My mother was just a year or two older than I am now when she told me something I hadn't expected. I was 35 years old, and she was 62. I was supposedly in my prime and I guess I bought the common "wisdom" that she was ... well ... past hers.
We'd been friends for many years, and I'd have said I'd seen firsthand from her what it is to be a woman over the age of 50, by the time I was in my early 30s. Even so, she surprised me when she told me that she was much healthier in her 60s than she had been as a younger woman.
When she was raising her children, she was chronically exhausted and most of her attention was continually going to someone else. She was running on too little sleep, had way too much to do, and was the family cook, chauffeur, accountant, counselor ... you know the drill.
At 62, she loved seeing her grandchildren but the intensity of raising kids 24/7 was now a thing of the past. Much of her time was her own, and she and my step-dad were free to travel and spend their days as they saw fit.
I had to admit, I had been envying her the amount of sheer leisure time she had, compared to mine. There was a marked scarcity of leisure in the face of seemingly constant life-changing decisions and challenges in my own crowded and hectic life.
She told me that the ups and downs and transition of menopause were well behind her. Hormonal changes were no longer dramatic or erratic. She was less likely to come down with a virus or drag on with an illness. She was less likely to catch something — for one thing because she no longer had children who would bring a steady run of sickness home from school with them.
I'd have to say that my experience agrees with what my mom told me a quarter of a century ago.
I have some unpleasant complications that mess up my health, some of them major — problems with inflammation and living with ME/CFS. But I was dealing with them long before menopause. And even some of these things are less problematic now than they were 20-odd years ago.
Some of the easing up at this phase of life occurs because of factors other than hormones, of course. I have time to myself, compared to the years when my husband and I home-schooled five kids. Time to take my dog for a walk, or read a book, or talk to myself while folding laundry. Finances don't have to stretch as far now that the children are grown. My brain doesn't hurt as much as it used to while trying to sort out the problems of a houseful of adolescents.
What many often refer to as "going through menopause" is actually "going through perimenopause." You could call it the storm before the calm that menopause can be.
Perimenopause is the transitional time before menopause when your ovaries are winding down their estrogen production. This actually begins earlier than most people think — often in the 40s, sometimes as early as the 30s. When your ovaries have finished releasing eggs, you've hit menopause.
You may not recognize it when you've reached this landmark because periods will have probably been erratic for at least a few years. It's not unusual to miss several, and then have one show up out of the blue. Once you've gone a year without a period though, you can pretty safely assume that you are done with all that.
Post-menopause — that time that gets the least press and which tends to be much better than many of us expected — starts at menopause and goes for the rest of your life.
It's not all roses but there are more roses than you may think. Pregnancy is no longer a possibility. No more PMS, no more period pain, "accidents" or intense food cravings.
Unlike many women over 50, I didn't really have a bad time with perimenopausal symptoms. Instead I was dealing ME/CFS. For many though, hot flashes and mood swings, as well as unpredictable, intense and painful periods come immediately to mind. Sleep disturbances, emotional upheaval, exhaustion, digestive issues, can all result from the hormonal changes that take place before menopause.
My hormones are apparently sedate and know what they are doing. My sleep is better than it was in my 40s and 50s. And I don't have to shave my legs nearly as often as I used to. That was a surprise bonus.
When I was 35 years old, listening to the future forecast for my life from the lips of my mother, 62 sounded like a lifetime away — and I guess it was back then. But I am about that age now, and looking back the time in some ways has flown by.
As I survey this time of life I am in right now, I am pleased and relieved to note that my mother was right, and in many ways I feel younger now than I did all those years ago.
Reviewed May 27, 2016
by Michele Blacksberg RN
Menopause. Clevelandclinic.org. Retrieved May 25, 2016.
Menopause. Mayoclinic.org. Retrieved May 27, 2016.