Throughout my 20s and 30s, I waited for the day when my periods would finally get over. The thought of no longer having to curl up in a fetal position every month to battle annoying cramps or dealing with tampons or menstrual cups brought me immense joy. But as soon as I turned 45 and menopause finally hit me, my life unfolded in a manner I least expected.
Like most women my age, I was only prepared to deal with hot flashes and vaginal dryness as effects of menopause — but losing my confidence and living with a constant feeling that I was no longer who I used to be definitely caught me by surprise.
Long story short, I suffered from extremely low self-esteem during menopause, and here’s how I was able to find myself back.
How it all started?
It all started with feeling extremely bloated through the day. No matter how hydrated I was, the menopause bloated belly was here in its all glory. No longer could I wear my body-hugging dresses and tops that I confidently carried in my 30s. This led to lots of crying because I also had no control over my emotions. My mood swings were intense, with extended dark periods of feeling at the bottom of the pit. As someone who is usually an upbeat person, this was a lot to take in.
Then came the weight gain around my mid-section. As someone who was mostly skinny throughout the 20s and 30s, the weight gain was a shock. Despite watching what I ate and staying far away from processed food, the scale always gave me bad news. I constantly found myself checking how my thighs and hips looked when I slipped into my favorite pair of jeans. Going on crash diets only worsened my situation, as starving through the week resulted in massive binges over the weekend. Plus, the continuously achy joints and pain in my knees, shoulders, and neck meant that I could not exercise regularly even though I wanted to.
Due to lower estrogen levels in my body, another consequence of menopause, I also started experiencing hair thinning and hair loss. My hair was falling out at an alarming rate. There was always more hair on the floor than there was on my head and every single hairbrush filled up with loose hair as soon as it touched my scalp. Special shampoos and hair tonics did little to salvage the situation, and every visit to the salon left me drained as the stylist told me again to try out the latest treatment to restore my lustrous locks.
Over the next few months, adult acne came back with a vengeance, and I found myself hiding behind layers of makeup to appear blemish-free. That only made the situation worse as soon enough, my face resembled an oil rig, and the breakouts never stopped. And little did I know that menopause would turn me into a sex-repulsed person. One of the worst menopause problems for me was my urinary incontinence because my pelvic muscles became weak. I was so ashamed of accidental leakages during intercourse, that I completely stopped having sex with my partner, which affected our relationship.
The weight gain, skin issues, mood swings, hot flashes — living with these conditions made me feel less sexy and highly self-conscious. I connected my self-worth to my physical appearance that resulted in a loss of self-respect. I simply resigned to the fact that I was no longer good enough for anything or anyone as my body was transforming completely in a short space of time. I felt like I was on an emotional rollercoaster, and the ride was never going to stop.
Does menopause cause low self-esteem, or was it all in my head, I wondered? Research shows that shifting female hormones makes women more vulnerable to mental illnesses, including depression, anxiety, and mood disorders. After all, there is a great deal of physical, mental, and emotional change happening all at once. Plus, the internalized stigma about how menopause marks the end of youth for women adds to the mental health burden.
How I took control to start feeling like myself again?
I started thinking if l would ever feel like my ‘normal’ self again and go back to being the upbeat and confident person I used to be.
I was aware that menopause is a natural biological process, and I couldn’t stop it from happening. But surely there was something I could do to tackle these low self-esteem symptoms.
After a lot of trial and error, this is what helped:
1 – Exercise
I used to think of exercise as a punishment for enjoying food. But it was exercise that helped me to find my self-esteem back. Depression in menopause is extremely common as serotonin levels plummet, a hormone responsible for us feeling happier. Exercise helps pump more serotonin — the more serotonin you release, the happier you’ll feel, which means a massive boost to your self-esteem.
Since my joints were still achy and I never fancied working out in a gym, I started brisk walking every day for 40-50 mins. Once the aches and pains were in control, I started using lightweight dumbbells for home workouts under the supervision of a trainer.
2 – Healthy diet
Good nutrition is critical to help you navigate through various challenges that menopause throws your way. I started paying attention to my diet and chose calcium and iron-rich foods to get my daily dietary requirement. I chose fibrous foods to remain fuller for longer and also consumed at least 3 to 4 different types of fresh fruits and vegetables throughout the day. I cut back on food items rich in trans fat and used added sugar and salt in moderation.
3 – Didn’t shy away from sex
While this was not an easy one, I figured that taking control of my sexual needs was important to find my lost self-esteem.
I started masturbating to find my groove back. Once I was confident with my body, I started enjoying sex with my partner. I even used a lot of water-based lubricants to combat vaginal dryness and enjoyed oral sex on days when penetrative sex felt too painful.
4 – Sought help
Apart from speaking to my OB/GYN, I also reached out to a therapist. More than anything else, I wanted reassurance that menopausal depression was a slight bump in the road and I would overcome it.
Therapy helped me learn that as my body was entering a new stage, self-compassion and self-care were paramount. I had to accept that my body was changing, and with the right lifestyle practices, I could still be the best version of myself.
5 – Empowered myself
It is incredibly easy to fall into a pattern of self-loathing during menopause. At times I felt that I didn’t deserve anything good coming my way. So I made an effort to give myself permission to continue enjoying my life. I carved out me-time to pursue my hobbies. I started volunteering at an animal shelter. I read affirmations every morning to boost my motivation.
Above all, I wanted to gain a positive outlook overall because our self-esteem is directly linked to our thinking and behavior.
Just like how you are not allowed to talk freely about period-related issues because everyone goes through it, you are also expected to deal with menopause silently.
But menopause and depression/self-esteem issues are extremely real, and no one should have to suffer alone. I hope my story inspires you to do everything you can to feel better about yourself even when things take a nosedive during menopause.