Last night was one of those nights. One of those nights where you go to bed tired but wake up in the small hours wide awake. For me, lately, 1.50 a.m. seems to be the significant wake up time.
Two hours of half sleep and fidgeting and I finally drifted off again. This is happening a lot these days. I blame my hormones. I am in the midst of the menopause.
Before it started, I must admit that I thought women who went on about how awful it was were a little melodramatic. Come on, I thought, it’s just like PMT only more erratic, surely? Well, I got THAT wrong, didn’t I?
The menopause can consume you if you let it. I won’t let it but it has a damn good try every now and then. Hot flushes that wake you hourly, the insomnia that seems to kick in at any time, usually when you HAVE to be up early or have a very long day ahead of you, the feeling that everyone around you hates you (yes, paranoia is a symptom of the menopause) and the general tiredness that can only be compared to the feeling of being drugged. This is not an exhaustive list either, it is just the way I experience it.
I think the worst bit is that you have no way of knowing when it’s coming or how long it will last. It isn’t present ALL the time thankfully but, when it happens, it’s a nightmare. I am not alone in this experience, I know.
However, some research into the symptoms, and how they are experienced by women worldwide, shows some interesting differences. In Japan, for example, the most reported symptoms are headache and pain in the shoulders. They do not seem to experience the other symptom I have described above, yet these are prevalent in Western society. A possible explanation is the diet, rich in soya protein. Here, we eat very little soya protein, generally, and too much processed food.
In some cultures, there are no physical symptoms at all and there are various possible explanations for this, aside from the dietary aspect. In some cultures, women are perceived as unclean when they are menstruating and the menopause provides a welcome sign that they are no longer outcasts at certain times of the month. The menopause signals the end of the reproductive phase of a woman’s life and this can be a blessing in some places where childbirth carries a high risk of mortality or where it takes women away from being a useful member of the labour force. This positive connotation is thought to affect the experience of the menopause.
Here in the west, we see the menopause differently. It announces that we are getting old and that we are no longer able to compete with younger, fertile women. It means sagging skin, osteoporosis, lack of sex drive. Here, the social construct is against the menopause. It provides one explanation of why women in more developed countries find it so difficult to cope with and, possibly, experience it in a less than positive way.
Exercise is also known to help with symptoms and it is probably fair to say that we are not as healthy as we should be here in the UK (I am using the UK as an example purely because this is where I live but this is just as true of the USA and many other countries). A woman living in a small tribal village, with no car and no job that involves sitting in front of a computer all day, is not going to have to worry about fitting in time to go to th gym – indeed, her daily activities probably amount to more exercise than I get in a month!
Obviously, I am generalising. There will be women reading this who lead a very healthy lifestyle and who do not experience major problems with the menopause (or they have taken the cheat’s option, like me, and opted for HRT!).
Clearly, there are a lot of factors that influence how we experience this time in our life, I haven’t even touched on genetics, but I think it’s fair to say we CAN help ourselves to a certain extent.
So why don’t I??
I have been launched into a somewhat brutal menopause by hysterectomy so I sympathise with the insomnia & hot sweats. “We’ll leave your ovaries behind because they help gaurd against osteoporosis.” What they don’t tell you is that in a statistically high number of cases the actual surgery causes your ovaries to pack up anyway. So why leave them? How can they possibly guard against osteoporosis when they gave up the ghost on the operating table? One of those medical conundrums I guess? : (
I sympathise. At my time of life, it is expected but to have it thrust upon you prematurely must be harsh. All I can say is I’ve sort of learned to live with it and I just go with the flow. Can’t you take HRT?