours of sleep are far worse.

January 18th: I found a local doctor who creates and sells natural plant-based medications. Something called Natural Balance Cream for Women promises to balance my progesterone levels and Estrofem will help with my estrogen levels. I received both on January 20th.

Now, I wait.

Write for Navigating the Change.

28 Comments on “Diary of a Menopausal Woman: January 2021 (Fear)

  1. Oh, K. I can relate to so much of this powerful write. I hope you are able to balance all the downs with ups and celebrate this ever-evolving self. Becoming a crone does not come easy. It is hard won and is a position of valour (even if only in our own minds.)

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks VJ. Since I wrote/experienced this, I’ve felt much better. Eventually, I’ll celebrate lol I would like to add this…it seems that being a woman, in general, doesn’t come easy. You know? Every step of the way is another hurdle

      I do agree, though, that being a crone is truly an honor of valor ❤

      Liked by 1 person

      • You are spot on! Totally unfair. My husband goes to the doctor and says “I’m experiences this and this” and the doc says “Yep, I know what that is. Let’s do this.” I go in and they say “Well, we really don’t know” or “You’re just oversensitive” or “It must be hormones.” Argh.

        Liked by 1 person

      • VJ…I was just thinking of a list of things doctors ought not say to women over 40…”It must be hormones” is high on the list lol

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Totally get you on this one, KE. But the nature of nature is to bud, flower, and fade. Once we are beyond our reproductive usefulness, our petals fall off and we begin to decay. Humans have been seeking the fountain of youth for a long time, unsuccessfully. There is no miracle cream or herbal tea that can stop what nature has put in motion. Acceptance is hard, I know. But it helps us to take stock of what we still have, what still works, what we can still give or contribute, and to be grateful for those things. Coffee, my longtime friend, now makes my heart race and throws my bowels into a frenzy, so I have to avoid it if I plan on going out, even to the grocery or an appointment. I may have to give it up completely. 😦 Thirteen years in, my hot flashes are minor and I sleep eight hours at night (with one or two trips to the potty).

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yes, I totally agree – this is the best way to look at our life at this time – nature is a circle of life, it may be a roller coaster ride at times which I for one am NOT a fan of, and thankful for every new day. I am a diet mountain dew fan but not coffee – and even this forever habit doesn’t always agree with me. Hot flashes come and go, not as severe now. So, one day at a time I work on trying to have just 1 LESS than the day before – we can DO THIS !!! 🙂

      Liked by 2 people

    • “…and fade” 😦 That’s the part, right? This phase is all about facing what some of us ignored the whole time…fading, and it’s so explicit!

      I hear you about the coffee…and so far, what’s helped is to cut back on certain things, instead of avoiding altogether, for now anyway.

      What in the world is the potty break in wee hours of the morning about???

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Kathy! Thank you so much for your open and honest account about challenges that come with menopause. I relate to so many things you’ve addressed here. I dare say, this is the most difficult phase for me, as well. People keep telling me it gets better, and I have to trust that it does… I’m looking forward to hearing how the natural remedies help with hot flushes. Because I’m also very reluctant to take any medication or consider hormone replacement therapy.

    Keep up the good work with destigmatizing menopause!

    Liked by 1 person

    • You’re welcome Khaya! This. is. the. WORST thing I’ve ever experienced. So, I bit of an update, I took the pills for about 3 weeks, and then when you get your period, you’re supposed to stop. So, I stopped, and never started back lol

      But it’s not because I was being obstinate. In putting this platform together, I learned a bunch of other things that have helped.

      For example, don’t eat sugar or drink alcohol right before bed (really, you should eliminate it as much as possible at this point in life). This advice, alone, has done wonders. I stopped drinking wine altogether. I also still have cocktails, but they’re very specific (no sugar, seltzer water, instead of juice, and a little juice to top it off for flavor). I know this sounds like a lot to go through just to have a drink, but one step at a time.

      I also started taking a probiotic with ashwaghanda (mood stabilizer). This has been a game changer. I have a post coming up from a wellness coach (don’t remember when), but she is the one who explained to me how our digestive system is out of whack a lot of times, and we don’t even realize it, until this phase of life.

      Lastly, I take a multivitamin now and drink lots of herbal teas for specific reasons (i.e., ginger for digestion, etc.).

      I’m happy to being navigating with you and others ❤

      Liked by 1 person

      • Thanks Kathy for this informative response. Yes I can attest to consuming less sugar and alcohol. And no it doesn’t sound a lot, because I have myself stopped drinking wine altogether and have experienced a huge improvement. Now I’m trying to wean myself from coffee completely, and have already gone back to drinking mostly (herbal) tea. And oh, I need that mood stabilizer! I’m also trying out aromatherapy…

        I’ll be on a lookout for the upcoming post from the wellness coach. Thanks for the heads up. I’m grateful too, to be navigating all this with you too. ❤

        Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks LA. I thought I was going effin crazy, and for the life of me, I couldn’t understand, if women human beings experienced this, why on earth it wasn’t being shouted from the rooftops lol

      mmmkay I’m done. I’m glad you could relate ❤

      Liked by 2 people

      • To be completely honest, and please don’t hate me, but I had a relatively easy menopause. However, I have friends that suffered mightily and I know they felt unheard and unseen and like they were freaks. I just listened to them and let them get all their frustration out and helped as best as I could.

        Liked by 1 person

      • I definitely don’t hate you lol I’ve learned (this year) that everyone’s phase is as different as they are 💜 so yeah…I speak for friends lol

        Like

      • For me it was more mental…like actually feeling older. And my metabolism just shutting down….

        Liked by 1 person

      • That can be enough! Feeling older is no joke. I remember my committee chair telling me she felt like she could rob a bank and no one would ever suspect it because that’s how invisible she’d gotten.

        Liked by 1 person

  4. Hope you ride this well..through menopause. Be gentle with self over time. I went through mine 7 years ago…but not extreme effects.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. If anything Kathy, I will always relate to the mental illness side of these posts. I offer respectful sympathy that hopefully the extremes of menopause don’t last a long time for you. I think I also have a mild case of what your niece has but it’s never targeted the top of my head. Have you ever tried melatonin for sleep ?

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’m sorry to hear that Matt, but I’m glad you can relate (if that makes sense), because as you know, mental health issues, including mental illness can make one feel very isolated. So, thank you for letting me know you connected with that…I appreciate it ❤

      I've figured out some of it and how to have some relief, thankfully! There are still a couple things that re-surface.

      What do you do about the hair-pulling out thing?

      I diiiid try melatonin! So, the ones I tried I think were only for 6 hours, so I had to time it really right because as soon as it wore off, I woke up IMMEDIATELY. There was even one time when I took it, and I could feel myself trying to wake up, but I couldn't…that was weird. Anywho, what I've figured out for the sleep thing is that my digestion is an important factor, plus no drinks (alcohol or not) past a certain hour if I intend to sleep. So, now I drink ginger tea, sometimes with turmeric, which settles my stomach and calms me down because they say insomnia is really just a form of anxiety.

      Liked by 1 person

      • I usually take two 5mg fast dissolve melatonin. Helps clear my head, but ya gotta do what works best for you. As for the hair pulling in high school I balled up the on my legs and pulled that out, as a kid I would sometimes twirl my hair in knots and pull it out, but definitely not regularly. The only hair that has been disappearing on the regular is that for which is downstairs 😉.

        Liked by 1 person

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