In the days leading up to your period, do you experience splitting headaches, hot flashes, night sweats, moodiness, or general un-wellness? Do you have an erratic menstrual cycle? Are you hovering around 40 years of age and wondering, what in the world is going on?
Yeah, me too. I thought menopause happened in our mid to late 50’s. How could I be 41 and already going through it? Confused and concerned, I decided to do some research, and I learned a new word: Perimenopause. Oh. What?
I grew up with a mother who held very little back with regard to women’s issues, so to be faced with a word I had no reference for worried me. Why hadn’t someone told me about this, and why was I experiencing it already? All I thought I knew about “the change” was seeing my grandma sweating profusely in her kitchen and cursing her hot flashes, estrogen supplements (Am I not going to feel like a woman when this is all done?), and vaginal dryness (um, no thank you). But, menopause, I found out, is life AFTER the hot flashes, etc.
What is Perimenopause?
Perimenopause is the season before it, which encompasses all of the uncomfortable symptoms listed above. Usually, it begins closer to age 50, but it is not uncommon for women in their late 30’s and early 40’s to develop symptoms, as well. I guess that means me. Perimenopause lasts a couple of years and, from what I’ve read, can be pretty miserable for not only you but also your loved ones, as your hormones take you to places emotionally that you’ve never been before.
I started to realize something was up several months ago, when I would awaken in the middle of the night, drenched in sweat, in the days prior to menstruation. It took me a couple of months to connect the two, but by then, I was also experiencing blinding headaches around the same time. I have never been one to suffer regularly from headaches, so I was unaccustomed to the monthly occurrence of this throbbing, unyielding, and sometimes debilitating pain that persisted for a couple of days at a time.
It also seemed like every time my period was coming, I felt a general malaise: weak, immune-compromised, tired, sometimes achy. I kept thinking I was getting sick . . .and then I would get my period.
More recently, my cycle has become slightly unpredictable. As a young person, I had the most erratic menstrual cycles; I never knew when my period would come: four weeks, six weeks, three weeks. It varied every time, accompanied by unbearably painful cramping that would often send me home to bed with four ibuprofen to cry and sleep it off.
Having children cured me of all of that. For the past twelve years, apart from pregnancy and nursing, I have been like clockwork, with little to no cramping, until now. It began to click that I actually had to take ibuprofen again a couple of times for cramps (just one or two, not four- yet). And, my cycle is starting to run a little long, which means those perimenopausal symptoms are drawing out longer, too.
Then, this past month, I started having hot flashes. It’s cold here in the winter, and I wear my slippers and a scarf all day long to keep warm, but all of a sudden, I would get so hot, I’d have to un-layer, removing my scarf and finding a cool source of air. I can’t say they are full-fledged hot flashes yet, but from what I understand, perimenopause is a progressive “condition”: the symptoms will intensify as they reach their climax, at the end of which is menopause. Hurray.
Menopause is achieved when we have not menstruated for twelve consecutive months. Congratulations. I asked my mom about her experience, and she said she felt relieved at the end. I won’t tell you how she describes herself now, at 65; it’s too soon for that.
What I will tell you, in my next post, are more of the common symptoms of perimenopause and how we can get through it with grace and dignity, managing the ignominy and discomfort of its symptoms with some helpful resources.
Are you going through perimenopause? How do you feel about it?