MENOPAUSE. I said it. That thing no one really talks about. Until it happens to you.
I just turned 41 and haven't had a period in eight months. Before that, my cycles were sporadic for about six months. I consider myself to be of sound mind and generally a grounded person. Now I have days when I feel like I'm going crazy.
When I first skipped a period, I took a pregnancy test just to make sure. Then I thought it might be stress, although I didn't feel particularly stressed at the time. My breasts started feeling tender and swollen, and the crunches that once firmed up my tummy no longer did the trick — I couldn't seem to tone my wobbly midriff.
I even took a second pregnancy test to double-check and was relieved when it was negative. My two boys, four and eight years old, were quite enough to handle.
I assumed I was too young to be starting menopause but made an appointment with my doctor anyway. She advised me to get a blood test, which showed my follicle stimulating hormone level was high, and I was likely in the early stages of menopause. It was almost a relief to know the intense symptoms I'd been experiencing had a name.
Now I needed to figure out how to survive it.
My doctor wanted me to ask my mother when she’d gone through menopause. It turned out that she, too, was 41. Mom also remembered that my grandmother had started menopause even earlier, at 39. I felt strangely reassured to learn it was in our genes. Knowing that other women in my family had gone through this ordeal normalized what was happening to me.
My mother didn’t remember it being that bad, but she joked it might be like childbirth, and she’d forgotten how rough it really was!
In life before menopause, my young sons were a bit of a handful. But with my hormones going crazy, everything felt overwhelming. Some days I couldn’t cope with the simplest things. Trying to decide whether to shower or have breakfast first was a major decision. It felt like right before your period, when you’re more sensitive, tired and irritable — only multiply those emotions by 20. That was my new reality most days.
I found myself flying off the handle at everything my energetic boys did. I couldn’t take their arguing, and the noise they made filled me with a rage I’ve never experienced before. It boiled up from the pit of my stomach until I would blow! The anger that consumed me in those moments was awful.
Although I’m usually calm and controlled, I started shouting more and more. I couldn’t help myself. Afterward, I’d be filled with guilt and would always apologize to my boys. It was so unfair to them.
Did I mention the irrational thoughts, mood swings, sleepless nights and hot flashes? I had all those, too.
One day in hormone hell, when noise and hormone levels were extreme, I decided to book myself into a hotel overnight. It was less than three miles away, but I desperately needed some space. I felt like I might explode.
Luckily, my husband was supportive and understood I needed a break. That hotel was amazing — all mothers should be able to do this once in a while. I remember lying on the bed with a glass of wine, watching Wimbledon tennis on TV. It was so peaceful. No expectations from anyone, no one asking me questions. That brief escape let me feel calm again.
On another viciously hormonal day, I decided everything was my husband's fault. In my crazed menopause mind, I wrote a list of all the things he should change about himself. When he returned from work, I planned to sit him down and review it point by point — after sobbing that our marriage was in trouble and something had to be done.
Thankfully, I decided to sleep on it. The next day I read what I'd written and couldn't believe the harshness of that list. I still cringe thinking about it.
But there is light at the end of the menopause tunnel. For me it started with a life-changing book — The Hormone Fix by Dr. Anna Cabeca. I wanted to try a more holistic approach instead of going straight for hormone replacement therapy, and Dr. Cabeca's work resonated with me. Her research showed that with the correct diet, supplements and positive outlook, you can regain control and survive menopause with your sanity intact.
It's still early stages, but the lifestyle changes I've made seem to be working. I've given up gluten and rarely eat red meat. I've mixed up my exercise routines to include more cardiovascular workouts. I take nutritional supplements to ease irritability and mood swings and to help me relax and get good sleep. Since taking these steps, I feel much calmer.
Menopausal women need to talk about what we’re going through. We need to listen to our bodies and minds so we can cope with this massive change. Whether it’s a doctor or a trusted friend or partner, confide in someone about what’s going on. Knowing you have support at times when everything is too much does wonders for your mental health.
I still have days where the noise of my screaming kids makes me want to lock myself in the bathroom. The difference is, I feel more like myself now. I’m not a woman constantly on the edge. I can breathe. I’m in control.
Claire O’Sullivan is a Scottish lass at heart, currently living in Cape Town with her two sons and her husband. She has traveled the world, from Brazil to Thailand. Traveling and experiencing new cultures, along with writing about her experiences as a woman, are her passions in life.