How am I ever going to get any of this done? Genene Coté wondered, looking at her to-do list. “I had no idea where I would get the energy to do even one of the 10 items,” she recalls. “My legs felt like they weighed 1,000 pounds and my eyes burned from yet another sleepless night. Not only was I wiped out, but it felt like a cloud was looming over me, making it hard to do anything.
Barely Getting By
“I was 48 years old, in generally good health, and my career had taken off. I had a husband who supported me and I was surrounded by fantastic friends. From the outside, it looked as if I had my life under control. But I was worried about the unrelenting fatigue I’d been experiencing — so worried, I wondered if I had a serious disease. But that didn’t make sense. After all, I was packing on weight, not losing it.
“For one, it was such an effort even to lift my arms, so I couldn’t imagine doing my regular workout with hand weights. That was especially troubling because I knew that one of the most effective methods of gaining energy is exercise. But all I could do was sit in my recliner. I was losing touch with the outside world because even carrying on a conversation was too much.
“One day, when the phone rang, I accidentally answered it and weakly said, ‘Hello?’ It was my friend Karen, who is a nurse. Her first words were: ‘What’s wrong? You sound terrible!’ I opened my mouth to speak and burst into tears. When I regained my voice, I told her, ‘I’m worried! I have zero energy every day and I cry at the drop of a hat. I’m anxious and getting fat.’ There was silence on the line.
“Then she asked me, ‘How are you sleeping?’ I told her I hadn’t had a good night’s sleep in months. She asked why, and I explained I was restless, tossing and turning, and having what felt like hot flashes that woke me up multiple times a night. ‘Sounds like your problem is lack of sleep combined with perimenopause,’ Karen said. ‘I had all of the issues you mention.’ She suggested I talk to my doctor.
“I felt reassured and hopeful. Karen was knowledgeable about women’s health and sounded sure I could find an answer. She suggested I study alternative treatments for fatigue. That sparked my interest, and I agreed to call my doctor. I still wasn’t sure where I would find the energy to set up and go to an appointment, but after a few days, I did.
An answer, at last!
“I told my doctor I was exhausted, couldn’t sleep and that I felt like I was being weighed down by sadness. ‘I can’t go on like this,’ I said. She listened carefully, and agreed sleep might be part of the problem.
She suggested I try an antidepressant. That was not the answer I was hoping to hear. Many years earlier, I had been treated for a bout of depression with other antidepressants, but I had a bad reaction to them and had to stop. This felt different, though, mostly due to the fatigue and insomnia. It seemed there had to be an answer that didn’t involve pharmaceuticals. I told my doctor I wanted to do more research and went to search for alternatives.
“I soon found an article about 5-HTP, a supplement many women use in menopause to help them sleep. I learned that 5-HTP is a precursor to melatonin, which helps with sleep. Plus, research suggests 5-HTP increases serotonin levels, which may improve symptoms of depression.
“Excited to have a potential solution, I talked to my doctor, who suggested I start with a lower dose and work my way up. The first week, I took 50 mg. of 5-HTP every night; it didn’t seem to make any difference.
The next week, I tried 100 mg. (Buy on Amazon, $14.95) I felt a little less tired, but still not as effective as I would like. Over the next four weeks, I gradually increased my daily dose. I felt a great deal less fatigue, but I woke up every morning kind of hung over, so I decreased it. The 200 mg. dose seemed to be the sweet spot between no relief and a morning hangover. At about two weeks, something wonderful happened: I slept six hours! A few weeks later, my fatigue and low moods went away. I also used herbs like black cohosh to stop the hot flashes that made insomnia worse.
“The most exciting thing besides sleeping was that I started to lose a little weight. Over the next month, I began to feel less anxious and more optimistic. The fatigue began to recede, and I quit crying all the time. I was able to exercise, and the heavy cloud lifted! I was thrilled!
“It took some time and patience, but it worked. I still take 5-HTP in times of stress, but now I have my life back, and that time is nothing more than a hazy memory!”
This article originally appeared in our print magazine, First For Women.
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