One day about a year ago, when my GP asked at the end of a visit if there was anything else she could do for me, I asked for a brain transplant. Exhibit A: the three times I’d been in to see her THAT WEEK, because I kept forgetting stuff, even (sigh) when it was written down.
Instead, she said something unexpected: “Yeahhhh, that might be a bit extreme; I think we’ll try you on some HRT. I reckon you’re in peri-menopause.”
Of course, I argued. (Regular readers may notice a pattern.) Exhibit B: Clockwork periods, no heavier than ever, zero hot flushes.
But my GP raised her eyebrows very high, and said, through curiously tight lips, “Trust me, I am a *bit* of an expert on these matters, these days.” Then she printed me off a list of symptoms.
Ah. Forgetfulness. Tick.
Um. Central adiposity, the fancy medical term for the spare tyre round my middle, as tough and resilient as the ones on my car. Tick.
Oh. Difficulty sleeping. I put my hand up to that one, fast. It was weird, too – not just difficulty getting to sleep, like when I’m anxious, or early waking, like in depression, but the whole bloody trifecta: difficulty getting to sleep, staying asleep, and waking early.
“Yep,” she said. “That’s it.”
WHO THE FUCK KNEW?!
So we tried the HRT, and it was AWESOME.
By around New Year’s, I could sleep and when I woke I didn’t feel dead and some days I even got shit done without crashing the car. (I crashed the car, um, three times in 2019.) I WAS SUPERWOMAN.
But, you know, like all gifties, I’m a giant pain in my own ass, sometimes.
We’d run the blood tests – which is stupid, because as my doctor said, that shows what my hormone levels were like at that hour of that morning, nothing else – but it did also show (surprise, surprise) low iron, which I’ve never had before. So we tried HRT and iron supplements.
That’s right. We adjusted TWO VARIABLES.
What can I say? Apparently neither of us was at our finest, that day.
As soon as I was back to feeling like a human being, I remembered SCIENCE and quit the HRT. Because it might not be that, right?
It was that.
Oh, my god, it was that.
Pretty soon I was back to feeling like a dried-up booger stuck to the bathroom wall.
So I filled another prescription and began religiously taking the HRT.
No, I didn’t.
My brain was AWOL, right? That means I was utterly incapable of remembering to rub some gel on my arm in the morning and swallow a capsule at night, let alone take any of the supplements the doctor had also suggested. Good lord.
What kind of idiot cannot remember to take three medicines every day, FFS?
Which is why I’m also on an anti-depressant.
Which I also regularly forgot.
Which is bizarre, since forgetting to take them pretty much instantly makes me feel like there’s a full-size pissed-off grizzly bear perched on my head, clinging with all twenty claws and occasionally teeth as well. You’d think that’d be sufficient negative conditioning to trigger change.
Nope. I’ve spent most of this year fucking it up: forgetting to take, running out, forgetting to fill scripts for days on end, headachey, tired, and miserable, completely unable to sort myself out.
Eventually – after my smarty-pants cousin said, “Oh I just keep mine near my toothbrush,” (thanks, smarty-pants cuz) – I built a routine: Out of bed, wee, water, gel, anti-depressant, hearing aids. THEN move further into the house, where all the distractions live.
Yep. At 51 years old, I needed someone to tell me that. And people think gifted means smart.
So I guess it was September when I finally got on top of it, enough hormone in my system regularly enough to fill some of the holes, and to be honest it has been nothing short of miraculous. I have turned into a weird evangelist trying to share the good news of HRT* with every woman within five years of my age.
And then this week – phew. Following Toemageddon last Saturday, Tuesday saw me smash a hearing aid using the exact same sequence of mis-steps as back in May, and Thursday saw me… prang the fucking car. Also, the exact same way I did earlier this year.
Only this time, I have some connected neurons, so I wondered: does peri-menopause make you clumsy?
Turns out, it does.
And it turns out that all of this – sleep, memory, clumsiness, weight-gain, anxiety, and depression – is hideously inter-connected.
Oestrogen and progesterone are meant to balance each other. When they’re playing nicely, you get nice, regular ups and downs and a nice, regular cycle.
Once you hit this delightful stage in life, though, your desiccating ovaries reduce oestrogen production. Freaking out, your body seeks alternative ways to get its fix, which it does by laying down fat like a bastard – fat can make oestrogen – and this causes your oestrogen levels bounce around like the Cat in the Hat on his ball with his cups, the milk and a cake, the books, and the poor bloody fish on the rake.
Meanwhile, progesterone just slowly slopes off out of the room, completely abandoning its balancing duties.
The resulting wobbles amplify and enhance each other, both physiologically and psychologically:
Not sleeping? Gain weight! Gaining weight? Feel stressed! Feeling stressed? Crash into stuff! Crashing into stuff? Feel anxious! Feeling anxious? Sleep less! Sleeping less? Eat more! Eating more? Gain weight! Gaining weight? Diet! Wait … what was that thing, you were supposed to be doing? LIE AWAKE WONDERING. Lying awake wondering? HAVE A SNACK.
And because it is wobbly, not linear, what was working back in September may not work by January. And, because it’s “just” women, and it’s both highly complicated and highly variable, the whole issue is clouded in medical confusion and non-medical misinformation.
I saw one doctor’s comment that this is nature’s way of trying to “kill us off” once we’re no longer reproducing, and it’s pretty hard not to feel he’s right, especially when you’re waiting in 32-degree heat for roadside assistance because you hit the kerb. (Although he then earned idiot status for going on to wonder whether “we” should just “accept Mother Nature’s design for us”. Fuck off, Dr Dick.)
The shortest average period of this hormonal pandemonium I saw cited, was four years. (My GP said, seven.) Bloody freaking hell.
Can I just say, this is not one of the things they ever cover in those stupidly optimistic news stories about the advantages of late parenthood?
Because, yes, just as my hormones are going on the fritz, the kids are well and truly ramping up theirs. And I thought the pre-school years had been full of yelling, tears, and door-slamming.
Really, the only thing needed to top off this giant endocrine-palooza, is helping care for Mum through her dementia, a condition strongly linked to … yep, you guessed it: The years-long brain fart that is menopause. (Two-thirds of Alzheimer’s sufferers are women, more than can be explained by our longevity relative to men’s.) Something to think about, while lying awake.
There may be an out, of course. It is exercise. (EXACTLY what you feel like doing, when you’ve been awake half the night. Even more, I should imagine, if like a friend of mine, you’re cracking 50+ hot flushes a day. Or, like me, your local climate is exactly like living a hot flush for half the year.)
It must be said, that although it is far and away the most consistent advice given, the evidence that exercise mitigates menopausal symptoms, is far from clear.
I’m gonna do it, though.
If it means I stand any chance of staving off the Alzheimer’s or any of the other heritable diseases I know are risks in my family, then clearly I owe it to myself and to the kids, to pull on my (very) big-girl pants, sort out my back, and get my (rather large) arse into gear.
Who knows? I might even regrow my brain.
* = I know, it’s not called that any more. But these days I’m too dappy to remember what it is called. And since many doctors have not yet cottoned on to the new lingo, I don’t feel too bad about it. Cheers.