Writers Survival Guide to Menopause

Writers Survival Guide to Menopause

PJ here, and I’ll bet you’re wondering what menopause has to do with writing. For those of you struggling to put words on the page through sleepless nights, power surges (aka: hot flashes) that make you feel like your hair is on fire, or trying to focus through the foggy haze of hormonal upheaval, you know the answer to that question. For those of you not there yet, consider this a head’s up and a public service announcement.

Are you ready for a frank discussion about menopause? There…I said it. I’m still amazed how many people are not comfortable discussing this natural part of aging. It’s not like we’re trying to keep it a secret or bringing to light some controversial topic. If you’re squeamish about discussing such personal issues, feel free to move on to the solutions list below. But if you feel like you’re among friends here, read on and know that you aren’t alone. I’m here to share my experience and pass on what worked for me. (This is not intended as medical advice. Do your research and talk to your doctor to discuss your options).

MY STORY:  I went through “the change” a little early. Although I’m mostly on the other side of it now and I’m not even fifty, the age of onset varies greatly, depending on the woman. Symptoms started at about forty for me. Irregular periods after years of being like a clock in sync with the moon. At first, heavier and more frequent than normal, and then months of skipping entirely, causing me to sweat the possibility of pregnancy a few times—not cool when both of my sons were already grown and out of the house and I wasn’t married yet to my sweetheart. According to doctors, you aren’t officially in menopause until you’ve gone a full year without menstruating. Until then, whatever symptoms you’re having are considered peri-menopausal and will likely go untreated.

More than one way
More than one way

 So then came the hot flashes. OMG! There were times I had a dozen or more hot flashes in a day, and I’m not talking about a little heat. Think of what it would feel like to put your face in a five hundred degree oven and keep it there for about a minute. Breaking out in a sweat every time I put my hands on a massage client when all I wanted to do was tear off my clothes and stand under cool water was totally not cool…pardon the pun. I began having trouble sleeping, waking at three a.m., tossing and turning until six, and then, just as I fell asleep again, I would have to get up. Talk about sleep deprivation torture! I did this for about two or three years, often getting up and writing for those few sleepless hours, trying to make use of the nightly torment and keep my sanity. But the next day sluggishness was brutal and added to the crankiness that was so uncharacteristic for me. I finally understood why those “old” ladies I knew as a child were so grumpy. They were in menopause! Even wearing a bra was irritating enough to have me worming it off in the car after a long day. I’ll admit, I chewed out a few grocery store clerks and made unkind hand gestures to trucks and SUV’s that cut me off or gave me a look…you know the look I mean. But it wasn’t until the worst thing that could happen to a romance writer happened to me. (Come closer…I’ll whisper this part…my sex drive went out the window.) That was the final straw. I needed help! Fast!

After first turning to the Anita Blake Vampire Hunter novels by Laurell K. Hamilton with mixed  and temporary results, I decided a visit to my Naturopath was in order. She listened to my woes, prescribed my constitutional homeopathic remedy (an entirely different post), and we discussed some natural alternatives to hormone replacement therapy (taking synthesized horse urine just sounded all kinds of wrong to me!) A note to you informed menopause researchers out there: What I did is different than “Bio-identical” therapy, which is another way of treating hormonal imbalances with natural substances that mimic estrogen and progesterone, but requires guidance from a doctor who specializes in that treatment protocol. Feel free to look into it. I’ve heard very good things about it. You might also find some great tips in a book called WHAT YOUR DOCTOR MAY not TELL YOU ABOUT MENOPAUSE  by Dr. John Lee.

This is what worked for me:

1)      I took over-the-counter herbal supplements called Estrovan, and later, Remifemen (the Estrovan worked moderately well for about a year before my Naturopath told me to try switching.) I found the Remifemen worked better for me. The essential ingredient in both of these products is an herb called black cohosh, which in combination with some other herbs and vitamins helped greatly with the hot flashes, night sweats, and mood swings. I took one in the morning and then I took the Night Time relief brand before bed. It worked far better for me than taking sleep medicine that made me drowsy and foggy the next day, or the chamomile tea that had me up staggering to the bathroom several times a night. With a few good night’s sleep a week, I began to focus better and feel less depressed and irritable.

2)      I also changed my daily vitamin to include 1000 IU’s of Vit. D, 1500 of Calcium and 1000 mg. of Magnesium. I found a single vitamin (Complete Menopause), that had everything I needed at my health food store  and took one in the morning and one at night. I also added an oil blend that included fish oil, evening primrose, and flax oil–another super combination that can be hard to find, but worth looking for. If you have any doubts about whether you are lacking in these vitamins, or if you are on medication of any kind, check with your doctor and have a blood test done. Many of our aches, pains, and physical/emotional symptoms are due to lack of Vit. D since most of us aren’t getting enough sunlight sitting in front of our computers a gazillion hours a day.

Note: Diet and nutrition are critical in feeling your best at all times of your life. Let me just say that sugar is killing us all, but that’s another post!

3)      I layered my clothes, wearing a tank top or short sleeved shirt and adding a light sweater or having a shawl to throw on and off easily since the temperature changes internally were dramatic. Shortly after a hot flash, I would get a chill and a desperate thirst. I kept a water bottle with me at all times, including next to my bed for those middle of the night power surges that had me throwing off the covers and feeling as dry as a desert. (For the sake of our squeamish readers I won’t get into the all too common “dryness” problem.)

Incidentally, things that aggravate hot flashes? Why chocolate, caffeine, and alcohol, of course. Could the gods be any more cruel?

4)      Believe it or not, exercise helped! Aerobic activity for twenty minutes three to five times a week makes all the difference on so many levels. It’s not uncommon for women in menopause to gain as much as ten to twenty pounds in just a couple of years due to metabolic changes, food cravings, depression, fatigue, etc. Those lovely curvacous sculptures the Renaissance artisans depicted were undoubtedly of mature menopausal women. Does the term “sagging middle” mean anything to you? (And I’m not referring to your pacing problems.) No wonder those ladies wore robes–no skinny jeans for them! 

There’s no point in white-washing it. Aging and change aren’t fun, but  they are inevitable, so if you want to come out on the other side of menopause healthy, you’ll fight the fight and make it work for you. Bottom line–staying active is being proactive!

5)      ON THE PLUS SIDE! Yes, there is a plus side, other than the obvious absence of our dear aunt “flow.” Menopause can bring on an incredible surge of creative energy (my theory is that our bodies are transforming all that “baby making” creativity that we no longer have evolutionary need of, into mental, emotional and spiritual creativity. It’s not surprising that menopausal women take up hobbies such as quilting, knitting, painting, photography, yoga, and yes…writing. There is a wisdom, peace, and quiet strength that comes with this rite of passage that is hard to describe until you get there, but even with all of the challenges—and maybe in spite of the challenges—we are transformed to a higher state of being. Eventually, we come back to being ourselves, only better. (Hold onto that thought gentlemen.)

 We may be a little less patient with foolishness since we’ve learned to value ourselves and our precious time, and likely we’re wearing a less than pristine earth suit (the shelf life of the human body is about fifty years—anything after that requires high maintenance and parts replacement), but more than ever, we are part of a sisterhood. I appreciate and respect women so much more than I did when I was young—a sign that I have grown in respect and love for myself over the years. Just remember, we are in this together and through sharing our experiences, we can help one another through the rough spots.

Perhaps you could ask Santa for a portable fan for Christmas. Happy Hot Flashes!

Sweet relief!
Sweet relief!

 Any other tips for beating the heat and surviving menopause, dear writers and readers?

 

 

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39 thoughts on “Writers Survival Guide to Menopause”

  1. Great tips! My symptoms were not as severe as yours but I did pretty much everything you recommended here. The herbal supplements, extra vitamins, layering of clothes, and exercise all worked for me.

    1. Thanks for stopping in, Roxy. Glad you found what worked for you. So many women suffer needlessly. I just wish doctors were more supportive of natural alternatives.

  2. Great, brave post! I started having hot flashes earlier this year, so I’m beginning to feel my way thru this journey. Can’t decide, though, which would make me a greater menace to society — the hot flashes or giving up coffee to get rid of them! :-)

    1. Hahaha! Coffee wins every time…

      Thanks for stopping in, Julia.Definitely talk with your doctor and ask about which supplements might be right for you. It really can make the symptoms much more bearable.

  3. Yep, I went into it early too-right after I had my sixth kid at age 42. Apparently I was a terror to live with but I don’t remember much of the following four years. Eventually something snapped me to-I think something I saw on TV and I went, huh, started reading a lot and taking herbs (no naturopath in our small town) and was feeling so much better, when bam, a never ending period from hell hit. I mean never ending. Doc gave me some hormones (ie bc pills) to try to control it, which it didn’t so next came surgery. I know there are some against surgery but it was the best decision of my life. Turns out I had adenomyosis, a build up of the lining outside the uterus walls. Doc then tried to put me on HRT but after taking those bc pills and ballooning up 20 pounds (which I’ve never lost) I said, nope, no way. Was tired of taking herbs too but now I’ve started back because I haven’t been able to lose the weight and my energy level has sunk to nothing. Also working exercise back in…which I totally neglected this past year as I was busy publishing and social media-ing stuff-but all that sitting does not make you feel good. I do wish I’d known the menopause symptoms, but heck, I’d just had a baby, who’d’ve thought? We women definitely need to be more open, it is a natural process (albeit uncomfortable) but I think if we can approach it with a good attitude and have a positive outlook on life that it helps (along with those herbs and vitamins and good diet). But isn’t it this time of life that we’re often so pressed-older parents to take care of, kids and sometimes grandkids to take care of-it’s a tough time of life, but there is hope on the other side! I know I talk, talk, talk to my younger female friends, things to be on the watch for so others around them just don’t think they’ve gotten mean and crazy, lol.

    1. WOW, Diana. You went through the mill! I hear you about the weight gain issue. Even with exercising consistently 3x/week, my prolonged sitting bouts this past year of publishing has added 15 pounds to my body and I’m struggling to take it off. The problem, aside from the slower metabolism, is the food cravings, specifically sugar. If I could cut that out, I’m sure it would make a huge difference, but at this point in my life, self-deprivation is a challenge:-) No wine? No chocolate? You’ve got to be kidding…

  4. Sheesh!!! I’m having a sympathetic hot flash just reading this!

    I, too, went through the change very young (early to mid 40′s). I got remarried and had 3 more kids spaced two years apart at 36, 38, and 40, so we just thought the huge weight gain (50 pounds!) and hormonal fluctuations were after-effects of late-age childbearing. I had these 8-day long periods with 5 days of flow so heavy I dreaded leaving the house for more than 20 minutes because that was how often I needed to ‘change.’ I alternated through huge seasonal fluctuations of not being able to sleep and then needing to sleep all the time and for a while thought I might be bipolar because of the alternating need for sleep/lack for sleep, but I had no other symptoms other than the sleep disruptions were tied to my monthly cycle. Then the hot flashes started. Oof! I told my doctor but they fluffed it off because I was ‘too young.’ When I started going months at a time with no period, they finally suggested progesterone cream, but by then I had simply gotten used to the discomfort. Now that I’m past it, I have a ton of energy, the weight came off with moderate exercise and effort, and I started doing more with my writing.

    Glad to hear I’m not the only one!

    1. It is nice being on the “other side”. I still have “power surges,” especially if I forget to take my supplements for a couple of days. It makes me realize how well they really work at curbing the symptoms. It amazes me that more doctors don’t recommend herbal remedies for relief. With the release of studies associating HRT to some forms of breast and ovarian cancer, I would think the docs would be educating themselves about some alternatives.

      In addition to the supplements, I found acupuncture really helped with regulating my sleep.

  5. I feel like I’m going through menopause now and yet, I had a full hysterectomy in 2001 and I still take hormones but you have me thinking that maybe I should be paying a visit to my doctor. Thanks for a timely and informative post.

    1. Absolutely, Cynthia. Hormonal imbalances can last for years after a hysterectomy or even long after menopause. Long term use of replacement hormones comes with it’s own dangers. I’m of the mindset that if i can support my body with more natural remedies, I’m all for it. Depending on your doctor, they will either be totally on board with that concept or totally against it. I find the old school docs are resistant to change (oh, the irony), but if you go in armed with a plan and approach them with all the huts pah of a menopausal woman…you’ll undoubtedly be able to convince them that there is another way.

  6. Thank you for this topic! I had an early hysterectomy, so I chose to go the route of HRTs. I am currently taking the lowest dose, three days a week, but I need to get off of them, as it has been ten years. My husband went online and ordered my Amberen, an non-hormonal formula. I just started taking it, so it remains to be seen if it will help, but every time I’ve tried to reduce my HRT dosage, I feel like I’m on the verge of a mental meltdown. I have been exercising – we rescued a dog to force me to walk. He’s a big guy and he needs long walks, so that’s forcing me to remain motivated.

    1. You’re welcome, Sharron. It sounds like you’re on the right track. I’ve heard good things about Amberen, but it’s a fairly new product. make sure you get your doctor’s okay and definitely give it a a full six weeks to take effect. Even with the remifemen, it takes several weeks to see a difference, but it’s worth being consistent with the treatment. Good for you for getting out walking. Staying active helps all the way around!

  7. Love this PJ. I’m like you – 43 and have been going through this like a wild woman. I just had surgery a month ago to hopefully get rid of my periods as I was bleeding every 2 wks and I swear to go giving birth to things I never want to see again. I lol at your mood swings and feel your pain about no sleeping…yup, it sucks. No hot flashes – I’m always cold – but lack of iron does that. I take a dose of vitamins now and it’s helping – cod liver oil, vitamin C (1000mg), Vitamin D, women’s multi-vitamin, calcium, B12 and drink cranberry juice daily…I’m up to twice a week working out – it kills me but it does help. I can’t give up my wine at night but like you it’s all a journey. Thanks for sharing.

    1. Hi Renee, thanks for chiming in. If you can add one more workout you’ll probably see a huge difference in how much effort it takes to exercise. Twice weekly is almost a hindrence more than a help, although my motto is some is better than none:-)

  8. You are awesome! And putting up this post is great too. I’m a good ten years older than the rest of you and most women are done with this. Hot flashes for the last year on and off. I use an herbal supplement heavy on Black Cohosh and it makes a huge difference. I have been cranky though. Not awful, but I feel it bubbling up and it’s so not like my usual positive laid back personality.

    Some depression, but life has thrown tons at me this year, so I’m not sure if it’s hormonal or the death of my dad, kids moving in for 3 months, and then out, and well, life. Weight has just begun to creep up and it’s really ticking me off. I exorcize 4 or 5 days a week. I’d go crazy without the stress reduction. But I want to stop the ballooning before it’s time to apply for the Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade. I’m waiting for that creative bust of energy. Please let that be true.

    Thanks for the very fine post. I’m sharing this.

    1. You crack me up, Sandy! You might look into having some blood work done to see if you have any vitamin deficiencies. Lack of vit. D is a huge problem these days and can account for depression and irritability. Not that circumstances aren’t enough, but it would be good to rule out a physical cause.

  9. I’m surprised that you couldn’t get any treatment for perimenopause symptoms. I had annoyingly heavy and close together periods for several years before menopause, and I was given a hormonal drug to control them. (Progestin? Progesterone? Something like that.) I never took the hormone replacement regime for menopause. I was very lucky in having mild symptoms.

    Great post!

    1. My doctor at the time recommended HRT, but I wasn’t keen on taking it as I had read some of the research that was just coming out about increased cancer risks. I decided to follow up with the Naturopath and I was much more comfortable with her approach. It’s all about finding what works for you and what you’re comfortable with.

  10. I started peri-menopause at 35. For 15 years I was on the pill. Suddenly my doctor said, “you are 50 next year, about time to discuss going off the pill.” I wanted to cry. Didn’t she know that the pill was the only thing keeping me sane?!! Turns out that a B-12 shot once a month does about the same thing for me. I’m more focused, calm, and I can sleep at night. Yeah!! Since I started taking the shot I’ve written the most in my life.

  11. I can’t really add anything to these previous comments. I had a walk in the park compared to some of you ladies. But I do know one think . . .getting old(er) is not for the weak. :)

  12. Excellent post, PJ. I’ve been going to the naturopath and chirpractor for years and I give them a lot of credit for how I’m managing menopause now. Hot flashes are annoying but even those are getting easier to manage. :) The worst part for me is the lack of creativity and out of everything else, that’s been the hardest to deal with. I already take a stress B vitamin but now I’m going to check into the B12, as Jill suggested, and see if that helps. Thank you for this wonderful post. It’s not only informative, but it’s nice to read about others and know whe’re not in this alone.

    1. Thanks, Sheila!

      I have developed such a great network of alternative health care providers, being one myself. I have a fantastic acupuncturist, a chiropractor, a Naturopath, and a couple of massage therapists who have different specialties. I try to get massages once a month and see the other folks for “tune-ups” seasonally or when a problem arises. It keeps me out of the doctor’s office except for yearly physicals or if I felt I needed meds for something (If I had bacterial pneumonia, I’d want an antibiotic.) Needless to say and knock wood, I haven’t needed any type of medication–not even an antibiotic–for almost fifteen years. I credit that to taking a holistic approach to my health maintenance.

      On the allopathic (traditional medicine) side of things, I now have a doctor who respects my views on natural health and works with me to accommodate that. His attitude, “If it works, I want to know about it.” I have a great relationship with some of the best physical therapists on the planet, a few orthopedists who are the only people I’d let cut me open, and a world renowned Osteopath who has worked with the Olympic sports teams. I’ve come across these people through my work as a PT Assistant for over 20 years before becoming a massage therapist, personal trainer, and yoga instructor. I can’t stress enough, the need for people to create this kind of “health care team.” Do your research, ask people in the business for referrals, and be willing to ask questions. Any health care provider who isn’t willing to take five minutes to talk to you isn’t the person you want on your team. People have to get away from the idea of “Doctors as gods.” In every profession, someone has to graduate in the bottom half of the class and the only way to find the best is to look long and hard and trust word of mouth from people who have had success. Also consider the fact that you are paying for these people’s services. They work for you! Hire the best…

      Isn’t it silly that people don’t talk openly about these things. If we all share our stories and pass on information about what works to improve our experience, we’d all feel less alone and more supported. Every woman has to go through menopause and yet, we often feel totally isolated and embarrassed about it. Glad I could bring this out in the open for all of us. I knew I wasn’t the only one:-)

  13. I never thought about the change leading to an increased channeling of our creative energies, but it makes sense! I’ve not been through the change yet, but I’ve been battling the symptoms for years. And I just want to smack the nurses upside the head when they ask me, “You’re *still* having your period?” Then they look at my chart and say, “How old are you?” Grrr. Yes, that’s my grumpy old lady side coming out. :-)

    1. Hi Suzanne, I think that part of the problem is that every woman experiences menopause differently. Some start having symptoms in their thirties and others continue to have have active periods well into their fifties. The medical community generally works with statistics and averages. They like to categorize and put people into little boxes that are a one size fits all model. Obviously, that doesn’t work! As for my theory about “the change” bringing on a burst of creativity, that too was a generalization and doesn’t apply to everyone as a few of the comments above reflect. For some women, I imagine that inability to concentrate and the sleeplessness and fatigue can seriously interfere with creativity, so on that front, I may be off. I can only say that for me, the past eight years have been amazingly creative. I never imagined myself writing novels at all and I’ve completed eight manuscripts in eight years. That’s a lot of “giving birth!”

      1. I’ve had insomnia for years while I’ve been going through this, and I find that if I turn on the computer in the middle of the night, it’s a great time to write. In fact, my best writing happens while I’m snuggled in bed. I’m using the insomnia to my advantage. I knew you were prolific, but yes, eight manuscripts in eight years is definitely a lot of “giving birth!”

  14. Great post! I had an early hysterectomy at 34 due to endometriosis which was also in my bladder and my bowel. So I felt a ‘new’ woman. They retained my ovaries so I was like superwoman. But with the onset of the peri-menopause four years later my breasts grew to the extent where I was a size 4 woman with 32FF breasts – all estrogen triggered – and I had a breast reduction due to the upper back issues which had left me unable to drive or lift even a kettle for four months. I ended up with 32B’s and boy was I a happy bunny. I’ve never smoked, was a fitness fanatic and don’t drink a lot of alcohol. But they found cancer in the right breast, a high grade DCIS which would have been unstable if it had got out of the milk ducts. The cancer was 98% estrogen driven. So I had a mastectomy and put on Arimidex which gave me the menopause from hell for two. Now I’m on Tamoxifen and I can’t say it’s a walk in the park either. I can’t touch alcohol, sugar or caffeine (although I do have a weak black coffee every morning).

    Exercise is key. As is diet, lots of oily fish, egg whites, lean protein and steamed vegetable. I notice brocoli stops the flushes. Lots of raw foods, fruit, nuts (not peanuts) yoghurt. I can’t touch soya since genetically modified soya switches on estrogen production 600 times more than organically produced soya and soya products and sugars are in EVERYTHING, even animal feed. I don’t touch starch and I take Vitamin B12 supplements along with cold pressed flax seed oil in a capsule. But the weight gain has been the hardest thing to cope with and I’ve turned to yoga and pilates which is giving me a slimmer waist again.

    But two years on I’m cancer free. But still undergoing breast reconstruction with a planned Diep flap (where they take fat and muscle from the stomach to make a new breast) penciled in for early next year. My expanded chest muscle and implant has not been a success. (I’ve put it off twice because I can’t face another surgery).

    I think we just need to treat our bodies as well as we can. Diet I believe plays a huge part in prevention.

  15. Thanks for the great blog. Not only is it informative for those who might just be heading in the direction of menopause, but it lets those of us who are going through such a crazy, annoying time know we’re not alone, and can even laugh at all same cruelties we’re going through as you describe them.

    I’ve been there too and am hoping mine is almost over. I too had a hysterectomy (for fibroids) years ago and took Premarin for several years. Being a nurse I decided I didn’t like all the contraversy about the drug and decided to wean off it. For a year I thought I was free of any menopausal symptoms. Then BAM!. Hot flashes galore hit like tidal waves over and over, day, night, whenever–it didn’t matter. Haven’t worn a sweater or sweat shirt in 4 years. At night I sleep with the window cracked even during the winter(my patient husband sleeps with an extra blanket while I sleep with barely a sheet–and no nighty either. Needless to say he thinks I’m nuts–but like I said he’s coping. All your suggestions are good ones for those who need help. I found, dieting for weight loss with a well-balance diet similiar to what CC mentioned works extremely well, plus good health practices, and exercising has helped me the most. Excercising especially in the fresh air. I walk 3 miles in the morning and 3 at night–with my faithful black lab mix, Jamie, and we’re both happier now.

    As far as wakening up during the night, sweating up a storm and then quivering with chills, it does give me time to mentally work on a scene in the book I’m working on. So hey, it’s a great time to brainstorm. I usually think of a sensuous scene where the macho hunk comforts or embraces my heroine and bingo slumber takes hold again. Works every time. Thank goodness for writing. I wonder what other women who aren’t writers do when they lay awake till it all passes?

    1. Thanks for stopping by and sharing with us, Beverly. I’m glad you learned something new from the post. It’s never to late to try something else if what you are doing now isn’t working. And soooo good for you that you are walking that much. It’s such a great way to stay in shape and keep things balanced.

  16. Great post and discussion. I do about the same things as you PJ – Estroven, workouts, vitamins. It helps. I will be so glad to say goodbye to Aunt Flow though. Won’t that woman ever leave? ; )

  17. Great post, PJ. I’ve written about the subject a few years ago. My menopause also came early for me (hysterectomy at 33 will do that). My problem was it knocked at my door the year we moved to SC from Canada. Talk about hot flashes in the heat of summer. I’ve chewed many AC repair guys for their lateness.

    What I hate about menopause was the weight gain. Whatever I did, the weight would just not come off, worse it clung and multiplied on me. This year though I discovered many food allergies and poof! the weight came off like magic.

    I’m now convinced all our little problems can be resolved through diet. Even menopause.

    Thanks for posting!

    1. Thanks Carole. I’ve read your posts about the food allergy issue. I can’t stress enough that we are what we eat. So many of our physical and emotional ailments can be treated through diet and proper nutrition. Thanks for sharing!

  18. Great post, PJ! I’m in the middle of hormone testing with my naturopath to determine if my migraines are linked to hormonal fluctuations and perimenopause. Thanks for sharing what’s worked for you.

    1. Thanks, Dana. Good luck with your Naturopath. Also consider doing some acupuncture and massage therapy for your migraines. If you can find a PT who practices Craniosacral therapy–all the better!

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