Though menopause is a naturally occurring phenomenon that half of the population will experience, as with many women’s health issues, it isn’t always discussed openly. Because of this, when women do begin to experience the process, they can be confronted with surprises as their bodies change.
The average age that most women begin experiencing menopause is 51, but it can also begin before age 40. Genetics can be a powerful predictor, so speaking with family members who have experienced it can help you gain an idea of when you should expect the process to begin. Here are six unexpected aspects of menopause that women have encountered, and how they dealt with them, in case those discussions with your family members don't go as in depth as you hoped:
1. Sweat happens.
“I wish I had known I would suddenly, without warning, start to get flush and sweat - out of nowhere. It was so embarrassing that I wanted to leave the room. Eventually, I handled it with humor and acceptance. When I was with other women who had gone through menopause, it livened the conversation. With others, it educated them, and they often felt sorry for me. At least they knew what was going on instead of me trying to hide the flushed body and sweat.” -Nancy W.
2. The rage is real.
“My most surprising menopause symptom was episodic rage. I'm a pretty even-tempered person, so the days of over-the-top anger were shocking. It started in perimenopause and has thankfully lessened — but I still get episodes. It was so bad that I spoke to my doctor, who prescribed antidepressants. I never took them; just knowing it was the hormonal shifts due to menopause and I had a medication option available allowed me control. When the rage struck over some tiny thing, I'd just remind myself it was my crazy hormones, take a deep breath and let it flow. Sometimes I'd just scream or hit a pillow. I definitely have to check in with myself, to figure out if my anger is reasonable or hormonal, and occasionally, hold myself back from making unreasonable outbursts.” -Anne Marie S.
3. It’s not a fast process, and not all hot flashes are created equal.
“I have been experiencing menopause for FOURTEEN years! I have decided to look at it this way: ‘I must not be old yet, as old women do not experience menopause symptoms.’ I wish I would have known that menopause could last longer than a couple of years.
"Also, I wish I understood that, at least for me, there are distinct hot flashes. Example, there is the slow burner, the mild hot flash, slow to start and quick to end, and the LONG hot flash. I once had a hot flash during a birth, as a doula, that lasted NINETY minutes. I was sweating more than the mother who was pushing a baby out of her body!” -Taffy N.
4. Perimenopausal symptoms are a thing.
“For me, the most surprising thing was that before they stopped, my periods got closer and closer together until I was having one every 17 days. I thought something was wrong, so I asked my doctor, and found that some 15 or 20 percent of women have this experience.” -Nancy S.
5. You should protect your heart (and bones).
“The most unexpected things which even doctors neglect in menopause is the cardiac health of the female. The female hormones are somewhat protective against heart diseases, but after menopause, the cardiac risk for females exceeds that of men. The other important thing is bone health. Menopausal women should go for bone density tests and consider adding calcium and Vitamin D supplements.” -Dr. Deepali Raina, OBGYN
Every body is different: there’s no right or wrong way to experience menopause. If you’re experiencing or anticipating menopause, check out reputable online sources such as those provided by The North American Menopause Society. Talking with women close to you can also be a great way to learn more, and never be afraid to talk to your medical practitioner if you have questions are want more information.
Kayla Heisler is an essayist and Pushcart Prize-nominated poet. She is a contributing writer for Color My Bubble. Her work appears in New York's Best Emerging Poets 2017 anthology.