‘It keeps my heating bill down’

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Though not every woman experiences menopause at the same time and in the same way, it is a natural phase in every woman’s life. And while it can be a burden for some women, many women have learned to accept it for what it is – and even find humor in it.

Helen Scalia, 51, who lives in Portland, said she began experiencing symptoms of menopause in her mid-40s, which she “actively ignored.” She didn’t want to read about it, or deal with it at all.

“I started to look at mid-life and kind of panicked,” she said.

Though her symptoms are mild, she said that two years ago she realized that it was important to be active and become educated about the process. She has yet to experience daytime hot flashes; her most prominent symptom is night sweats.

“If I avoid red wine, I don’t have a problem,” said Scalia. “I might wake up slightly hot, and have to get up and go to the bathroom to cool down.”

Her advice to other women about relieving menopause symptoms is to exercise. Scalia has been practicing yoga for 20 years, and since becoming menopausal, she’s been doing cardio and strength training more deliberately, she said. In terms of skin dryness, another symptom of menopause, she suggests women to invest in coconut oil, which her doctor recommended she use.

Pam Ewers, 67, a Berwick resident, started to experience symptoms of perimenopause – menstrual irregularity – in her late 40s, until her periods completely stopped at age 52. At the time, Ewers was working in the printing and publishing industry, which she considers a “high stress” field, but when asked whether symptoms posed any challenges, she said that menopause “really had no effect.”

While women commonly experience hot flashes during menopause, Ewers said her biggest challenge was trying to keep warm.

“There were two other women in the front office that were menopausal and having hot flashes, so the air-conditioning was always set to ‘deep freeze,’” she said.

Ewers said she had to keep a heavy mohair sweater in her office to throw on in case she got cold.

She encourages women to avoid treatments such as hormone replacement therapy, reminding them that “menopause is a natural process, not a disease,” and that there are ways to find relief from menopause naturally.

For Ewers, relaxing and reading did the trick. She suggests all women read “Women’s Bodies, Women’s Wisdom,” by Yarmouth doctor and author Christiane Northrup, who also wrote the bestseller, “The Wisdom of Menopause.”

“Menopause is the transition to a woman’s wisdom stage and should be honored, not medicated,” said Ewers. “In ancient matriarchal societies, a menopausal woman was honored for wisdom in the community,” she said.

Her advice?

“Trust your instincts and what your body is telling you. Be in tune with your body.”

Lindy Wood, 58, who lives in Turner and does therapeutic Swedish massage in central, western and southern Maine, said she would be sitting and interviewing a patient and suddenly start “roasting,” causing her to sweat. She said it embarrassed her more than anything.

“You can feel your face moistening,” said Wood, who was 53 when she first started noticing symptoms. “It does something to our thermostats.”

“I am probably an odd duck,” said Wood. “My period just stopped and I slid right in to menopause.”

She said the hot flashes were the most troubling, especially at night. She also experienced post-menopausal bleeding about three years into menopause and had to have an endometrial biopsy, she said. Aside from a way to check for cancer, the biopsy is a common procedure for menopausal women to find the cause of irregular, heavy or prolonged uterine bleeding.

“I just think, ‘It’s natural, it’s normal,’ and I acknowledge how I feel,” Wood said, when asked how she copes.

“I wear a tank top underneath my shirt. If I get too hot I take my shirt off. You just prepare for those kinds of things. It’s a part of life,” Wood said.

“I don’t fight it,” she said. “I just roll with it.”

Deb Neuman, a radio talk show host and entrepreneur from Bangor, said she has accepted menopause as a natural phase of life and has learned to laugh about it. Last fall, Neuman and her girlfriends, some who had just turned 50, were drinking wine and exchanging stories about the symptoms of menopause and how it affected their lives.

“We were basically talking about why we don’t talk about it,” Neuman said.

Neuman soon launched a website, Facebook page, and blog called “Not Your Mother’s Menopause,” which has reached women all over the world. She is also the creator of “The Menopause Emergency Kit,” which began selling in March on Amazon.com and in stores throughout New England.

Each kit contains 20 items, including a towelette, a magnifying glass, tweezers, a Tootsie roll, Kotex mini, an emery board, lube, Blistex, a hair elastic, a folding fan, a paper clip, gum, pencil, notepaper, bandage, toothpick and more, all packed into a sardine can.

Neuman, 52, said she talked with her mother about her menopause experience and learned that years ago, women treated menopause as more of a disease and an illness rather than a natural process.

She recently asked women on the “Not Your Mother’s Menopause” Facebook page whether they were taking any supplements to find relief from symptoms, and some said they’ve benefited from sage or black cohosh, while others said supplements don’t work for them.

“It’s interesting to see how experiences really vary from woman to woman and that nobody really has the same exact experience with menopause,” Neuman said.

The Facebook page, she said, is a place where women “can share, discuss, and exchange information.”

Neuman wants to remind women that menopause is not an illness, but rather, a time for women approaching their mid-life to celebrate who they are.

She recently had an annual physical where she and her doctor discussed the symptoms of menopause, said Neuman. When she asked about the effect menopause has on women, she said, the doctor replied, “Basically what is happening is that your ovaries are sputtering toward retirement.”

She couldn’t help but laugh.

“I have this image of my ovaries trying really hard to get to the beach,” said Neuman.

She said the fact that menopause is a natural phase is something all women have to remember.

“It’s like going through adolescence, just on the other end of (the spectrum),” she said.

Common symptoms that Neuman experiences, as well as other women she knows, are hot flashes, night sweats, mood swings, headaches, weight gain, nausea and fatigue.

While Neuman thinks that it is “important that women are aware of their bodies and not afraid to go to the doctor or consult with a medical professional,” she decided to deal with it on her own. She views menopause as an opportunity to pay extra attention to her health, so when she turned 50, she hired a personal trainer.

“I really revved up fitness and wellness, and I think a lot more about what I am doing to my body and how I am taking care of it,” she said. “The better I eat and the more I exercise, the better I feel.”

At the same time, women need to have a sense of humor about menopause, and realize that there is no right or wrong way to treat it.

“It’s great in the winter,” Neuman said of hot flashes. “It’s awesome. It keeps my heating bill down.”

“Many of us spend a great part of our lives paying attention to other people,” she said. “Menopause gives you time to say, ‘OK, it’s my turn.’ Don’t deny it, accept it and talk to people about it.”

Another businesswoman, Kelly Cotiaux, 52, of Brewer, agrees that women should not be ashamed to talk about menopause. Cotiaux is the owner of software development company, Sephone Interactive Media, of which she is the only woman of 11 employees. She is also a contributing blogger for “Not Your Mother’s Menopause.”

“The worst thing ever is the night sweats and getting up in the middle of the night to change my clothes,” said Cotiaux. “Sometimes I have to change my sheets.”

Menopause also made her more “anxious” about life, and things upset her that never used to, she said, causing her to “lash out.”

To deal with it, she’s learned to find the positive in every negative situation, and realizes that – menopause aside – there is much to be grateful for. Cotiaux has learned to laugh about menopause, and has made friends by networking with other women who are also going through it.

“Half of menopause is the horror of it,” she said. “We use humor in order to deal with the things going on. It’s never funny, but you can look at it in a humorous way, because it’s one of those things you can’t control.”

The biggest inconvenience with menopause is learning how to personally manage it, she said.

For exercise and meditation purposes, Cotiaux does yoga. “For me, it helps me think of things more rationally,” said Cotiaux, who began doing yoga last September. She also enjoys gardening and fly-fishing as ways to ease her mind.

Her advice to women going through menopause: “You need to start doing (things) for you. If you can’t take care of yourself, you can’t help anyone else.”

Jane Searles, 61, a Bangor resident and regional manager for Women, Work and Community, eased into menopause at age 45.

“For me, it was mood changes, a little weight gain and perspiration,” said Searles, when asked about how menopause affected her. “I could put the window down, in mid-February when it’s 30 below, and still be too hot.”

Hot flashes would cause Searles to have mild depression off and on, but she read as much as she could about menopause and learned “it’s better to not run from it.” At her age, the hot flashes occur every now and then.

“Find out what works for you and accept that it’s a natural process,” said Searles. “Talk to women who have been through it, eat healthy and exercise. Joke about it. I keep telling women it will get better in their 60s.”

Maine Women September 2014Deb Neuman, from Bangor, is the creator of “Not Your Mother’s Menopause” emergency kits in a sardine can that are sold on Amazon.com and in stores throughout New England.  The Menopause Emergency Kit is sold in the following stores throughout southern Maine: Robinson’s Wharf in Boothbay, the Goodie Bag and Beachology in Old Orchard Beach, Marlow’s in Kennebunk, Flaherty’s Family Farm in Scarborough and Bitter Sweet Farm in Casco.