How Going Through Menopause With Bipolar Disorder Has Empowered Me
I’ve had bipolar disorder for as long as I can remember. But only recently did I start experiencing the symptoms of menopause, early menopause, in fact. I’m learning how to manage the two together, and let me tell you, it isn’t easy. Bipolar is an illness that makes it harder to tolerate stress. And also, stress can bring on the symptoms of bipolar disorder. It’s such a conundrum. Being menopausal is a stressful situation. Your body is changing, you are experiencing fluctuating hormones and moods, and you’re having hot flashes. All of this can make you susceptible to a manic, depressive or mixed episode, which you have to address in addition to the menopause symptoms. It’s one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do.
One thing that’s helping me is to chart my symptoms and notice which condition they correspond to. I note my meds and how I’m taking them, and also my sleep patterns. It’s a lot of work. The things that have changed the most are my appetite and my sleep. I’m either ravenous or not interested in eating at all. And I’m not sleeping well. Menopause keeps me tossing and turning all night long. This is disastrous for me because it’s adding to my anxiety and mania. I can’t seem to get a handle on the elevated moods because I can’t sleep. Sometimes I’ll go two days without resting. I’m both exhausted and wired.
What I’ve decided to do is roll with the punches and not fight my body. It’s tempting to try and actively manage this; however, I’m willing myself to just relax. It’s similar to what I do with my obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) and intrusive thoughts. In the same way I don’t actively fight against my ruminating brain, I don’t force myself into recovery mode. Slowly, things are easing up, and lately I’ve been able to catch a few naps here and there.
Meditation is another coping skill I’m learning to use. I’m checking in with myself more often and learning how to access mindfulness techniques. This helps me to sit with confusing feelings and negative ideas. I notice this is effective for my suicidal ideation, too. Ideation which is seeming to subside these days.
One positive thing about experiencing menopause at 46 is I feel more confident and sure of myself. I’m used to weathering my ever-changing brain and adding aging issues to the mix makes me feel empowered for some reason. I believe it’s because I’m doing this as a single parent and I’m realizing how capable I really am. Bipolar and menopause are a fiery mix. And though things are up and down with my moods, overall, this challenge has been a great learning experience. I wouldn’t change anything, well, except for getting more sleep. But I guess we could all use that.
Unsplash image by Ifrah Akhter