Is It Menopause or Empty Nest Syndrome? (The Answer is Probably Yes)

Six months ago, after having my hormone levels checked, my doctor declared me officially in menopause. The fact that he said he wouldn’t be surprised if I walked across the room and ashes fell out of my pants was all I needed to hear to throw out all my tampons, eat a cheesecake, and do a happy dance around my house —keeping an eye on the floor for ash fallout, obviously.

Ironically, the symptoms I’d been having weren’t unlike the ones that had plagued me four years earlier when my older daughter was preparing to fly the nest. Back then, however, I knew for a fact that menopause wasn’t to blame. I mean, I had a fairly cruel and merciless monthly reminder after all. Plus, clean floors.

Recently my baby started her senior year of high school and I may or may not have had to take a Xanax at 2 a.m. to stop the hysterical voices in my head that kept reminding me about all the lasts that were about to come at me, full frontal.

Hey, I’ve seen those lasts before and believe me, they don’t have anything to brag about.

However, as I lay there for literally hours with my mind spinning out of control with thoughts of melancholy and madness, I started to wonder. Could all the frustrating and unwelcome symptoms of perimenopause and actual, ash-rendering menopause actually be due to AENS? (Anticipated Empty Nest Syndrome, an affliction I may or may not have made up in the middle of the night.) I mean, when you examine them closely, the line between menopause symptoms and the emotional wrecking ball of your kid leaving for college is pretty damn blurred.

Of course, that could be all the Chardonnay.

It can be hard to tell the difference between the empty nest and menopause.
Kaspars Grinvalds/Shutterstock

Let’s examine the evidence:

Insomnia.

Hours upon hours of worrying about everything from your kid being homesick and if they’ll be safe on campus to wondering what happened to the Kratt brothers, if the celery in your refrigerator is still crispy enough for the chicken salad you want to make the next day, and if you could pull off bangs.

Confusing AF, and don’t even get me started on the dreams you do have once — if — you fall asleep. Call this one a tie and go take a nap.

Weeping without warning.

Biggest culprits? Old photos (because you’re suddenly into self torture); songs about the passing of time (if “100 Years” comes up on your playlist, just call it a damn day … yet then put it on replay because of aforementioned self torture); empty rooms, empty laundry hampers, and — quite possibly the biggest trigger — empty wine bottles.

Since the thought of menopause bringing truce to the war that’s been raging in your uterus each month for the past 38 years is definitely cause for celebration, this one’s a W in the feelings column.

Unexplained weight gain.

Definitely due to menopause. The comfort food you’ve been shoveling down your gullet since your kid started his senior year— not to mention the wine you’ve been mainlining — can’t be to blame, because if it were, you’d have to stop. And as you know, that’s out of the question. The peanut M&Ms you keep stashed in the fridge are keeping you alive, dammit.

Fatigue.

Could be a result of the insomnia, sure, but my bet is that even if you had a solid eight hours (and by solid, I mean you only got up to pee twice, your husband’s snoring miraculously was more at “balloon with a slow leak” level instead of the usual “Smart Car with a monster truck muffler” level, and the cat did not vomit at the foot of your bed at 3 a.m.) you’re completely useless by mid-day at least four days a week.

“Energy” is a word only related to electrical currents. The thought of making dinner makes you weep (add it to the list), and even a trip to Target becomes a chore, which is when you know shit’s getting real.

TBH I’m too tired to figure out what the cause is, but if I had to, I’d sloppily pencil a W in the menopause column.

Memory Lapses/Confusion.

Again, let’s blame our friend Insomnia for this one, because if we don’t it’s pretty damn concerning when you forget the word for “water falling from your eyes” or “device that opens wine bottles.” Doctors (i.e., Dr. WebMD) will tell you this is a perfectly normal symptom of peri and actual menopause, but I’m betting the shit storm going on in your brain when your child is thisclose to leaving you plays a fairly significant role in your sudden confusion, vacant stares, and lack of language skills, so we’ll call it a … uh … word that means “when things match.”

Anxiety.

You’re a mom. It’s kind of your thing, no matter what stage of life you’re in. Own it and move on. And then worry you weren’t concerned enough and karma will give you cancer.

Moodiness/Irritability.

Don’t worry, I won’t ask your significant other to chime in on this one. But I’m betting if I did they’d tell me they’re frightened of you more than they’re not. What they don’t know is that you are, too. Tie.

Panic.

Don’t make me laugh. As if panic is something new to us. We started panicking when that little line turned pink and it’s only grown exponentially with each passing year. If menopause thinks it’s got a claim on that one, it can go suck itself. #irritability

Hair Loss.

Remember the thick hair you had before you had kids? You know, the hair that you can now hold up with one of your kids’ discarded braces bands that you’re still finding on the floor? The thick hair you gave to them? Since the little hair you have left is currently getting pulled out with the added anxiety, panic, moodiness, sleeplessness, and unexplained weight gain they’re causing, not to mention disappearing as fast as your estrogen, I think we can safely call this a tie and give ourselves permission to spend part of their graduation money on quality hair extensions.

Let’s face it, ladies. Perimenopause, full-on menopause, or simply your complicated, tumultuous feelings, you’re going full-on 2007 Britney at any given moment, so at the end of the day does it really matter what’s to blame? Pour yourself a glass of denial and just ride it out and search for the positives.

Because guess what? Your doctor could call to tell you your blood work results were wrong and apparently your ovaries have made one last gasp effort to be relevant. (His exact words.) You know what that means? Sure, you have to buy tampons again occasionally, you ate 10,000 calories of cheesecake in vain, and your baby is still leaving you, but guess what? No more ashes to clean up, and anytime there’s less housekeeping, that’s a W in all columns.

Related:

Between Menopause and Teen Hormones, It’s a Hot Mess At Our House (Literally)

The Lazy Mom’s Guide To College Care Packages

About Michelle Newman

Michelle Newman spent 23 years as a stay at home mom to two daughters and most of the past seven writing about them. Even though they’re both now grown and flown, she’s learning that life in an empty nest is still full and the material just keeps coming. She tells stories on her blog,youremyfavoritetoday.com 

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