“Like night and day” Corewell Health

Sarah Bentley had just turned 42 when she began to notice mood swings.

And not the usual ups and downs that everyone goes through once in a while.

“Real irritability,” he said. “I would snap at people and say things I didn’t mean. … It’s like my filter suddenly broke.”

Then there were the hot flashes that made restful sleep seem like an impossible dream.

Bentley said she only had a vague feeling that these could be early symptoms of menopause, also known as perimenopause.

“I guess I knew there would be hot flashes and night sweats, but I didn’t think it would happen until I was in my 50s,” she said. “And these symptoms felt very intense.”

She saw a provider who suggested she take an antidepressant.

Bentley didn’t at first.

“I knew I wasn’t depressed, but he explained that these drugs are often prescribed for other reasons, including hot flashes and impulse control.”

But Bentley didn’t like how the drugs made him feel, and they didn’t seem to help much.

At that point, she also noticed another symptom: steady weight gain.

Bentley, who was working as a police officer at the time, said he felt like a completely different person and he didn’t care.

“I have always been an athlete. Physical fitness is really important to me,” he said. “But suddenly I had no energy, no motivation and no discipline.

“I didn’t like what was happening to my body and I felt like I had no control.”

Her libido began to fade, making her feel distant from her husband. And he continued to fight that underlying sense of irritation.

“I didn’t like how I treated my husband, my friends and my colleagues,” she said. “It’s not fun to be mad at people all the time, nor is it fun to be mad at yourself.”

Frustrated, he started asking around for suggestions.

A friend suggested she try Corewell Health’s Women’s Health & Wellness Center in Grand Rapids.

There, in the spring of 2021, Bentley met Julie Ondersma, CNM, a family nurse practitioner and board certified menopause provider at Corewell Health.

“That’s when my journey back to myself really began,” Bentley said.

“Don’t discount what you feel”

Bentley wanted to fully investigate not just her hormone levels, but anything that could be causing her symptoms.

“I’ve never had any health problems before,” he said. “So far I was concerned. I wanted to make sure nothing else was going on.”

Ondersma ordered a series of tests and gently walked Bentley through an explanation of menopause.

Basically, it was news for Bentley.

“I don’t have any sisters,” Bentley said. “And my mother and aunt had completely different experiences of menopause. I didn’t know what to expect.”

Eventually, Ondersma suggested Bentley start hormone replacement therapy.

“I know it’s not for everybody,” Bentley said. “But for me, the difference has been like night and day.”

Bentley, who no longer menstruates, now uses an estradiol capsule, a progesterone pill and testosterone cream.

She urges others to learn more about the potential of hormone therapy.

“Don’t discount what you feel,” she said.

Hormonal changes can be difficult due to the weather, but a professional can help you find answers.

“Talk to someone who knows what they’re doing, and don’t be afraid of it,” Bentley said.

At the same time, Bentley began making lifestyle changes.

She began working with a health coach to find exercise and diet strategies that worked for her.

“My coach encouraged me to stop trying to run. He said. “It’s not what your body needs right now.” “He didn’t even want me to lift weights at first,” Bentley said. “He said. “Your body is really inflamed. Let’s start by walking.”

Bentley, who is retired from police work and now works in the office, has been committed to the walking program throughout the spring and summer.

After five months, he added a gentle weightlifting program.

He also changed his approach to nutrition.

“I eat a lot of plants,” she said. “All this is ordinary, normal, healthy food. And I try to stick to the 80/20 lifestyle. Sometimes I’m going to have a drink, a cookie, or ice cream. But I will do it in moderation.”

Bentley’s commitment to those lifestyle changes has contributed to his recovery, Ondersma said.

“Sarah really accepted the responsibility. Women often say: “I know what I have to do. I just don’t do it,” he said. “He jumped in and started making changes.”

Navigating menopause, Ondersma said, is similar to many other health challenges. While some people’s symptoms are mild, others are quite intense.

“Usually there are multiple levels to work on and multiple tools,” Ondersma said. “It’s not just medication, it’s not just diet. It’s about building your life and health on a solid foundation and a healthy lifestyle.”

Ondersma also appreciates Bentley’s courage in talking about difficult things.

“Menopause sneaks up on women, and suddenly our libidos drop, even in marriages where sex has never been an issue,” she said. “We hit people and ask ourselves: “Who was that? That’s not me, and that’s not the person I want to be.”

She encourages women in their 40s to be alert for symptoms and discuss them with a provider.

“We all go through menopause if we’re blessed to live that long,” Ondersma said. “So it’s just a matter of preparing for it and being ready.”

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