It was my birthday last week. I am now 49. I feel 89.
Up to last Sunday night, I hadn’t slept for six months. Well, of course I’d slept (or I’d be dead), but I hadn’t slept well. Not at all.
Because my nervous system – sent completely whacko by the drop in female hormones – had apparently gone into free fall, flooding my system with adrenaline and cortisol. Yup, that’s ADRENALINE AND CORTISOL, the fight-or-flight hormones that your body usually releases at times of stress or DANGER and which – rightly – send your blood pumping and your heart racing, so you’re ready to react quickly to, say, a saber-toothed tiger chasing you, or a runaway train heading your way. It’s not really for sleeping, unless your usual place of rest is on the edge of a cliff or inside a bear’s cave.
Fluctuating cortisol levels cause hot flushes – plus panic attacks, anxiety etc. My hot flushes had become more and more intense; making me feel like I’m going to faint and puke at the same time. Also, making my heart race and giving me scary palpitations (and sending my previously healthy blood pressure soaring). The sauna-level heat is almost secondary (I actually steam car windows up) – it’s the sickening feeling like YOU’RE GONNA DIE bit that really got to me. Yeah, that’s a nice feeling.
And, sleeping with cortisol whizzing around your body? “Whiz” is about right: not a chance in hell. I wake up half an hour after I’ve gone to sleep, then every hour, virtually on the hour. Horrific. I was a serious and chronic insomniac for many years and I was terrified I was going back to the bad time.
Being proactive and trying to manage my irksome insomnolence, I took off the week leading up to my birthday in order to bank some sleep (to at least attempt to enjoy my birthday celebrations), and also to do some writing. I did neither. Instead, I sat around like a stoned, tearful zombie incapable of any real thought apart from the vacant notion that this menopause will be the death of me.
Eight weeks before, I was three months into the hot flushes/insomnia/brain fudge and – wanting to embrace my menopause naturally and accept it as part of my journey as a woman (!) – I decided to manage my menopause symptoms with 1. some herbs and plants and 2. a fanny magnet. Yup, you heard right. The herbs didn’t do much (though they turned my wee a nice radioactive yellow) so I figured I had nothing to lose by trying out the fanny magnet (otherwise known as Lady Care). Quite frankly, the idea that a magnet can re-balance your body’s nervous system sounded like crazy talk, but I was willing to try anything by this point. It My good friend Jennifer Denys bequeathed me hers (after a good scrub, obviously) – it hadn’t worked for her, but we had high – desperate – hopes for me. So, did it work? Well, something did stir after I first stuffed it down my knickers, but it didn’t last, sadly. The story of my life.
So. Fast forward to the week before my birthday and I’m sat in my new doctor’s office, a teary wobbly puddle of off-the-scale tired/wiredness and practically begging him for HRT. Bollocks to embracing my menopause naturally – GIVE ME THE FREAKIN’ DRUGS.
My new doc came good and, thankfully agreeing that my high blood pressure would see me off far sooner than any other associated hormonal health risks, hit me up. Whoop! It took four more tortuous days to kick in but deep, blessed, WONDERFUL sleep finally came – fittingly – on Sunday, the day of rest. Praise be. And welcome back sore tits, crippling stomach cramps and “stuck pig”-level bleeding – I may feel like someone’s removing my hitherto withered womb via my fanjita with a crochet hook but MY GOD, how glad am I to see you.
I’ve been wondering why nature got this so bloody wrong. Why do so many women have to suffer so terribly as their poor bewildered bodies go into a blind panic at the ending of fertility, and often never come out? And then it hit me: we were never supposed to live past menopause. Of course. D’oh. It’s only relatively recently (in the evolutionary scheme of things) that our average lifespan has gone past 40 years. There was no need to design us with a physiological, post-hormonal coping mechanism. So, there is no fall-back plan, no “what do we do after?”, no plan B. Just hot, sleepless, brain-melting misery. Or drugs. And I know I can’t have them forever, but for now I’m taking the drugs – I’ll deal with my particular after if and when it comes.
Happy birthday to me. Welcome back, me.