Updated 21 July 2014

Menopause tips by a clinical psychologist

"There is magic in maturity. I'm a clinical psychologist and I’ve just turned 52. Menopause lies ahead." writes Miranda Pretorius, about menopause. She offers practical tips.


There’s magic in maturity
By Miranda Pretorius

“I’M A clinical psychologist and I’ve just turned 52. Both my kids are students. Menopause lies ahead – or as the doctors put it, I’m perimenopausal.

‘‘In other words, I’m a normal woman at the stage of my life where I’m looking back at the years gone by and ahead at the ones to come. Just before my 50th birthday I thought about the past year. How have I changed? Because something was definitely happening, both physically and psychologically.

‘‘I remember the first night sweat, about a year ago. It didn’t really worry me but it was the beginning of lots of other things. As the months passed I saw my body changing. My hair got thinner and fell out in clumps. One day I noticed I had fi ne wrinkles on my throat and my skin was getting drier. It got so bad I had to use a night cream during the day as well.

‘‘I’m naturally thin but I started getting a bulge around my middle. And I was tired all the time – so tired I couldn’t stay awake after 9 pm. I’d always had nice hands but they started to age by the day. My menstruation cycle was completely screwed up. I wouldn’t have a period for a couple of months and then the floodgates would open.

‘‘The worst was that my face changed – as if it was retaining water. My body felt out of proportion: my breasts were too big and my legs too thin. I got headaches and cramps all over my body, including leg cramps at night.

‘‘But the absolute worst for me were the psychological symptoms. As a psychologist I have always listened patiently to people talking about their midlife crises – but now it was happening to me.

I realised I was feeling depressed. I knew all the symptoms: I was listless, nothing excited me any more, one week I couldn’t get to sleep and the next week I couldn’t wake up.

‘‘I became more reserved and withdrawn. Anxiety followed. My breathing was shallow and my hands were cold and damp – I felt like I was about to write an exam for which I hadn’t prepared. ‘‘I became terribly forgetful and irritable. I was short-tempered and would start crying for no reason.

‘‘One day I decided the time had come to do something about it. I made appointments with my gynaecologist and a psychiatrist. I had my hormone levels, bone density and thyroid function tested, and I had a mammogram. The psychiatrist put me on antidepressants and antianxiety medication.

‘‘Today I feel in control. I understand what’s going on in my body. I was able to celebrate my 50th birthday in the knowledge that hot flushes and all the other symptoms were temporary. I still have a lifetime ahead of me. I’ve come to terms with the way my body’s changing and I’m looking forward to the day I can say I’m over perimenopause, I’ve conquered menopause and I’ve come out the other side a happier and wiser person – someone who’s made peace with the seasons of her body and soul.’’

As a woman and a psychologist I can give you these tips from my experience of this transition:

  • Tell your spouse or life partner about your symptoms. It’s important for him to be informed about your physical changes and what you’re going through emotionally. Be honest.

  • Talk to your kids. They also need to understand why you’re having mood swings. .

  • See a gynaecologist and empower yourself with information about your condition. Ask for a complete explanation of menopause. .

  • See a psychologist who can help you change and adapt. .

  • See a psychiatrist if depression and anxiety get worse.

  • Try to exercise every day, even if it’s just walking for a kilometre to clear your head.

  • Accept you’re going through a confusing time but that it’ll pass. Talk to a friend who’s going through the same thing and support each other.

  •  Focus on the positive side: you’re entering a new and challenging phase of your life. You’ll be able to learn new skills, indulge in new hobbies, possibly start a new career and do things you’ve never had the opportunity to do.

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