The physical symptoms of menopause forced me to stop working 24/7. But the mental health effects of ending the hustle were so positive, I never want to go back.
Not so long ago, I used to burn the midnight oil almost daily. As a teacher, I didn’t earn enough to make ends meet, so, as many of us do, I took on a side hustle as a freelance writer.
But my side gig quickly became a full-time job, and I suddenly found myself working two full-time jobs simultaneously.
I’m also a mom to a younger kid (he’s currently 8), so he also needs a lot of my time and attention. Thus, I’d often do my writing after my son went to bed, the only real time I had. But to meet my deadlines, I often got 5 or fewer hours of sleep most nights.
Often, I’d get no sleep at all on two or more nights per week. And then I’d drown myself in coffee to somehow muddle through class the next day.
And forget about having a weekend! As a teacher with papers to grade and a writer with articles to finish, I was constantly working. I made great money but had no time to enjoy it.
In those days, I kept telling myself, “Someday …”
Someday, when I made enough money freelancing, I’d be able to quit teaching, and I’d have time to do even more writing.
Someday, when I made even more money writing, I’d be able to work on my own projects — like all the novel ideas that piled up in my notebooks over the years but never got written.
And someday, when I was a multimillionaire, bestselling novelist, I’d finally be able to relax and have a little free time.
But instead of “enough money,” someday became menopause. It slammed into me like an oncoming train and knocked me flat. I had all the usual symptoms — fatigue, hot flashes, brain fog, irritability, and even menopausal rage.
It still breaks my heart to remember when my son asked me, “Mommy, why are you so mean all the time?”
Persistent fatigue meant there wasn’t enough coffee in the world to help me recover as easily from late-night or all-night writing sessions. I regularly stood in front of my students, unable to find words to put together simple sentences, much less explain complex topics.
Even when I got adequate sleep, frequent brain fog meant I had trouble with everyday conversations or remembering basic tasks — like what two things I was supposed to pick up at the grocery store.
But what really did me in were the migraines. The hormonal roller coaster of perimenopause brought back chronic migraines like I hadn’t experienced since my teens and early 20s.
Chronic migraines meant I could no longer indulge in late-night writing sessions. Like clockwork, anytime I stayed up past 2 a.m., the sleep deprivation triggered a migraine, and I’d be useless the next day.
Since I started getting migraines with aura, bright splotches in my vision that make it difficult to see, I couldn’t even look at a computer screen when one came on, making staying up to get work done pointless.
With less time to write, I started missing deadlines, and my primary client reduced my workload from two articles per week to one.
Even though it meant less money, I wasn’t angry at the circumstance. Instead, I felt relieved.
I suddenly had breathing room, which meant more choices with my time. I got more sleep at night. I was even able to enjoy my weekends, including having fun with my husband and son.
Fewer deadlines made me a happier, more pleasant person. I still had hormonally-driven irritability (and sometimes still do). But once the noise of constant busyness was quieted, I could more easily tell the difference between justified emotions and hormonally driven moods and respond accordingly.
“Mean Mommy” wasn’t so mean anymore. And when I realized that, I found myself reexamining everything as if menopause triggered a midlife crisis.
I realized I had to stop living for “someday.” If someday wasn’t now, then when? Life is too short. I was getting too old to keep expecting my life was all in the future.
Maybe life hadn’t turned out quite like the younger me had imagined. After all, I’m not a multimillionaire, bestselling novelist. But that didn’t mean I couldn’t enjoy my life as it is now. At the risk of sounding morbid, none of us can know how many “somedays” we have left — so we’d better enjoy the “now” days.
Not to sugar-coat it, because times are unquestionably tough for many of us thanks to the rising cost of living coupled with stagnant wages. But I realized that even if money were always tight, and even if I never created the life I dreamed of for myself and my family, I could still enjoy the one I had right here and now.
So, I started questioning how much money was “enough” — because working every minute of every day simply wasn’t worth it.
That soul-searching motivated me to make a career shift and become an administrator. That way, we could have “enough” from my day job alone, plus my husband’s. Now, I have more freedom to decide how to spend my spare time, whether that means writing an article or curling up with a cup of tea and a good book.
I still write because writing is my dream. But I no longer have regular quotas for specific clients and only take on projects I want to. I also have more space to work on my own writing and have even gotten back to all those novels waiting in my notebooks.
Being postmenopausal also makes that easier. Since I’ve come out the other side, I still get the occasional migraine, as symptoms can continue for 4–5 years after menopause. But the migraines are gradually getting much less frequent and severe, along with all my other symptoms.
But even though my symptoms have improved, I’m never returning to the hustle. Life is much more pleasant in the “slow” lane.
You may not have a similar ability to make a career change, but it’s worth asking yourself at this stage of life how you want to spend your time. If you feel weighed down by obligations, feel free to take a page from my own playbook and remind yourself that de-stressing is vital for your health.
That’s especially the case if you’re pre or postmenopausal since stress can worsen menopausal symptoms like insomnia and hot flashes.
So, scratch out a few things on your to-do list and spend some time doing what you really want to — whether that’s writing a novel, digging in your garden, or binging Netflix — whatever your thing is. Because if not now, then when?