Read an Excerpt
A Change for the Better
Every twenty-nine days for the past thirty years, my body has faithfully prepared itself to become pregnant. Two of those occasions resulted in the births of my daughters. The other four-hundred-plus times have provided a kind of vital pulse throughout my adult life. A steady internal rhythm, dependable as the seasons.
This cycle is something you live with so long it becomes an inseparable part of you. You know just how much you'll bleed, how much you'll bloat; you know which day of the month you'll burst into tears for no reason, or find a pimple on your face. When that cycle finally starts to change, it's as though some natural law had been repealed. Nothing feels the same anymore -- and you don't feel like the same person.
The strangeness of your cycle changing is just the beginning. Equally disturbing is what the changes symbolize. It's one thing to conclude, rationally, that my reproductive capacity is only part of who I am -- a large and vital part, yes, but still just a part. Yet what woman can watch those first interruptions in her cycle and not feel a pang of loss? This is true at whatever age the change occurs, whether or not she has had children. That's because it marks far more than the end of reproduction.
A friend of mine, a university professor, told me: Watch a group of students over the course of a semester. The first five or six weeks drift by leisurely: The students joke around, they skip class to sunbathe. But right at week six, everything changes. Some unconscious sense tells them their time has been cut in half. Suddenly the jokes stop, the concentration level goes up, and they do the work of ten weeks in five.
My friend calls this realization the halftime bell. It applies not just to school, of course, but also to our lives, and there's something deep and universal about how we respond.
Sensing the Change
I began to sense this change in a kind of dream -- a fitful half sleep in which I tossed and struggled, night after night, to fall back to sleep after hearing that bell toll repeatedly in my psyche.
I was having terrible bouts of insomnia. I'd always been a good sleeper, accustomed to waking up refreshed. Now, a healthy and active forty-nine-year-old woman, I felt as if a cloud hung over me. I'd toss and turn for a few hours each night and wake in the morning feeling cheated of a good night's sleep. There was a leaden heaviness in my body. I felt full of anxiety. I'd kick off the sheets; I'd pull them back up, shivering. In my journal, I charted my ordeal:
Last night...disturbing sensations in my body...upset stomach....an uncomfortably warm feeling (notice I'm not using the term hot flash; I think I'm in denial!). Awake at 4:00, tossing until 6:30. In those hours, as I drift in and out of sleep, I have the most outrageous dreams....What on earth is going on?
Deprived of sleep at night, I was a raw nerve by day. I'd see the world through layers of gauze. I'd shut the bathroom door and sob. Was I going crazy?
Relax, It's Only Menopause
Like many women, I had resisted the idea that I might be perimenopausal. How do I know if I am? What does it mean? What will it feel like, and how long will it last? Most of all: What should I be doing to cope with the unique stresses of this transition?
As someone who's spent her life promoting the benefits of a healthy lifestyle, I assumed I already knew a lot of the answers. But in many respects, this is new territory. And while it's true that the basic rules of healthy living are as important now as ever, there are new reasons for following them. Regular exercise and healthy eating now take aim at symptoms and problems I'd never encountered before. And there are new questions to consider -- important decisions concerning various conventional or alternative medical therapies.
And so my personal exploration began and grew into this book. My goal was to design a special plan for this time in my life, one that would address all the areas on which menopause would have an impact.
In the upcoming chapters, I'll share the answers I discovered, and help you find your own answers, to help in your journey. Everyone's experience is different. Lifestyle measures are not necessarily a substitute for hormone therapy or other medication, and some women may choose to do both. However, lifestyle improvements will build a healthy foundation for anyone and, in that sense, they are the best medicine of all.
The goal of this book is to help you take charge of perimenopause and menopause in three ways:
- Understand it. Learning the facts about the physical changes you're experiencing will relieve anxiety and help you focus on how to deal with them.
- Manage it. Find solutions to symptoms and ways of coping with midlife issues.
- Own it. Accept and embrace menopause as an opportunity to make important changes in your life.
The Lifestyle Plan
When I first realized I was perimenopausal and began researching the subject, I was overwhelmed with advice and input. At every party I went to, I seemed to attract an eager group of women all bursting to share their stories. Anytime I'd drop the M word in conversation, the breathless response would be "We gotta talk!"
My OB/GYN immediately said, "Let me put you on a low-dose birth control." Meanwhile, the women at the parties were all asking me: "Have you tried black cohosh?" "Do you think yoga would help my sex drive?" "How much soy do you eat?" And so on, until my head started spinning.
How does anyone evaluate all this information -- all the medical treatments, all the folk remedies? For me, it's been a major project. I now have an entire shelf devoted to menopause books. I've read scores of personal stories from visitors to my Web site. And for months now, I've been meeting with doctors, alternative practitioners, and other experts, interviewing them about their various philosophies.
Here's what I've learned:
I've learned that menopause is an elusive subject, because women's experiences differ so widely. For one friend, menopause hardly mussed her hair; for another, it was like the sky falling. One woman frightened me with vivid descriptions of having to change her sweaty sheets two and three times a night. Should I be preparing for symptoms like that?
I've also learned that, scientifically, menopause is complex. The physiology of hormones and their effects on the body are downright inscrutable. And as most women know, there's great controversy about whether to treat menopause with hormone replacement therapy. One camp considers HRT dangerous and unnatural; the other considers it an indispensable wonder drug.
Fortunately, in the midst of all this, everyone agrees on one thing: A healthy lifestyle is the most important factor of all. Good nutrition, regular exercise, a minimum of stress -- these are the things that can help any woman move through menopause with relative ease.
Copyright ©(2002) by Kathy Smith Enterprises, Inc.