Menopause can be a very isolating and lonely time. Because it’s something that women are just expected to go through and put up with, a lot of women struggle alone. This can lead to problems with your mental health, your relationships and your social life.
Building a good support network can be essential to help you keep your sanity and get you through those days where you’re really struggling.
Educate your friends and family
You may have friends the same age as you who already have a good understanding of menopause but don’t assume this is the case. One thing I’ve noticed in my nursing career is that a lot of women struggle with symptoms that affect their life, work and relationships and either attribute it to an existing health issue or don’t actually even pick up on it being an issue as they just plod on and put up with it assuming it will pass. It’s only when I’ve pointed out that it may be menopause that the lightbulb came on and they were able to see that there was a reason for their symptoms.
I’m not suggesting you put together a full-on presentation on menopause and gather everyone you know. However, you might just want to start with the people you live with or see the most and your closest friends.
Start by explaining to them that you are in perimenopause or menopause and that you’ve been struggling with some difficult symptoms. If they need an explanation of what menopause is or what happens during menopause, you don’t need to be a doctor or scientist to do this but you might want to have a short go-to explanation you can give.
Menopause is when you stop having periods. It happens because, as a woman gets older, her ovaries stop producing the hormone oestrogen which stops the release of eggs every month. It doesn’t happen overnight. For most women, it can take a number of years for things to slow down before their periods eventually stop. This is called perimenopause. During perimenopause, a woman can experience lots of different symptoms. Common ones are hot flushes, anxiety, mood changes, forgetfulness, problems sleeping and weight gain.
It’s a really worthwhile place to start with regard to support. Even if they don’t support you in any regular or tangible way, at the very least it might help them to give you some leeway in situations such as if you’ve bitten their head off for no discernible (to them) reason. You can then explain to your family and friends what symptoms you’ve been struggling with. It will help them to also understand why you’ve behaved or reacted to things that may not be typical for you. Examples of this might be cancelling a social arrangement last minute because you didn’t sleep last night and you’re just too tired or not going for a walk because your joints are particularly painful that day.
Be sure to talk about all of your symptoms. It can be difficult to talk about emotional symptoms or intimate symptoms and this can mean avoiding it altogether.
This won’t do you any good if you regularly feel irritable or aggressive or lack the motivation to do some of your day-to-day stuff. You’ll end up putting on a brave face or shutting yourself away and this can also lead to your partner/spouse feeling rejected or ignored or friends and other family members thinking you don’t care about being around them.
If your sex drive has gone down the toilet or your vadge is dryer than the Sahara, you should talk about this with your partner/spouse. Particularly if it’s affecting your sex life. This can cause huge rifts in relationships.
Above all, if a family member or friend asks the usual “are you ok?”, don’t just respond with the automatic “I’m fine”. If you’re not fine, say so! This is a good opportunity for you to be normalising what is happening to you and also allow your friends and family to support you. What that support might be is very different depending on your relationships and lifestyle but it could be as simple as a hug or some reassuring words. It could be more than that such as offering to take on some of your chores or errands or giving you space to just be on your own.
Above all, I want you to take away from this that it’s important to open up and let those close to you know how you feel. Leaving it to guesswork on their part will not end well and will lead to you all having bigger issues down the line!
If you’re struggling with this and would like support, please get in touch here for a chat to discuss how I can help.