Controlling Body Chemistry

Source: Pixabay

In other posts that I have linked to Menopause Diaries I have explained that my journey through menopause was masked largely by taking the contraceptive pill for most of my life. For many women this is unusual. Once child bearing is done most couples seek a more permanent solution to fertility in the form of a vasectomy or a tubal ligation. After the birth of our second child Mr Jones did indeed have a vasectomy. It is a neat way to deal with fertility that doesn’t involve chemical interference and doesn’t affect sexual performance. At the time we were monogamous and it seemed that I was done with chemical forms of contraception. 

Then we walked through the big red door of that swing club all those years ago and things were never the same again. For the majority of swingers condoms are a must. I am not naive enough to think that all of us consistently use them. There have been times when I have taken risks that may not have been the smartest risks to take. In short condoms suck balls, and not in the fun way. On top of that Mr Jones feels very strongly about fathering other men’s children. He is happy to watch me be fucked all kinds of ways by other men but he was adamant, there would be no babies from other men in our lives. Even if they were a result of an accident during a consensual non-monogamy event. 

And so, despite using condoms 99% of the time I went back on the pill. My go to was the combined pill. I was fortunate that I was able to use a low dose version successfully. It had worked pre- marriage and planned pregnancy so I was happy to go there again. At one time early in my journey a GP I was seeing convinced me to try an Implanon. At that time I knew a couple of women who were using it and they were all very happy with the device so I agreed. It didn’t work so well for me. I was fortunate that I didn’t experience very heavy bleeding but I bled lightly or spotted for most of the time that I had the device in my arm. Unfortunately I was travelling for three of the six months that I kept it in. Needless to say after three months of living in a caravan with two small children and dealing with a constant light period I didn’t waste much time getting it removed upon my return home!

After this my GP didn’t suggest any other devices. Although one gynaecologist I visited for an unrelated issue tried to convince me that a Mirena would be a good idea. She got firmly told no. And so I continued on my merry way, taking my little round pill every day for many years. I was what pharmacists refer to as ‘compliant’, meaning that I take my medication fairly reliably so I had minimal issues. I did try the old trick of skipping the sugar pills to skip a period but it didn’t work that well. I was fortunate that my period was also compliant and generally started on Monday and finished by Friday so my weekend plans were almost never ruined. 

Despite suffering from hypertension I was able to convince my doctors that an unplanned pregnancy as a result of my lifestyle was a much more likely and undesirable outcome than a blood clot and so they never tried to convince me to stop the pill when my genetic pre-disposition for hypertension kicked in. I guess doctors don’t have a lot of faith in condoms either. In the end, at the age of 46, I responded to some changes and stopped taking the pill because I no longer needed it. 

I didn’t exactly fly through menopause but I believe that my long term use of the pill definitely softened the blow. When I talk to other women about the symptoms of peri-menopause I have a feeling of gratitude that my life during those years was very different. Reliable periods are something that makes my lifestyle much, much easier. Plans don’t have to be changed because of a random menstrual event, libido is much more stable. Or at least for me. Would I have suffered from these problems? I don’t know. There is one thing I do know. If I hadn’t been taking the pill I would have been very unlikely to go to a doctor and ask for HRT. Like many women I would have suffered in ignorance. 

It wasn’t all smooth sailing. There were other symptoms, most notably hot flushes and depression. Probably I experienced other symptoms but didn’t realise what they were. Definitely I have been more in touch with my body since I stopped taking the pill but I still count myself as lucky to have unintentionally been the benefactor of HRT like treatment. Is it something I would recommend? I am not sure. Every one is different. 

The Menopause Diaries

Belly Fat

Photo by Monika Kozub on Unsplash

When I open my social media it seems inevitable that I will be faced with an advertisement that is aimed at women of “a certain age” and promises to reduce their belly fat, deal with their bloating or generally be a miracle cure for mysterious weight that won’t move. A quick google and a number of articles that claim to be medically reviewed come up explaining that hormonal changes happening during peri menopause will be connected to a need to review the way you look at weight. 

For me I have been convinced most of my life that I am overweight and that my naturally curvy shape is unattractive (thanks mother!). At the age of six I was teased by my parents for being chubby. And so I have always thought that my belly was unattractive. Even when it wasn’t. Earlier in the year I posted a shot taken for #travellingboob that included my muffin top. I wrote about the way my eye was always drawn to that part of my body and it always made me feel inadequate.

The belly is something that comes and goes a little. But it is always there. Once I had a conversation with Johnny about how women around my age always feel like they are fat. The women he had met felt that way because their husbands had told them they were overweight and used it as their excuse to cheat on and ultimately leave them for a younger, thinner model. I will never forget the passion in his voice when he told me how he felt about it. 

“So what if your tummy is a bit soft? You have carried and birthed children. Your body has done amazing things. What about their husbands? They have a big fat gut because they sit on the couch and drink beer. What is amazing about that?” 

For the record, Mr Jones is not one of those husbands. 

The long and the short of things is that women’s bodies do some pretty incredible stuff. During pregnancy the uterus increases mass by up to ten times it’s regular size. That is the amount of tissue actually increases 1000%! Then, afterwards it goes, mostly, back again. The rest of our abdominal cavity moves and adjusts to accomodate up to 20 extra kilograms of “stuff” before having to find its way back to it’s “normal” position. Our hormones change markedly both in response to our mensural cycle but also in response to pregnancy, breastfeeding and changes in our ovaries. The female body is a temple that creates life. We are the goddesses who should be honoured for that. 

So if you are a mother, or even if you aren’t. Your body is undergoing some major changes. You deserve to give yourself a break. As long as you are focussed on your overall health and putting food into your body that will keep you healthy and happy. It is pointless obsessing about how many calories you are taking in or trying to manage one particular food group. Comparing yourself to other women is a trap we all fall into. It is dangerous and destructive and will only lead to heartache. 

Those articles that tell us we need to change the way we look at weight loss? They are right. We do need to look at the way we look at weight loss. We need to change the way we see our bodies and stop obsessing that we need to look a certain way. Celebrate your body and it’s achievements. Be kind to it and feed it good food that you enjoy. Be kind to yourself. Don’t let others make you feel less than the goddess you are.

The Menopause Diaries

Hello 3am

Image by Elf-Moondance from Pixabay

Earlier in the year I was chatting with a much younger work colleague about being awake at 3am. She was horrified that I seemed so casual about it until I assured her that 3am and I were old friends. I told her that a lot of the time it doesn’t bother me but sometimes stuff happens at 3am that keeps me awake for quite a long time and that can be a bit problematic the next day when people are expecting me to be functional. 

My journey to menopause was a little different from some people’s in that a lot of peri menopause symptoms were neatly masked by the contraceptive pill. In addition, I was quite young when I became menopausal (46 years old) so a lot of peri menopause symptoms that I experienced were not recognised as such. I was diagnosed with depression by my General Practitioner in my late thirties. He never even mentioned the possibility that it was probably linked to peri menopause. He probably didn’t even consider it. For several years I took the antidepressant Pristiq which is a desvenlafaxine class of drug and works by balancing the way your body processes serotonin. At the time when my GP diagnosed me an older friend who had experienced menopause told me that the symptoms I was experiencing could be related to pre or peri menopause. I didn’t talk to my GP about this and because he never mentioned it I just accepted his diagnosis. 

Insomnia has been a feature of my life for so long I can’t remember when it started. There seems to be this blur between having a toddler who didn’t sleep all night and dealing with young children who were ill during the night. Once the children were a bit older and sleeping better the snoring started. Mr Jones suffers from sleep apnoea. The snoring wasn’t loud but what was distressing was listening for his breathing to stop so I could jolt him back to breathing again. All in all I have had many reasons not to sleep well for so long that changes in sleep patterns as a result of peri- and post menopause were difficult to identify. 

While I was taking Pristiq I insomnia was an issue. If for whatever reason I was awake at 3am and didn’t go immediately back to sleep I would toss and turn sometimes for two or three hours only to doze for a short while before the alarm went at 5am to start the day. These sessions of wakefulness were made worse because I would worry the whole time because I knew I would feel like rubbish the next day. Sometimes I would make myself get up and do some kind of task, planning a lesson, ironing even writing. Often this would be enough to settle my mind and sleep would be easier. A lot of times I didn’t have the mental power to get myself out of a warm bed, dress and begin the task. These were the times I would toss and turn and ultimately be a mess the next day. Even while all this was happening I was blaming the depression. There was never any consideration that it could be my hormones.

After several years I went back to the same GP (doctor choice in my area is not great) and asked to change medication. Not because of the sleep but that is another story. He changed me to a medication called Valdoxan which works by mimicking the pattern of melatonin. Almost immediately I noticed some changes. I still had my eyes open to say hi to 3am regularly but it didn’t bother me as much as it used to. The small amount of sleep I sometimes got was enough. Around the same time I stopped taking the contraceptive pill and have not had a period since. A hormone screen confirmed that I am post- menopausal. 

Is the change in my sleeping due to the medication or the change in my hormones or a combination of both? Even if I stop taking this medication I will likely never know. My journey to menopause was unconventional and clouded by other issues. I was 46 when the GP confirmed my menopausal status which is quite young. This is probably why my doctor didn’t really discuss menopause as a contributor to my depression or sleep issues. Additionally, as I said earlier the area I live in is not populated well with affordable high quality doctors. Often a woman has to deal with being treated by a male doctor from a very conservative cultural background. This means discussing issues like reproductive health can be awkward. Mentioning unconventional lifestyles like non-monogamy can lead to some prejudice. 

It is unlikely that I will ever really be sure if my relationship with 3am is a result of a mental health condition or if it is related to menopause. I don’t know if my mental health condition is related to menopause. I don’t think I will ever get answers because the time for seeking them has passed. What I do know is that women sharing their stories in an honest open forum is probably the best way for us to learn about this issue and become empowered. By creating the menopause diaries Marie has given women a space to share their experiences and possibly learn from each other. 

The Menopause Diaries

Is This Menopause?

I have contributed to the Menopause diaries before. But when I read that Rebel was going to focus on a monthly prompt I really wanted to get on board. I read the post for the first prompt and wrote my contribution and then… Life happened. So here it is. A little out of sequence but I am sure that Rebel will forgive me. Perhaps I should offer a sacrifice to the Goddess of blogging????

My reproductive system has been very compliant pretty much my whole life. Apart from starting my period at 11 years old everything worked well. I didn’t suffer from cramps or irregular periods when I was younger. As an adult I was able to fall pregnant when I wanted to. My pregnancies went by with a minimum of fuss.

I took the contraceptive pill for large chunks of my adult life. From age 18 until about two years after the birth of The Unicorn when Mr Jones had a vasectomy. When we opened our marriage, I started taking the pill again. Even though we used condoms and practised safe sex the possibility of me falling pregnant to another man was a deal breaker for Mr Jones. He refused to act as a father to another man’s child.

And so, I found myself taking the contraceptive pill well into my forties. Over the years some doctors tried to convince me that other devices would be better / more convenient. I had an encounter with an Implanon or as it is known in the vernacular “the rod”. It didn’t work for me and I continued with the tried-and-true method. I loved being on the pill, the predictability of it, the way it just worked.

Somewhere between the age of 40 and 45 I noticed that I began to sweat a lot. I live in a hot humid place. But on really warm days sweat would literally pour out of my face. During summer I had to carry around a cloth to wipe my face if I was not in an air-conditioned space. It was mainly my face that leaked profusely. The rest of my body seemed reasonably unaffected. At school I was reluctant to do this because I worried about looking odd in front of my students but there were times, if I was particularly stressed when I would be reaching for the tissue box. At the time I didn’t realise what was happening to me. Hindsight is a wonderful thing.

I have struggled with depression since my late 30’s. In all honesty I have probably always had it to an extent it just got worse as I got older. Or perhaps it was a perimenopause symptom. I don’t know. Whatever the case I started taking medication when I was around 40. I took the drug for several years. It had a negative effect on my libido and sexual function but at least I didn’t wake up at 3 am wanting to cut off my hair! Or other, more drastic things. Like the sweating I didn’t consider this as part of a bigger thing. I will never know all the answers to all the questions I have about depression. I do believe that the increase in the effects on my life are linked to the onset of menopause.

In 2018 when I was 45, I noticed my period change. I was still taking the pill. The artificial hormones make your uterus bleed every 28 days no matter what. But I noticed that the amount was less, and it seemed different somehow. At this point I began to put some things together. The profuse sweating on hot days had morphed into full on hot flushes by now. I was still taking depression medication, but I was ready to either ditch it or change because I was done with the impact it was having on my sex life. Plus, it didn’t seem to be helping much with mood swings or keeping at bay the days when I just wanted to cry for hours. I still wasn’t sure what was depression and what was menopause but I began to ask myself if they were one and the same.

In January 2019 I decided to conduct an experiment. I stopped taking the pill. I had read that the pill masks menopause symptoms, but I was a little naïve as to what that could exactly mean. My hypothesis was that if I had stopped ovulating and my uterus was heading to retirement that I would not have a period. My hypothesis was proven to be correct. I have not had a period since January 2019. At the time I was 46.

Around March of the same year I visited my GP and asked to change my depression medication. I also asked if there was a way to confirm my menopause status. He conducted a blood test and informed me that “my hormone profile was the same as a post-menopausal woman. I changed medication which was a long process of weaning off the first medication and then easing on to the second. It was harder than I expected. Were some of the things I was experiencing a result of menopause, or were they because of the stress I was under at the time? Later that year I visited a counsellor. He told me that he thought some of my issues were a result of being burnt out. Great! Another thing to add to the mix of things that could be causing my symptoms.

Reading through blog posts and talking to other women there is much chatter about menopause and peri-menopause. Many women seem to be in touch with what is happening and able to identify the central focus for their symptoms. I was not one of them. For me hindsight has been the only insight. I blindly went through the lead up to menopause dealing with each symptom individually not realising it was all part of a bigger thing.

I hope that others out there can benefit from this site and the shared experiences of other women. Click on the icon below and find out what other women are sharing.

The Menopause Diaries

Unexpected

According to the Australasian Menopausal Society a woman is considered post menopausal when twelve consecutive months have elapsed since her last period. Last January I decided to put to bed some suspicions I had about the pill masking my embarkation into this post menopausal world.

One year later and my suspicions were confirmed. I am post menopausal.

My reproductive system has never been a source of angst, pain or any other issue. I started menstruating at age 11, a little earlier than most but without any real issues. Unless you count the ridiculous “birds and bees” talk or lack thereof that I received from my parents which led a terrified 11 year old girl to not understanding completely why she was suddenly bleeding and with no real idea of how to deal with it. No internet in 1983 to educate myself with.

Fast forward fifteen years and I have educated myself as much as possible. Actually probably a bit more than a lot of my peers given that I have been sexually active since age 17 and have managed to avoid STD’s and pregnancy while still having a good working knowledge of the bedroom. Mr Jones and I decide to have children quite soon after we are married. He is worried about not being fertile due to radiation therapy he had following a brush with testicular cancer.

He needn’t have worried. I was pregnant as soon as humanly possible.

Two mostly uncomplicated pregnancies and natural births later I continued on my sexual journey. I have had a couple of brushes with Chlamydia over the years but nothing else of note pertaining to my lady bits. I am happy to say my reproductive organs have served me well and performed according to design specifications.

Not surprisingly menopause seemed equally uneventful. Reading the list illustrated above I can tick off a lot of the symptoms there; hot flushes (“power surges” as a good friend refers to them), weight gain (or was that all the starchy, sugary food??) and some mild depression. Writing this I also noted brittle nails as a symptom. Yep tick. The depression has been around for a while in one form or another. Not entirely sure of the cause / trigger or extent. So I don’t know if it can be counted as a symptom.

The thing that caught me by surprise was the tears. I hate crying. I hate crying in front of anyone even more. I think Mr Jones can count on one hand the number of times he has seen me cry, until this year. Now I cry

ALL

THE

TIME

About anything. Even when I want to stop sometimes I can’t. Even when I really need to stop I can’t. I hate it. Recently I received some negative news about my daughter’s application for a leadership role at her school. It just so happens I teach at the same school. I was fine in front of the students. In the staff room I couldn’t stop crying. I don’t even want to know what everyone thought. I just know that the tears would not stop. No matter how much I rationalised them, no matter how much I told myself to get over it. They just wouldn’t stop.

There were also a couple of incidents during pole classes where I had to leave the room to shed tears of frustration at the way my mind had convinced my body it couldn’t do something. I just can’t stop this water coming out of my eyes.

I have always wanted to be in control and look strong and powerful. Now in my middle age and perhaps with some of the wisdom that comes with that I have realised that being strong is not always possible or healthy. Slowly I am coming to terms with not always having the answers. My family finds this a bit confronting as I am the go to person if there is an issue. Being told to “work it out for yourself” or “ask your Dad” are relatively new experiences for my children.

I can still do without the tears. Tears are messy and crying leads to red eyes which leads to people asking if you are OK which means having to explain the source of not OKness which leads to more tears. Then you have to find tissues and splash water on your face. All too hard.

Recently I visited a psychologist for the first time. That was challenging but at least I didn’t cry. Small victory. One of the things he told me was I needed to slow down and take more time to just be. He is right of course. Maybe if I take his advice and chill for a little bit each day the tears will be easier to control. Maybe I just need to carry a box of tissues with me everywhere.

This post was part of Wicked Wednesday’s 400th prompt celebration.

I have also included this as part of Menopause Diaries. Both of these places have some amazing posts from amazing writers, I strongly encourage you to check them out.