Perimenopause Is Just Mean
I have been in perimenopause for what feels like one hundred years.
Now, because I have done ridiculous amounts of Googling and reading about perimenopause, I know the average length of time women spend in it is about four years (although it can last for up to ten years).
Trust me: four years of perimenopause feels like one hundred.
As with most “female complaints,” perimenopause is not often talked about, acknowledged, or approached with any scientific rigor whatsoever. Until recent years it was not even discussed as a stage or distinct period of its own at all: all that was discussed was menopause, or the period in a woman’s life when she has stopped menstruating for a period longer than a year.
Many older women would tell you that, for most of recent memory, menopause doesn’t get talked about much either. Evidently nobody likes to look at (or think about) women when they are past the age of forty, much less when they older than fifty-one (which is the average age of the onset of menopause in the United States). Consider the scene from That 70s Show when Red and Eric Foreman are reduced to looking up what “menopause” is in the World Book.
So what is perimenopause and why does it suck balls?
Well, according to the Mayo Clinic, here is your definition of the word: “Perimenopause means ‘around menopause’ and refers to the time during which your body makes the natural transition to menopause.” (Menopause is further defined as having “gone through 12 consecutive months without a menstrual period.”)
In no way do those dry, clinical descriptions adequately describe the shitstorm that is perimenopause. It basically fucks with every aspect of your being. You know, like how your period does, only worse, because you’re older and you’ve had enough of this bullshit now.
- Irregular periods
- Hot flashes
- Night sweats
- Mood swings
- Sleep changes
- Vaginal dryness
- Weight gain
- Joint pain
- Lowered libido
- Decreasing fertility
- Loss of bone density
- Uterine bleeding problems
If anyone says it’s easy being a woman, they’re a man. Or at least a woman who hasn’t hit perimenopause yet.
I would be so, so happy if my perimenopausal symptoms were confined to the ones listed above. But I also have a lot of symptoms that don’t show up on your typical lists.
Here’s what I’ve been experiencing. The faint of heart or stomach may not want to stick around.
I never had vertigo before my very early 40s. Now I experience it regularly and I hate it. I live in fear of the slightly spinny sensation I get before a full-blown episode. When I do develop a full-blown case, I have to take some meclizine and just pass out. Having 24–48 hours in a row during which I can just sleep off my vertigo is not really a luxury I get, what with the kids and the work and the cooking and, you know, the everything.
Vertigo does not show up in a lot of basic perimenopause articles. But it does if you go looking for it.
I used to hear from other women about breast tenderness at different points in their cycle, but it wasn’t really something I experienced. (I know: lucky.) Now, though? For a few days before my period arrives, you can’t touch any part of me without setting off pain waves in my breasts. Forget about hugs. And if you bump into me anywhere above my legs? I WILL END YOU.
This is another symptom that isn’t often listed on “official” lists but shows up in a lot of anecdotal articles.
Nonstop Period Hijinks (and Nonstop Periods)
In reading about perimenopause, I have learned that most women experience periods that no longer arrive when you think they’re going to. For some women, they get more time between periods (and all of this can depend on what stage of perimenopause you are in); for others, their periods get closer together.
I’m firmly in that second camp, and it SUCKS. I’ve always had a shortish cycle (24–27 days), but now I have started to get my period every 21 days. What’s worse, my periods are longer and messier and weirder than they have ever been.
And this is, hands down, the weirdest part of my perimenopause “journey”: Before my period officially arrives, the way periods do, I have several days of just feeling crummy. Bloated, very light spotting, light cramping, digestive weirdness, headaches, inability to sleep, you name it. I live through three or four days of that crap, until I am just a quivering lump of womanhood yelling “JUST START ALREADY!”
I have explained this new way of having my period to several nurses and doctors, and they all say nobody has ever described such a thing to them. So, I ask you, have you ever heard of this? I used to have a day of discomfort before my flow started, or a night of being unable to sleep, but this multiple days nonsense is killing me.
Let’s do the math: Every 21 days I get a period. For 3–4 days before it, I feel like crap. For 7 days during it, I feel like crap. That’s 11 days of period nonsense on, 10 days off. Lather, rinse, repeat. It is wearing me out.
Increased Irritation With My Gynecologist
I’ve never really had a gynecologist that I actually liked. I can work with most of my doctors, but I really don’t like it when they treat me like I’m a moron. I know I don’t have a medical degree. But when it comes to my body? Sometimes, I have the inside track on knowledge of my body, because I’m with it every day.
Here’s a little story to illustrate how I sometimes feel nobody is listening. I get a lot of ovarian cysts, so a while back, my gynecologist put me on hormonal birth control pills (that little experiment ended a year later when I developed a blood clot). I said to her, so, with the pill, will I still bleed or have a period? She said I might have “breakthrough bleeding” once or twice, but that it would stop. I said, I bet I’ll have that every month (because I know that my body wants to have a regular, or early, period more than it wants to do anything else). She said, no, that won’t happen.
Guess who had breakthrough bleeding every month until I finally got off the damn pill? Yup, this kid.
Every time I go to this gynecologist, I ask her about perimenopause and if she has any clue, based on my symptoms, how mine might be going or where I might be in the process. And every single time, she mostly ignores that question and suggests getting an IUD inserted to help manage my ovarian cysts. As I am not interested in getting an IUD, that pretty much ends our conversation.
I’m a woman; I’m used to my discomfort being ignored by my doctors. But again, I’m currently short on sleep and I’m getting tired of being ignored or told I can’t possibly be near perimenopause, I’m too young (which, no, I’m not).
Earlier this week I started experiencing my four-day bloating before my period arrived on day 21, and my only thought was, “Perimenopause is just mean.”
There are a lot of things about the body I don’t understand, like why our eyes actually form upside-down images that our brains have to flip, or how those tiny little bones in our ears work.
But mostly, MOSTLY, what I don’t understand is why women have to suffer so long and so hard with our menstrual cycles. I’ve got two kids and they make my whole life better, so I can see putting up with my cycle sometime, even as a young teenager when I didn’t need it, or even my twenties when I didn’t need it. But NOW? When I am well into my forties? What possible need do I still have for this “monthly” mess?
I ask you.
No, I really ask you. Medical research and the Internet is actually terrible at this. Tell me what symptoms of perimenopause you’re having, so at least this article will show up in someone else’s desperate search for their symptoms, and then maybe they won’t feel so all alone.