This article was first published on the HuffPost Blog in 2015 as Blind to Menopause
For a brief time in 2011 to 2012, I lost a third of my vision. Menopause was to blame. At first, I thought I’d damaged my glasses. I went to an optometrist and asked her to clean them sonically. When that resulted in no improvement, I switched to my back-up pair, but I continued to view the world through a gray film.
After almost thirty years on the pill, prescribed to treat Polycystic Ovary Syndrome, my general practitioner had advised me to stop taking it. She warned that I would probably go into menopause immediately, and truer words were never spoken.
Overnight, I began to experience severe hot flashes, and my pre-existing insomnia became much worse. Awake half of each night, I staggered into work cruising on about four hours of shut-eye. By mid afternoon I was hypomanic which made me feel high. A life-long insomniac, this was more than I was used to or could bear. After two attempts, I found a sleep medication that returned me to my normal state of sleep deprivation.
I decided against hormonal therapy for the hot flashes but began to dress is light layers so all but the one closest to my skin could be rapidly peeled off. I learned to tolerate random comments—such as “My mother has that”—when I turned bright pink and removed as much clothing as was decent.
Focused on my lack of sleep and near-constant sweating, about a month elapsed before I realized my glasses might not be the cause of my impaired vision. I consulted my ophthalmologist, who, upon examination, informed me that my eyes had dried out, and consequently, I’d lost a third of my vision. Unprepared for this news, I was appalled. My eye doctor reassured me my vision could be restored.
Although many of us know that women’s mucus membranes can dry out during menopause, this more commonly happens to genitalia. That was not my problem. Instead, I experienced a medical anomaly. Prior to menopause, my eyes required medicated drops due to dryness. My doctor added Restasis to the mix, and my lost vision slowly returned.
I struggled to delicately inform the people in my life about my temporary blindness. No one wants full disclosure on this matter since it requires reference to the more common issue of vaginal dryness.
It never fails to surprise me that this late in the twenty-first century many people are still uncomfortable with the words vagina and genitalia, even when uttered strictly in a medical context. Men I’ve dated since my divorce hate those words and always prefer dirtier, sexier language not fit to print here.
Only my closest female friends were comfortable with the verbiage. Although Eve Ensler, author of The Vagina Monologues, should have released my peers from squeamishness, as it turned out, they failed Liberation 101. Instead, I used euphemisms such as “lady parts” or “below the Mason-Dixon Line” when what I wanted to say was “I’m as moist as the Mississippi Delta in spring, but my eyes dried out and I went partially blind.” When I was able to successfully explain what happened, the most common response, even from the doctors I worked with, was “I didn’t know that could happen.” Yes, it certainly can.
It could have been worse. My grandfather lost all vision in one eye due to dryness, the problem identified too late to be reversed. I’m grateful that a savvy doctor and the correct medication restored my lost vision, and that my partial blindness was only temporary.
My personal motto is Thank God for problems that have solutions since not all of them do. My period of temporary vision loss didn’t do me any lasting harm. I continue to take my eye drops faithfully. And every time I clean the smudges from my glasses, I’m relieved that something so simple will return me to full sight.