Some women sail through menopause, while others finds it takes over their lives. Either way, we all face it eventually, so this week I have decided to give a quick overview of menopause with some thoughts about how to survive it. It is a big change in any woman's life, so don't feel you have to downplay it or allow loved ones to make you feel it isn't worthy of a little extra TLC from time to time. You can also read the article at English Informer in France or listen to me talking about it on Ex-Pat Radio tomorrow morning.
Coping with Menopause
Menopause is a normal event that every woman goes through which marks the end of her reproductive phase. It is caused by a change in the hormone balance, which is triggered by the ovaries as they move towards cessation in the release of eggs.
Menopause usually occurs as part of the aging process, typically occurring after the age of 40, although the average age can vary by race and country. In India for example, the average age of menopause is around 44, whereas in countries in the West such as England the average age of the last period is 51. If a woman starts her menopause before the average age range for her community it is said to be a premature menopause, and of course a woman who has her ovaries removed for any reason, such as hysterectomy, will find herself plunged into sudden and dramatic surgical menopause, without the long lead in that most women experience over the perimenopause period of several years.
So why am I talking about menopause today? Well it is something that affects every woman and generally we women just put up with the symptoms regardless of how challenging they are. These symptoms can include fatigue, irregularity in the menstrual cycle, sore joints, sudden hot sweats that can be so severe a woman has to get up and change her sheets in the night, insomnia, urinary problems, headaches, painful breasts, back pain, poor concentration, memory problems, changes in sexual function and desire, and mood swings. While symptoms vary from woman to woman, if any woman is unlucky enough to experience multiple and severe side effects then you might imagine she could feel overwhelmed at times.
From a therapy perspective, there are several areas around menopause that are less often discussed, but that are nevertheless important to consider. These include:
* Body image. For women who enter menopause at midlife, there is often an accompanying change in weight, skin and hair condition and a general sense for many women that their body is changing. This can have a negative effect on a woman’s self-esteem as she sees evidence that her body is aging.
* Life stage changes. Women in their 40s and 50s are often juggling multiple roles such as work, caring for older children and caring for parents, thus making everything feel more challenging than usual when perimenopause starts. Midlife women are also facing the psychological reality of their own mortality as they transition from fertility to bridging the gap to older age.
* Partner reactions. The reaction of the woman’s partner at this time is very important, as is the reaction of those close to her like her kids. If everyone just thinks mum is going crazy or passes it off as ‘that time of life’ then she may feel she is struggling alone. Partners need to help by asking what the woman is going through and showing support and understanding.
So if you are a woman who is going through menopause, then know that you are not alone, and you do have a right to ask those around you to show some TLC when you need it. Take time to think about what this life change means to you. Even if you didn’t want more or any kids, how do you feel now that the choice is being taken away from you? You might have spent your adult life wishing you didn’t have to suffer through your menstrual cycle each month, but what is it like not to have a period anymore? It is okay to grieve and shed a tear if you need to, and it is also a good idea to have some kind of ritual to mark this transition in your life. And then when you feel you are through the worst, remember that you are still a valuable and awesome woman with loads to offer, so get out there and show the world what a baddass you are!
If you are finding life challenging or feel your relationship could use some help, then counselling can be helpful in providing support and a non-judgmental space to explore your options. For more in-depth help and counselling, consider contacting Dr Jules in person