Menopause. It has always seemed very theoretical to me… something that might happen to me many years from now, if at all. I know in my head this isn’t realistic, but rather that silly human trait of believing we are invincible, like teenagers. For example, I had a very easy (actually enjoyable) pregnancy and a perfectly healthy child at 43. I remember the horror that the doctor MUST have gotten something wrong when I read the term “Geriatric Maternal Age” written on my medical file, in red ink, like a danger warning. It struck me then, that in medical terms, I was just a statistical point on the lucky outermost edge of the bell curve. A good skincare and fitness regime might keep the outside looking youthful and healthy, but ovaries don’t lie. They staunchly refuse to participate in my personal Peter Pan complex.
I’m not in menopause yet. I’m in that ambiguous stage called perimenopause, which can last for 6 months or 6 years. Usually, perimenopause is much more disruptive than menopause, because your hormones are fluctuating so wildly, whereas everything starts to settle down in menopause (she says, crossing her fingers). Here’s what’s been happening to me…
Several months ago, I started having severe heart palpitations and dizziness. The palpitations only happened during the night, never in the day. The dizziness was random; it struck at any time. I went to a few doctors, had ECGs, wore a heart monitor, was sent to heart specialists, and to make a long story short, there is nothing sinister happening, I just have severe heart arrhythmia at night. Also, it was discovered during my heart investigations that I have Long QT Syndrome (an uncommon condition where the heart takes longer to recharge between beats). This has nothing to do with my night time arrhythmia or dizziness, apparently. In conjunction with palpitations and dizziness, I’ve also had extreme (for me) anxiety. Let me tell you, the best way to go straight from garden-variety ‘Anxiety’ to full-blown ‘Panic Attack’ is to have some strong heart palpitations at 2 a.m. on top of a heart condition diagnosis (google Long QT Syndrome, you’ll see why).
Since the beginning of this year, I’ve found it really difficult to get back into my groove. I chalked it up to being behind after being away for so long at Christmas, but I knew it was more than that. Now it is February, and my mojo is getting worse, not better. My brain feels like it is encased in fog. I’m extremely forgetful. I miss appointments which are clearly written in my diary. I forgot to pick up my son from school recently. I lose keys. I lose parking tickets. I can’t remember which day of the week it is (ok, I genuinely never knew that anyway). In conversation, I struggle to find words, remember names, or I completely forget a train of thought mid-sentence. Now some of this sounds like basic ageing for sure, but mine seems to have come on quite suddenly in the last couple of months. I have to write EVERYTHING down, because I can’t trust my brain right now.
This brain fog has really shaken me. It has affected my confidence and my self-perception. Being clever, having a good memory, and not doing stupid flaky things is part of my identity. It is who I am, who I’ve always been. I am a person who worked on trading floors for 20 years, trading bonds and currencies out to four decimal places and never ever making mistakes. Oh sure, I made bad decisions or called the markets completely wrong, but in my whole career, I never made a single ‘human error’ kind of mistake. I’m a details girl. I quadruple check things. Twice. When I had my son, I even had spreadsheets that I (or anyone looking after my son) had to fill in for his eating/drinking/sleeping schedule. Everyone thought I was crazy, but to someone who is comforted by details and data, it worked. I don’t let anything fall through the cracks. However, my brain is so foggy right now that I don’t know what important thing I’ll forget next, but I know for sure that it will happen.
Another thing I have been experiencing is a bizarre all over physical numbness. My whole body feels dizzy. It comes and goes, but it is a weird out-of-it feeling, like my whole body is blurry and fuzzy. I have this vibrating sensation that there are two copies of me which aren’t aligned with each other and are trying to get in sync.
The last symptom I’ve been experiencing is a seriously short temper. I’m short tempered by nature anyway, but this is next level. I refuse for my son to have a mother who loses her shit over everyday events, so I started doing some research into my symptoms so I could figure out what to do about them.
For the past few months, I have honestly wondered whether I was going nuts. Or was developing dementia. Or maybe both. I’ve had to find very creative excuses for my extreme forgetfulness. I’ve almost felt a bit fraudulent for making up socially-acceptable reasons to wallpaper over events which I was convinced were the onset of my spiral into insanity.
Last year, my friend Michelle wrote a post about menopause and perimenopause, and I went back to re-read it. I remembered her mentioning anxiety attacks and describing the weird, fuzzy, ‘out of body’ feeling that I am having. I described my symptoms to her, and she immediately knew that I was in perimenopause. Once you enter actual menopause, some of these symptoms go away. Now that I’ve done lots of research and educated myself on this topic, I am so relieved to find that I am just perimenopausal and not going barking mad. In fact, my symptoms are quite common, they’re just not the ones people talk about, like hot flushes. Here is what I’ve learned:
A drop in oestrogen makes it hard for the body to regulate blood vessels and blood pressure, so that is causing my heart palpitations and dizziness.
A decrease in progesterone (our ‘calming hormone’) causes my anxiety and panic attacks.
Fluctuations in oestrogen and testosterone make it hard to concentrate, wreak havoc on your memory, and influence your mood. My memory is shot and my temper is short.
Most people have terrible insomnia in perimenopause. I’ve had insomnia since the day I was born, so my sleep is actually better during my perimenopause. This is because of the fatigue that goes along with fluctuating hormones (similar to pregnancy). I don’t have hot flushes. I’ve been hot-natured my entire life, and now I’m cold all the time.
For the time being, I’m going the natural route. I’ll try the usual recommended supplements to see if they do anything before exploring HRT. Before I figured all of this out, I cried myself to sleep, worried and anxious about how my son would cope with his mother losing her mind while he’s still so young. Tonight, I sat at the dinner table with him, feeling happy and content, when out of nowhere, snakes of anxiety start to writhe and constrict in my stomach. Armed with the knowledge that this is ‘just menopause’, I can exhale and view it as a difficult weather pattern which will pass. I’m ok with that. I’ll have several days at a stretch where I feel perfectly normal and then a few days where something shifts and I really don’t feel like myself at all. I suppose this is my new normal for a while.
The reason I’m putting all of this on the blog is that if it weren’t for Michelle’s post last year, I would have absolutely no idea what is happening to me. Her post was instrumental to me figuring out where to start looking for answers. Maybe my post will help someone else with this on their horizon. I love blogs for the support and information that you don’t find elsewhere. Why, when a 48 year old woman presents symptoms of dizziness and palpitations (2 of the top symptoms of menopause), did none of the (many) doctors I saw suggest or even breathe the word menopause? I can’t remember any magazine article I’ve ever read mentioning it… only more ways to sell products for hot flushes, yet my symptoms are not unusual. Why does no one talk about it? None of my friends who’ve been through menopause ever mentioned any symptoms like mine. Maybe there is some fear and shame around the alarming mental aspect. I mean, who wants to broadcast that they’re becoming a crazy old lady? Of the lists of menopausal and perimenopausal symptoms that I’ve read, I have none of them other than the ones I’ve listed above. So far, my monthly cycle is as regular as a Swiss train, so I never suspected anything menopausal, but my doctors certainly should have.
I’ve ordered three things to help me along the perimenopause path. I’ll read these two books: One by Liz Earle, and one by Christiane Northrup. And I’ve ordered this supplement to take. From my research, the ingredients in Pukka Womankind are the ones that I most need for my particular symptoms. They do make one specifically for menopause, but I’m not there yet. I adore everything the Pukka brand does (especially their teas). I’ll let you know how it works for me after I use it for a few weeks or months and can evaluate it properly.
Since I’ve had to play doctor to diagnose my ‘condition’, I’m going to also write myself a prescription, alongside the Pukka supplement. Here it is:
Sleep– Good sleep is crucial during perimenopause; I’m enforcing a strict 10:00 curfew on myself, no matter what. No blog post, no email, or no news item is more important than my sleep at the moment. One bad night can literally ruin my next day because fatigue opens me up to the panic and irritability that overwhelm me right now.
Gratitude List– I’m going to say, out loud, every day, five things that I am grateful for. I used to do this as a nightly practice, and I need to resume it. Gratitude chases away all manner of ills. Grateful hearts find it hard to be anxious or negative.
Phone a friend– I have been a little withdrawn from some friends because I’ve been fearful of exposing my craziness. I’ve also simply not been in the frame of mind to make plans in advance when panic can descend on me unexpectedly. Friendship and social connection make happier and longer-living humans, especially for women.
Cutting Caffeine– I’m going to cut down on my caffeine to help with the sleep and anxiety/panic issues. This is HARD since coffee is my new sugar. I’ve done this for five days now and it seems to be helping (unfortunately!).
Mandatory meditation– I tend to skip meditating if I go to bed late, but no more. I raved about the Calm App here. When I meditate before bed time, I have much better quality sleep; right now I have to make this a priority. My body needs it. The Calm App even has a meditation series on anxiety that I am working my way through.
Therapy Animal– I got a bunny rabbit (or my second child, as friends call him). It is hard to be anxious when you are petting a soft, adorable, entertaining little creature like this. Some people get a sports car for their midlife crisis, I got a black otter mini-Rex bunny rabbit.
Balthazar, the Sequinist whisperer
I do wonder how perimenopause feels to a killer whale or a short-finned pilot whale… they are the only other animals on this planet besides humans to go through menopause (throw that into conversation at your next book club). Do they swim in anxious circles or have fits of irritation and rage? As I keep saying, I’m just so grateful and relived to be perimenopausal since I thought it was something much worse. My usual programming will resume, colour and sequins will be worn. I may be (temporarily) losing my marbles, but I am keeping my style. If you have any tips or advice on this stage of life, like my bunny rabbit, I’m all ears. xx