The 'Emotional Hurricane' That Is OCD and Menopause
I once read that the physiological experience of menopause is very similar to that of going through adolescence… in reverse. If one is to envision these two experiences as comparable then it would be logical to say that an individual currently in the life stage of menopause may experience some of the same mood swings, oversensitivity and emotional upheaval that a teen might experience. Five years ago, I may have questioned this concept – and yet, here I am again crying my eyes out watching the conclusion of “Stranger Things” – Season 4 the same way I cry at any season finale, movie, or even novel that is well written and emotionally touching in any manner.
You may question the issue with an individual being emotionally touched by gifted storytelling; however, when this same intense emotional sensitivity starts to affect your reactions to the tailgater on your daily commute, the irritable front desk clerk at your physician’s office and even the sales cashier who gets too pushy offering a credit card deal – your daily life begins to be negatively impacted. Now imagine in addition to having your life suddenly hijacked by your emotions – you also currently live with the diagnosis of obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). And in my case, a disorder that makes you highly anxious of any possible confrontative situation and constantly preoccupying oneself about the possible sinister meaning behind the tone used, look given and reactions of all others around you. Frankly I feel like I have emotionally time traveled back into my 14-year-old body – not a situation I had ever hoped to revisit.
With all this going on in my head along with the irritability, strange body temperature fluctuations, weight gain etc. I assumed that this topic would be well covered in both scholarly research articles as well as in the many websites that publish information about living with OCD. So I jumped on my web browser ready to gain knowledge, perspective, and comfort from others who have studied or experienced the emotional hurricane that is OCD and menopause and what I found in my digital investigation was … the internet’s equivalent of a black hole – in other words not much helpful information.
In an effort to start sharing knowledge regarding this particular life experience, I will be writing about my own personal experience with OCD and menopause. Specifically, I will cover three primary areas of personal challenge:
a. My overall increase in anxiety symptomology leading to an increase in OCD rumination;
b. Extreme emotional sensitivity to social interactions with others and
c. Overall emotional amplification (intensification of emotions), particularly with irritability.
In order to understand the relationship between increased anxiety symptomology and increased levels of rumination I should clarify a few facts. I have been diagnosed with both generalized anxiety disorder and obsessive-compulsive disorder and I believe that in my personal case that these two disorders help “fuel” each other to make my symptoms worse. One of the symptoms of generalized anxiety disorder is “Persistent worrying or anxiety about a number of areas that are out of proportion to the impact of the events.”
A simple explanation for rumination is as follows, “Rumination occurs when you have constant repetitive thoughts about something; it may involve making repeated attempts to solve a perceived problem you’re having.”
Over the past several years I have noticed a distinct increase in the intensity and the time I have spent worrying about current and future social interactions with others. This increase in anxiety has led to an increase in rumination pertaining to all social interactions. The spike in my symptoms has resulted in emotional distress, sleep interference, and employment disruption.
My second life challenge affiliated with OCD and menopause involves emotional sensitivity to social interactions with others. Every week I have multiple interactions with individuals as part of my daily routine. Most of these interactions are positive or neutral in nature. Occasionally one will experience a negative social interaction and most people are able to “shrug them off.” In my situation, negative interactions with individuals lead to high levels of anxiety and distress. I appear to both amplify and personalize every negative interaction I have with others leading to unnecessary personal angst.
In conjunction with experiencing an increase in emotional sensitivity I appear to have also developed an overall emotional amplification regarding many areas of my life. I have always experienced a higher threshold of emotional highs and lows than some of the general population; however, my emotions over the past several years have definitely intensified. In particular my “irritability button” appears to be activated by even the most benign situations.
So, what exactly do I hope to accomplish by sharing my personal challenges with OCD and menopause with the world? I have a few ideas to suggest that I think would make a significant positive difference if one would be kind enough to hear me out…
As the overall average age of American women continues to increase, there will be more individuals currently diagnosed with OCD who are also concurrently experiencing menopause. I would like to eventually see the same coverage for OCD and menopause as I currently see with pregnancy and OCD symptomology.
This positive change could be brought about by several adjustments in the mental health field regarding the level of focus placed on the topic of OCD and menopause. Possible adjustments include an increase in medical research covering OCD and menopause; an increase in publications from health professionals specializing in anxiety and menopause, and establishment of support networks for women and their significant others navigating this challenging life period.
Life transitions are always challenging – and life transitions complicated by a psychological disorder can be even more chaotic. But I believe even a small increase in knowledge, resources, and support could make a profound difference for those of us navigating this unpredictable phase of life.
Getty image by Luis Alvarezy