Menopause: The silent killer of joy
Ideally, turning 40 should be the highlight of a human being just as the common saying goes, life begins at 40. But is that really the case when it comes to women?
Menopause is a topic that many women all over the world fear shy away from until the time the symptoms slowly start creeping in and they begin worrying that there is something wrong with them.
One moment she has hot flushes during the rainy season and another moment she is filled with rage because someone left the door wide open.
So, what actually happens to a woman’s body during this time and how can it be managed?
According to Dr Mary Maina, gynaecologist and obstetrician, menopause is the time that marks the end of a woman’s menstrual cycle and it is usually diagnosed after going 12 consecutive months without having a menstrual period.
“When this happens, it means the ovaries stop releasing hormones, specifically oestrogen. This can occur between the ages of 40 and 54,” she says.
Oestrogen is a sex hormone responsible for the development and regulation of the female reproductive system. It contributes to cognitive health, bone health, the function of the cardiovascular system, and other essential bodily processes.
The brain, skin, muscles and emotions are all affected by falling levels of oestrogen.
The body can start to behave differently and many women experience symptoms long before their periods actually stop — during what is called the peri-menopause.
Hot flushes, night sweats, sleep problems, anxiety, low mood and loss of interest in sex are common. Bladder problems and vaginal dryness are also normal during this time.
“Normally, the body copes well with temperature changes, but when oestrogen is lacking, the thermostat goes wonky and the brain thinks the body is overheating when it’s not,” she explains the cause of hot flashes.
Many books and articles have been written to guide women on this natural process, but no one method works for all as it occurs differently in different women.
Lavender Wanjiru* 54, recalls how entering menopause was the most frustrating time in her life as she felt that nothing was in her control. “I felt like I was living in another person’s body.
I could not understand the person I was becoming and I was unhappy about the changes I was suddenly experiencing,” she says.
According to Lavender, it was a season of many sleepless nights, periods of hot flashes and extreme weight gain. Something that affected her confidence in a huge way.
Susan Akinyi* 48, also shares the same sentiments saying that she started experiencing the symptoms just as she had started rising up her career ladder and the effects made her performance drop in unexpected levels considering her past achievements.
“My mood swings affected my work relationships with my subordinates and with some of my clients.
By the time I knew what was happening to me, I had already gone to see a counsellor for anger management issues not knowing that I was actually experiencing effects of early menopause,” she reveals.
Susan’s sex life was also negatively affected and she blamed fatigue as the root cause. This was not something she was willing to openly talk about even with peers as it is considered taboo.
Some effects can be so severe that the affected women may require treatment for it.
In Kenya there is the option of receiving hormone replacement therapy, dietary supplements, physical exercises and relaxation techniques.
Visiting a counselling psychologist is also important to help one develop coping mechanisms that will help one to deal with the changes.
Navigating with ease
Menopause could easily be confused as a mental disorder at first. According to Nancy Kabiru from Hisia Psychology Consultants, building coping mechanisms early in life, developing strong support systems and having open discussions among older women in public spaces such as religious gatherings and even workplaces could go a long way in how one deals with the effects of menopause.
“Great emphasis is necessary as well in matters of mental health and wellbeing as a stable mental state makes it easier for the woman to transition through the changes while remaining objective,” adds Nancy.