13. Dezember 2020

MENOPAUSE – the big challenge

An article for women and for the men who want to make the effort to understand us better. For that, thank you in advance!

MENOPAUSE 

For musicians, this word contains two rather alarming terms:

Pause – Meno!

The good news: Apparently, there are colleagues who don’t mind their menopause too much:

  • They don’t sweat.
  • They sleep through the night.
  • They are always calm and friendly.
  • They don’t have panic attacks.
  • Their voices remain untouched.
  • They always have the same enchanting face colour.

If you belong to these aliens, you don’t have to read on – the rest is written for normal women.

My story

It started very quietly: I was standing in a very warm costume at a fitting, the costume designer was sitting decoratively slumped on an armchair looking at his work. I started to feel too hot, typical under the spotlight in Lyon at 27° outside and a wool costume with a fur-lined coat over it. But something was different. It crept up from underneath to my face. For a moment I thought „Oh God, it’s the menopause, I’m only 46“, but then I pushed the thought away, it didn’t recur that day or week. But now and then the harbingers came…

Dr Google informed me that this phase in a woman’s life is the most prolonged „transition period“ and can last up to 14 years. Cheers then!

I was thankful that my family planning had been concluded for a long time – there is a world of difference between not wanting to and not being able to!

My mother came to mind, her nasty conditions, how proud she was not to take anything, but to endure these attacks silently, with a red head, migraine and bad nerves. My godmother once said later „Yes, that was the time jacket on – jacket off – jacket on – jacket off“. My mother-in-law, when I asked her if she had had any symptoms, said in amazement, „I don’t know what you are talking about, I haven’t noticed anything at all“. I guess it has always been that different!

What bothered me most was the lack of sleep: sleeping through the night had not been possible for a long time, the quality of sleep was a bit reminiscent of the light sleep when there is a baby or toddler in the house. As a result, I had trouble not falling asleep during meetings at the university. At student concerts, I was struck by leaden tiredness as soon as the hall lights were extinguished (no, that was not because of the students!). As Kundry, I once dozed off on the „Blumenhügel“ during the Good Friday performance in Mannheim and woke up just before I had to call my Parsifal.

My voice continued normally at first, even when my period gradually stopped and was capable of roles I had never dared to dream of: Foreign Princess, Kundry, Sieglinde, Wozzeck-Marie, and Isolde… I was happy that I had waited with these heavy roles and that they fell to me now when I still sounded fresh.

The sweating wasn’t so bad –  „jacket on – jacket off“ was a good option. But the panic that crept up with every heatwave was extremely unpleasant, especially at moments when a certain coolness towards others would have been appropriate. My husband and daughters were very understanding and supportive. There were cases of depression in my family, and I was terrified that I would soon be one of them. I started running in the morning – that was a suitable method. I took soy pills, red clover and whatever else was available over the counter against the sweating and not sleeping. Vocally, everything worked quite okay – until it just didn’t work any more: I was 52, my voice cracked from F# onwards, no matter how slim I took the passaggio. And I had to master the most challenging part I had ever sung: Dukas‘ Ariane. In comparison, Isolde was almost a walk in the park!

I didn’t want to swallow any pills, but I knew it couldn’t go on like this. Someone knew someone who knew someone who mixed vaginal suppositories that had to be fabricated at the pharmacy. They helped in a short time – until the thyroid gland started to grow because of the high dose of oestrogen and pressed on the vocal cords. After a dose reduction, calm gradually returned, and I could sing almost „normally“ again, i.e. with my usual strengths and weaknesses. What remained was what a conductor friend of mine called, with a twinkle in his eye, a „foggy bottom“ – that is, a weakness in the lower middle range. The hormones did not make me sing better than before; they are not miracle cures – but they ensured my singing survival for a dozen years.

So, that was my story.

Yours will be different, your colleagues‘ story will be different again – just as women’s birth experiences differ. As every woman has dissimilar experiences with their periods, the path to and through menopause is unlike for everyone.

The critical thing for singers:

If you are severely affected, you probably won’t be able to manage without hormones at some point if you want to continue singing. Because oestrogen also keeps the vocal folds supple.

There are pills, patches, cream to apply to the inside of your thighs (!), vaginal cream, vaginal suppositories etc., etc.

It will probably take you a while to find the right medication/dose. And you may have to explain to your gynaecologist that vaginal suppositories can also help – mine thought it was nonsense at first. PATIENCE is the magic word (even if you don’t have any right now). It goes without saying that you should continue to go for regular cancer check-ups!

Don’t be discouraged – when the medicine is finally right, you can go back to

  • Singing
  • Sleeping
  • Being righteous
  • Being wise
  • Discussing without freaking out
  • Having fun in bed (that’s right, there was that, too)

Only when everything is „back on track“ will you realise how much you were off track (or not).

As I said before: some women don’t notice any of this, and for some singers, the natural remedies are sufficient – so much the better!

What else can you do and what might even replace the hormones or postpone taking them?

(Now we’re talking about exercise and healthy eating – if you don’t want to read this, take the pills right now and skip to the end of the article).

Fresh air

…has saved me. Running in the morning and feeling the cool air on my face gave me absolute moments of happiness before I went to rehearsal or college. I still only run at a snail’s pace today, but I’m moving, and it’s good for me! It also makes you proud to have overcome your inner couch potato. Today I almost prefer to run at dusk, but today I am „through“ with menopause…

Yoga

…has literally changed my life. Unfortunately, I only discovered it after my menopause. The centredness, the focusing on the breath, the flexibility, strength (and not least the more significant tightness of the upper arms ;)) which the yoga-practise imparts have been groundbreaking for me. Back problems that regularly accompanied me are also a thing of the past. The important thing is not to rush into a course, but to learn the exact right positions first, preferably in 1:1 sessions with an experienced yoga teacher – otherwise, you can hurt yourself a lot! There is now special hormone yoga; worth a try as soon as you are a bit more confident on the mat.

Nutrition / weight

Producing fertile eggs costs about 300 calories a day (!) (you can also convert this into joules, but this makes it worse and does not change the devastating result).

300 calories equal:

  • One croissant (if someone in the family has already bitten off the top).
  • Two scrambled eggs with bread and a BIT of butter
  • 1 1/2 roll with jam/cheese and ENOUGH butter
  • Delicious muesli with fruit and nuts
  • A giant Caffe latte with whole milk
  • And and and

EITHER you go on a permanent diet now, or you accept that you will have to carry a few kilos more in the next ten years – menopause is exhausting enough, to go on a diet is almost illusory. But it is also a fact that if you continue to eat „normally“, you will gain weight. Just make sure you don’t put on too much weight. Buy clothes that are big enough – when the stress of the menopause is over, losing weight will be more comfortable. Watching what you eat and exercising a little more will help to keep the extra 5 kg from turning into 10. You can try giving up alcohol altogether and drinking less coffee or none at all. When you feel better, you have to decide whether your glass of wine in the evening is worth a few heatwaves.

Your skin

Maybe your skincare isn’t up to scratch – it doesn’t have to be the most expensive but look for high-class ingredients. Whether you want to take beauty supplements is up to you.

Small beauty rituals soothe the troubled soul. This can be an orange or lemon/verbena scented shower in the morning or rose-/lavender-scented in the evening, take your time when applying lotion (the skin gets drier, so don’t forget the elbows and knees, the feet also appreciate extra love).

Mental – time for yourself

Since menopause, like puberty, does what it wants with your mood, it is vital to bring a little more stability into your life. Even small rituals, see above, can help – reviewing the day in the evening (perhaps with the help of an app like Calm), doing a little meditation. Some people pray morning and evening –  short meditations at the beginning or end of the day.

„The morning pages“ from „The artist’s way“ can work small miracles –  you sit down first thing in the morning and write exactly three pages about what is on your mind at the moment – you will be amazed what comes up…

A small gratitude book in which you write what you are grateful for in life is also helpful. If you’re not a writer, record your gratitude list on your smartphone and listen to it in the morning before you dive into your day.

Time to learn new roles

You will gradually take longer to learn a new role – plan for that; even the fast learners among us slow down…

Warm up!

You should always, but from now on really always, gently and lovingly awaken your voice and treat it with extra kindness, marking it more often in rehearsals.

New things

Menopause initiates a new phase of life (more about this in the next BLOG). Maybe you would like to start something new yourself? You have gained a lot of experience in life and work. Now would be a good time to build up an additional mainstay gradually.

You’ll find a myriad of online opportunities; it’s good to meet new people, to discover other points of view. Life-long learning keeps you fit in the head!

Don’t just surround yourself with people exclusively in your own age group. The 15-30-year-olds are very smart, and we can learn from them!

Positive points

Life without periods also has its good points: you no longer have a tummy ache every month, you save on the costs of monthly hygiene, your mood is more even, your voice is always the same and PMS is a thing of the past!

Talk to other women

I’ve found that when I’ve brought up menopause-related issues, other women/other singers have been grateful to share. Also, someone still discovered a new natural remedy, a new hormone product or doctors who specialise in singers with hormone changes.

YOU ARE NOT ALONE!

On that note:

Come well through these years (!), which is not always easy but enlightening at the same time – there is still life waiting for you at the end of the tunnel!

All the best and see you soon,

hedwig

Navigieren
Teilen
hedwig fassbender
Contact Icon