Perimenopause Arrives Uninvited!

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When I was fourteen, all I wanted was to get my period. My girlfriends got theirs years before I did. I was so desperate for it that I even pretended I had it just to get out of gym class. Then, when I was sixteen years old, it finally arrived. I was ecstatic. I was sure that I was going to be “in” now. I had convinced myself that I’d suddenly be popular with boys, so I knew any minute guys would start flocking around me. I had been dreaming of this day for such a long time.

I put on my belt and pad (in those days, the only things with wings were birds) and waited to feel something magical. But there was no euphoria, just a pounding headache, cramps, a raging sea of hormones, and of course the monthly bloodbath. This was what I had been praying for? Are you kidding me?

For the next thirty years, I got used to it, but I never liked it. And I was certain I’d never miss it once it was gone.

And then I hit my mid-forties, and suddenly mind and body started behaving strangely. The very first time I noticed something was amiss, I was in a business meeting, and mid-sentence my train of thought wandered right off the rails. What was I saying? This kept happening, meeting after meeting, but I refused to accept that something was wrong. A few weeks later, in yet another meeting, without warning, heat began radiating up my body. It felt as though I was on fire. Perspiration was dripping down my face, trickling down between my breasts and settling in the inseams of my pantsuit. I looked like I had just finished a Bikram Yoga class (you know that sweaty kind of Yoga)! There I sat, shocked and completely embarrassed.

I started to notice that I was not nearly as energetic as I used to be. I often needed to get into a hot bath just to warm up my feet. I couldn’t seem to retrieve thoughts from my brain, and my mind would go blank mid­sentence.

It never occurred to me that I was beginning perimenopause. In fact, I didn’t even know what it was or ever heard the term mentioned. Instead, I began worrying that these were the early signs of Alzheimer’s disease or some other kind of dementia. All my life I had prided myself on being a masterfully organized, multitasking dynamo. I was not ready to lose that part of my personality.

During this time of confusion, I was lucky that my husband David was able to seamlessly jump in and finish sentences for me so as to spare me social embarrassment. After so many years together, he seemed to know what I was thinking. He sensed that my memory loss was horribly upsetting to me, so he sweetly mastered subtle ways to feed me facts. It was wonderfully kind of him.

I made a habit out of making jokes about my memory loss and just kept laughing it off, hoping it was just a fluke, and that perhaps tomorrow I would wake up back to my old self.

I had always been a happy person and not interested in being sick or “less than.” I didn’t talk about this with anyone because talking about it would make it real. Instead, the voice in my head kept secretly chanting that age-old woman mantra: “I am fine. I am fine. I am fine.”

When a woman says she is “fine,” this is the first sign of “the cover-up.” It’s not that we don’t want to be honest with those we love, but rather that we aren’t being honest with ourselves. Perimenopause and menopause were a huge secret and taboo for our grandmothers and mothers. In the 21st century, it is—shockingly—still very much a  “hush-hush” subject, not to be openly discussed. Crazy, right?!

For some, it can be embarrassing to admit they’re experiencing perimenopause or menopause—especially with our society’s preoccupation with staying young forever. The changes our bodies and minds go through during this transition are challenging and, at times, even depressing. Hiding from yourself is not a solution.

Isolating yourself from those you love will only cause unnecessary breakdowns in your relationships, perhaps even to the point of divorce. Think I’m exaggerating? Not long ago, I was a guest on an advice program on Playboy Radio (I was fully clothed, but I’m a Phonemate now). Caller after caller—all men—told me stories of what their wives were going through and how it was destroying the intimacy in their relationships because they didn’t know where to turn for help or even how to talk about it. For one man, it was too late: “When we tried to have sex, no matter what we did, it hurt her. I didn’t want to hurt her, so we abstained. We became roommates for five years, barely speaking to each other until we finally split up. She is still the love of my life. I wish had known that this was menopause. I thought she didn’t love me anymore. Maybe, we could have found a menopause specialist and saved our marriage.”

So talk to the people in your life, talk to a Menopause Specialist, and talk to your partner. Let them know what’s going on with you, and let them help you. Suffering in silence is an unacceptable way to live.

You are not alone! Each woman will have her own journey. Each of our bodies is different. But we can and will get through this together.

Remember:  Suffering in silence is OUT!  Reaching out is IN.

For more great tips on how to find a menopause specialist and deal with menopause download my free ebook: MENOPAUSE MONDAYS  the Girlfriend’s Guide to Surviving and Thriving During Perimenopause and Menopause.    

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After struggling with her own severe menopause symptoms and doing years of research, Ellen resolved to share what she learned from experts and her own trial and error. Her goal was to replace the confusion, embarrassment, and symptoms millions of women go through–before, during, and after menopause–with the medically sound solutions she discovered. Her passion to become a “sister” and confidant to all women fueled Ellen’s first book, Shmirshky: the pursuit of hormone happiness. As a result of the overwhelming response from her burgeoning audiences and followers’ requests for empowering information they could trust, Ellen’s weekly blog, Menopause MondaysTM, was born.

  • Great advice to speak out, talk with your girlfriends, your doctor your family! A woman I do work with has complained her cholesterol has skyrocketed and she has no energy. I suggested she may be peri menopausal and to seek a specialist not just take a drug to reduce her cholesterol. Her first reaction was denial and outrage. I asked her at age 48 what did she think was going on? She still wouldn’t budge and would prefer to be sick with a medication than be peri or menopausal!

    • You are so right, Haralee. So many women are in denial. I wish there was a health class in high school on what happens when the period starts to take its final bow! Those health classes only cover half of the period story! And………………most of our Mom’s never mention it to us so…………………generally………we are clueless when perimenopause shows up! Grrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr………………..

  • There there are so many variations and degrees of symptoms in women. I think men go through it too in some ways.

    • Yes, they do! They call it Andropause. They can experience depression, fatigue, trouble concentrating, sleep disturbances, reduced muscle bulk/strength, decreased bone density and weight changes due to their Testosterone levels gradually declining. Many say that this decline is slower than the female hormone changes that women experience. They say they have a gradual decline of testosterone throughout adulthood — at an average rate of 1 percent a year after age 30.

  • Becky

    I am 57 years old and have been on HRT for the last about 5 years, very low dose. In the last 18 months I have had several yeast infections or vaginal irritations, and have been to my Gynecologist several times for treatment. I have taken the oral antibiotic, tried to eliminate things that could be an allergen, and of course over the counter measures, but the symptoms seem to keep reappearing, most recently my DR has prescribed for me a vaginal estrogen thinking this is due to hormonal decrease. After my last annual exam about 4 months ago, my DR had me cut back the estrogen patch to 1/2 to eventually be removed from the HRT. I am so tired of dealing with the vaginal irritations, and am wondering if anyone else knows of a connection to these symptoms with the stages of menopause? How long is it safe to take HRT therapy?

    • Becky, I am so sorry you are dealing with those awful vaginal irritations and infections. It is not uncommon for women to experience vaginal atrophy when hormone levels begin to plummet. Here are some of the symptoms:
      Vaginal dryness
      Vaginal burning
      Vaginal discharge
      Genital itching
      Burning with urination
      Urgency with urination
      More urinary tract infections
      Urinary incontinence
      Light bleeding after intercourse
      Discomfort with intercourse
      Decreased vaginal lubrication during sexual activity
      Shortening and tightening of the vaginal canal
      I have more helpful information in this blog: http://ellendolgen.com/menopauseinfographic-dryvagina
      As to how long women can stay on hormone therapy. That is a more complex question. I have lots of blogs on hormone therapy. Click here and read the top three! http://ellendolgen.com/?s=hormone+therapy

  • Cathy Steffanci Sikorski

    I have been getting bioidentical hormones for two years. My life is amazing. But what you might find most interesting is that my nurse practitioner and gynecologist are now using these hormones in MEN!!! Yes, men are getting a chance to feel as good as we do! It’s a new field apparently but will be interesting to watch.

    • I am so glad that you feel so great, Cathy! I was put on bioidentical FDA-approved hormones, too. It changed my life! I got myself back! I could think, sleep, the brain fog was lifted and my vagina was not a dried out prune anymore!! HaHa! Many men need testosterone help during their andropause journey! I say if you are living with grumpy and you are not Snow White…………..have your partner go to a doctor and get checked out, too!

  • This was really interesting Ellen – I got my period mid teens and it is still hanging around in my 50’s – with an occasional flood just to really bug me! I keep hoping it will go away but if it increases my symptoms on top of the ones that are creeping in then maybe it’s better that it hangs around a bit longer!

    • Yep, I was a late bloomer getting my period and it didn’t leave until my 50’s! The average age of menopause is 51. So it is quite normal to still have your period in your early 50’s.

  • Darlene Berkel

    Such great advice Ellen. I find myself scared and overwhelmed with some of the symptoms because I dont know what is “normal” and what is “abnormal”. I have been doing lots of research on peri-menopause and learned a lot in the last year. I am 49 and will turn 50 soon, and I feel like I am living in a foreign body. My whole body seems to be falling apart…stress PLUS menopause is a horrible combination! I am learning how to manage BOTH effectively.

    • Darlene, I felt like an alien had taken over my body, too! YOU CAN FEEL BETTER! Please download my free eBook, MENOPAUSE MONDAYS The Girlfriends Guide to Surviving and Thriving during Perimenopause and Menopause. You can look up some of your symptoms and read about ways to help yourself. Here is the link: http://ellendolgen.com/menopause-book/

      • Darlene Berkel

        Ellen, I tried downloading the book but could not open it in any of the formats provided. Is the book available in pdf?

        • Darlene, sorry you are having trouble downloading the book. I have asked several people to check and see if they can download it and it is working. How about send me your email address and I will send you a pdf!

          • Darlene Berkel

            I cannot download it in the formats you have it available in on the download link ( kindle, epub, etc).

          • Email me at ellendolgen@ellendolgen.com and I will send you the PDF!

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