So . . . where are you in perimenopause?
I went seven months without a period . . . only to get one. It was disappointing because I felt like I had gotten so close to the finish line. Now I’m on month five without one, and I’m holding my breath that I won’t get another one.
When did you notice things were changing?
My early forties. I got an itchy rash on my face around my nose, so I went to the doctor and discovered I had developed a form of rosacea that is common among “fair skinned women of a certain age.” Basically, I was told it was menopause related, but because I didn’t yet have any other noticeable peri symptoms, I was told to wait a few years before considering hormone replacement, or other remedies.
A few years after that, my periods began getting wonky. They started coming every three weeks. Some were extremely light, but then I’d have one that’d be a deluge, as though it was trying to make up for the light ones.
And then the anxiety kicked in. It’s the worst.
What is it like?
It’s weird, because I’ll feel fine, mentally, but physically I want to crawl out of my skin. I’ve also lost my energy and have brain fog. I have read that living through times of stress (hello, covid!) can leave one’s brain in a fog, as can peri, so who’s really to say why I’ve lost my energy and finally learned to just sit and stare off into the distance? Could be peri, could be covid, could be a combination.
What other symptoms have you had?
I’ve had a garden variety. My allergies are the worst they have ever been. My skin is irritatingly dry in weird places (like my inner thighs just above my knees), and I have all sorts of aches and pains and weird injuries. Also, I’m cranky. I mean, REALLY cranky. I’ve never had a lot of patience, but any that I had has completely flown out the window. Some symptoms, like anxiety (FUN!), sore boobs, restless legs, and, of course, insomnia, have woken me up in the middle of the night and led me to google them to see if they were somehow related to perimenopause (or if I was dying). I stumbled across this list last winter and it was an Eureka moment. Of the 34 symptoms, I had at least 30 of them.
Strangely enough, I’ve yet to really have a proper hot flash, although my internal hot & cold are definitely on the fritz. After years of living quite happily without central air, this past summer I admitted to my husband that I could see the appeal, although I’d rather have a walk-in restaurant freezer so I could just go in and cool down as needed. So far, he’s not entirely sold.
(Update: I finally got some proper hot flashes. They were more like power surges really and they were always coupled with a physical feeling of anxiousness that sort of dissipated into just feeling warm.)
Since you have so many peri symptoms, I’m curious: did you have bad PMS, too?
Prior to peri, my periods were all over the place, and I had some wicked PMS, too. The symptoms would fluctuate — certain months would be more difficult than others. Sometimes I’d get “period belly,” where my stomach was just not happy with anything I put in it. And I’d have insomnia leading up to my periods. By the time I reached peri, I couldn’t sleep at all the night before I got my period. In some ways, peri has actually been a relief (with the exception of the anxiety).
How has perimenopause impacted your body image?
I was never one who really cared what other people thought about me, and that’s only intensified, which doesn’t bother me, really. I’ve definitely put on weight, but some of that is due to a variety of factors, including Covid (between stress-baking cakes regularly and giving up my gym membership, my waistline was doomed).
I went through a phase where I felt like I was becoming invisible and irrelevant. At one point, I had an altercation at my office with a rather misogynist male colleague who actually told me I didn’t matter. That sent me spinning. He ended up leaving the company and I got a raise, but it did a number on my ego. When I finally left that job a few months later, I started to realize how deep the damage had been. It really degraded my confidence and my self image.
Emotionally, how have you been feeling over all? Do you still feel like yourself?
I honestly don’t even know anymore. Going through a pandemic with the current national affairs, and then walking out of a job with zero plan, all while becoming an empty nester and going through peri has been a whirlwind of emotions. Some days I don’t know up from down. As I like to say, “It could be The Change, it could be Covid, it could be part of empty nesting — or all three.” I’m just sort of waiting to figure out what I want to do next while avoiding any huge decisions. Some nights what to make for dinner is too much of a decision. (I am happy to report I did quickly find a new job and now I’m working with other women in support of other women, so that’s been a good change!)
How has peri affected your close relationships?
I’ve talked about peri with my husband (we’ve been together for close to 30 years) from the get-go. I wanted to normalize it, mostly for my daughter’s sake, since women’s health issues are horribly overlooked and understudied. They (my husband and daughter) even listened to a podcast on menopause so they could be better informed. It was one they came across on their own and, sadly, neither one remembers the name of it.
What has surprised you about this experience?
The mental part. Girlfriends would mention that approaching empty nesting while going through menopause was a lot. We knew of a few couples that got divorced when the woman went through menopause, so there were so flags there. But still, at first I thought my anxiety issues were just another symptom of PMS.
And then when Kate Spade died in 2018, I happened to glance at a comment section on an article about her, and every few comments was a woman saying “we need to talk about the effect of menopause on women’s mental health.” After that, I became slightly obsessed with reading every article I could find, and I started asking girlfriends, particularly those on the other side of menopause, if they had experienced anxiety as a symptom and many of them said yes!
I’ve noticed that even reputable medical websites often dismiss anxiety and depression as a symptom of perimenopause, but to me that’s just further proof that women’s issues get swept under the rug. But perimenopause is like puberty: our hormones are going berserk and our bodies (and minds) are changing. Why do we so readily recognize and acknowledge puberty but not perimenopause?
What are your thoughts on hormone replacement therapy?
I know some people that have done it and found it useful, but I haven’t really explored it for myself. My primary care provider retired in the middle of the pandemic and I haven’t replaced them yet, which has thrown a kink into this.
What are you learning about yourself?
Perimenopause is part of the journey, as they say. The fact that it’s coinciding with other major life changes (my job change and empty nesting) makes it all feel like a giant swirl of, well . . . I don’t know what. I’m still figuring it out.
This same time, years previous: strawberry syrup, the coronavirus diaries: week eight, the quotidian (4.29.19), graduated!, besties, back to normal, learning to play, church of the Sunday sofa, Sunday somethings, juxtaposed, shredded wheat bread.
Do you have the makings of a book here? Yes. Not an anthology (they don’t sell well) but with a smashing great title and the right publisher–if there are not books out there on this specific angle, there should be. (I know, there is that other book you’re trying to finish.)
Thrift at Home
Such an important series, Jennifer! I think I say the same thing each time I hear another woman speaking these personal, powerful experiences in your interviews! Anxiety in my life started with my first baby in my early 30s and I had clinical post partum depression then after each baby, which mainly manifested itself as anxiety. I was listening to Kendra Adachi explain herself recently as a enneagram 1, which I am, and how that interacts with having babies and anxiety. Hoo boy. But also, I feel like I have tools that work for me so far and my primary care provider is female and my age (NOT LIKELY to retire soon!) and takes a pragmatic, kind approach to me at all times and especially when I am having mental health issues.
I may have mentioned Amanda Thebe on here – she wrote a book Menopocalypse after her horrible experience with peri/menopause. She’s a personal trainer. I am following her exercises for menopausal women and really feeling empowered! My sister, who is a nurse in women’s health, recommended Thebe to me. She’s also a great, funny, irreverent follow on Instagram if that’s your jam.