Menopause Mondays: All About Perimenopause
Menopause, menopause, menopause! With all the press menopause gets, perimenopause seems to play the role of Jan Brady – the jealous younger sister who doesn’t get enough attention. After all, perimenopause leads up to menopause, and it is during perimenopause that women experience the most symptom-laden period of time since puberty! Perimenopause is what women need to read up on so they know what to expect. We asked Magnolia Miller of The Perimenopause Blog to give us more information on her expertise so perimenopause could feel the love, too.
Q: Why did you start The Perimenopause Blog?
A: I started The Perimenopause Blog after blogging for a couple of years at another blog I had launched called The Magnolia Diaries, Volume II. I started The Magnolia Diaries as I was approaching 50. I felt I was reaching a major milestone in my life and needed to talk about it. As someone who has kept diaries and journals her entire life, and who also writes as a way of coping, it was a natural extension for me.
So, it was really just a personal, online diary that other people began to read. To be truthful, I wasn’t even aware they were reading it – which is rather silly, because we are talking about the Internet – until they began to leave comments and contact me. It was the posts I had written about my own miserable experience with perimenopause that seemed to attract the most attention. Eventually, I realized there was a real need to provide the type of information and emotional support to others that I had personally wanted, but could never find.
I launched The Perimenopause Blog in September 2009 with the express purpose of providing well-researched articles on the topic, but with a touch of personal experience. There are literally thousands upon thousands of blogs and websites on the topic of perimenopause. What there is not a lot of are sites where readers can connect with the blogger and writer on a personal level.
I believe that everyone needs and wants to know that someone “gets them.” So, I’ve created a blog where people feel that way. I want women to know that there is someone out there just like them who has walked down that path and really understands how difficult it is. Women have a great need to have their experience validated. So that is what I do.
Q: Talking about your experiences with other women who are going through it as well is so helpful and important. That you provide that on The Perimenopause Blog is unique. We at Shmirshky have Menopause Parties that help bust open the conversation, too. Anything to help us feel like we’re understood.
In your words, what is perimenopause?
A: The prefix ‘peri’ is of Greek origin and it means “around.” Peri-menopause literally means “around the time of menopause.” It is the time of hormonal fluctuation and transition that a woman goes through before she reaches actual menopause.
The words perimenopause and menopause are often used interchangeably. But, they are not the same thing. Menopause occurs once a woman has gone 12 consecutive months without a menstrual cycle. Perimenopause is the segue, if you will, into menopause.
Q: Many women are blindsided by perimenopause because they don’t know what to expect. I, for one, thought that my period would stop, I would throw a celebratory farewell party and that would be it. To help women prepare, what are some of the most common symptoms of perimenopause?
A: The most commonly spoken of symptoms of perimenopause are hot flashes, night sweats, mood swings, and erratic menstrual cycles. But, crashing fatigue, vaginal dryness, depression, rages, heart palpitations, dizziness, vertigo, and even panic attacks are common symptoms of perimenopause as well.
Change in libido is also common, along with insomnia. When you also take into consideration that women very often have issues with their thyroid function and adrenal fatigue during perimenopause, the list of symptoms is quite long and varied. Though it’s very important to note that everyone will not necessarily experience all of the symptoms in the same manner, duration, or intensity. Perimenopause is a very individual experience.
Q: That is absolutely true. Like I always say, there is no one-size-fits-all approach to dealing with perimenopause and menopause (or PM&M, as I like to call it). What are your three top pieces of advice for women entering perimenopause?
A: The first thing I tell women who come to my blog looking for help is: “this too shall pass.”
When you are in the throes of perimenopause, it is such an all-encompassing, all-consuming experience. It affects not just your body, but your emotions and your mind. It can be a very overwhelming experience for many women, and it is not unusual for them to feel like they are losing their grip on reality and that they are going crazy.
I certainly felt that way during the worst of my symptoms. Unfortunately, for me, there was no one around who was able or even willing to assure me that I was going to be okay and that I wasn’t going crazy. In fact, this element of perimenopause is exactly why the tagline in my blog title says: “yes, it’s real, & no, you’re not going crazy.”
It is a frightening thing to feel so totally out of control of your body and your emotions. It causes no end of despair for many women. Since I walked in those shoes, I try to communicate right away that perimenopause is not a “forever” experience. It is a transition that is intense for a few years, but the calmer waters of menopause are on the other side. That piece of advice seems to help women feel better emotionally.
The next thing I would suggest is that they educate themselves on the changes their body is going through. Unfortunately, the medical community is still in the “here take this and call me in the morning” frame of mind when it comes to treating perimenopause symptoms. If a woman relies on the medical community to help her through perimenopause, she is going to be deeply frustrated and disappointed. If ever there is a time to take the reins in your life, it’s during perimenopause. That is not to suggest she should self-diagnose or self-medicate; but rather, be an active and pro-active participant in her healthcare. The more she knows about her symptoms and what they mean, the greater her chances of getting the kind of help she needs from her physician.
The last thing I would say is let go of the past and embrace the future. The transition of perimenopause is very distressing due in large part to the fact that women have a really hard time accepting that the years of childbearing and fertility are over. Whether we realize it or not, we often define ourselves by our fertility and sexuality. Society revolves around men and women getting married, having families and relating in a very sexual way.
Once those years pass and fertility is over, women have a difficult time knowing what their role is, who they are, and what their value is. As youth fades, so does beauty and physical attractiveness. This is also extremely difficult for women to cope with. But we must accept it and embrace it. Life continues to be rich and rewarding post-menopause. But it won’t be if we don’t let go of the past.
Q: That is all great advice. It is so important for women to educate themselves about their bodies and what they can expect when they enter perimenopause. It is true that finding a doctor that you can openly talk with is difficult. I went through countless doctors before finding a specialist who helped me find my way to hormone happiness. We’ve developed the Doctor Directory to help women find a close PM&M specialist more easily, and the Menopause Symptoms Chart to track your symptoms and show your doctor. Remember ladies: you don’t need to sign any divorce papers to get a new doctor with whom you are 100% satisfied!
Finally, what was your most significant ‘aha’ menopause moment?
A: That life passes by you whether you are living it or not. The first 50 years of our live we tend to look to the future with this sense of unlimited time on our hands. But, once you reach 50 and menopause, the brevity of one’s time left on this earth is a sobering reality.
Hopefully, this realization will inspire one to want to live with gusto. It certainly lit a fire under my feet. I am now in graduate school earning my masters. After that, I plan to go on to earn my Ph.D. I’ll be 60 (or thereabouts) once I’m done.
But, I will be 60 anyway, so I might as well get to work living and accomplishing the things which matter to me. Life is for living. Menopause shines a bright spotlight on that fact.
That it does! Since menopause has previously not been something very many people are comfortable talking about, most women think that menopause is only something that happens when you’re old. On the contrary, the average age of the perimenopause transition is 38-48 – very young! The more we talk about perimenopause, the more we learn about it and the better our lives will be when entering it. Thank you to Magnolia for her excellent advice and for sharing her thoughts on something that eventually affects half the world. For more of Magnolia’s thoughts, visit www.theperimenopauseblog.com.
Perimenopause is something that all women will eventually deal with – our mothers did it, our grandmothers did it, and eventually our daughters and granddaughters will, too. Hopefully the future generations will be more comfortable discussing it, because as Magnolia says,”Yes, it’s real, and no, you’re not going crazy!”