Rheumatoid Arthritis and Early Menopause
It was 2011. I was 35 years old and walking through a store with my mom. The airflow and temperature in the store were normal. All of the sudden - out of nowhere - I got super hot, profusely started to sweat, and my face turned a shade of cranberry red. My mom was very alarmed.
My journey with menopause symptoms
I told my mom that the symptoms she saw had been happening for at least 3 to 4 months. It would happen at work when I was with patients.
I explained to her how I was embarrassed when it was happening. As we talked further, I explained how my sleep was off to non-existent. And when I would fall asleep, I would wake up suddenly in a puddle of sweat.
I was only 35, worked full time as an occupational therapist, and also worked a per-diem job. I had been diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis (RA) in my twenties.
I was married in 2008 at 32 years old and was trying to have a family. At that point, I had been living the ups and downs of RA for 7 years. I had already lost any sense of normalcy with my body, my career had been altered, and my friends and my relationships were not what they used to be. However, looking back, my medical training and education told me that I needed to see my gynecologist, ASAP.
An appointment with my gynecologist
I made the appointment after speaking to my mom. I went to the appointment by myself.
I was in the medical profession for a while, and I actually personally knew most of my medical team. My gynecologist attended my wedding and actually wrote jokingly on the vase we had as a guest sign-in book, "Hurry up and have some babies."
Asking for a hormone panel
When I explained my symptoms to my gynecologist, he actually laughed. He said, "That’s not possible. You are too young." I remember bursting out in tears and asking him to run a hormone panel and testing to rule out my concerns of early menopause. He reluctantly did so.
The blood work confirmed early menopause
I went for the blood work and, at my next visit with the doctor, it was confirmed through blood work. I was diagnosed with being in early menopause/peri-menopause and ovarian insufficiency.
The Mayo Clinic’s Website defines perimenopause as, "around menopause," and "refers to a time during which your body makes the natural transition to menopause, marking the end of the reproductive years."1
My doctor and, honestly, subsequent doctors could not explain why it happened. A lot of them said generically that sometimes early-onset RA can lead to early menopause and/or ovarian insufficiency. However, nothing was ever definitive with this life-changing event in my life.
Dealing with loss and the grief
I was 35 and, yet, my life came crashing down in front of me. Again.
I had no one to talk to who could relate. Most of my friends had children or were about to. I felt the continuation of feeling defective and like my body just continued to reject me. It affected my marriage.
Shame, rejection, and constant reminders
I also had worked with both children and adults throughout my OT career. So, every time I worked with a child, I was reminded on a consistent basis that the joy of having a child would not be in my future.
I remember going to countless baby showers, buying baby gifts, and trying to celebrate friends and family who were experiencing an amazing miracle happening in their life.
At the same time, I felt ashamed, rejected by my own body, and grieving yet another loss in my life. I was experiencing emotional breakdowns in the shower, in the stairwell at work, and in my car alone.
I hid behind my infectious smile. It was difficult - I was truly happy for everyone experiencing bringing life into the world, but I was sad.
Unfortunately, for me, I was not given many options for help or relief physically or mentally during that time. I was not given the option of hormone replacements or given the option to be in a support group. The world just didn’t talk about it, and I became depressed and unable, at times, to fight for myself.
Post-menopause and working through my emotions
I am now 45 years old. I have worked through and am still working through issues related to my early menopause and RA diagnosis.
I have since gone through full-blown menopause. I just recently went to a baby shower and actually enjoyed myself for the first time, having worked through a lot of emotions.
This article is very personal and was hard to write because of that. However, it was time to share this part of my journey.
I hope it helps one person out there who might have experienced or is currently experiencing a similar journey. You are not alone and there are things that can be done to help ease your physical symptoms and help you sort through the mental anguish and many emotions you may be feeling. Just keep swimming!!!
On a scale of 1(low) to 5(high), how difficult is it for you to talk about having RA?