Written by Teresa Isabel Dias
If all women go through menopause, why are most unprepared for it?
The short answer is, because menopause is still taboo and no one talks about it.
I’m going to share my personal journey with you, in hopes that it will shed some light on what you may also be going through. To start, here are just a few symptoms of the menopause transition to be on the lookout for (you will see that I mention each of them in my personal story, along with other symptoms which are listed in italics):
- mood swings
- physical, cognitive, and emotional changes
- brain fog – difficulty concentrating and staying focused
- irregular periods
- breast pain
- fatigue and lack of energy
- aches and pains
- continual headaches
- hot flashes
A NATURAL PHASE OF LIFE
In 2010, when I was in my late 40’s, my older son, a teenager at the time, asked me if I was bipolar. I said no, but was very surprised and intrigued by the question. It turns out he was speaking for himself, plus his younger brother and dad; he shared that my mood swings were so extreme they didn’t know how to deal with me. WOW!
I knew I didn’t have a mental illness, so what could possibly be causing all the ups and downs? I started searching for an explanation and, like most people, I went online. As a pharmacist I can tell when I’m viewing a website that’s science-based and informative, as to one that is a marketing pitch disguised as information. After much searching, I landed on The North American Menopause Society (NAMS) website and finally understood what was going on with me—I was in perimenopause (the years leading up to menopause) and experiencing physical, cognitive, and emotional changes due to fluctuating estrogen (the predominant female hormone) levels.
What a relief—I was going through a normal and natural phase of life; I wasn’t sick, I didn’t have a disease! Like most women I spoke to within my practice as a pharmacist, I was unprepared for the menopause transition because there’s very little education and information about it.
I found out that NAMS offers a certification for healthcare professionals, and I decided to study for the exam. I wanted to know more for myself and I dreamed that if I passed the exam I could help other women.
Because of brain fog I had a hard time concentrating and staying focused. I had to read the same paragraph over and over to get the meaning, and I found myself thinking about everything else but what I was studying. I gave myself plenty of time to study, one whole year, and in the fall of 2013, I became a NAMS Certified Menopause Practitioner (NCMP). I founded MenopausED and have been breaking the menopause taboo and providing awareness and education about menopause ever since.
PERIMENOPAUSE & NOTICING SYMPTOMS
It was good to know what I knew because, in hindsight, I now realize that the most challenging time of the change was perimenopause, the years leading up to menopause, the end of ovulation and menstruation.
Not knowing when my next period would come meant carrying sanitary pads and a change of underwear everywhere I went, in purses, gym bags, hiking and camping packs; I just hoped that I wouldn’t get it during my beach vacation! Good thing it didn’t come when I visited Paris because the breast pain I felt was annoying enough and it took my breath away almost as much as the city lights!
In general, I don’t like driving, but when I drove at least I didn’t experience anxiety like I did when I was riding in the passenger seat. I unnerved the drivers with my comments, and it took a lot of self-talking and reasoning not to feel completely out of control in the passenger seat.
I’ve always been very active, but for two years fatigue and lack of energy kept me from going to the gym. I didn’t give up my weekly swimming because it kept me from going crazy and depressed. My aches and pains were gone for days after swimming; time in the water by myself was fundamental for my wellbeing; and I didn’t dribble like I did when I tried running or power walking. There were a few times when I experienced hot flashes while swimming, which is a very strange feeling!
I went through a lot of body lotion during perimenopause. Even on the days I didn’t swim my skin itched like crazy, especially at night. I didn’t need something else waking me up—night sweats were already disrupting my sleep, and I love to sleep!
I live in harmony with my body and when a note is out of tune I notice and take action. When I started having daily headaches I thought I needed new glasses. I had already stopped wearing contact lenses most days at work because they made my eyes very dry. My headaches lasted for months, and were worse when the weather changed as well.
For a few years I kept track of my irregular periods. Twice, my period came 11 months after the previous one. Finally, when I was 52, a full 12 months went by without any bleeding. I had reached menopause, and yes, I celebrated with a Menopause Party! The only downside was that I couldn’t wear my favourite dress; I never had a thin waist, but now I looked more like a barrel of whiskey – even though I hadn’t put on weight, my fat decided to migrate to my middle.
Weight gain and muffin tops are common in perimenopause. In postmenopause, the years after menopause, when estrogen stops fluctuating and is consistently low, life is more predictable, my brain is sharper (though some may doubt this assertion!), I have more energy, and I am determined to reverse this weight shift. I made a choice: I was going to invest money in a trainer rather than opting to buy new clothes or shoes for a year.
POSTMENOPAUSE & LIVING FULLY
I train twice per week, and together with walking and swimming I exercise the 150 minutes weekly that’s recommended for women in midlife. I started by improving my posture, then my balance, and then by strengthening my core. Weight resistance is the best way to gain muscle and lose fat. One can run 10 miles a day but won’t achieve the same results.
Change, any change, doesn’t happen overnight and most changes are hard to make and harder to keep up. Whenever we change something in our routine we need to keep up the effort of doing it until it becomes a habit. After that, it doesn’t feel like a chore or an obligation but just part of our normal routine, like brushing our teeth. Exercise and healthy food choices are two examples of this.
Only 8 months after I started training did I decide to try on my dress again – and it fit! Not like I was 20 again, but I had a thinner waist and the dress felt lose and I looked elegant. Besides looking better, I also feel much stronger and healthier physically and mentally.
Midlife can be a time when we take stock of our lives and start new dreams, challenges, discoveries, adventures, and aspirations if we set our minds to it. It has its challenges and difficulties just like any other phase of life. Aging brings wrinkles and sagging skin, yes, but it also brings experience, wisdom, and many possibilities and choices! I’m thankful for my aging body and I just hope to live long enough to spend one third of my life in postmenopause being PAUSE-itive.
Menopause is part of midlife and has some bumps but it doesn’t have to be all doom and gloom. Even though each woman experiences menopause in her own way, we all share many similar experiences. We are not alone, and there’s help!
Teresa Isabel Dias is an Elite+ Mompreneur® member, and founder of MenopausED. As a pharmacist working in healthcare for over 20 years, Teresa realized there is a void in the health care system when it comes to the care and support of women in their midlife years, and especially during the menopause transition. Now serving as a Certified Menopause Practitioner through NAMS*, she helps women going through the menopause transition, educating them on what’s going on in their bodies and mind, and helping them to make informed decisions about their lifestyle and treatment options to improve their quality of life.