Life Stages of the Brain

I have fought with depression since I was in college. I’ve been on and off different anti-depressants, changed my diet and exercise routines, and been to therapy. But it wasn’t until a few years ago that I started feeling completely hopeless. Nothing was working, so I thought my teaching job was the cause. I changed jobs. But my depression persisted and worsened, as well as other symptoms.

Anyone who has dealt with depression or any kind of illness that is difficult to diagnose while trying to teach will understand that I didn’t have the time or the desire to seek out medical help. Past experience had shown me that it would be time-consuming and the doctors’ diagnoses would be as effective as a guess and check approach. Our school had difficulty finding substitutes (even pre-COVID) and my duties were usually from 7:15am to 5:30pm – so skipping around from specialist to specialist was not an option.

I didn’t love my job anymore. In fact, I didn’t love anything at all. Life had become a series of things to get through, and just brushing my teeth seemed insurmountable. It was difficult to get up in the morning, even on weekends and holidays. I dreaded being awake.

I decided my only option was to retire.

It was the most excruciating decision I have ever made. Teaching had been my identity since I was a child giving the neighborhood kids voice lessons. I cared deeply about my students. But I didn’t feel like I was serving them or anyone else in my life properly.

A few months after retiring, I finally had time to go to doctor’s appointments. One doctor ordered a full blood panel, even though I told her that I had one around 5 years before because of my depression and everything came back normal.

This time, there was a surprise. “Did you know you’re in full-blown menopause?” she asked me. I did not. The estrogen levels that had been completely normal a few years before were nonexistent. My FSH levels were through the roof.

I nearly kissed that doctor. Most of the symptoms I had been experiencing could be explained by menopause and another blood test that showed I was not absorbing my medication correctly. We had to be careful about hormone treatment because of my family’s medical history. But now I knew that I was not at fault – at least not for everything.

I’m telling you this because I know many of the readers of this blog are female. As an intelligent, well-read woman, I knew about menopause – but had no idea how stealthily it could creep up and take over my life. How was a woman who had always suffered from depression supposed to realize that she was more depressed? Or, who was sweating all of the time as she simultaneously gained weight supposed to recognize hot “flashes”?

It turns out there is lot more to menopause than moody women who fight with their husbands about the house thermostat on sitcoms. If you want to hear or read about how menopause affects our brains, this 12 minute clip from the latest TED Radio Hour may give you some insight. Maybe you’re not at that stage yet (are you sure?) or maybe you want to know more about the human brain at different ages, so,here are some other segments from the full TED episode: How Does Family Income Affect Child Brain Development, How Does the Teenage Brain Make Decisions, and How Can Adults Grow New Brain Cells.

Quite honestly, I think women have been taking menopause a little too well over the years – quietly suffering its symptoms just as we endure many other of life’s injustices with pained smiles on our faces. MENOPAUSE SUCKS! And men don’t have to go through it – WHICH MAKES IT SUCK EVEN MORE!

I guess I’d rather be a live, menopausal woman than a dead woman not going through menopause.

But, for sure I know that I would rather be a woman who is alive going through menopause than a man living with a woman going through menopause.

I guess it’s a toss-up for who has the better end of that deal.

Photo by Anna Shvets on Pexels.com

5 thoughts on “Life Stages of the Brain

  1. As a fellow teacher whose job is clearly the centre of her world, I too worry about retirement – which I’m near – or at, depending upon whether you are me or my pension plan which keeps reminding me in emails that I should be making those plans now. And depression has haunted my family, menopause devastated my mother, and I think I escaped some of her suffering. Your post hit me in all places and I’m sending you good vibes. This life is complicated, but you are here and writing about it. Thank you for sharing this so honestly.

    1. Wow! Thank you for your comment! I am glad you have been able to avoid some of your mom’s suffering, and hope you have been able to take care of your mental health during this difficult year. I was fortunate that I qualified to retire when I did (I was 51) but it was still not that way I envisioned my life at that stage! I dream about the students I left nearly every night, but my mental health is definitely much improved now that I don’t have to deal with many of the other issues teachers face.

  2. Thanks so much, Terri. I have absolutely loved, needed and looked forward to your posts for years. Like you, my first many years in teaching were in elementary and my last 20 years of teaching were in gifted and
    talented. You have been and continue to be a gift to me, my students, my colleagues and my family. Thanks so much for open honesty in this post.

  3. Thank you for writing this, Terri! As a teacher, I tend to look at others and wonder why I can’t just pull it together like they do. Knowing that you have also been suffering through depression and menopause reminds me that I am not alone. We tend to see the happy face that each of us puts on for the world and not realize the struggles happening behind the scenes.

    Thank you again for sharing.

    1. Julie, I think I need to write more posts like this! I have had many educators reach out to say they have experienced similar feelings (not necessarily related to menopause). In education as in motherhood, we tend to normalize being superheroes.

      Take care of yourself! I know you have your own struggles, and this year has probably been the biggest challenge ever for so many.

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