06/16/2014 10:00 am ET Updated Aug 15, 2014

What the Gift of Menopause Has Taught Me About Self-Leadership

Maybe I was naïve. Maybe I was prideful. Or maybe I just plain didn't pay attention when people tried to tell me.

But I thought I could "handle" menopause.

But the truth is that menopause just about "handled" me. In fact, it just about knocked me off my feet. There were a few days when I would have told you it had done just that. Knocked me off my feet. Off my game. Completely off, out and down for the count. I tell people it's as though I lost my footing for a bit... and then back it came. Unpredictable. Inescapable.

Now I'm about to get real here, so stop reading if you're not ready...

My husband has told me that this last year has been THE hardest of our entire 32-year marriage. That's saying a lot. I mean, we've moved across the country countless times. We have a Down Syndrome son. We've had family members murdered. And THIS was the hardest year.

And I agree with him 100 percent.

Let me tell you something... I felt emotions more extreme than I've ever felt. Like to the point of no return -- and now I need to talk about it. Desperately.

I do want to talk about it. I mean, I don't. But I do. It's important I tell people about it. Learn about others and their experiences. That we talk about it. Start the conversation. Not hide it.

We cannot be alone in this life stage any longer.

For example, here's one drastic change I experienced in this life stage that I had never before experienced -- second-guessing. Everything. It was frightening. I've always been confident and able to fix things. It was though I was just flat-out robbed of that confidence. Add to that a lack of confidence that I was attractive, appealing -- and then the things that started happening to my body! Talk about messing with my mind.

I'm just being real here.

Also, during this life stage depression sometimes had a noose around my neck. It made me angry, sad, inconsolable. I lashed out at the people I love most. It made no sense whatsoever.

So how did I regain my footing? How do we regain our footing?

And then, God.

We start there. We redefine our new reality building upon the same strong foundation we've always had. And we learn how to thrive -- no matter our life stage.

In actuality, it is a gift.

I can say that now. The gift of menopause. The gift that menopause has afforded me is clearer to me some days more than others, but it's allowed me -- forced me, actually (kicking and screaming the whole way) -- to look at my life in a completely different way. To ask questions like...

• Why do I push myself so hard?
• Where is the fun?
• Is the only place where I feel any value at this desk?

In her book, Thrive: The Third Metric to Redefining Success and Creating a Life of Well-Being, Wisdom, and Wonder, Arianna Huffington touches on many of the same items that menopause has allowed me to re-evaluate in my own life.

The book is described on Amazon like this...

Arianna Huffington's personal wake-up call came in the form of a broken cheekbone and a nasty gash over her eye -- the result of a fall brought on by exhaustion and lack of sleep. As the cofounder and editor-in-chief of the Huffington Post Media Group -- one of the fastest growing media companies in the world -- celebrated as one of the world's most influential women, and gracing the covers of magazines, she was, by any traditional measure, extraordinarily successful. Yet as she found herself going from brain MRI to CAT scan to echocardiogram, to find out if there was any underlying medical problem beyond exhaustion, she wondered is this really what success feels like?

As more and more people are coming to realize, there is far more to living a truly successful life than just earning a bigger salary and capturing a corner office. Our relentless pursuit of the two traditional metrics of success -- money and power -- has led to an epidemic of burnout and stress-related illnesses, and an erosion in the quality of our relationships, family life, and, ironically, our careers. In being connected to the world 24/7, we're losing our connection to what truly matters. Our current definition of success is, as Thrive shows, literally killing us. We need a new way forward.

A new way forward. Precisely.

Here's what my new way forward looks like. Thanks to this life stage, I've learned:

• To give myself the gift of grace
• To redefine success
• That life is not forever
• The importance of healing one's self of past hurt
• To make peace with aging
• That self-awareness is key -- a gift to run toward not away from
• There is power in sleep... it is indeed a lifeline
• Outside beauty is defined not by society but by the person who is observing in love
• That the true riches of life are found not in material achievements but in love

And speaking of love, last but certainly not least, I have learned that I am absolutely blessed to have a husband who loves me unconditionally -- especially when I feel and act unlovable. I have grown such an appreciation for his willingness to stick by me -- to love me -- as I went through this major life adjustment. To have someone who wants to grow older with me almost takes my breath away at times.

What we forget about menopause is that it isn't just us (women) going through it -- it's everyone around us, too. Everyone close to us. Our families go through it. Our husbands. Oh, our dear husbands. Their lives are in upheaval, too -- almost as though they've been forced to hit a pause button -- as their beloved goes through menopause. As our friend Wallace Foster, author of the forthcoming book, Men-on-Pause, relates,

I had so very little understanding at the beginning. I just knew there was something very wrong with the woman I loved most on earth. And I was not going to give up until we figured it out. My life ultimately became devoted to researching, understanding and trying to figure out how I could best help my wife. It was all-consuming. (Read more insights from Wallace and others here.)

Let's not be afraid to talk about this life stage. Let's lead ourselves into -- and through it -- together. Oprah has started the conversation through articles like these:

Learning To Deal With Symptoms of Menopause

What Oprah Knows For Sure About Menopause and Hormones

Let's continue it with each other.

In fact, I want to continue the conversation by sharing a few interviews with you. Uncovering, sharing, revealing some truths about the life stage called menopause. If you want to learn what others have gone through, how they have dealt and how they have created their new way forward, then read right here.

You're not alone. We're not alone. In our new way forward.