- I had surgery in my mid 20s to remove endometrial tissue that grew outside my uterus.
- My doctor put me in medical menopause to help my body heal from surgery.
- It was only for six months, but it was brutal, physically and emotionally.
“Are you OK?” asked my coworker, her blue eyes filled with confusion and concern. “You’re bright red.”
We were halfway through facilitating that week’s “mommy and me” support group, and I was having a hot flash, fully aware that I was sweating and more than just a little flushed. I clawed at the neck of my thick, fuzzy sweater, wishing I’d had the foresight to dress in layers and avoid menopause besting me in front of eight young mothers and their infants.
But I was young too, only 25, in fact, and woefully unprepared for what to expect from my body when I began getting monthly injections to put me in medical menopause to keep the return of my endometriosis at bay.
I had surgery before my medical menopause
After surgically removing endometrial tissue from the outside of my uterus, right ovary, and bladder, my gynecologist recommended I go on Lupron, monthly injections that would force my body into medical menopause by suppressing the release of estrogen. I could give my body a chance to recover, while slowing down the growth of endometrial tissue and lesions.
“Let’s do it,” I said, welcoming some relief.
The hot flashes weren’t the worst of my symptoms. My six-month menopause coincided with a cold New England winter while I was a home-visiting social worker. I found relief in pouring the right amount of flaxseed into my iced coffee to manage my constipation — an older friend warned me about the laxative effects if I used too much — and keeping the window down while I drove to clients’ homes.
But while I was aware I might also experience night sweats, I didn’t realize that meant waking up soaking wet, pajamas stuck to my body, with my flat-ironed straight hair reverted to curly.
I had no idea how vivid my dreams would become, lucid and violent to the point where I’d wake exhausted and wondering whether I should be admitted to a psychiatric hospital.
I gained weight, became depressed, and experienced brain fog. I often found myself completely lost in the middle of speaking, as though my thoughts were a chain and a link was missing.
“Where are you right now?” one of my friends asked. “You look like you’re searching your brain for what you were just saying but don’t even know what to look for.”
I was worried about going through real menopause
After I completed the Lupron injections, my body returned to its typical mid-20s state. I stopped having intense dreams, the brain fog lifted, and I was no longer depressed. But I was left wondering whether my experience with medical menopause was an unsettling preview of what life would be like when I experienced the real thing.
I’m currently on a slow descent into perimenopause, experiencing moodiness, occasional hot flashes and night sweats, and heavy but quick periods that come twice a month. Every once in a while, there’s a brief break in the chain when I’m speaking.
But at 40, I’m no longer young, unprepared, or alone in what is happening with my body. Many of my female friends and I have found comfort in our relationships with each other, our middle-age bodies creating a sense of community to share wisdom, reassurances, or tampons, for those unexpected periods. Our hormones, and the influence they have on us, have become like a midlife mercury in retrograde, something we lovingly blame when we’re forgetful or moody or setting the air conditioner to subarctic temperatures.
“It’s not you,” we like to say. “It’s those hormones.”
Despite my earlier experiences, I’m not afraid of menopause anymore. I’m in good company as I enter this next stage of my life, the power of female friendship grounding me and helping me be brave when I wonder what comes next.