Within weeks of one another, two previously unflappable women in my life appeared to have lost their respective marbles.
Their stories were remarkably similar: they each felt despair, rage and anxiety in equal turns and with unrelenting intensity until both began to question their sanity. Neither fully trusted what they were feeling, and I saw them struggling with something very real that was, at the same time, not tangible or even identifiable. Either way, the emotions they were experiencing took them by complete surprise.
With a little research, it became clear that my dear friends might be entering perimenopause — the years before menopause where shit starts to go straight-up bonkers. For most of our lives, whopping signals accompany hormonal changes, such as the outpouring of blood from our vaginas or the appearance of a human child in our womb. But when it comes to “the change” and the years preceding it, our body’s signals can be erratic, dynamic and difficult to identify, thanks in no small part to the silence and skepticism of the medical community.
Women in their 30s who enter perimenopause might develop classic physical symptoms like hot flashes, irregular periods, fatigue or trouble sleeping. Perimenopause can also come with bizarre body stuff like itchy skin and tingling digits. The other symptoms, which are discussed far less among women, can be devastating. Ladies with no history of mental afflictions might develop depression, severe anxiety, and general feelings of dread.
And for those of us who have already struggled with depression and anxiety — get ready for that shit to enter a new stratosphere.
In fact, many women differentiate perimenopause from other hormonal fluctuations because of its severity; it made them feel much different than they ever had before. Sure, we’ve all felt the nasty power of PMS — but do you feel like your PMS has become so uncontrollable that you’re unable to manage it? Of course we all sweat, but do you produce oceans worth of water and wake up in a soppy panic?
It’s incredibly important that women in their 30s assess and evaluate changes in their behavior and body functions. In fact, every woman should begin to chart her sense of general wellbeing, tracking days of uncharacteristic emotional movement or unprecedented health occurrences and noting when they move closer together or increase in force. The years preceding menopause can also coincide with major life events (having children, becoming a boss, etc.) so it’s important to be able to differentiate between external life and internal body changes, and the best way to do this is through practice.
Women with positive support systems might enlist their friends, spouses, coworkers and family members who can lovingly let you know if they’ve noticed changes in you. (If you are surrounded by assholes who will denigrate your experiences, then you do you, boo. You don’t need them nosing around anyway.)
Here’s the good news about perimenopause:
If you know it’s happening to you, there are ways to alleviate its effects. Unfortunately, we all know how, but we’re kind of bad at one or more of the prescribed measures: stop smoking and drinking; start working out and eating better. There are also a variety of natural hormone replacements that can be helpful if you believe in that sort of thing (or are susceptible to placebo effects) and doctor-prescribed hormone treatments that can help even that keel.
Unfortunately, a trip to the doctor might not be an easy fix. Like the clitoris or the proliferation of bobby pins, a lady’s hormonal evolution tends to be regarded as a mystical feminine phenomenon or a silly quirk that might or might not be real. The medical community as a whole seems to regularly blow it when encountering a woman who is experiencing legitimate, physical changes in her body that cause her to morph into a person she barely recognizes. Instead, they might tell her she’s too young for this sort of thing, discounting the fact that perimenopause can arrive years in advance of menopause.
Because of these whiffs in care, women will need to do what we’ve always done: Demand action and help one another. We must all take the perimenopause pledge.
I, (insert name), having lived in this mortal frame for 30+ years, am the best judge of what’s happening to it. Therefore, I pledge to take notice when bodily fuckery arises and catches me off-guard, and to talk to a medical professional who is not a turd about it. I promise to believe myself when I feel something is off, and lean on my loved ones when I feel like I’m on the verge of insanity. I will spread the word far and near about this condition so that no woman goes through this in the dark. As a woman who wants to help other women, I swear to look out for them and for myself with tenacity and care.
Perimenopause is coming, but together we can kick its hormonal ass.