Perimenopausal me? Finding my tribe.

Suzanne is a bright spark so she was surprised to find that it dawned on her quite slowly that she was perimenopausal. Her situation wasn't helped by the fact that menopause is under discussed and that she was in her early 40s when symptoms began to ambush her. She has kindly shared her story.

'because I was ill informed... it has been damned scary'

'because I was ill informed... it has been damned scary'

The conspicuously large fan I purchased for my desk should surely have been an indication that something was afoot (that said my American male colleague had taken to similar measures) but no it took a further two full years for the truth to finally dawn.

I have an oft commented on capacity to retain an incredible amount of, sometimes useless, information but until relatively recently I knew little, or to be more precise, next to nothing about the menopause. Sure I knew it's when your period stops but that was the sum total of my knowledge on the subject. Never did I imagine how complex a process ye ol` menopause can be. I thought it would be a hard stop, here one month gone the next (would that it was as easy as that). In actual fact as I now know that just isn't the case. I find myself with an anywhere between two and ten year transition to look forward to!!

In early 2013 my once regular as clockwork periods stopped for two months in a row and knowing that I wasn't with child, I headed to the library to research matters. Other things I began to notice during this period (or rather lack thereof) was how dry my skin would become on exiting the shower, (I thought the water hardness in our area had changed), my internal heating mechanism was out of kilter ("Is it me or is it hot in here?" was a common refrain), at night my gums began to bleed, I found myself grappling for my words (a side effect I found particularly unsettling) and more recently lots and lots of dizzy spells - a veritable heady mix. Blood tests ensued and my Follicle-Stimulating Hormone (FSH) levels confirmed what I had, in the wake of some considerable research, come to understand, I was perimenopausal or "pre" as my doctor referred to it. 

It is generally accepted that there are in the region of 34 perimenopausal symptoms a woman could conceivably experience during this time. Not 3 or 4 but rather 34 – who knew? Hot flashes, fatigue, hair loss, weight gain, irregular heartbeat, breast pain and gum problems are but a few of the changes that may accompany ones move into the second stage of the menopause. Why is this? Well the most succinct explanation I could find was simply that “Ovarian shutdown doesn’t happen overnight”. The body takes time to acclimatize to the hormonal changes and these changes can be accompanied by some or all (and then some) of the above referenced delights.

Any thoughts of monthly savings on personal feminine things (PFTs as they are termed in our house) are very much a thing of the past. Far from retiring the tampons said accoutrements are more essential than ever. Now I wouldn't dream of leaving the house without my trusted perimenopausal kit: a selection of tampons of varying sizes in an array of colours, PFTs, cleansing wipes, tissues, and paracetamol - on my perimenopausal journey “one never knows the day or the hour”. Never a huge proponent of white jeans, any imaginings I harboured of joining the Liz Hurley or Elle Macphearson brigade in this respect, are well and truly on hold for the foreseeable future, as unpredictable spotting or heaven forbid the horrendous flooding have put pay to that.

So I am in transition. I certainly don't see myself as "losing" anything, “youth is wasted on the young” and fertility was never important to me as I never wanted and thus do not have children. No empty nest syndrome here. I don't see myself in "crisis" midlife or otherwise. Yes I am re-evaluating and on occasion contemplating life and the universe, but having done such exercises regularly over the years there is no real change there. But be assured it is not called "the change" for nothing.

The wonder that is (me) my body is changing, physically, psychologically, emotionally and because I was ill informed and not at all prepared it has been damned scary. It is not an openly or regularly discussed topic and yet at any given time there must be thousands of women in our midst experiencing sometimes unsettling, unpleasant, uninvited, unwanted changes but support services - in whatever guise – or indeed information for those of us transitioning, are hard to come by.

I am actively managing matters, looking after myself body and soul, working with and pushing through the process. I check the website on a regular basis and indeed attended and much enjoyed the April event in the Merrion Hotel. As I sat quietly at the back furiously fanning myself (there’s that internal heating mechanism again) I was happy in the knowledge that at least in this particular environ I didn’t have to explain myself. It certainly appears that for this phase of lifes cycle that I have found my tribe.

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