3am Revisited

I am continuing to complete Marie’s bingo card of menopause symptoms. If any readers out there read the card below and identify with any of the categories it would be great if you could share your story.

Once upon a time sleep was something I was able to enjoy in great quantities and at will. Then I had a baby. Suddenly sleep was something I didn’t really have the luxury of enjoying at my convenience. Sleeping came at the convenience of a small human that required feeding and being attended to at all hours of the night. It was an interesting time. The baby’s room was in the front of our house. We lived in a less than affluent neighbourhood. I have memories of sitting in the rocker of my baby’s bedroom looking out the window at the comings and goings of the drug house across the street from us. 

My second child was even more unsettled at night. Without exaggerating I don’t believe she slept through the night with some regularity until she was about five!. At the same time Mr Jones’ sleep apnea was becoming more and more of an issue. There is something about sitting by the bedside of a fretting child while your husband snores away in another room. Sometimes my mind is blown by the thought that he survived those days. 

Somewhere in there I become more of a friend with 3am from a tossing and turning and not being able to sleep perspective. Sometimes I would wake at 3am look at the time and then go back to sleep. Other times I would wake, the poultry would complain about a predator and then sleep was a lost cause. Or I would wake, check the time and then spend the next couple of hours tossing and turning while my mind thought every thought in the universe only to fall asleep half an hour before the alarm. Those nights did not make for a very coherent Mrs Jones the next day. 

Somewhere around my mid 30’s depression became more of a feature of my life. I was prescribed Pristiq by my GP. While this didn’t seem to change my sleeping habits I did notice that if I spent time staring at the ceiling thinking the thoughts in the middle of the night I felt hungover the next day. This was frustrating, to say the least. What is worse than having a hangover without the previous party? I changed medications a few years ago. My sleeping didn’t change significantly. I still slept through on a good night and had other nights that involved staring at the ceiling. What had changed was that I didn’t seem to need the sleep. If I missed an hour or so in the middle of the night I was still able to deal with the next day. In fact I began to wonder if I actually needed all that much sleep

Like many things associated with menopause I was completely ignorant that my sleep patterns could be associated with menopause. Like so many peri-menopause symptoms they could be attributed to other things, stress, brain chemical imbalance, anxiety, poor diet, too much screen time. So did the onset of peri-menopause contribute? Who really knows. I am not really sure and now I guess I will never know. 

The Menopause Diaries

Menopause Diaries – Hot and Cold Flushes

In March 2021 Marie Rebelle started “The Menopause Diaries” as a place for women (and their significant others) to post stories of their experiences with various aspects of peri and full menopause. At the time I thought “I need to get on board and support that” And then I went on this voyage that took up a lot of my brain space. I honestly tried and managed a couple of posts but I feel I let the side down.

When Marie announced that she was changing the format of the diaries I had a renewed sense of needing to get on board with that. And so here I am attempting to cross as many squares off the bingo card as I can. Maybe I will even share the stories of some of my friends. We will see. But for now here is my first post.

As I complete the prompt I will add a circle. Hopefully this keeps me honest!

One summer, a couple of years after I turned 40 I noticed that I had started to sweat A LOT. It wasn’t that I  felt particularly hot it was that sweat just seemed to drip from my face so much that I took to carrying a small towel around with me. I live in the sub tropics, Brisbane does get humid during summer so sweating is really par for the course. But this was more than normal, I knew that. My family seemed to think my towel was OK even though I thought it was a little weird. I refrained from taking my towel out in public even though there was times I wished I had. 

At the time I didn’t stop to consider that approaching menopause was the cause of these changes. My mother had complained about the symptoms of being old ever since I could remember. I also remember she had a similar towel. Mimicking her behaviour I started to make jokes about getting old. Not once did I read an article about menopause or the symptoms. I was about 42. Such things seemed a very long way into my future. 

As time went on Summer turned to Autumn and then winter the sweating eased a little and I went on with my life. Of course it returned when the weather warmed up but I accepted that it was a normal part of my life now. I was, after all, getting old. Life went on, sweating happened. The whole towel thing became a regular part of my life. I began to notice that it wasn’t just a constant thing. There were definite sharp increases in temperature that caused a definite increase in sweating. I began to consider that I was experiencing some symptoms of pre-menopause. I was still considered to be quite young to be experiencing this kind of thing so Facebook posts and things about menopause didn’t really come my way. At least not like they do these days. 

Some time around 45 – 46 I noticed other changes and I stopped taking the contraceptive pill. A GP confirmed that my hormone profile had changed and I was medically considered to be post – menopausal. I had mixed feelings about this event which I will discuss another time but one of the more positive thoughts I had was that maybe my body temperature would get itself sorted out now. Because of course, now that I had gone through menopause life would return to normal. 

Wrong. While these days I don’t have to carry a towel around with me, even in the depths of humid Brisbane summers. However my body still struggles to regulate it’s temperature. I do the ‘blanket dance’ every night once the true heat of summer is over. Go to bed cold, put the blanket on snuggle down, get warm fall asleep, wake up several hours later sweating. Throw the offending blanket off, get cold, put blanket back on, get warm, go back to sleep. Repeat a couple of hours later. Even when it is very cold I have to cool right back down again or my body will just stay uncomfortably hot. Add another body to the bed and things get worse. Sometimes I can trick my body by putting a foot out but not always. 

The same happens during the day. Get a chill from air conditioning or such like, put jacket on, get warm like everyone else, then get hot, not like everyone else, take jacket off, cool down, get cold, put jacket on. Several times per meeting. There is no middle ground, I am either too hot or too cold. I am not sure if this is improving over time but at the moment it seems like the blanket dance, and the jacket dance are a permanent fixture in my life from Autumn through to Spring.

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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.

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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