Menopause – We Can’t Skip It, but We Can Make It Easier
Conversations among women about menopause are few and far between. People would rather not hear or talk about the physical and mental experiences this change brings, and few women broach the topic. The issue is also under-addressed among health professionals, despite the fact that all women will go through menopause, which marks the end of the reproductive age. This is accompanied by physical, hormonal, and emotional changes that manifest themselves in hot flashes and sweats, disrupted sleep, dry eyes, muscle and joint pain, weight gain, vaginal dryness, and pain during sex that affects sexual function.
Hormonal imbalances disrupt emotional stability and lead to irritation, anxiety, sadness, a tendency to cry, and even depression. The taboo around this subject means that these women must face their new reality alone, which intensifies their distress. Many women experience the loss of fertility as a loss of femininity, and this can cause damaged self-esteem, shame and embarrassment, feelings of guilt, and have a negative impact on their relationships.
What’s Actually Happening To Me?
Perimenopause: this is the stage that signals the end of fertility. Ovulation still occurs, but menstruation is irregular and happens either more or less frequently until it stops altogether. At this preliminary stage, there is a gradual decrease in the amount of estrogen and progesterone being produced by the ovaries. Nearly a quarter of women begin to experience menopausal symptoms while their menstruation is still regular.
Menopause: the second stage, menopause, is diagnosed after the woman has not menstruated for at least a year, and a decrease is registered in the production and secretion of estrogen and progesterone. Ovulation has ceased and getting pregnant naturally is no longer possible. As noted above, this stage manifests itself in some women by various symptoms such as hot flashes, depression, sleep problems, dryness of the mucous membranes, heart palpitations, and more. These symptoms can extend over a period of anywhere from one to six years.
Postmenopause: refers to the years after menopause has occurred, from one year after the last menstrual period and beyond. In the third stage, some women report an intensification of the menopausal symptoms until gradually most of them stop.
Not Just a Physiological Change
Menopause is not only a physiological, hormonal change; it also occurs at a stage when many women are undergoing changes in their family: the home is emptying of children, and the fear of loneliness and feelings of emptiness intensify, especially in cases where the woman is not in a relationship or her relationship is unsatisfactory.
Menopause is an unsettling encounter with the old woman knocking at the door, which many women fear but which cannot be prevented. My patients shared their thoughts in our sessions on the subject: “I’m not who I used to be”, “My body is changing and I don’t know it anymore”, “I don’t have the energy I once did”, and “I have a hard time looking at myself in the mirror” are just some of the sentences I hear repeated.
Menopause Isn’t the End of Your Life: How Counseling Can Help You Traverse It
The physical changes that menopause brings require adaptation and adjustment, becoming re-acquainted with the body and its abilities, and gaining a deeper understanding of the process.
It’s a passage to a new stage of life, and it brings with it an opportunity for development, for every woman to reassess her intentions, aspirations, and desires: Am I living my life the way I want to? Am I satisfied?
This is an opportunity to take ownership of and responsibility for your life; to accept the physical changes that you are not in control of; and to adapt your lifestyle to your circumstances in a way that will prevent frustration.
Patients who successfully complete therapy learn how to take advantage of the time freed up from childcare to work on their personal growth, and to enjoy the independence and freedom they gain when family members are less dependent on them. While this is a period of physiological change that requires getting used to, it is also the beginning of a stage of life that brings great freedom and independence.