In my previous post, I shared my personal experience of entering into perimenopause. Today, I will give you a more objective, comprehensive list of symptoms and side effects, along with some great resources to help you navigate through “the change.”
There are several signs which point to the onset of perimenopause, which was defined in Prevention as “the transition stage in a woman’s reproductive life that begins, on average, 4 to 5 years before menopause. During that time, your ovaries gradually produce less estrogen, causing follicle-stimulating hormones (FSH)—which are responsible for growing and developing eggs—to rise and menstrual cycles to shorten. Eventually, you begin to miss periods. Then estrogen plummets, FSH levels remain high, and ovulation (and finally menstruation) stops. When you’ve gone 12 months without a period, perimenopause ends and menopause officially begins.”
How’s that for technical? Basically, your baby-making system goes through the long process of shutting down . . .for good.
Seven of the more common symptoms of perimenopause include:
1. Irregular periods. At least we had that confusion taken care of after our last child, or I might literally lose my mind (see #3)
2. Hair loss. Or, dry, brittle hair (and not just on your head). Itchy, anyone?
3. Memory loss or inability to concentrate. Really? I just finished a decade of short-term memory loss due to childbearing, and now I get another as a reward for being done? Seriously, though, I do find comfort in this, since my father had Alzheimer’s, and I have been a little worried that I was presenting early signs of it.
4. Hot flashes (and/or night sweats). Gosh, I really wish this meant something sexy, but no such luck.
5. Insomnia. Again, all those sleepless nights, rocking the babies and praying for the day when I could finally get a solid eight hours. That didn’t last long.
6. Mood swings. Wait, I thought that was just part of being a woman. Oh, make that raging mood swings. Well, alrighty then.
7. Vaginal dryness. I think we’ll just leave it at that for now.
This short article provides a more comprehensive list including 35 symptoms. I was especially relieved to find “Electric shock sensation under the skin and in the head” on the list. I have had no shortage of paranoia over this strange sensation that has plagued me intermittently over the past six months: Brain cancer? Aneurysm? Stroke? Oh, no, just perimenopause.
According to the North American Menopause Society (NAMS), this stage of life can last anywhere from 4-8 years. Lord, help me. On a particularly interesting site, The Perimenopause Blog- Yes, It’s Real, and No, You’re Not Going Crazy, author Magnolia explains the emotional, hormonal hell that she endured: “When I was in the midst of the worst of my perimenopause symptoms, I was convinced that I was going crazy. Yes, I had hot flashes, night sweats, irregular periods and those gawdawful mood-swings. But without question, the most compelling emotion I experienced during that time was the feeling that I was finally going nuts.”
I have had my share of PMS moments over the years, and I think one key to overcoming the hormonal effects of PMS or perimenopause is awareness. We need to proactively keep track of our cycles. I know it can be challenging because our cycles are erratic during this time, but there are cursors for each phase. For instance, I know when I am ovulating because of the change in my discharge (thanks, Natural Family Planning), the sporadic pain I feel when the egg is released, and the change in my libido. During ovulation, I have more sensual dreams and a more active interest in sexual relations (with my husband, of course). Honestly, this has been the best part of hitting my late 30’s/early 40’s, but that is a conversation for another time (or not).
All to say, if I am keeping track of where I am in my cycle, I can at least be prepared for the monthly attack of anxiety and irrational thinking, etc. that accompanies PMS or perimenopause. Unfortunately, I can’t harness the wild swinging of my hormonal pendulum, but I can pray for the Lord to help me through it, and I can alert my family, so that they are not caught unaware by my sudden outbursts of anger or emotional upheavals.
There are several resources available to help women through this time. As I researched, I saw the list was far too extensive to do justice here. However, I do recommend Magnolia’s site, as she offers both natural and supplemental methods of relief. Also, NAMS is a great resource for information.
Personally, I don’t think I’m ready for hormone replacement therapy, or the like. I think that, for now, avoiding foods that trigger hot flashes, exercising (especially Pilates, yoga, walking, etc.) and adopting bedtime rituals that help me to relax and fall asleep easier (drinking chamomile tea, listening to restful music, praying or reading a devotional or my Bible, avoiding technology, etc.) are all natural ways I can begin my journey into perimenopause.
A dear friend commented on my first perimenopause post, and I want to share her words of wisdom with you here before I go:
I went through “the change” later in life…hitting menopause at 58. I can relate to some of the symptoms and thankfully not all. I think the main thing that got me through the discomfort, malaise, and bloat I would experience in my perimeno years was remembering that God had showed me to pray for His help to “age gracefully” in Him. That kept me more-than-steady oftentimes, and reminded me to pray again, seeking Him for how to manage those many trying moments. Now that I am on this side of menopause, it has its benefits and downsides, as does all of life’s seasons. Thanks for writing the article and putting this “out there”…talking about it helps a lot. Isolation and feeling like “what’s wrong with me…am I the only one going through this” is lonely and unproductive.
Another piece of advice I read repeatedly is to remember that it’s not you; it’s your biology. When you feel out of control or crazy, when you are in a haze of rage or confusion, when you are sweating profusely in 30 degree weather, remember, you (the real essence of you) are still okay. These things will pass, and you will remain. Ask the Lord for help. Ask your husband for understanding (it’s not him, either). Love on your kids and ask forgiveness when the waves crash over you . . .and them. You will get through this, one month at a time:)
And, finally (I know, this post got a little long), keep your sense of humor. It’s only by being able to laugh at life’s trials that we don’t completely succumb to them. Don’t be afraid to loosen up and keep it real with your girlfriends. Like my friend said, keeping all of our struggles to ourselves is “lonely and unproductive.”
Let’s keep the discussion going. What are your greatest concerns, fears, hopes (or a bit of humor) as you enter or consider perimenopause? I will be happy to do one more, follow-up post addressing specific questions.
(Featured Image credit: http://www.chicagonow.com/riding-the-waves/2013/04/perimenopause/)