If you were to meet Judy Pellerito today, you would say she’s full of life.

Newly retired after 31 years of teaching, the Kentwood, Michigan, resident is animated, outgoing and full of dreams.

She’s starting a community choir “open to anyone ages 13 to 103.” She plans to play her ukulele for nursing home residents and bring her pup Mabel along as a therapy dog.

So Pellerito would agree with you: At age 54, her life is good.

“I have energy and hope and optimism and gratitude,” she said on a recent fall morning.

But wind the clock back a year or two and get Pellerito to level with you, and you might hear a different story. A story marked by anxiety, depression, poor sleep and low energy.

Sure, she still got up and went to school every day. The former Northview High School choral director loved teaching, loved her students and her colleagues.

But it became harder and harder to summon the “energy and the stamina and find the joy day after day,” she said.

Finally a good friend saw through her smiling façade and nudged her to get help. To find out what was going on. Tired of saying, “I’m fine, I’m fine,” Pellerito acquiesced.

She made an appointment with a psychologist, who listened as Pellerito talked about life—and heard her describe many of the classic symptoms of menopause.

Hormone decline

Pellerito’s counselor referred her to Marjorie Taylor, NP, a member of the Spectrum Health Midlife, Menopause & Sexual Health team who specializes in hormone-related issues.

Recognizing her symptoms as typical of a woman going through midlife hormonal changes, Taylor did a physical exam and a thorough blood workup, paying close attention to Pellerito’s thyroid and other hormone levels.

Not surprisingly, Pellerito’s blood levels showed that “her estrogen was really low,” Taylor said.

Taylor’s message for her patient? There’s help for you. You don’t have to struggle.

Taylor started Pellerito on an antidepressant and hormone therapy tailored to her medical situation. After just five months, Pellerito felt like herself again—or, perhaps, like a more jubilant version of herself.

“I didn’t know that my hormones had bottomed out,” she said. “It’s not like there is a switch that’s flipped—you don’t one day get symptoms. It’s so gradual that it’s almost imperceptible. You don’t realize until you look back.”

In retrospect, Pellerito says her menopause symptoms probably escalated over the course of five to 10 years, gradually stripping away her joy.

“I can look back now and just see an incredible difference,” she said. “And an incredible future.”

Feeling good again

Stories like Pellerito’s fuel Taylor’s enthusiasm for her work.

“It’s so fun to do because every visit you see improvement, and you see this person find their spark again,” she said. “When everything gets balanced, whether it’s thyroid, hormones, whatever it is, we see not only their energy come back, but they sleep better. It helps relationships, it helps—just their whole quality of life improves.”

Taylor acknowledges that hormone therapy isn’t right for everyone, but as a strong advocate of its benefits, she gives her patients lots of information and works hard to clear up the misperceptions about its risks.

“People have no clue of the wonderful benefits that hormone therapy can bring,” she said.

Hormone therapy can contribute to women’s longevity, Taylor said, by preventing heart attacks, strokes and osteoporosis, and by helping to alleviate fatigue, depression, anxiety, vaginal issues and bladder issues.

“But the biggest thing is that it brings the spark back to their life and they feel normal again,” she said. “When people start going through perimenopause, they think, ‘Ugh, I’m aging and I’m just never going to feel good again. … And that’s not true.”

Start sooner

Pellerito’s experience is a vivid case in point. She now feels healthy, both physically and emotionally, and is eager to explore new opportunities as a young retiree.

Once a week she returns to her previous school district to work as a vocal coach.

“I’m still pouring love into teenagers and adults in different ways,” she said, “but everything is different now.”

For other women who may be feeling some of the symptoms she experienced, Pellerito says not to wait like she did.

“I would just recommend people walk down the path of getting help sooner,” she said. “Sooner, sooner.”