Midlife Meltdown

So I had my weekly meeting today with  my peer counselor and she asked how I’ve been doing with trying to get into a better sleep routine.

I have no sleep routine. Except that I generally find it hard to get to sleep until I see the sun peeking in my bedroom window in the morning.

I told her I tend to stay up reading until I’m literally falling asleep sitting up, because I’m afraid to get caught in that time period between being awake and being asleep when my mind tends to wander.

Over the past year or two it wanders into pretty dark waters. I rerun mistakes I’ve made in the past and agonize over how I could have avoided them. I remember times when I’ve been hurt by people around me I thought I could trust and I feel the pain again likes it’s fresh, still happening. I hear things said to me that wounded me and it’s like the person is standing right there again, saying those things. And I think about how my life went off track just when my career was starting to take off. How I fell apart and I torture myself thinking if only I’d done this, or if only I’d done that..

I’ve been doing a fair bit of reading lately on depression in women over 50 and this kind of thinking is apparently called ruminating and it’s something a lot of women my age do, to our detriment.

I used to brag to my friends when I was younger that I would be a “really cool old person” with long, braided grey hair, I’d ride a horse everywhere (I have no idea why I thought that would be cool), I’d just generally be happy and carefree and be able to eat as much chocolate as I wanted because it wouldn’t matter if I gained weight because when you’re old it doesn’t matter what you look like anyway.

I was just so stupid. Or young, maybe that’s it. There is absolutely no way a young person can understand what it will be like to face mid-life and a future of wrinkles and aging.

I thought I’d be happy when I no longer had a period. But when mine stopped in my early 50s I mourned. I was all dried up. No more eggs for me. No more babies. Not that I wanted to have a baby in my 50s but knowing I would never ever again be able to get pregnant made me really sad. And I’m generally a sad person to start with having been diagnosed with clinical depression in my late 20s.

So here I am, post menopausal, struggling to keep a handle on my mental illness and trying to find ways to make myself feel better.

According to the literature I’ve been reading, women in my age group are susceptible to depression because of the crazy hormonal changes brought on by menopause. Especially if a person already has a history of depression. That would be me.

One study out of Australia mentioned that after menopause some hormones slow down or stop doing what they normally do, while one that regulates hair growth speeds up, which just produced mental images of me, bearded and moustached staring in horror at my wrinkled, old, hairy face in the mirror.

These kinds of images come back to me at night in that time between being awake and  asleep.

So today, my peer counselor told me about Grounding. She said it’s a way to bring oneself back to the present, to escape bad memories or “what if” thoughts. She told me the ones that work best involve creating a physical sensation – grabbing and holding on to an ice cube or putting your hand around a mug of hot coffee. This can sort of shock you into being in the moment – remind you that you’re not trapped in that place in your mind that is black and terrifying.

She also said you could pick something to grab when these feelings come on, something you can look at and say “I am holding this in my hand right now. I didn’t have this back when this memory happened, so I am not there, I am here.”

I tell you it was like a wonderful light went off in my head as she explained all this. I was reliving all these bad moments in my life and I never once thought that I could pull myself out of them by just getting back to my here and now. It’s incredible the power negative thoughts can have over me.

So I’m going to give grounding a try tonight. I want to get into a sleep routine where I can actually get to sleep long before dawn so I can be awake during the day and actually accomplish things.

Wow. I must be getting better, actually wanting to accomplish things. I haven’t felt like that in a long, long time.

I saw my menopause as something that happened really quickly. I had no problems with hot flashes. Maybe a few night sweats but nothing major. One month I had my period, then it was gone, with nary a fare you well.

I never credited, though, the effects that weren’t so obvious, like the hormonal changes I’ve been through and just the emotional impact of knowing I’m officially done with baby making. Silly of me, but there you have it. I’ve been thinking it’s just more of the same, horrible depression I’ve been fighting for years, when actually it’s been that, with an extra kick of wonky hormones and just plain sadness at seeing my youth in the rear view mirror.

But I am working on it and I really do feel stronger overall. I have bad days, but not nearly as many as even just six months ago.

Working with my peer counselor has made a world of difference. She’s with the local branch of the Canadian Mental Health Association and it  has been an enormous fount of resources for me. I recommend to anyone battling depression to reach out to their local mental health resource centres and find out what kind of help is out there. You are not alone.

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