There’s a life stage in womanhood we’re not supposed to talk about. Today, we’re talking about it. Menopause. And perimenopause. There! I said it!
It’s a taboo topic that is often misunderstood.
Menopause is 12 months without a period. Once you reach 366 days without a cycle, you are now considered to be in menopause. The years leading up to this are referred to as perimenopause. The onset for many women is in their early to mid-40s, but for some, it can be as early as their 30s.
I think of this stage as puberty in reverse. Like puberty, hormones fluctuate, and this fluctuation can cause a slew of uncomfortable symptoms that affect women differently. Estrogen levels are all over the board, up and down. The body’s reaction to this instability can be downright miserable and even debilitating at times.
It’s easy to lump these terms into one category and refer to it as being menopausal. I’m technically in the perimenopause phase, but I refer to it simply as “my darn menopause.” Whatever you decide to call it is okay, but please, don’t feel you must hide it. I’m here to tell you it’s acceptable to talk about. There should be no shame involved at all! As a society, we’ve been encouraged to talk about other health issues and disorders, and this too is allowed. Admittedly, I was embarrassed to name it. But keeping it a secret didn’t make my symptoms any less real.
Some more commonly known symptoms are changes in mood, irregular periods, sleepiness and fatigue, hot flashes and night sweats, vaginal dryness, and decreased libido. This is not by any means an exhaustive list. Some women experience frequent headaches, tender breasts, hair loss, acne, skin irritation or discoloration, brain zaps, tingling sensations, and even changes in appetite. And unfortunately, the list of symptoms goes on.
In an attempt to help normalize this life stage in womanhood (which is totally normal by the way), I want to unashamedly share my story. I was embarrassed for a long time and felt I had to keep this a secret for years.
Like many, living in the pandemic world took its toll on my health, mentally and physically. So I attributed my symptoms to my current stage in life as an overly busy parent living in these crazy times. I was exhausted, having two tweenage boys, and working and “momming” full-time. I had zero desire to indulge in my own personal hobbies. And I was not particularly eager to spend extra minutes of my day sleeping. When I did have a spare hour, I wanted it to myself. I sacrificed sleep to have “me time” even if it was just to read, watch an episode of 90-Day Fiancé, or scroll through my Facebook feed for a few minutes.
At times, I was so tired that I felt physically ill.
When my head hit the pillow at night, I was asleep in a matter of seconds. Then I would wake up a few hours later soaked in sweat. But beyond being tired, I had the most wicked brain fog. Ironically, I didn’t even recognize it as such; I just thought it was a normal side-effect of perpetual multitasking and being on the constant go. I had too much on my mind 24-7, so I started writing every thought down immediately before it would fleet away from my brain in a millisecond. Routine was critical because a regular task would instantly slip my mind. I took exhaustive notes during every work meeting with every possible follow-up task or takeaway even if it required immediate action. My memory had disappeared.
And my hair! It wasn’t just thinning; it was falling out. My face broke out worse than a teenager in puberty with pimples all along my chin and jawline. My arms and legs were itching constantly. At one point, I had an itchy rash all over my stomach that lasted for months. I thought I had shingles or some allergic reaction.
I had a very poor appetite but couldn’t shed even a few pounds for my life. My boobs felt swollen and sore, and my drive for romance was non-existent. Random bouts of depression and anxiety were abundant.
Naturally, I went to my doctor to talk about my symptoms. I felt dismissed. While she confirmed I was at the beginning of perimenopause, I wasn’t eligible for hormone replacement therapy (HRT), which was a common course of treatment for women at this stage.
Because I have a health history of having optical migraines, there is an increased risk for stroke when doing HRT. The doctor offered no alternative solutions. It felt like this was going to be the new normal, and I’d have to learn to deal with it. I felt alone and utterly defeated.
As a self-proclaimed Google-certified doctor, I opened my laptop, did endless research, and joined some Facebook communities. Astonished, I learned I wasn’t alone, and my symptoms weren’t abnormal. They were real, and I wasn’t crazy! I found a telemedicine healthcare provider specializing in helping women in menopause specifically.
Hesitantly, I enrolled in the membership. I didn’t have anything to lose. I had a virtual doctor visit with a board-certified OBGYN, and I finally felt heard. For the first time, I found someone who listened, cared, and offered solutions. And I no longer felt like I was losing my mind. All my miserable symptoms were normal.
I am now four months out since this first visit, and while not free of all symptoms completely, I feel significantly better.
I have a group of women with whom I can share my experiences and comfort one another. We share suggestions and tips and tricks that have helped us. Who knew that baby oil gel would clear up that awful stomach rash? I’ve also opened up to my fiancé who listens to me and tries to understand how I’m feeling, and at times, maybe even is a little empathetic.
Please do not interpret this as medical advice.
I am not a doctor or licensed health professional. I’m solely speaking from my personal experience. If you are experiencing what could possibly be perimenopause or menopause symptoms, don’t suffer silently. Consider making an appointment with your doctor, in-person or virtually, and talk to other women.
Advocate for your health! We’re allowed to talk about it, and hopefully, we can take the subject off the taboo list of topics. If you’re not feeling like yourself, let your family and friends know what you’re going through. After all, it is a completely normal part of womanhood, and you are not alone!
The opinions expressed in this post are those of the author. They do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of ABQ Mom, its executive team, other contributors to the site, its sponsors or partners, or any organizations the aforementioned might be affiliated with.