When I first realized that I was starting to experience the symptoms of menopause, I went in search of more information. The first thing I learned is that I’m not experiencing symptoms of menopause but of perimenopause, the period (heh) before menopause when a woman’s body starts producing less estrogen.
Menopause is the hormonal finish line; perimenopause is the roller coaster ride that gets you there.
There’s plenty of information out there for women experiencing all stages of “the change” but, of course, nearly nothing specifically for autistic women. I don’t know if autistic women experience menopause differently. It sounds like a difficult time for most women, with a lot of variation in symptom type and severity, so it’s hard to say if what I’m experiencing is different from the norm.
What caught my attention, though, is the overlap between some common traits of ASD and symptoms of perimenopause. Many autistic women–myself included–already struggle with sleep problems, temperature regulation, forgetfulness, mood swings (irritability, depression, anxiety), and fatigue.
My biggest question is will this make menopause less difficult because I have coping strategies in place that I can ramp up or will it make it more difficult by compounding my existing difficulties? A couple of years into this grand hormonal adventure, I feel like it might be a combination of the two.
Some thoughts on what I’ve experienced so far:
Sleep: My sleep patterns, which were never exactly normal, have become worse over the past few years. In fact, they’ve gotten so bad that I went looking for solutions. Thanks to Aspiewriter‘s advice, I started taking melatonin, which has helped a lot. Also, the fact that I’ve never been a good sleeper means that, unlike many women who suddenly develop insomnia later in life, I don’t have a lot of anxiety about being wide awake at 3 AM.
Temperature regulation: I’ve only had a few mild hot flashes. Unlike the descriptions of hot flashes I’ve read about, mine are quick to pass, but they’re accompanied by a very uncomfortable tingling sensation in my chest and head. This seems to be an unusual symptom and may be related to my atypical sensory processing system.
In contrast to the mild hot flashes, I was having intense night sweats, which compounded the sleep problems. I love my heavy comforter. My hormones do not. So night after night I’d wake up, wrapped up in the comforter and drenched in sweat. Taking a daily vitamin E supplement has decreased the frequency and intensity of night sweats substantially. I still have them occasionally, usually following a stressful day, but so far I seem to be lucky in this area.
Mood swings: The only detailed information I’ve been able to find about autism and menopause is Asparagus Girl’s post on coping with mood swings. I can confirm her observations about looping between misery and mania. It really does feel like a hormonal roller coaster. As The Scientist put it, “when you’re up, you’re flying and when you’re down I can’t even come near you.” Implied in the last part was without getting my head chewed off.
It’s become hard to sort out what’s hormonal and what’s the result of my usual autistic tendencies. Sensory overload and a poor understanding of my emotions have always made me prone to mood swings, but recently drastic changes in mood seem to come on without warning and in ways that feel irrational and unprovoked.
Some days I feel like a chemistry experiment gone horribly wrong.
Getting lots of exercise helps (it’s supposed to reduce hot flashes too). So does eating well, especially avoiding too much caffeine or sugar. Surprisingly, simply recognizing that I’m in the midst of a hormone-induced mood also helps. Rationally telling myself that it’s okay to feel so out of sorts and that it will pass reduces my frustration.
Other general tips for dealing with mood swings that I’ve seen (but not tried) include relaxation exercises (yoga, breathing, meditation), low-dose antidepressants, giving up smoking (I don’t), connecting more with friends/family and vitamin or herbal supplements.
Fatigue and forgetfulness . . . just make me feel old. I have less endurance for pushing myself than I did five years ago. Perhaps that was a factor in finally realizing that I’m autistic; it’s harder to fake being “normal” than it used to be.
On the positive side, menopause is forcing me to be kinder to myself. I take more breaks during the day and pay closer attention to how I’m feeling. I also look for ways to do things more efficiently so I can continue to do what I need to do without wearing myself out. And I try not to take the small stuff too seriously. Yes, menopause is exacerbating things I already struggle with but not so much that it feels worse than what other women describe.
And it only lasts a few years. Or twelve.
I hope not twelve.
I would love to hear from other women on the spectrum who have experience with perimenopause/menopause. Suggestions? Tips? Anything you experienced that seemed unusual?