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Let's Talk About Menopause
How outdated and sparse the information about it is...and that New York Times Magazine article. An open thread.
After my recent open thread on aging and diminishing alcohol tolerance, many of you suggested we talk next about menopause. So, here we go.
This week, the New York Times Magazine published an article by Susan Dominus with the headline: “Women Have Been Misled About Menopause,” and with the subhead: “Hot flashes, sleeplessness, pain during sex: For some of menopause’s worst symptoms, there’s an established treatment. Why aren’t more women offered it?”
I appreciate Dominus’s reporting on the dearth of menopause information available not only to women experiencing it, but to medical students as well. To wit, Dominus writes:
“Education on a stage of life that affects half the world’s population is still wildly overlooked at medical schools. A 2017 survey sent to residents across the country found that 20 percent of them had not heard a single lecture on the subject of menopause…”
I share her frustrations with the condition and with the medical establishment’s ignorance, as I’m sure do many other women. But the piece also felt to me like a bit of an advertisement for Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT), which I have my doubts about. There are new perspectives on it, and on the apparently flawed research decades ago that perhaps falsely indicated HRT brought with it too many health risks.
One of the associated risks that appears to have been overblown after the old studies is breast cancer. But my family history, plus my own life-long hormone imbalances, put me at high risk. What’s more, I don’t know about you—and this is totally anecdotal—but I feel as if I am lately witnessing a breast cancer epidemic of previously unknown proportions. Every time I turn around, another friend or acquaintance or family member is diagnosed.
So I am personally not inclined to “fuck around and find out” about the ways in which the relief of menopause symptoms provided by HRT outweighs the cancer risk. I mostly just live with the symptoms of menopause, which began for me after I had a partial hysterectomy at 43 to deal with both adenomyosis and endometriosis. Keeping my ovaries was supposed to mean I’d hit menopause later, but weeks after surgery, the hot flashes started, followed by insomnia, worsened depression, hair loss, unwelcome chin hairs, and other symptoms.
I’m still living with all of those, although I’ve kind of gotten used to them. (The women in my family apparently keep on flashing into their 80s, by the way, so I don’t anticipate and end to that.) I take melatonin and a THC tincture to get more sleep. I don’t consume alcohol. I limit my caffeine intake and never have it after 10am. I don’t eat much sugar or saturated fat, and there’s a lot of fruit and veggies in my diet. I do yoga, walk often, and ride my shitty Sharper Image recumbent exercise bike a few days a week. I find that Egyptian Magic is a wonderful, natural moisturizer that can be used, er, everywhere, if you catch my drift. (See #10.)
I’m going through possibly the worst depression of my life, and while there are definitely some situational factors in the mix, I wonder if it isn’t in part because my hormone deficiencies might have hit a new low. Either way, I’m not sure I want to go back on anti-depressants, with which I’ve had mixed results in the past.
And with regard to this and all my other symptoms, I have an unfortunately well-earned lack of faith in both the medical establishment and alternative medicine that deters me from pursuing pretty much any kind of treatment. (Not to mention that most alternative medicine is not covered by my insurance, and anything other than my annual checkup with my general practitioner and my annual “woman care” appointment with my gynecologist is out-of-pocket for me, until I meet my $4700 deductible.)
Don’t worry. I’ll be fine! But this is a subject that’s not enough talked about. So let’s talk.
In the comments, I invite you to tell me about your own experience with menopause, how you’re treating it, books or podcasts you like. And if you’ve read the article I mention above, what you thought of it.
***It’s really important to me that no one judge anyone else for their responses, nor lecture others about what they consider the best ways to treat menopause. I’m approaching this with curiosity rather than judgement, and I hope you all will, too.
Thanks, as always, for reading and responding.
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