Packing for perimenopause: fasten your seatbelts, girls. We are going on a trip!
Note: I did not say “vacation”? Although wouldn’t it be nice if we could somehow re-frame the mid-life conversation so we could celebrate all the positives, rather than just focusing on the negatives? Hmmm…perhaps I will give that some thought for my next post.)
First, allow me to describe for you—our destinations:
You will be here exactly one day. Menopause is but one day on the calendar that marks exactly 12 months after your (very) last period. If you don’t have a period for six months, and then you get one—that’s not menopause; it’s peri-menopause. Since it’s only marked by a single day—you’re never really “in” menopause or “going through” menopause. The average age of arriving at destination menopause is 51.2.
A relatively modern word (coined in the early 1990s), respresenting one of the most natural—yet confusing stages of a woman’s life. Peri-menopause can describe the 5-15 years leading up to menopause. 20% of women sail through symptom-free. 80% experience a span of symptoms ranging from mild bumps in the road to deep and severe potholes. When most people say “going through menopause”, they quite often are describing the peri-menopausal stage of their journey. Peri-menopause is not well understood by many doctors—let alone women and their partners & families.
When I was around 37, my girlfriend came to visit me for the weekend, and she brought me a gift—a book titled: The Hormone Survival Guide for Perimenopause. This was the same girlfriend who I complained relentlessly to about not being able to concentrate, making lengthy to-do lists but immediately forgetting where I put them, and an overwhelming sense of being overwhelmed all the time. Now I’m all for being prepared ahead of time, but considering I was a mom to two toddlers, running my own business, and taking care of my aging mother who was living with us at the time—I was convinced I didn’t have the time or energy to think about—let alone research or prepare for menopause (or peri-menopause)!
Ah-ha! Do you see the connection?
Well, unfortunately, I did not. So, I tossed her thoughtful book in a basket and continued to drive my pedal to the metal, be all things to all people, self-medicate with food and wine, battle depression, wrestle with mood swings, PMS (for the first time in my life!), sport a new case of acne, and gain weight. It was like I had checked out of my once 5-star mind & body, and checked into a low-grade rental unit.
Had I known then what I know now, I would have (I know! Woulda, coulda, shoulda!) stopped and paid attention. (Ah, if only we could all go back and send postcards to our younger selves!)
Not all symptoms are preventable—however, how we eat, move, sleep and supplement can go a long way in easing the discomfort of the peri-menopausal years.
The media and internet is populated with all sorts of sellers of information on managing (peri-)menopause, and hormone replacement therapy controversies. That’s all fine, and good to investigate—and I encourage you to become as informed as you possibly can. Let me guess: you don’t have time today because you’re busy raising kids, running businesses and taking care of aging parents.
I get it. So, if you do happen to fall into the category of the 30- or 40- something traveller, looking for some relatively easy guideposts for managing the “now” and/or preparing for your journey down the road, consider these:
- Low energy? Feeling depleted? Tired but wired? Get regular exercise, optimize your nutrition and practice yoga. Seek advice about adding high-quality supplements, such as Vitamin C, Vitamin B Complex, Vitamin D, Magnesium & Fish Oil/Omega 3s.
- How you respond to stress is important: Consider a saliva test to indicate if you have high or low cortisol.
- Talk about it. You are not crazy if your doctor wants to ignore your symptoms or doesn’t support your interest in preventative measures. Do not accept “you’re too young” or “it’s just part of being female”.
In addition to cracking open the conversation with your healthcare provider(s), make a point to discuss it with your mom, your sisters, your girlfriends, your husband or partner…bringing peri-menopause out of the closet can go along way to helping you become your own best health advocate, and finding the journey that is best for you.