Periods and Perimenopause and Plenty of Pesky Problems

I am tired of this shit. I have had my period since about 6th grade and I am almost 45 years old and that is TOO DAMN LONG.

ON TOP OF EVERYTHING ELSE WE DEAL WITH AS WOMEN WE HAVE TO DEAL WITH THIS BLOODY MENACE EACH MONTH. And now being, ahem, older, it’s a whole new carnival of bodily issues that leave me feeling betrayed and confused and angry and questioning everything about my body and my serenity and my sanity.

So now, there is this thing called perimenopause and OH MY GOD why do I have to learn about this. Don’t women have enough to deal with?

“The average length of perimenopause is 4 years, but for some women this stage may last only a few months or continue for 10 years.” OH GOOD.  I thought maybe we would get some kind of peaceful transition, but glad to know it can take up to a decade for this to all go down in the down there.

From this same article in WebMD (the source of all my worry and strife about every single little thing), the symptoms include (with my responses in blue of course):

  • Hot flashes (IS IT HOT IN HERE OR IS IT JUST ME?)
  • Breast tenderness (get away from me)
  • Worse premenstrual syndrome (HAHAHAHAHAH)
  • Lower sex drive (ahem. yeah, let’s not even go here because I’m tired)
  • Fatigue (about 3pm each afternoon, I shut down. Not even my 3pm coffee helps much anymore, I just need a nap but who am I kidding, I can’t nap)
  • Irregular periods (twice a month, anyone?)
  • Vaginal dryness; discomfort during sex (I had twins five years ago and haven’t had *comfortable* sex since)
  • Urine leakage when coughing or sneezing (hi. yes, I need to change my unders quite often thank you, luckily a lot of it is from laughing hard)
  • Urinary urgency (an urgent need to urinate more frequently) (WHY IS THE LADIES ROOM SO FAR AWAY)
  • Mood swings (HAHAHAHAHAHHAAHHAHAHAHAHAH LOL SOB — Depression and anxiety in extra high gear over here)
  • Trouble sleeping (always tired, yet cannot sleep. falls asleep at 9pm, bounces away at 2am, then again at 4am and that’s it. Every single night)

So basically, I’ve been suffering from perimenopause for roughly my entire adult life. But this feels very different – much more extreme –  lately.

If you google it, there are so many articles and “funny” jokes about it. It makes women seem angry and unstable and blames men (because they had anything to do with this?) but it’s not that. It’s just something that happens and we all need to hold on to each other to walk through it if we want to make it to the other side.

This is a real thing we are going through.

So many of my friends are experiencing the same thing. Kirsten started a facebook group about it, so we can all talk about what’s happening to us in a safe space because seriously WHAT THE HELL IS GOING ON. We don’t talk about it often, because we feel like we are the only ones going through it, or think people will fear us being mentally ill.  And, hey, I am no stranger to mental illness.  No shade, no shame. I have mental illness in the ways of anxiety and depression and even alcoholism. I’ve suffered pregnancy depression and postpartum depression. I’m currently suffering WHAT THE HELL IS GOING ON IN OUR COUNTRY depression. That’s a real thing.

It’s no longer once a month, it cycles through all the gd time and it’s like a reminder that our bodies aren’t really our own, that we are really at the mercy of nature and the tides and the moon and our behavior often is the result of that. Our weight fluctuates, our bodies hurt, things come out of us that don’t look like they should be coming out of us (WHAT THE HELL IS THAT), we eat all the things, we are cramped and in pain and that is just the physical part.

I cannot remember anything. Like, between killing so many brain cells from drinking (blackouts are real), and now this, my husband seriously gets mad at me for not remembering things. Like, how are you going to get mad at me for something that isn’t my fault. I don’t do it on purpose!

My head hurts. Like, migraines more often than in the past. It’s brutal. Knocks me out for 24 hours at a time.

The emotional/mental toll that periods take on women can be life altering for any given amount of time.  I have very very important news to pay attention to on Instagram because did you see those twin kitties who both only have one good eye? I have to keep abreast of their day to day activities in their perfectly lovely new to them home. And cry. I have to cry. Because the only thing better than crying all the time because of kids and life and horrors is crying for absolutely no reason when you are now perimenopausal or just because you only have like a week a month now to feel good and that seems to be dwindling quickly. The emotional roller coaster is more intense than it used to be because your life has more at stake, the world is a dumpster fire and oh my god you love so so much and want so so much more from everybody. EVERYBODY DO BETTER GOD DAMMIT.

My tweets lately betray my youthful rosy glow:

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I’m not that pleasant at all times it would seem, lately. Periods and perimenopause and plenty of pesky problems.

I went in for my yearly checkup a few weeks ago.  I had my mammogram a couple weeks before that. All is well.

As I wandered into the familiar space that housed and cared for my infertility and IVF and twin pregnancy and then delivery, I remember each and every moment like it was yesterday. The way the elevator announces each floor, the smell of the 18th floor, the lights flickering in the far right corner with the fake, dusty tree.  The views are spectacular at Northwestern Hospital downtown Chicago overlooking the city and Lake Michigan. The waiting room is another story. I often write about my waiting room experiences as I rather look forward to them.

When you are sitting in the room waiting for your doctor  – who’s seen you through alcoholism, depression, anxiety, infertility, IVF, twin pregnancy, motherhood, many mammograms and pap smears and just general aging and wisdom swapping sessions and changing bodies – and she walks in with a headscarf on her gorgeous head and immediately hugs you and starts crying because she sees your tears and says “I’m going through chemotherapy for breast cancer but I’m not going anywhere now show me pictures of those beautiful babies of yours” you just hold on tight because she is so much more than your doctor.

She snaps you into gratitude and perspective.

She asks with her hopeful smile, “Are you still not drinking?”

That’s the question she’s asked me every visit for going on 17 years, and a few years before that she would ask, “are you still drinking so much?” because even though I insisted I only drank a little, she seemed to know better. I resented her for that.

My big stupid hopeful grin answers, “Nope, going on 17 years.”

Even more gratitude comes flowing through.

“Good for you. How’s it going?”

“Well, there are all kinds of new fun things going on in this body lately.”

She laughs and shakes her head and says, “Oh I get it.”

We talk about perimenopause. We talk about the headaches and the fatigue and the general moodiness and unease surrounding every day life now. We talk of things to do to ease these symptoms and how to go through it without actually hurting someone else or ourselves.

We both have tears in our eyes at this point because there is so much history, so much tender care between us.

Every message, every word she’s spoken to me has been one of respect, candor, best interests, caring, but not too too much. She’s watched my weight fluctuate year to year, never ever putting anything on me that feels like I’ve done something wrong. This last time I said, “I’ve gained wrinkles and weight since November 2016, I’m not sure why…” and she nodded in her knowing way and we went on to speak of panic attacks and migraines with her saying she’s had similar responses and she’s heard this far too often since the last election.

So why do we put up with so much pain? Why do women allow themselves to take on so much that we are literally drowning in people asking us for things. Asking for help. Asking for guidance. Asking for answers. Why can’t I just say, “I’m having a bad day and my body is betraying me”.

When you have a scarf on your head when you enter a room, people see immediately that there is something going on and nobody ever questions it as weakness or being less than. We can use our words and our connections with each other to just say, “I’m in pain. I’m not feeling myself, or maybe I am, I don’t know. I’m scared.”

She ended our visit by saying, “I’m going to give you a hug now, Katy. But I’m not going anywhere. Next time you see me I’ll have hair.”

I ended it trying not to match the tears in her eyes, but saying, “I’m giving you all I have and just, thank you for all you have done for me. I am choosing hope for you. (thanks dear Sheila)”

“I’m choosing hope too. Now seriously, let’s see those pictures of your babies.”

A few weeks ago a woman at work said, “We take care of people all day and then go home and take care of people.” Ain’t that the truth. What would it feel like to be taken care of instead of doing the constant caring of? I don’t know. I have NO EARTHLY IDEA. But I’m getting better at asking for what I need. I find if I just do that, chances are, I get some of it. I am by nature a caretaker, but I don’t have to be 100% of the time. It’s work. But a lot of the time, I enjoy it, so that’s an internal struggle to find that balance.

Feelings aren’t facts. Sometimes they’re just lies. Sometimes they just stretch the truth. Facts matter. Just because I have a feeling doesn’t mean I have to act on it. Just because I am feeling really shitty doesn’t mean I will forever feel this way. Just because I wake up in a panic once in a while doesn’t mean I’m going to be in this panic for the rest of my life. I have this thing where I think that just because something is this way now, that it will never change. Even though we are constantly changing and circumstances change, even though I am proven wrong by things repeatedly changing, I still have that gut reaction.

I can be depressed and anxious and sad and grateful and joyful almost all at once. It’s true! Feeling all the feelings is exhausting. But I’m still thankful for the opportunity.

Here are some lifestyle and home remedies I’m starting to employ (I’m failing at them so far, but I’m going to keep trying):

Lifestyle and home remedies

Making these healthy lifestyle choices may help ease some symptoms of perimenopause and promote good health as you age:

  • Ease vaginal discomfort. Use over-the-counter, water-based vaginal lubricants (Astroglide, K-Y jelly, others) or moisturizers (Replens, Vagisil, others). Choose products that don’t contain glycerin, which can cause burning or irritation in women who are sensitive to that chemical. Staying sexually active also helps by increasing blood flow to the vagina.
  • Eat healthy. Because your risk of osteoporosis and heart disease increases at this time, a healthy diet is more important than ever. Adopt a low-fat, high-fiber diet that’s rich in fruits, vegetables and whole grains. Add calcium-rich foods. Ask your doctor if you should also take a calcium supplement and if so, what type and how much — also ask if you need more vitamin D, which helps your body absorb calcium. Avoid alcohol and caffeine if they seem to trigger hot flashes.
  • Be active. Regular exercise and physical activity helps prevent weight gain, improves your sleep and elevates your mood. Try to exercise for 30 minutes or more on most days of the week, although not right before bedtime. Regular exercise has been shown to reduce hip fracture risk in older women and to strengthen bone density.
  • Get enough sleep. Try to keep a consistent sleep schedule. Avoid caffeine, which can make it hard to get to sleep, and avoid drinking too much alcohol, which can interrupt sleep.
  • Practice stress reduction techniques. Practiced regularly, stress-reduction techniques, such as meditation or yoga, can promote relaxation and good health throughout your lifetime, but they may be particularly helpful during the menopausal transition.

vv

We were at the botanic garden last week and my girl saw this and said “THAT LOOKS LIKE A VAGINA” and I agreed. Then we noticed it had a tiny little heart in the middle. We agreed that vaginas should all have a little heart in the middle because we love them so much. It’s good to have a vagina. This went on for far too long and then started making some of the others at the garden a big uncomfortable so I shouted, HEY LOOK AT THAT DUCK COUPLE IN THE WATER and then they wanted to talk about duck vaginas and penises and well, with five-year-olds it’s never ending loveliness like this all the time.

I’m determined to not let this rule my life. I want to do what I can to make it better, tolerable, enjoyable even. I feel like I am getting to know this new version of myself who is stronger and more confident in myself than I’ve ever been and the fact that my physical body is preparing me to get to the next level, well, aren’t I lucky to even be here for all this. Yes, even this.

People at a work party recently said on more than one occasion, you are always so cheerful and make me smile when I see you. Well, who the hell is making me smile? It comes from within. What the hell else am I gonna do? I fake it til I make it when I have to. I’ve come this far, I’m not going to throw it all away now. It’s all a facade so that I don’t crack and let it all out at any given moment. It’s coming out, just not right then. Later. Later. Get the heating pad ready, mama is coming home. And what a luxury it is to have a home to go home to.

As always, we are not alone.

Related:

I never wanted kids

Two women, two connections

Smack in the middle of the fuck-it-forties

Hormones made me NUTS when I was trying to get pregnant with IVF (scroll down on that page to see several posts about the madness)

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