When I went through menopause at the typically average age of 52, my experience was so totally not what I was expecting.
In my dramatic imagination, I was worried about going through wild mood swings. Or crazy crying jags while my husband and kids looked on helplessly.
Yes, I had the hot flashes, and wished I had bought stock in the Post-It company. Because now I used a pack a week writing down everything I was supposed to remember. But I wasn’t prepared for the emotional wasteland that resulted from menopause. What I didn’t expect was experiencing an emotional numbness that put up a wall between me and my family.
You hear about women going through menopause who are at the mercy of their extreme emotions, but for me, menopause made me feel like one of the Walking Dead.
I felt emotionally flat, like being on a highway in the middle of nowhere.
I was not depressed, but the strange thing was that I was not really able to feel joy either. In fact, I seemed to have lost some of my capacity to feel any emotion.
I had always taken enormous pleasure and satisfaction in being a wife and mother. But during the last year, as menopause has reached the second-year mark for me, I have become more impatient. I can’t focus on another person’s problems. I am annoyed by the ordinary human weaknesses of those around me.
Frankly my dear, I don’t care as much as I used to. Actually, I care in my mind, but I don’t have the warm ember, the feeling of caring, so much anymore. This embarrasses me and makes me feel a little bit like a bad mom. Except for one thing . . .
And that is whatever is happening with my inner emotional life is not affecting my functionality. I can still do all the mom things I have always done, from organizing my household to serving a hot meal. I can go through the motions of being a wife and a mom.
It’s just that I don’t feel the emotional shimmer now that used to wash over me when I was doing something for my family.
What used to come so easily and naturally, a blissful feeling of contentment, is now something I have to talk myself into.
How could I be losing my ability to feel emotion? Could menopause be behind all this?
After I recognized a pattern of not feeling much at all, naturally I hopped onto the internet to see if this was a thing. What I found is that our oxytocin level falls as our estrogen level falls during menopause. Oxytocin, besides playing a huge role in childbirth and lactation, is sometimes called the “love hormone” for how it promotes feelings of trust and connection.
My hormones are in flux and will eventually settle down at some level. My doctor and I have already determined that I won’t be taking replacement hormones because of my past experience developing blood clots during pregnancy.
So I have been using other methods to overcome my emotional numbness.
Every day, I wake up and say “Thank You” for another day of life. I think of all the things I am grateful for, even if it is coming more from my head than from my heart.
From moment to moment, I try to focus on the sensations I am receiving through my five senses. The smell of coffee when I make my second cup. Hearing my daughter singing in the shower, and the taste of a beautiful, ripe pear. These things keep me in the moment. They give me something concrete to appreciate when I look back over my day.
As I interact with others throughout the day, I remind myself that how I say and do things are what people will remember. I have to remind myself that just because I am not feeling anything, doesn’t mean that others are immune to hurt.
Something about this change in my emotional state has made me very practical in my choices. I find myself drawn to volunteer groups that do things. If a friend or family member needs a boost, I will bake something for them. For a good cause, I will sign up to volunteer.
Just please don’t ask me to emote – I really don’t think I can do that anymore.
Good information on the various symptoms of menopause and peri-menopause can be found at the North American Menopause Society Blog at menopause.org.
For now, my way of dealing with the emotional wasteland is to act with intention, and to focus on the good parts of every day. Are any of our readers going through menopause? What particular problems are you facing? And are you finding any solutions?