By Lois Mowday Rabey
Perhaps you’re thinking, Menopause? What’s the big deal? I’ll simply proceed the way I always have.
That was my attitude. I had never thought seriously about menopause because I didn’t know that much about it. I knew that I didn’t intend to grow old the way I had seen some women do. I told myself for years that I simply would not gain weight, would not become an emotional basket case, and would not be fazed by the life changes that would occur. My faith in God’s provision and my moxie would carry me through.
Then one day, as I dissolved one-time-too-many in a puddle of tears, I had to admit that my old ways of coping were not enough to get me through this new, unique experience. Something was missing. I began to question my ability to appropriate my faith. I flogged myself for falling short of peaceful calm and failing to rise above my circumstances. I had always been able to draw on spiritual truth and God’s promises to overcome anything, including the death of my first husband.
But, now, I felt disconnected from God when something as simple as an emotional low occurred. I prayed and paced and panicked, and finally I realized that I needed information, encouragement and help.
God was there in the panic. He is here now, and He will be with me always. I accept where I am in this new life-phase. I try to think and act like a mature woman. But sometimes -- inside, unseen, unheard -- I scream to myself, I’m too young to be this old!
What is Happening to Me?
Technically speaking, menopause is the cessation of a woman’s menstrual cycle, occurring sometime between the ages of 40 and 55. Over twenty million women in the U.S. alone will enter menopause in the next decade. But the internal changes that culminate in this event begin many years earlier. These internal changes can produce symptoms that appear one month and may not return until many months later. The woman may be alarmed by the symptoms and surprised to find out they are related to menopause. The first symptoms of menopause signal the beginning of a process that can last for several years.
In the book Managing Your Menopause, Dr. Wulf Utian and Ruth S. Jacobowitz define the word that is used to describe the entire process.
The word “climacteric” comes from the Greek and means “critical time.” Sometime during this so-called critical time (generally a ten-year span between the ages of forty-five and fifty- five) your last period will occur -usually when you’re around the age of 50. But changes are happening long before that time, and beginning in your thirties, you may not only notice them but you can do something about them.
The process unfolds this way:
- Sometime during the age range of the thirties, forties, or fifties, a woman’s body begins to produce less estrogen than it has since the onset of menstruation.
- The levels of estrogen production can fluctuate over a period of years, called the climacteric.
- These fluctuating levels of estrogen result in changes that manifest themselves in numerous symptoms.
- Eventually the body stops producing estrogen completely and menstruation occurs for the last time.
- This event is called menopause.
Understanding menopause and how to respond to it can help a woman move through the process more smoothly than a woman who begins with little warning or knowledge. Remember that God designed our bodies to make this change; it’s a natural part of aging. While it necessitates adjustment, it also brings new insights, freedom, and fresh perspectives. Even though there were times when I wished I were elsewhere, this life stage isn’t all bad.
One of the hallmarks of menopause is the variety and unpredictability of symptoms. Some women experience very few symptoms, others experience them all -- sometimes at the same time.
Women who suffer from unstable emotions during menopause have a tough battle. Emotional distress - manifested as anxiety, depression, irritability, and crying spells - has been studied and linked to the decrease of estrogen production.
I have always been emotional. Just ask my daughters or my husband. My emotions can certainly be effusive, but they are not the kind that lead to anxiety or depression. Or they weren’t …until about age 45.
Out of the blue, I experienced several “attacks” of feeling jangled, fragmented, anxious - totally unrelated to circumstances.
During menopause, a woman may think that all of her emotional distresses result from fluctuating hormones. But other factors may be involved. At this life stage, children leave home for work or college. A woman who has waited to start a family may suddenly realize that time has run out. Or she may find herself assuming the role of caregiver to her aging parents.
Even without the influence of hormones, this time of life is full of difficult change - all of which affect emotions. Just realizing that these changes are a natural part of life - aside from menopause - can be a great relief.
Mid-Life: A Time for Spiritual Reflection
When those first early symptoms of menopause hit, something new happened. The emotional ups and downs were different from the emotional responses I had experienced in the past. I began to feel disconnected from everything that had once been familiar. My children were grown and gone. My body was not responding as it always had. I was overwhelmed with a sense of fragmentation.
In all of this, I never stopped praying or relating to God. He was still active in my life. I just felt so strange - so distant from everyone. During that time I allowed myself to become much more open with the Lord than I ever had in the past. I expressed my frustration to Him about how I felt and asked Him questions about things I had taken for granted. I wondered about the church and its role in society. I questioned if my own heart was right toward all of God’s people, including the poor and disenfranchised. Was I too comfortable in my neat little Christian circle of friends? How should I spend my time, now that my priorities had shifted from being a full-time parent?
These may seem like the aimless ramblings of one hysterical woman, but many of the women I interviewed expressed similar feelings. They were relieved to hear other Christian women were thinking the same thoughts.
Menopause rocks the boat. It stirs up the emotions and results in much soul-searching. The result for me - and for many other women - has been a deeper, much more personal faith. God seems bigger. He is not only defined by doctrine and theology; He is defined by person-to-person encounters in the quiet of questioning hearts. The questions are about living lives of significance. What is truly important? What does God want us to do differently? How can we better love Him? It is a freeing time to look again at what we believe and reevaluate how to reflect the reality of Christ in our lives in unique and personal ways.
Looking for Relief
For women experiencing the distressing symptoms during menopause, first and foremost, they want relief. The Christian may look to God for immediate, physical answers. In the safety of focus groups, these women frankly discussed what happened next.
Many women admit that in the early stages of menopause they felt that their faith in Christ would get them through the discomfort without medical intervention. Some of them felt guilty when that was not the case.
One frustrated woman who has emotional ups and downs said, “I should be able to overcome this. What is wrong with me? I find myself unhappy and living with uncertainty. I go to the Lord and teach Bible studies and listen to tapes, but sometimes I feel bad anyway. I get these waves of anxiety. I can be perfectly fine and a wave of fear comes.”
Another woman gave an impassioned account of how she had gone from doctor to doctor to find relief for emotional stress. She had suffered from it all her life, but it worsened during menopause. None of the doctors took her seriously. Some of her Christian friends insisted she just needed to pray more and stop looking for medical help.
She ignored her friends’ admonitions and finally saw a psychiatrist who diagnosed clinical depression. Her family had a history of depression and suicide. The doctor put her on antidepressant medication, which she still takes. She is a committed Christian who understands that her body needs medical help in order for her to function well. She has stopped feeling guilty that her faith alone couldn’t make her feel better.
While there are certainly accounts of miraculous healings, many Christians appropriately make use of medical assistance to cope with varying forms of illness. Contrary to the idea that using medicine is a cop-out, one group concluded that God gave doctors certain gifts to use in healing. One of the writers of Scripture, Luke, was a physician. They saw no contradiction in Scripture in using medical means to improve life.
Other women found great relief in their relationship with the Lord. Their experience was just the opposite of the women who didn’t find relief in spiritual pursuits.
“God’s Word is life and health to my flesh,” Amy said. “Menopause has brought me closer to the Lord. Other things that help me cope are Christian music, reading the Bible, praying, and fellowship. These things I really depend on.”
As Amy talked on, she explained that the relief was not physical, but spiritual - an inner sense of well-being despite what she was feeling. She still has hot flashes and emotional distress.
“My spiritual peace coexists with the fragmentation.”
Some other women felt that their spirituality was the only thing that helped them cope with menopause. When they felt overwhelmed with emotions, they would go off alone and pray. They would spend quiet time with the Lord and regain composure and experience relief.
Whether they felt better or not, most of the Christian women in the focus groups agreed that spiritual comfort was crucial when dealing with the changing circumstances of mid-life.
The storms of mid-life come and go, but the peace that passes understanding remains. Women in a personal relationship with Christ talked about the presence of hope in their lives.
Peace and Pain Coexist
When my first husband was killed, the inexpressible comfort of God seeped into all the hurting nooks and crannies of my life and lifted me above the circumstances. I remember trying to explain this spiritual reality to a friend who just couldn’t understand. He thought that I meant I felt no pain as a result of God’s presence in my life, even as he was watching me endure a great deal of pain.
I tried to tell him how pain and peace coexist. I felt tremendous loss and piercing pain at the same time that I rested confidently in the assurance that God would see us through that terrible time in our lives.
If relief during mid-life circumstances means only the complete absence of pain, Christians don’t have the answer. But if relief means a life of spiritual fulfillment that coexists with pain, we have the only authentic answer.
If relief from physiological symptoms of menopause means that symptoms must disappear, we don’t have that answer either. None of the women I interviewed had hot flashes stop immediately during their prayers for relief - though there may be other women who were so blessed. But the relief that women did find was in the ability to handle the distress and discomfort of their symptoms.
Isn’t it wonderful that our relationship with God isn’t based on how we feel? We are totally accepted by Him no matter what shape we are in. Through His Son we have access to God anytime, anywhere, and in any state of distress or frustration.
Spiritual realities, while sometimes difficult to articulate, bring huge blessings of inner peace and hope, even in the midst of pain.
There is so much of life and opportunity still ahead. Wherever you are in the process of menopause, you can study and choose from numerous options for treatment. You can strike out on a new path that interests you or pick up an old dream and give it life. You can drink from the spiritual waters that God pours out on your life and let those personal blessings spill over into the lives of your family and friends. You can change and grow and enjoy life to the fullest.
Pain and challenges will not disappear, but you can meet them with wisdom and grace. You can move from menopause to maturity feeling good about yourself and your future. You can experience life filled with excitement and hope.
So much is ahead. There are so many new beginnings.
Symptoms of Menopause
- Hot Flashes
- Night Sweats
- Irregular Periods – changes in cycle (shorten or lengthen); changes in flow (increase or decrease)
- Short-term memory loss
- Weight gain (additional 10 pounds or more)
- Unstable emotions
- Emotions that are difficult to define
- Elusive sense of well-being
- Loss of Libido and Vaginal Dryness
- Chest Pains
- Heart Palpitations
- Bladder dysfunction
- Mood Changes
How To Prepare
1. Recognize that some changes will come like weight gain, that you won’t stay exactly the same as you were when you were younger. This is part of aging. Accept this reality. Think of aging as a positive, not resisting its changes.
2. Realize ahead of time that you will be dealing with many other emotional issues going on in this stage of your life, like children leaving the nest at the same time you will be facing menopause. It will be helpful to think and talk about these issues and your feelings before they descend on you.