As long as I’m on the subject of hormones… I find the second-most irritating symptom of menopause (after the raging emotions) to be the loss of mental function in general. This is more than being absent-minded – I’ve been absent-minded all my life.
But lately, it’s like I just go into a “brain-fog” with no warning. I’ll be driving home from work and suddenly realize that I don’t remember getting off the highway exit, and yet here I am, driving down the side street to my home. Apparently I drove it safely and legally, as I heard no honking horns or blaring sirens. But I don’t remember doing it. It’s not that I was thinking about something else – I wasn’t thinking at all.
I’ve been in conversations recently, and I’ll suddenly realize that I’ve “tuned out” and I have no idea what I’ve missed. I’ve become good at using my “interested” face and appearing to be listening – nodding, smiling, jotting a few notes. But I didn’t hear an entire block of speaking. Well, I heard it, since my hearing isn’t gone, but I didn’t process it. Again, it’s not that I’m daydreaming, which I’ve always been very good at – my mind is just blank.
It’s pretty creepy, actually, to realize you’re losing time (without the assistance of alcohol!).
And even when I’m not losing time, there are moments when I just can’t kick my brain into gear. I’ll pick up a new bag of (low-fat) chips, start to pull it open, and then just stop. What was I doing again? Do I need the scissors? No, I just have pull it open – and still my hands aren’t moving. What the hell? Do I want these chips? Is there something else I’d rather have? Is it too close to dinner? Oh, for crying out loud – open the damn bag!
And choosing clothes for work? There are days when it’s agony, because I can’t make a freakin’ decision. Do I want the black pinstripe pants? Did I wear black pants yesterday? What shirt should I wear? Does that pattern go with the pinstripe? Will it be warm enough? Maybe not… But this brown sweater would do. But then I have to pick different pants. Do these need to be ironed? What shoes would I wear? Do I have trouser socks that match? No, no – I already had my black shoes pulled out to wear. I should wear the pinstripes. Maybe add a jacket over a short-sleeved shirt? But which jacket? Does this match?? A-r-r-g-g-h-h! By now, I’m late for work.
Never good with names, I now meet people and forget their names within seconds of meeting them. Even when I’m trying to remember – even when I made up a word-association to remember. Or I mix up the word associations in an embarrassing way. For example, I use word association to remember the name of a consultant our company is working with. He’s tall, good-looking and conservative, and his first name is Don. So I’ve associated him with Don Draper of Mad Men, and it helps me remember his first name. But twice recently I’ve referred to him as “Don Draper” to colleagues, who then look at me as if I’ve lost my mind. And perhaps I have.
So I did a little research, and sure enough, one of the symptoms of menopause is “foggy thinking”, absent-mindedness, short-term memory loss, lack of cognitive ability, etc., etc., etc. Something to do with hormones (of course), and probably stress. It can be a vicious cycle, actually. Get frustrated at the brain-fog, stress out, which makes the brain function more poorly, which cause more stress, which makes the brain function even more poorly, and pretty soon, you’re driving home without remembering the trip, and wearing blue socks with black shoes.
It’s not all the time – it comes and goes. Some days, even weeks, I’m perfectly fine (or at least as good as I was before menopause arrived). And then one day, or string of days, I’m just out of it. I have to struggle to maintain any kind of focus and momentum. It’s scary.
The good news is that it’s temporary – once menopause goes along its merry way and finishes with me, my cognitive ability should improve again. How long will that take? One article tossed around 3 – 12 years….. 3 – 12 YEARS?????? Oh, come on!! I have a life to lead in the meantime.
My husband thinks I’m just careless and should “try harder”, my co-workers wonder what’s happening, my boss thinks I’m not paying attention, my friends and family think I’m losing it and wonder why I let weeks go by without calling or emailing. How do I tell them I sometimes have trouble remembering just how much time has gone by. Did I call my mom yesterday? Or was it last Friday? Did I talk to her at all this week? Maybe…but maybe not. Damn it.
So how do I get better (other than waiting YEARS for menopause to pass me by)? Most articles agree that three things can help – moderate exercise (oh crap, I hate exercise), a diet that includes many small meals during the day to keep the brain “fed”, and easing up on the stress load.
Okay – so today I threw new batteries in the Wii and will try to get back on board with morning workouts. My diet’s been better lately, but can certainly still improve. And I’m trying to lose the same 20 pounds I’ve been trying to lose for more than a year (down 4 in two weeks), so I’m trying to limit snacking, which now may not be helping my brain. And stress. Ah, stress. Let’s see – major system conversion going on at work, just finished a traumatic and exhausting move, trying to lose that damn 20 pounds that have settled into a happy “meno-pot” in my belly which makes all my clothes uncomfortable, and can’t remember anything. What stress??? I guess I can get some “down-time” in there somewhere, between work, marriage and church activities. Maybe get up between 3 and 4 AM to do some journaling? Try to squeeze a yoga class into my hectic schedule? A little more prayer?
Somehow, I have to figure out how to get through these brain-fog spells without losing my job, my marriage, my friends and my sanity. So I guess I’d better find the time to relax, eat better and exercise. If I can only remember to do it….and why….and…what was I saying again??