After I published that post about menopause, there was a collective “we need to talk about this more!” response. My solution? A series of posts — this is the first — in which perimenopausal women* share what they’re going through (because perimenopause is, I think, the stage that’s talked about the least). To the generous, gutsy women who have weathered my (very) personal questions with such grace and humor: thank you. Through you, I am gaining a better understanding of myself, my body, and what it means to be a woman.
*All names have been changed.
So…perimenopause. How’s it going?
I feel like I am in the middle of my perimenopausal journey. I say this without any formal hormone testing, but just by understanding my own body and being aware of signals. I still have regular periods, but I feel hormonal shifts and my periods are changing (mainly getting lighter and shorter and darker in color). The last year has been incredibly challenging for many reasons and, probably because of family stress and the pandemic, I minimized what may have been going on for me internally — which definitely was impacting my experiences with the larger factors going on in my life.
When did you notice that things were changing?
Honestly, no one ever talked to me about perimenopause. I knew menopause had happened to my mom and grandmother, but I never knew that there were YEARS building up to that. So when at age 46 I started noticing a change, it never occurred to me that these changes could be hormonal. I felt emotional — sometimes invisible to my family and friends — and I felt a sense of increased anxiety, especially worsened phobias and worries about loved ones.
Are you still feeling emotional?
Strong emotions have been the primary symptom for me. Also, I’ve had increased anxiety, or maybe it’s a lessened tolerance for anxiety. I need more time alone, and more quiet time. My frustration tolerance is significantly reduced. At the same time, this anxiety is usually about something bad happening to my children or other loved ones. I am not worried about myself; in fact, I feel more confident.
With perimenopause has come sudden and severe weepiness and deep sorrow. This could look like me crying unpredictably in a public space (not where others are crying) and/or me sobbing for the woes and ills of the world. One night I was crying so much I felt as if I might die from sorrow. This was such an intense and scary feeling. I did not feel suicidal. I thought the sadness would literally kill me. I discussed this with my partner, and then later with my doctor, because it was unlike any other feeling I had had before. When I woke up the next morning, I was surprised to be alive.
Have you had other symptoms?
A symptom (which my doctor has yet to find a solution to) is itchiness in my inner thighs and around my vulva area; the itchiness is so persistent that at times it wakes me up. My doctor has prescribed various creams including cortisol, but nothing seems to work. The itchiness very much correlates to my cycle; I can tell when I am ovulating, or when I am about to begin my period, because the itching starts again. I am very self-conscious about this symptom and frustrated that there does not seem to be any clear solution. In fact, when I explain to my doctor that I think it is hormonal, she minimizes it.
One unexpected symptom has been an increase in sex drive. I can honestly say that it is the one time in my almost 30-year-old marriage where I want sex more than my partner does. I always assumed that this would be reduced in perimenopause but for me it had the opposite effect. It was not uncommon for me to want sex every day or multiple times a day (this has subsided now so I wonder what was going on).
Insomnia. It sucks.
I read in a book that perimenopause is kind of like puberty in reverse. This was helpful to me in that it gave me permission to not fully understand what was going on with my body. There will be changes I don’t understand: it’s okay to simply be curious about them and just ride it out. Whenever I notice something different in my body I think, “Oh, well that’s weird.”
Have you talked to your children about what you are going through?
I wrote a letter to my husband and children to try and explain to them what I was experiencing, and to explain the frequent weepiness and my sense of feeling invisible. It was helpful to me to explain it to them in that way. One of my daughters responded with “Yay for reverse puberty!” I think my son just said he loved me.
In what ways has your perimenopause correlated to (or not) your periods? Have you noticed any patterns?
I have always had very heavy periods with strong PMS symptoms, so I assume this may be in part why I am experiencing significant symptoms in perimenopause. At least when I have checked in with some friends it seems that they did not have as many issues as I have been having. So yes, to me there seems to be a correlation.
Has perimenopause impacted your body image?
This is also weird but I think my body image has actually improved. (My worry had always been more about my own body image — not at all about what my partner was attracted to.) I have had steady weight gain over the past twenty years but, while I still have moments of feeling self-conscious, I have just decided to not worry about it, or even really try to change it anymore. Now, I am much more comfortable lying in bed completely naked when previously I would want to cover up with a sheet or something.
What about sex?
My partner is very open and listens to me whenever I want to talk about this. Interestingly, he reports that my body (specifically the inside of my vagina) feels different to him during sex — and that this is a good thing. I am not sure what that is about but it seems like something has moved, or changed, in a way that is good. I don’t feel that difference from my end.
I waited until my mid-40s to purchase my first sex toy, and I think it has made a dramatic difference in helping me with perimenopause. It is an external stimulator that is truly amazing. I had never really been into masterbation much — probably a combination of shame from my childhood and also the societal message that I needed someone else in order to feel good in that way — but now I am able to control when and how I have orgasms, and I think the frequency of these has been incredibly helpful for my perimenopause symptoms. My partner is totally in favor of this new “hobby” and finds it attractive and healthy. I wish I would have bought one in my 20s.
What has surprised you about this experience? What do you wish someone had told you?
Another thing I had never used until my mid-40s was weed. I started to self treat my emotional issues with a microdose of indica combined with CBD (gummies): Lume, Ripple, in powdered form, and Colorado’s Mountain High gummies, which were the best ones I ever had but have not been able to find them since. This was very helpful and I can’t believe I waited so long to use it. I have rarely taken an amount that makes me feel “high” but instead have noticed reduced anxiety and improved sleep/relaxation. I wish I would have started that a long time ago. I think it is funny that sex toys and weed have been my most effective “treatment” of perimenopause symptoms, but it’s absolutely true.
Any other resources to recommend?
I really enjoyed the book What Fresh Hell Is This. In the book, they mentioned THC-infused lubricant, but I have not been able to find it at any dispensaries. (I did try to make my own with THC tincture and coconut oil, but it did not work.)
What are you learning about yourself?
I am craving more connection and knowledge about these changes from women who have experienced it before me. For that reason, I am really glad you are doing this project. Once I hit menopause, I hope to have some kind of a ritual with friends to mark the era and celebrate.
This same time, years previous: introducing how we homeschool: a series, my new kitchen: the island, the quotidian (11.12.18), George Washington Carver sweet potato soup with peanut butter and ginger, butternut squash galette with caramelized onions and goat cheese, refrigerator bran muffins.