Recently my husband and I were heading home after a local event. I was driving us through the nearly empty parking lot searching for the exit and for some reason, I couldn’t easily navigate us out of there.
“That way,” he pointed.
“Oh, right,” I said, giggling to cover my embarrassment over my mental gap.
Ten seconds later it happened again.
“Are you okay?” he asked incredulously.
I responded, “Yes! Oh, there’s the exit. I see it!”
Harmless mini-lapses like that happen to me now and then these days. Welcome to my brain on perimenopause.
"Menopause Brain” really is a thing, by the way. Issues with cognition and focus are common among women in the early stages of menopause according to a study performed by the Department of Neurology at the University of Rochester Medical Center.
In addition to the relatively recent appearance of occasional fogginess in my head, I’ve been experiencing various symptoms of perimenopause for about four years now. While I have consulted extensively along the way with both my primary care physician and my gynecologist and I have read various articles about what is “normal”, it’s still confusing and sometimes worrisome, not knowing what’s next.
I’m not the only one having comprehension problems, either. My husband has been completely flummoxed, probably more in the past four years than in the entirety of our thirty-one-year marriage. Even though we have a lifetime of excellent communication under our belts, I’m certain that he still wonders on a regular basis what has happened—and what is happening—to his lovely wife.
It’s so important to clue a life partner in on what is going on with our bodies. Doing so not only helps them understand that we haven’t suddenly lost our marbles, but it also makes it easier for them to support us. (And no, it’s not as simple as I’m making it sound.) My husband is, like most men, a “fixer.” He is very sweet in that he wants me to be happy and feeling amazing one hundred percent of the time, and when I am not, he gets to work figuring out what he can do to turn things around.
Unfortunately for every single woman going through menopause, spouses can’t buy a magic wand that can wave everything away or zip us forward physiologically once the hormones begin taking charge. In fact, if someone were to figure out how to do that I can guarantee they’d never have to work again for the rest of their days. Until that happens—fingers crossed—we just have to roll with the changes, making the best of the situation however we can. I’m reminded of the American folk song “Going on a Bear Hunt,” which I originally chanted around a campfire when I was a Girl Scout. In the song, a bear hunt is interrupted by obstacles: long, wavy grass, a mushroom patch, a wide river, and a deep, dark cave. Just like women experiencing menopause, the bear hunters:
- can’t go over it
- can’t go under it
- can’t go around it
They (and we) have to, you guessed it, go through it. Our partners are along for the ride too, those lucky devils. Along the way, I do my best to let my husband know what’s going on with me in a direct and honest way. If I’m feeling ragey and all I need from him is to give me some space, I tell him that very nicely and he’s happy to oblige.
There are lots of things that a partner can do to make the menopause journey easier for us as we go through it and for them as they stand by. Here are three:
- having patience with symptoms that may present themselves, including hot flashes, mood swings, the aforementioned Menopause Brain, and others (every woman is different, and thank goodness for that!)
- reading up on the topic so they’re not completely in the dark, can hold up their end of a conversation about it, and have the capacity for a higher level of understanding
- offering to help in various ways but also being willing to take “no thanks” for an answer
This article, written by Kate Bracy, RN, NP, has some more great advice for partners. In my opinion the biggest thing that a partner can do to help us get through menopause (and marriage, and parenting, and life, and just about every other situation) is to be supportive of and participatory in open communication. It all comes back to that. If we can’t exchange information freely with our most beloved, there’s a problem. If you don’t have a history of good communication practices in your relationship, it’s not too late; just give it a shot. Leading with the best of intentions is a great start!
Some of us head into menopause with dread and some welcome the experience with open arms. Having an accommodating companion along for the ride can make things infinitely easier in menopause as with most other life journeys like, in my case, attempting to navigate out of a parking lot.
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