Things our mothers never told us
A common question I get asked is "Can menopause be the problem or am I going mad?". Are these horrible inconvenient symptoms, anxiety, low mood, low energy, low sex drive, feeling less confident, night sweats, and unable to lose weight menopause or something else?
So, how do we know? What are the signs of menopause and can all these thoughts, feelings, emotions, and symptoms be menopause?
When a woman, typically 40 years of age or older, explains that she is worried about her health, that she has recently noticed uncomfortable physical sensations, like heart palpitations and she's experiencing poor sleep, and even worse she's having night sweats. She'll often tell me she's fearful that she has some undiagnosed illness. Could it be cancer? Could it be a heart problem? Sometimes she's had medical tests and assessments. And what have they found - nothing. But she's unconvinced. Have they (the medical professionals) missed something? Could it be the early stages of something undetectable?
These thoughts can be extremely frightening. They can flit in and flit out of our minds at any time. Usually when we least want them to. At night, at a party, with friends, at work, driving. And they can be relentless. Consuming. And when we share these thoughts and concerns with friends and family the common response is "If anything was wrong they'd have found something, so don't worry". Never in the history of sharing a problem has "don't worry" ever stopped a person from worrying. I'm not against my friends trying to help me feel less worried, however, it's only a short-term solution.
Photograph by: Monika Graboska Photography
So, why didn't our mothers tell us about menopause? The answer is sometimes simpler than we imagine. It wasn't a lack of interest in our future, it was most likely personal discomfort, lack of information, and fear of negative reactions, along with some cultural and social norms of the time. For many of our mothers, menopause was and is considered a taboo topic, associated with negative stereotypes and stigmas, such as loss of femininity, attractiveness, and sexuality. Therefore, our mothers may have internalized these beliefs surrounded by silence and shame about menopause. Because of these factors, our mothers may feel that it is a private and sensitive matter that should not be shared with others, choosing to keep their menopause experiences to themselves or only share them with trusted confidants, rather than discussing them openly with us, their daughters.
For me, my mum sadly died a few weeks before her 53rd birthday. I vaguely remember her telling me that she was experiencing heavy periods. Heavy and clotty. She mentioned the word menopause but the conversation wasn't meaningful in any way. And I was 32 at that time, so it didn't seem particularly important to me.
So let's talk openly about menopause and what its symptoms can be like. Here are a few of the most common:
These can be sudden and intense sensations of heat that can cause sweating, flushing, and palpitations. Hot flashes are thought to be caused by changes in estrogen levels, which affect the body's thermoregulatory system.
Hot flashes can also affect our quality of life and be associated with an increased risk of cardiovascular disease and cognitive decline. These symptoms can be caused by a combination of hormonal, physiological, and psychological factors, and have a significant negative impact on our quality of life and daily functioning.
According to a meta-analysis of 23 studies, hot flashes affect about 75% of menopausal women and can last for several years after menopause onset. Another thing our mothers forgot to share with us!
All this is one way of explaining a hot flash. But if you asked my husband he'd describe them quite differently. One morning, he said to me "Hey, I woke during the night and went to snuggle up to you, but I couldn't. You were all wet and slimey, like a slippery wet fish. I would've slipped right off you." - my charming husband!
OUCH! Yep, sex can become painful. It doesn't mean you have to avoid sex. Get some lube.
Vaginal dryness is caused by a decrease in estrogen levels that affects the vaginal tissue. Vaginal dryness can cause discomfort, pain, and itching, and may increase the risk of infections and urinary incontinence. Vaginal dryness affects up to 50% of menopausal women and can be treated with local estrogen therapy or lubricants.
Irritability, anxiety, and depression. And that's a good day. Some of my friends have found their anxiety going through the roof. Unexplained, uncomfortable, and uncontrollable. Others have said the smallest of hassles send them over the edge, they're grumpy and snappy at their nearest and dearest. Another said she was having bouts of sobbing, even at the smallest of things.
These changes are believed to be caused by hormonal fluctuations, as well as psychosocial factors such as stress and life changes. According to a meta-analysis of 68 studies, menopause is associated with a small but significant increase in depressive symptoms. For some women, this is especially true if they have a history of depression or other menopausal symptoms like hot flashes. For some women, hormone therapy and psychotherapy can be effective in managing menopause-related mood changes.
And there's more
Sleep disturbances, fatigue, joint pain, and cognitive changes, such as memory loss and difficulty concentrating. Me and friends have talked about his a lot. Moments of brain fog. Random and out of the blue. I've had women say to me, "it feels like I'm going mad."
Why oh why, didn't our mothers talk to us? No matter, it's our chance to change this. Start the conversation and keep it going.
Importantly, don't be overly alarmed by this natural process that marks the end of our reproductive years. Effective management of menopause symptoms is possible. It requires a personalized and holistic approach that takes into account individual needs and preferences.
These are some of the reasons I developed my NO PAUSE menopause program. To help women, like me, like you, manage and understand menopause, to enable us to help, support, and guide each other and our own daughters in a way that some of our mothers are or were unable to.
I hope this blog helps you. Helps you to understand yourself and menopause better. To importantly know you're not alone. To understand that our mothers were and may still be less informed than we are. Why didn't they tell us? Because maybe they didn't know.
Pass this on, like it, share it, talk about it - thank you.