The first time I heard the word perimenopause I thought I was dying. I’m not exaggerating.
I was sitting in my gynaecologist’s office to discuss the results of my ovary scans. Scans I had done because I was convinced that I had something seriously wrong with me. Terminally wrong. It’s not the first time that I have thought I might have cancer … nor was it the last … but I was pretty confident that I was unwell. All the signs pointed in that direction.
I have been seeing my gynaecologist for the best part of three decades. She delivered both my babies. She knows me and my vagina very well.
“Let me guess… you feel like you’re dying?” she said from across her desk.
I looked at her, forlorn “Yes.”
“Hmmm… are you experiencing any of these symptoms:
Insomnia, unexplained weight gain, change in body temperature, mood swings, unexplained body aches, migraines/headaches, fatigue, rashes, anxiety, depression, rage, dry skin, dry vagina, irregular periods, painful periods, muscle cramps, restless nights, decreased sex drive?”
“Yes. All of them. Except the last one. My sex drive is entirely absent. Gone. No longer. I am without libido”
“You’re not dying. You’re perimenopausal.”
What now? I was so confused by what she was saying. Aren’t I too young? I’m not menopausal!
Why aren’t we talking about it?
I knew all about menopause. The great time of a woman’s life that she cuts her hair short, carries a fan around for her hot flushes and stops menstruating. Y’know, when a woman is old. Well, certainly older than the 44 years that I was when I realised I was in the Crone Zone.
But no-one, not one person, had ever spoken to me about the time BEFORE menopause. I simply did not know that this life stage existed. And this is the kicker because the time before menopause is the most important time that we should be discussing.
Once a woman has menopaused, they’re done. D.O.N.E. Everything levels out and the next part of their lives begins. But the perimenopause years? The pre-menopause years that average 7-10 years per woman? These can be a living hell.
All the emotions
As my gyno started to explain what I was in the midst of and could expect to endure for some time ahead, I became angry. Of course, this was nothing new. Many things made me very angry many times a day. A door that was jammed. Discarded socks on the lounge room floor. The supermarket changing things around. The commercials on TV being too loud. The doorbell ringing. Someone talking during my favourite song. Someone breathing too loudly. My husband asking “What is WRONG with you?” could send me homicidal.
“WHY don’t I know about this??” I demanded.
My gyno shrugged. Equally annoyed.
“For some reason [*ahem… patriarchy], no-one talks about it”
Well not anymore, sisters!
Since I started screaming from the rooftops [it’s much cooler out there] everything I could about perimenopause, I have learnt so much.
Disclaimer: I am not a women’s health expert. I have no training. I have not read any peer-reviewed research papers. I don’t have any qualifications. What I am sharing with you is my personal findings discovered through my own lived experience, many visits to the doctors, reading some awesome resources and hundreds of anecdotes from women I know. If you have had your 40th birthday … you may relate.
So what is perimenopause?
Perimenopause is known to be the worst time of a woman’s life. I didn’t make this up. This is actually something that is KNOWN and NOT DISCUSSED.
This is one of the reasons that women have such a terrible time with it. We weren’t raised to talk about it because in the generations before us, it was embarrassing for women. It signalled an end to our ‘worth’ as women due to our exit from fertility. So we were conditioned to suffer in silence. And in the silence, many women think that it’s only happening to them which means it must be a ‘them’ problem rather than the common and inevitable women’s health issue that it is.
The knock-on effect of not knowing how normal it is, is that they don’t talk about it and they blame themselves for feelings, reactions, emotions that they actually don’t have much control over. This can lead to them questioning their otherwise happy marriage/relationship, their careers, lifestyle choices, friendships and their mental health. Many women turn to prescription medication AND self-medication to treat symptoms that could be managed differently.
Welcome to the PerimenoWARS
For me perimenopause, or as I like to call it “PerimenoWARS” has been an incredibly tough time to navigate. Some of my most significant symptoms have been extreme sleep deprivation, moments of intense rage, debilitating hormonal migraines, the extra weight that I cannot shift, a completely irregular cycle in both timing and flow, changes in my appetite, a whole lot of weirdness ‘down there’, changes to my skin, the complete disappearance of my libido, changes to my breast tissue and the devastating discovery that I can no longer drink rose without triggering a migraine. As if things aren’t shit enough.
But there are other reasons this time of my life has been difficult. I am barely able to manage my own self during a time that my ageing parents require more care from me and my teenage sons are flexing their independence muscles.
For many women, our perimenopause years comes at the same time that we enter the Sandwich Generation which is when we are simultaneously caring for our parents and our children. Add to that our careers, a pandemic, our social needs and, in my case, a desperate need for alone time, and it’s no wonder we’re not up for those ‘special cuddles’ anymore.
It’s not all doom and gloom of course! This can also be an incredibly empowering time of a woman’s life. But to harness the power, we must first understand it and that’s what I hope starting this conversation will do.
So, who wants to join my army in the Perimenowars?
You will need activewear, comfortable shoes, a hydrating face cream, moisture-wicking full brief underwear and a fan. We march at dawn.