I wake up sweaty in the middle of the night. I am having problems falling asleep. I seem to be forgetting things I never would have in the past. I’m tired, sometimes feeling like my mind is cloudy or fuzzy.
As a sexual health educator I know these could be symptoms of perimenopause – the years leading up to menopause when hormone levels are decreasing, causing changes in the menstrual cycle and the body.
I also know that I had red wine before going to bed and I may be getting sick which can lead to night sweats. I have been drinking too much coffee which can cause sleep problems. I have too many things on my mind, so something is bound to get forgotten, and all of this could cause me to be tired. The fuzzy mind I am unsure how to explain. Too much Taco Bell?
Many people in their forties are not ready to think about menopause. In my experience, people only want to talk about it when they are having extremely disruptive symptoms.
However, I think as a society we all need to understand menopause better in order to understand the people experiencing it better. And just like I say we should educate people about menstruation before menstruation happens, we should educate people about menopause before menopause happens.
May 28 is Menstrual Hygiene Day. A day that began in 2013 to break the silence and taboo held worldwide about menstruation. A day to bring awareness to the detrimental consequences of our negative and ignorant attitudes towards menstruation and the people who menstruate. Without diminishing the importance of this mission, I would like to add to it. If we are discussing the menstrual cycle we need to include menopause, as it is the end of the menstrual cycle.
The definition of menopause is simple: it is the moment when someone has not had a menstrual period in twelve consecutive months. Before this moment is perimenopause, and after this moment is post-menopause. Perimenopause is the time in someone’s life we associate with all the negative symptoms such as night sweats, hot flashes, mood changes, irregular periods, vaginal dryness, sleep disturbances, weight gain, memory loss etc. Menopause also means the end of fertility. Once someone stops menstruating they can no longer get pregnant, because they have also stopped ovulating. This can be a happy thought for some, a sad thought for others.
The conversations around menopause tend to be negative, so of course people are dreading the experience and expecting the worst. However, if we spoke about menopause in a realistic manner and prepared people for the possible side effects and gave them information to decrease or handle the symptoms, people would have a much better experience.
If we also educated others they would be more understanding of what people are going through, if we respected older individuals in our society and saw their potential, we might even celebrate menopause as a time of change and renewal since post-menopause can be a time of increased energy, creativity and insight. Let’s reframe the conversation in order to reframe the experience.
For more information, menopauseandu.ca is a great resource.
Stacey Jacobs is the sexual health educational manager at SHORE.