Perimenopause Can Be Brutal . . . and That's Normal
No one told me that perimenopause could feel like dying (not the "mini-death" from the inability to bear children). Because that's the only way to describe my experience.
It would've been nice if someone had mentioned that a few unlucky women would get hit by a hormonal tornado that would bring their hectic lives to a screeching halt − and it could be anyone of us. There are no warning signs from one's medical history either ... it's a totally random occurrence that turns your world upside down, exactly like a tornado.
Which is why I'm writing this article. To share what I had to learn the hard way.
I first learned about the stage of life known as perimenopause while watching an episode of The Oprah Winfrey Show. Dr Christiane Northrup, an authority in the field of women's health and wellness, spoke about her book "The Wisdom of Menopause". Dr Northrup was so upbeat that she made The Change of Life sound like a special gift. I couldn't wait to gain wisdom and experience rebirth through this transformation and healing process.
Ha! I was in for a surprise. It wasn't the magical time I expected. It was certainly a purge that felt like an endless case of the flu. I was a textbook case too, I had all the classic symptoms: hot flashes, breast tenderness, fatigue, irregular periods, urine leakage when coughing or sneezing, urinary urgency, trouble sleeping. Plus weight gain, sugar cravings, nausea, sensitivity to ordinary smells, highly prone to pollen and mold allergies, abdominal bloating, water retention, severe PMS, hair loss, dry eyes, blurry vision, dry mouth, sporadic shooting pains. I also developed a bulging cyst in my abdomen − thankfully it is benign, the doctor guesses it will reduce in size when I reach menopause. And my bunions doubled in size out of the blue. Essentially I became a monster overnight. Well, over a span of 2 years.
The worst part of it all was I felt alone. I seemed to be the only one in my circle that was going through this. I couldn't drink any type of alcohol, no spicy, greasy or highly processed foods, not too much salt or sugar. I also couldn't be in the sun. These all triggered my hot flashes and made them worse. Needless to say, I became a party pooper. I eventually became anti social. Trying to explain myself became a chore. Since any slight feeling of stress was unbearable, and I couldn't fake my usual energetic self I decided it was best not to work for awhile.
I didn't feel my family doctor was the best source of advice, being a man he would probably give me medical school teaching that didn't apply to me. So of course I relied on the Internet. The only popular advice that worked for me was using Black Cohosh for hot flashes. I actually feel my hot flashes subside when I take one 40 mg capsule, it takes about an hour to feel the full effect. Most other advice doesn't work for me: exercise, hormone treatment, natural remedies. I went on a form of anti-inflammatory diet. I cut back on red meat and deep fried foods, drank soda occasionally, ate more fruits, vegetables and grains − being healthier served to boost stamina required to endure the grueling changing process.
The most annoying part of perimenopause has been the random occurrences of periods and no periods. Menopause is diagnosed when a woman has gone without a period for at least 12 consecutive months. Apart from this one cannot determine when menopause will arrive. I was hopeful last year when I was period free for 6 months. Then in month 7 I got a heavy period and another lighter period 2 weeks after. What a letdown that was.
I'm 53, a little past the average age. Lately I see a few signs that I may finally be approaching menopause. I've been period free for 3 months. And my cyst has reduced considerably in size. A few symptoms have disappeared and replaced by others. I haven't been nauseous, bloated, craving sugar and allergy prone for weeks. But my sleep has become worse. I changed my mattress from a 10 year old Sealy Posturepedic to a firm density foam (no memory) mattress. I'm sure the new mattress has helped though I always wake up feeling like my back is asleep: stiff muscles and tingles all over. My guess is this is probably inflammation but I have not received an official medical diagnosis. Recently I feel this same inflammation in my arms. I got a scare once, the fingers and palm of my left hand suddenly got puffy as if I have frost bite. I thought I was having a stroke or an unknown deadly allergic reaction. I took 2 antihistamine tablets, not sure if they helped but the puffiness went away and didn't return. However I now have tingly legs when I sit ... getting up and walking around doesn't seem to make it go away.
I thought I had become hyperglycemic, even diabetic, because I had a blood test done one late afternoon, and the doctor told me the tests showed that my sugar level was a little low. But the same results didn't show up before or after that test. In hindsight, it must've been a hormonal sugar craving. For a while I would have the worse sugar craving around 3:30 to 4:30 PM, coinciding with the end of my work day. I've recently noticed that the craving diminished considerably over past few weeks. So it was just hormones after all! It goes to show that sometimes erratic hormones may seem like a medical condition but it is difficult to tell during perimenopause and menopause.
A friend who is hyperglycemic gave me some tips, but those food rules didn't seem to help in my case. For one, eating protein rich meals throughout the day (especially breakfast and lunch) didn't seem to curb the cravings. My hormones had a life of their own. It was good that it had a schedule so I could be prepared. Foods like peanut butter, cheese and milk worked best to satisfy the craving.
It goes without saying that I've had a lot of free time on my hands lately. It wasn't all wasted away, I had 2 cats with health issues that needed constant care. We've been eating out less since I've been preparing meals at home. I'm doing more gardening. And took up acrylic painting.
But I do feel I should be doing more. I'd like to start a new career. Job interviews have been awkward trying to explain why I've taken so much time off. So I may have to repurpose myself in a different direction.
It's been 7 months since my last period. So it looks like my menopause phase is for real this time. Woohoo! Never thought I'd say this but if the rest of my menopause days are anything like these past 7 months, then I look forward to life. Most of the perimenopause symptoms are gone. I'm left with the hot flashes and occasional cold flashes.
And there’s a bonus. My family doctor thinks I am able to stop the antidepressant medication that I've been taking for the past 12 years. I hope he's right. He reduced my dose and will continue to do so until I'm off completely. That's a huge plus in my book.
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