Officially ‘perimenopause’ is the run up to full menopause when periods stop. An individual then becomes ‘post menopausal’ after 12 months without having a period.
Unofficially perimenopause is the gateway to a whole new hormonal hell which affects every single part of your body and mind and changes who you are and who you think you are beyond all recognition.
I’m going to work my way down from head to toe and discuss the impacts I have personally noticed (so far) on each aspect of the body.
The mind is massively affected by perimenopause. The first thing I noticed was ‘THE RAGE,’ a massive flood of anger washing over me and making me not just furiously but recklessly angry. Unfortunately for me one of my waves of anger hit during a busy meeting hall which resulted in me throwing a rock across the room in a sudden fit of temper. There’s no rationality to the anger, the weirdest things suddenly make you insane with rage. And then it disappears as quickly as it came.
Then there was the anxiety. I am one of the least anxious people I know but I’d get these crippling short lived bursts of anxiety. Never about anything important or anything I should be worried about but bizarre and random things like I couldn’t remember where I’d left my hair brush. But it would feel like a matter of life and death leading to pain in my chest, constriction in my throat and a total sense of dread all over my body. Then it would bugger off again and I’d be back to my laid back self.
I pre-empted the phobias associated with perimenopause as my mother had suffered terribly with this so I had a good heads up. So for weeks I’d watch videos with my husband showing the subject of my fears while I gripped his hand tightly and watched, white with fear. For those who don’t know the link between perimenopause and fear the only advice I can give is to get desensitised to whatever you are frightened of pretty damn fast. Because those fears will come for you. And they will come at night when your sheets are drenched with the sweat of your terror and you lie there, literally paralysed with fear, until the dawn.
The weirdest thing for me was the forgetfulness. In particular I seemed to forget nouns. I’d ask my husband to go to the shops and buy ‘one of those things that light up and shine a beam so I can walk safely round fields at night’. And he’d be like: ”You mean a torch, you mad woman?”
My mouth became dry and I can never leave home without breath mints now. Apparently menopause dries you out all over. My gums became sore and painful because as your mouth dries out your gums start to recede, leading to bleeding during brushing. (Good quality medical mouthwash sorts this one out).
Oh and while we’re in the head part of the body, your jowls drop and no amount of facial exercise gets them back up again. Get ready to look droopy.
My hair got very dry too. But beware of using products for dry hair as it then decides to go very greasy. You will find yourself looking at wigs in shop windows and wondering if they are the answer. And they probably would be if it wasn’t for the fact that you get so hot the thought of restricting any of that heat from escaping via the top of your head is torture. Ever wondered why so many older ladies have short hair? They’ve got the right idea. Chop it all off.
For anyone who hasn’t experienced a hot flush (hot flash) it’s hard to understand how they feel. Imagine becoming a furnace from the inside out as a wave of intolerable heat sweeps over your body from the inside. A bright red face and neck are the giveaway that will often help you identify a fellow sufferer of menopause.
And you sweat. Oh how you sweat. Every single pore of your body weeps with sweat. You turn into this sticky, clammy, drippy menopausal monster. And there is no amount of deodorant that can convince you that you smell pleasant enough for polite society.
Weight loss becomes impossible. Literally impossible. Gyms, diets, even starvation doesn’t shift those pounds during menopause. Forget it. If you aren’t fat you’re probably going to get fat. If you are fat, learn to love it. Those rolls are going nowhere for a few years. (And you change dress sizes several times a day with the bloating. So that skirt that fits in the morning is cutting your torso in half by late afternoon).
Breast pain is a menopause thing. They change a lot too. They go from big and bouncy to flat and droopy and back within the course of a day. And sometimes they just randomly hurt. Nipples get a bit dry and flaky. Apparently some women also get nipple leakage. Great.
You might think that periods get lighter as menopause approaches. Nope. No such luck. The whole menstrual cycle goes crazy. I had six months of fortnightly periods then a few weeks without a period. Then they just turn up when they feel like it. So you need to wear panty liners just in case. Though the panty liners are a good idea anyway because coughing, sneezing and laughing all start to lead to little ‘accidents’.
And it’s not just the front end that has little accidents. Flatulence becomes a problem too! If you’re not drawing enough attention to yourself with a face like a beetroot then you’ll herald your presence with (as Nursie would have it) great and fruitsome flappy woof-woofs.
Sex becomes a chore because it’s so damn painful due to the dryness. Cervical smears that used to just be uncomfortable are now downright excruciating. Doctors tell you to keep an eye ‘down there’ but that becomes tricky as most of us in perimenopause struggle to get an angle on down there. So you end up squatting over a mirror a lot and peering up your own foof in a mixture of confusion and worry that having got into the squat you sure as hell don’t know how you are going to get out of it.
Even my feet changed. I understand why old people wear slippers now. I use a foot spa and grind away with a pumice stone in a daily attempt to get rid of my cracked heels and reveal my soft pinkies. But the days of smooth feet, I fear, are gone for good.
So it is no bloody fun this menopause business. Not for me, not for you, not for anybody. But you’re best forewarned and the only good news is, it doesn’t last forever.
* Anyone who menstruates will go through menopause. There is even some evidence that cis men may go through a similar hormonal change. Whoever you are, whatever your gender, we appear to all be in this menopause business together.