I Dream of Sleep

I dream vividly and often woken up with a start. Even more so around the time my period was due. Fast forward to a peri-menopausal mess, mix it with a few night sweats, which came a little later, it didn’t add up to a good nights sleep. Then came the bladder weakness, so as you can imagine, the odds were stacked against me. After these newly imposed nightly rituals, it was difficult to go back over. No fun at all. I would wake up, if you can call it that, to get my sons up for school and work, get myself ready for opening my shop and by mid-morning, I was ready for bed again.

After a few months of this, I became so exhausted that I had to give up my shop, which I ran on my own and I could no longer function. I ran a craft shop, made orders for customers and held nightly classes too. Not usually given to tears, I did have a few tantrums, cried a lot and told my husband I couldn’t do it anymore. I was exhausted, burned out and at the end of my tether. Ironically, I still didn’t know that I was peri-menopausal.

I went to see my GP and she, yes SHE, told me I was too young. At age 50? Are you kidding me? I insisted on a blood test and voila, there it was – officially peri-menopausal. Too early for HRT so I was left to my own devices, the GP told me it would pass and to go back and see her if I was struggling.  “I AM struggling, that’s why I came to see you!” I sniffed into her doctors coat whilst hanging to her lapels. She prised me off, offered me antidepressants, which I refused because I wasn’t depressed. I loved my life but just couldn’t function. “Something to help you sleep?” Nope.

What was I going to do? How could I sleep through the night? Please bare in mind, I had only just discovered my hormonal situation and hadn’t done any research yet. Eventually my periods stopped altogether, as they had been scant until now and hardly worth mentioning.  In the meantime, my ovaries, womb and hormones had ganged up on me, upped the ante, and threw a bucket load of more extreme symptoms at me. I wouldn’t have a period for ten months and then there it was, a period. Thanks. Back to square one.

We are not considered to be menopausal until our periods have stopped for a year or more. If they start again with that one year time frame, we still peri-menopausal. Everyone talks about the menopause as if it’s the end game, it isn’t but the symptoms do lessen, it gets easier and if you’re like me, you will start to feel better. All in all, it took about 18 months after my periods stopped completely.

But what about the sleep in the meantime? I was still exhausted and I had tried everything, no drinking tea, I rarely drink coffee, went to bed early, no napping and no eating after 6pm. Nothing worked. I tried exercising more; yoga, meditation, etc. No difference at all. Due to the lack of sleep I was getting too tired to do anything. I wasn’t just tired, but weepy, burned out and unable to carry out tasks that I would normally do without thinking about it. I was waking up four to five times per night and not able to get back to sleep, I would stay awake for a while, even come downstairs, read a book, finally go back to sleep and then awake an hour later.

I refused HRT because of my family history so that wasn’t an option for me. Having tried all of the above, I think I just about gave up when I found something. You know what worked for me? What really worked and I do it every so often when I am struggling. Changing the bed I sleep in. Seriously. I found that out by accident, I fell asleep on the sofa one night and slumbered the rest of the night away, undisturbed and felt wonderful when my alarm went off.

I realised that sleeping next to very warm husband was turning me into a furnace and waking me up. Duvet on, duvet off, duvet on again was disturbing him and in turn he was disturbing me. I needed the window wide open and the ceiling fan on full pelt and he was cold. Freezing. I am talking mid winter here. I should add, that at this point, my Rheumatoid Arthritis had started so a good nights sleep was even more crucial than before.

After my lovely dreamless all night slumber, I decided to spend a few nights on the sofa and slept – all through the night. If I did wake on the odd occasion, then I would go back over very quickly. Bliss! Once I had cracked it, after a few nights I would toddle back to bed and sleep, then it would start again after a few weeks so I would park myself on the sofa for yet another night or two. It so it goes. That is where I am at right now with the sleep situation.

If your sofa isn’t long enough or snuggly enough to sleep on then get a Z Bed or an airbed as we did at first until we had bought a lovely long sofa, that I could sink into. Every so often, hubby takes the initiative and sleeps on the sofa so I can starfish and for that, I am grateful. I still don’t sleep great every night but it is better, oh so much better.

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For me, it was the change of routine and sleeping environment that helped. Maybe because I associated trying to stay asleep in my bed and it was having a negative effect?  By association I suppose. As the saying goes; a change is as good as a rest.

There are many studies and research on sleep deprivation and we all know that without quality sleep, we suffer. Sleep deprivation is difficult enough when we were young parents, waking up with babies but the key word is we were younger. We could cope but still, that was hard enough. We’re older now with all sorts of ailments probably and I viewed this lack of sleep as some kind of cosmic joke.

In a desperate moment when I was zombie-like, bleary eyed and teary, I said to my husband – “When the boys were little I used to dream of the nights I would be able to sleep through undisturbed.” “Is this a conspiracy, am I never going to be able to sleep?”

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Don’t Mention the Menopause

The Menopause aka The Change, broke me into several scarred pieces. Literally. It changed me beyond recognition but I couldn’t talk about it. I could talk to myself but that would be yet another sign I was going bonkers. I already knew that.

About five years ago, I was plunged into the fog that became the menopause: the hot flushes, which begat raging insomnia, my thoughts became clouded, unable to make simple decisions and losing my ability to talk the hind legs off a donkey, which I always valued as being a fantastic social skill. Not anymore. The joy in my life was seeping through the cracks and making an impact on my social life. My good eggs were dying and leaving with their packed bags and never coming back.

But there was more; I no longer slept through the night, the headaches started, aches and pains like I had never known before and felt crap. Just crap. No other word will do.

As I entered my feeling-like-death-warmed-up phase along came the mouth. Oh, the mouth! I no longer cared what I said nor could I seem to stop it. I was irritable, angry  and down-right hurtful. Awful beyond words. I started to swear and cuss often, which was something I only ever did if I was angry or dropped something on my foot.

The physical changes were obvious: boobs started to sag, I put on two stones in weight overnight, and someone had drawn lines all over my face whilst I was asleep. I am convinced of that. There were many more changes but I will talk about them in a later post.

I wanted to talk about it. I wanted people to understand why my tongue had become a lot sharper. Why my brain wasn’t keeping a check on what was coming out of my mouth. I lost friends because I told them to truth, I ranted at my poor husband and told him he was useless. Yes, I really did. I have apologised and because he is the most patient man on earth and adores me, he patted my shoulder, gave me a bear hug and told he knew the real me was still there. He decided to just wait.

My friends? The good ones were patient too and gave me the space I needed. I hope I can do the same for them some day. The ones I lost forever, I was relieved in the end as they were the type of people who just got in touch when they needed something. Something I didn’t have to give. I think my life battery was dead and I couldn’t recharge it for another  five years or so. They would have to wait. They didn’t and I don’t see them anymore.

What I found the hardest during this awful and cruel journey was no one wanted to talk about it. No one in my life. I have sat beside women who deny they ever went through it. Yes, really. I never brought the subject up but someone would comment on how tired I looked, I would wave it away, muttering something about hot flushes waking me up every hour or so. Every single time, they told me they never really suffered during the menopause. Their families say different.  I know they did. I was around them at the time. I really thought they would be my allies when it was my turn. Not so. I don’t expect anyone else who hasn’t gone through it, to get it, to empathise. It’s hard enough for the person in the midst of it to understand what is happening to them. It seemed to be a very taboo subject. Oh, we could talk about children dying of cancer, sexual predators, bad birth experiences but not the menopause. Oh no, don’t mention the menopause!  I did try a few times to just get the conversation going about we can be hard on ourselves and we need to tell ourselves it’s okay not to be okay at this stage in our lives. Nothing. No response, so I don’t mention it anymore.

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Here on this blog, I WILL talk about. A lot. Do join me and I will listen to you. Let’s support one another. We WILL mention The Menopause! Never give up.

I am so much better these days: the hot flushes are less frequent and not so severe, I am no longer depressed and feel much more like old self. But the caveat is, I have been left with Rheumatoid Arthritis in my hands, feet and neck. I wasn’t expecting that but it is quite common to have the first flare during the menopause. Apparently.

How thoughtful of the menopause to leave me a lasting gift, eh?