Thoughts on what we're going through and how we can try to avoid exacerbating them

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Hi everyone! This is rather a long read, but I just really felt strongly in my spirit to share it in the hopes that maybe at least some of you might find it useful, especially if you're dealing with ear or headache issues.

Like lots of you I first came here because I’m going through the wonders of perimenopause – some weeks ago in fact I posted about feeling almost suicidal because of all the symptoms, which include tinnitus, ear pressure, headaches, dizziness, fatigue, insomnia, achiness, depression, anxiety...and weird new symptoms, like "head pressure" and "face/head heat" ("flushing" doesn't quite seem to describe it).

I’ve been dealing with all of it since about March and over the months I’ve had lots of time to whine and be miserable, but also to analyse what I’m going through and rethink it all. I thought I’d share some of my thoughts with you, both on the physical and philosophical/spiritual levels, so that perhaps, hopefully, it may be of help to at least a few of you.

So firstly, the physical stuff – I think we all pretty much agree that this peri season does exacerbate a lot of things we’d already had to deal with before, like headaches etc. But in my case I’ve realised that there were also a fair bit of misdiagnoses on the parts of the specialists I saw, namely the ENT ones. I saw them because I’d been experiencing ear pain and pressure, as well as tinnitus. But my experience does show that often these guys don't really know it at all (despite their hefty fees!), and often they're stuck in their little, narrow boxes.

I’d actually woken up one day 4 some years earlier with this sudden pain and crackling in my one ear; my natural reaction was to go see an ENT. Well he prescribed antivirals and basically just said deal with it. The ache and crackling went away within a couple of days, but a cricket-like tinnitus remained and over the course of those initial months, I became habituated to it.

It would come and go – some days would go by completely quiet – but what I noticed was that how I slept seemed to dictate whether I’d have to deal with the crickets the next day. Despite my asking several ENTs about this, none addressed it.

Fast forward to Feb/March this year and the start of the world learning about and dealing with Covid. In those early months I must admit to feeling really very stressed about it, especially where my kids were concerned (they’re all school-going age). I started feeling ear pain and pressure, like the fullness you might feel on a plane’s descent.

So it was back to the ENT, and they diagnosed Eustachian tube dysfunction, for which there isn’t really a “cure”, but decongestants and nasal sprays are supposed to help. I say “they”, because I went to see not one, but several ENTs, all specialists – they all said the same thing.

At the same time I noticed that the tinnitus seemed more pronounced as well, but still apparently influenced by how I slept. Of course though, none of the ENTs had any answer for this, and in fact ignored me whenever I brought it up.

In the meantime, I started noticing other fun stuff, like migraines, fatigue, the weird head pressure and achiness. Somewhere along the way I finally saw my gynae, who did some bloodwork and confirmed that I was indeed perimenopausal. The ear pressure was still there – the nasal sprays did nothing – and then I started noticing an odd nudging against the inside of my ear whenever I chewed. Now the jaw joint is right next to your ear’s Eustachian tube, so you might start to see where this is going…

I mentioned this “nudging” to the ENT but was predictably ignored. So I started researching on my own – sometimes we just have to do that right! And lo and behold – I came upon – temporomandibular joint disorder or TMD. This is apparently much more common than one might have guessed and is especially likely if you grind or clench your teeth a lot (either consciously or in your sleep). Look it up and you’ll find yourself opening a whole can of worms – TMD symptoms include tinnitus, headaches, facial pain, ear pain and pressure, the list goes on.

Well, when I mentioned that to the ENT, he said, oh, for that I’d refer you to so and so – basically, an oral maxillofacial surgeon. So I went, they did xrays and guess what – it was indeed TMD, of the jaw joint on the side of that same ear 4 years ago. Yup. The xrays actually show the physical wear and tear of the joint.

I was sent home with anti-inflammatories and muscle relaxants – it hurt, but I was glad to finally address the pressure and pain. Knowing this was not only strangely relieving, but it also highlighted to me the need to seriously learn to de-stress. This was when I started properly learning to meditate, and I highly recommend it! Even doing a few minutes of it will be helpful, because it’s forcing you to consciously slow down and be mindful.

So if you think you might be a clencher or a grinder – and chances are if you are an anxious type at all, you probably are – then seriously consider getting your jaw joints checked. Or at least consciously start practising relaxation techniques and jaw-healthy habits like avoiding hard foods, and keeping your teeth apart when at rest (did you know your teeth should NEVER touch except when you bite to eat? Check the position of your teeth right now! Yup).

Next – achiness and "migraines" and “pressure head”. These had become more pronounced too, or at least I became aware of them much more, I think because my usual anxiety levels had gone up (hence the importance of meditation!).

I started to notice the achiness and tinnitus would not only coincide with how I slept (which, by the way, is pretty crap since it’s usually interrupted and I seem to somehow unfailingly jolt awake after 6 hours), but also with what activities I was doing during the day, particularly those that involved me hunching down or generally having bad posture or weird positions for a prolonged period (I’m a photographer).

On closer analysis, I realised the headaches were radiating from the base of my head, where it meets my neck, although I would seem to feel them in the head. And there would also be a muscular achiness down the neck, along its sides, across my shoulders and even down the upper back (those areas which generally feel so good when someone squeezes them or affectionately gives you a back rub).

In mentioning this during an unrelated visit with my Dad to his orthopedic surgeon, I learned of cervical neck pain and cervical headaches. They’re related to neck strain or injuries, which tied in with the nature of my work (sleeping badly also doesn't help I'm sure), and there can also be age-related wear and tear of the spinal disks in your neck, which, the surgeon said, is common and not unexpected in our age group.

Knowing this was also strangely relieving. It not only accounted for most of what I was experiencing (yes, it is even related to TMD and tinnitus) but also compelled me to learn more healthful habits, like better posture and taking more breaks. I don’t want this to become an extended essay (I know it already is kind of!) so I’ll leave you to look these things up if you think they sound like they might apply to you at all.

I just wanted to share these “discoveries” of mine because you might be going through the same thing. Could you, for example, be grinding your teeth more now, thereby causing your ear fullness and pain? Could you be hunching over your phone or craning your neck at your computer all day because you're stuck at home? Peri exacerbates all these things, and coupled with mood swings and anxiety, they can sometimes feel unbearable! But which does lead me to the other thing I wanted to quickly mention – how to live with it all.

One big thing I’ve found to be crucial is acceptance. For so long as we rail against and resist what we are experiencing, the harder it wlll all be to bear. Buddhists call it the “second arrow” – in this case, peri is the first arrow; the second arrow is what we do to ourselves, in response – the railing, the resistance – as they say, "In life, we can’t always control the first arrow. However, the second arrow is our reaction to the first. This second arrow is optional."

I had in my previous post mentioned a book that I found to be of great help; I’d share it here but it would probably get deleted, so feel free to message me if you like. One big thing I took away from it and frequently do when I begin to feel overwhelmed, is ask myself, can I let this go, even just a little? Can I accept it, just a bit, and not react so to it?

I've realised a significant part of my suffering is my own reacting to what I'm going through, like an angry, even judgmental, resistance. Part of easing one's suffering is letting go of that, and trying to be more accepting.

Of course it's definitely not easy when one is in the midst of it all -- especially if one already was dealing with things like anxiety and depression -- but it helps to get one through, even if it's just for the day, or even the next hour or few minutes.

Meditation and practicing mindfulness are of great value to me as well; it helps one to stay in the present moment and not spiral into negativity and worries and what ifs. And then practicing gratitude – there are even apps you can download to consciously practice gratitude every day by actively looking for the good in your life 😃

Anyway, I hope whatever I’ve written has been helpful, even a little, whether in a practical or spiritual way – do feel free to message me any time; we could all use a shoulder or listening ear, especially during this season! Perhaps as a final note I will add what I always tell my kids when they’re stressed or going through a challenging time – remember you are not alone, and you are loved 💛

12 likes, 20 replies

20 Replies

  • Edited

    i have always been a positive, confident person and i have been struggling heavily. i am just so sick and tired of being sick i have earnestly tried meditation, yoga, counselling anti anxiety meds, and HRT im doing a bit better and i do get reprieve of about 3 hrs every second day. But when it comes back its almost too much for me mentally. i dont know what to do i just want to be normal again. i want to know why i keep trying to figure it out and get depressed when i canti have always lived in emotional denial and find that i cant keep an emotional lid on this.desperate for help

  • Edited

    Hi did you ever solve this though? I am going to see a chiropractor and will ask for HRT to try and make me at least less anxious. Am clenching my teeth as well not sure how to stop that. Thanks

  • Posted

    Wow what an absolutely incredible post.

    Thank you. it's not often I read a post about perimenopause written in such a hopeful positive light.

    You have helped me today. x

    • Posted

      Oh!!! I just replied your post, and then just saw this loll

      I'm glad it helped you that day four weeks ago and hope it still helps you a bit now. Feel free to write me any time ❤️

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