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‘‘I became more reserved and withdrawn.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.