Why Didn't Anyone Tell Me About How Hard Perimenopause Is?
I think if you asked most vegetarians and vegans, they’d testify that many health concerns are either avoided or significantly minimized by the very fact of being plant-based. I would testify to that.
But then I hit a certain age, and a certain stage called menopause. Or to be more precise, perimenopause, which I am still technically in.
What is perimenopause?
If you’re like I had been, you might think menopause is a single event. In a way that’s true. The textbook definition of “menopause” is indeed one point in time—the day you hit one year with no periods. After that date, you are considered post-menopausal.
But there can also be this period of time before you hit that magical one-year mark that is called perimenopause, and perimenopause is even less discussed, understood, and therefore expected, than menopause.
The key attribute of perimenopause is that your hormone levels become more erratic—and it’s not like they steadily and consistently decline or increase. That’s what makes the perimenopausal period so hard to spot, treat, and deal with.
What happens during menopause?
Before this was such a big topic for me, I didn’t think about menopause that much at all—because no one really talks about it. I just imagined my period would slowly fade away month by month, getting shorter and lighter until it gracefully exited altogether—after which I’d start “Life After Menopause.”
Sure, I’d heard about hot flashes, but honestly wasn’t sure what they would be like. I imagined I’d carry around a mini-fan I could plug into my iPhone’s connector and cool off, all while having my hair impeccably waft in the breeze like I was in a music video. (And then I would don white pants and dance on the beach or something.)
My lived experience, however, has been nothing like that. It has been more of a never-ending journey. My period became more erratic, yes; but rather than coming less and less often, why was it instead heavier, longer, more frequent (so much so that I began to call them TsunamiPeriods™️)? On certain days, I didn’t feel I could even reliably leave my house without risking some teenage, tie-your-shirt-around-your-waist disaster. No thanks.
What was happening to me? Why was I sooo damn fatigued that by about 3pm, getting off the couch seemed like a Herculean effort? (Hint: It was connected to those TsunamiPeriods™️.)
Why was I turning 52, then 53, 54, 55, 56, even 57, dammit—yet this was still happening?
And most of all: Why had no one warned me?
I certainly didn’t know this perimenopause stuff could last years (more than six years, in my case). I didn’t know it could have literally dozens of potential symptoms and effects.
Here’s the starting list of potential symptoms from Johns Hopkins:
- Mood changes
- Changes in sexual desire
- Trouble concentrating
- Night sweats
- Hot flashes
- Vaginal dryness
- Trouble with sleep
- Joint and muscle aches
- Heavy sweating
- Having to pee often
- PMS-like symptoms
I experienced a variety of perimenopausal symptoms, but I’m shocked that the above list doesn’t mention the most disruptive of them (and of many other women): My erratic, eternal, exsanguinating TsunamiPeriods™️. Nor does this list mention the connection between those heavy periods and my intense fatigue.
Once I connected the dots (without that much help or interest from my doctors), I started to explore medical options, mega-dosing supplements to shore up the deficiencies I was experiencing, and perhaps most importantly, I started saying this stuff out loud.
When I did start speaking about it, why did nearly every person with a uterus I talked to who was 40+ have a lightbulb, “Do you mean to tell me it’s not just me?!” moment as we spoke?
To be fair, there is such a cocktail of potential symptoms of peri-menopause that no two women have the same experience. But let’s also acknowledge that women’s bodies and our health have always been regarded as something not talked about publicly and openly.
I do see changes, and it’s about time. For example, when it comes to puberty and your first period, you can now read books and learn from online resources and order special products to celebrate that moment when a girl gets her first period. I think we’re ready to have an equal plethora of resources and storytelling and products designed for those battle-scarred years when someone is trying to make it through to her very last period.
I’m ready to talk about it. I don’t want any more women to be taken by surprise, like I was. And I don’t want them to wait to start figuring out what might make them feel better.
I feel like I am near the finish line; in mid-June, I’ll finally be able to say ,“That’s it, I’ve hit menopause.”
And I’d like to help the next generation of women be a little better prepared to live through this rite of passage. Who’s with me?
Elisa Camahort Page is a speaker, consultant, and entrepreneur, best-known for co-founding BlogHer. She’s the host of The Op-Ed Page podcast and co-author of Road Map for Revolutionaries: Resistance, Activism, and Advocacy for All. Learn more at elisacp.com.