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What I Wish I Had Known About Menopause

I didn’t realize how taboo the topic of menopause is until I was going through it. Nor did not realize how much I didn’t know until I was going through it. Needless to say, I was unprepared for, and uneducated about, the experience.

Unbeknownst to me, I was peri-menopausal in my 30s. There was one sign that told me something was not quite right, but I ignored it because no one is thinking about menopause in their 30s, are they? I presume I may have been alarmed had being a mother been a priority for me, but I wasn’t. So, I ignored it.

I began experiencing hot flashes in my mid-30s. They occurred only every six months or so, only in the mornings, only on my morning subway commute.  I’d be in one of my gorgeous coats, all bundled up and suddenly would experience a crazy heat-up from the inside out. Boulder-sized sweat beads would form on my face out of nowhere, and my whole body would be clammy and wet. What the hell?

There was also the occasional, what I now know as, night sweats.  I would wake up sweating profusely, drenched and lying on sheets that appeared to have had water sprayed all over them until they were soaking wet.  There was nothing more than this until I accidentally disrupted my birth control regimen.  That’s when all hell broke loose.

Hot flashes began coming frequently and intensely.  This was the most obvious and outward indication, but there was much more that I didn’t know could accompany this experience:

Early Menopause (which I now know is called Premature Ovarian Insufficiency) – suffice it to say, I had no idea one could be peri-menopausal or any level of menopausal in their 30s.  Frankly, I my focus was preventing an unwanted pregnancy.  Even my doctor was in denial about my symptoms until I insisted that if I wasn’t experiencing hot flashes, he’d need to order a battery of medical tests because I must be dying of something.  It was all confirmed with a very caring hormonal test result from an OB/GYN of, “yep, you’re done.”

Insomnia – I had been a champion sleeper for years, but suddenly sleep was elusive. All I could do was toss and turn all night, every night. My long driving commutes to and from work were dangerous. Drowsiness got the best of me several times and I would have no idea how I’d made it home safely.  Everyday arriving at work, required at least a 15-minute (usually 30 minutes) nap just to get the day started.  I was exhausted.

Vaginal Dryness – All I knew about this, I learned from pharmaceutical commercials. I had been experiencing a change in vaginal moisture but attributed that to a change in diet and exercise regimen. Once I realized I was in menopause, it all made sense (sort of).

Physical Changes – the loss of muscle mass was unexpected and seemed sudden. I’ve been working out consistently since I was 21 years old.  My diet and nutrition practice have been reasonably healthy since I was 35 years old. I thought these measures would considerably slow physical decline. I was not aware of how the diminished estrogen levels would affect my body. Cellulite I’d never had appeared on my abdomen and thighs. Maintaining muscle mass is extremely challenging, and let’s not mention the weight gain and outgrowth of much of my wardrobe.

Constipation – I won’t get into the gory details, nut I had never had a problem “going”.    All I’ll say is, it became a dreadful and excruciating experience.

Isolation – I was fully menopausal (no menstruation for a 12-month period) at the age of 42.  None of my close friends were experiencing what I was experiencing. There was no one to commiserate with. All I could do was share my experiences and prepare others. I had to seek information on my own and there was not a lot to be found.


Now at 51, with more friends going through the changes brought on by menopause, I’m learning about so many more experiences including body aches, hair loss, depression, and the list goes on.

I’m grateful to see that the topic of menopause is becoming less taboo.  Hell, there was even a menopause commercial during the Super Bowl this year.  National Public Radio (NPR) has covered the topic and many Instagram profiles are dedicated to discussing the experiences of women going through menopause. I recently discovered the podcast, Black Girls’ Guide to Surviving Menopause. I actually found a list of 60 podcasts on the topic!!!!Unfortunately, none of them existed when I started my experience.

I’m happy to see it all coming out of the shadows.  Menopause is a natural experience and not something of which to be ashamed. Perhaps we can break this cycle and ensure the next generation of persons experiencing menopause will be educated and supported through the experience. Based on what I’m learning, I still have the post-menopausal phase to experience.  Here’s hoping I’m better informed and better prepared.

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6 thoughts on “What I Wish I Had Known About Menopause

  1. You are so right! I had no idea perimenopause could start 10 years! before actual menopause. Add in diminishing thyroid hormone levels and it is the nightmare we experience. Thank you for speaking out and educating women 🙂

  2. One word: GABAPENTIN. It won’t relieve every symptom for every menopausal woman. But much like medicinal marijuana, it will take the edge off both physical and emotional symptoms. It will sooth the mechanisms in your body that exacerbate hot flashes. You can sleep through the night so you won’t wake up every 20 minutes (like I did), with sweat pouring down your face, your chest, your scalp, your back. My friend is an M.D. who specializes in sleep disorders, and helps to run the sleep disorders clinic at Northwestern Memorial Hospital in Chicago. He’s the one who told me about gabapentin. He prescribes it for the menopausal women who come to the clinic. It’s a safe medication with many positive side effects.

    1. Thank you for reading and for your response. I have thankfully passed the insomnia and hot flash phase, and night sweats are now very minor. I really wish my physician would have advised me of resources, and that I would have sought assistance. I thought I just needed to tough it out.

  3. Hi Sabra,
    Nice post! Question for you – have you considered HRT? I’ve found that HRT has made my life better – it may or may not for you, but giving HRT up for me is not an option….. something to consider?

    1. Hi Natalie,

      I wasn’t really open to HRT at the onset. I am considering it now, and have an appointment to discuss with OBGYN particularly for the vaginal dryness. Has your physician indicated HRT is good for long term use?